For Bendigo's craft beer lovers these are increasingly exciting times, with better beer beginning to find a home in greater numbers of venues. And for that, they should raise a glass to the Dispensary Enoteca, as it was here that craft beer was given its first showcase in the city. Prior to the venue opening in 2009, the city was the very definition of a beer desert. Then Tim Baxter came along and opened this laneway gem into which he distilled two decades experience in hospitality in Australia and Europe, including spells at a classic UK pub, Fitzroy's iconic Standard Hotel (back when Nick Cave was a regular) and leading Mornington Peninsula winery Ten Minutes By Tractor, where their wine list was named Australia's best.
He created a venue that, were it in the Victorian capital, would have queues around the corner and rave reviews a mile long. As it is, The Dispensary Enoteca is worth the trip to Bendigo alone whether you're a foodie, beer lover, wine connoisseur, or merely someone who appreciates things done well by people who care. Having immersed himself in food, wine and beer culture - and signaled what was to come when he added beers such as Bridge Road's Chevalier Saison to the menu at Ten Minutes By Tractor as soon as it was released and insisted on a no CUB or Lion policy - Tim has set up his tiny venue as a place where you can indulge the finer things in life, whatever your mood.
Opened with the intention of raising the bar for quality in Bendigo, the Dispensary Enoteca was packed at breakfast, lunch and dinner from day one, with the city's residents keen for a taste of its fine food and coffee and to explore its exquisite wine, beer and spirits list. It was in the first six months that the potential for quality beer became apparent as The Dispensary Enoteca attracted a number of regulars (including those who have gone on to form Bendigo Beer) entranced by this brave new craft beer world. Back then, the beer list was 50 strong; today, it's up to around 90, blending a number of quality locals with an excellent selection of the best the world has to offer. Regular masterclasses help educate drinkers about the beers they're drinking too.
Aside from the beer, The Dispensary Enoteca's contemporary Mediterranean / Australian menu focuses on using local produce wherever possible, with Tim an ambassador for Bendigo's Food Fossickers. Meanwhile, the wine list was named in the top three in the 2012 Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards, and the dedication to good drinks in any form means there is a huge range of single malts, 30 gins, unusual soft drinks - even five different pastis - on the menu too.
With just 22 seats at tables inside plus a handful of bar seating and a smattering of tables in the narrow laneway outside, it's a perfect example of quality over quantity. That said, exciting plans to give craft beer a bigger foothold in Bendigo are being hatched as you read this...