The elder statesman of the Victorian microbrewery scene, Grand Ridge began offering full-flavoured ales to a nation of lager drinkers more than 20 years ago. Since then, Eric Walters – one of six founders of the brewery back in 1989 but sole owner since 1997 – has helped many others follow in his footsteps, including Mountain Goat, who used his brewery when making the move from backyard brewers to fully fledged commercial micro.
The two beers with which Grand Ridge announced itself to the world – strong Scotch Ale Moonshine and the rich, malty Gippsland Gold – are still central to the brewery’s lineup, although it’s been steadily expanded to offer everything from a surprisingly rewarding light beer to the massive Supershine barley wine and, as of 2010, a roster of limited release specials that started with the hugely hopped US style red ale Mirboo Madness and was followed by the rich, dark, barrel-aged Mirboo Midnight.
You’ll find the brewery in Mirboo North, atop the Strzelecki Ranges just under two hours east of Melbourne. It’s supplied by the area’s pure natural spring water – Mirboo means “magic water” – and is expanding as fast as the Australian craft beer scene. Over the course of 2009/10, the existing bar was greatly expanded onto a mezzanine over the brewhouse that reflects the town’s timber heritage while a covered outdoor balcony area overlooking the local rail trail, an impressive live music venue, recording studio and beer garden were also added.
To complete the experience, there’s a restaurant serving hearty food, including beef from cattle reared on the brewery’s spent grain. And, if you want to make a night of it, Eric owns two cottages – Grand Ridge West and East – that can sleep nine and ten people respectively.
Grand Ridge Beers
One of Grand Ridge’s first beers and still going strong, this is an Australian style bitter packed with layers of malt rounded off by bitterness from Aussie and Kiwi hops. Of the range, it’s still Eric’s favourite.
Style: English Ale
One of the first Belgian style blonde wheat beers brewed in Australia and not to be confused with the raft of low carb, low flavour drinks released in the past few years. It’s also one of the best Aussie wheat beers, using orange peel in the brewing process to give it a refreshing citrusy tang.
Style: Belgian witbier
A beer that, over the years, has been steadily hopped up to increase its bitterness as Aussie tastes have adapted to more full flavoured beers. Light straw in colour with a floral aroma from the Saaz hop from the Czech Republic and a light malt profile, Grand Ridge reckon it makes a great light beer batter too.
Style: Czech Pilsner
One of two light beers in the Grand Ridge range, this is a mid-strength take on English nut brown ales. The smell of caramel and butterscotch is matched by a sweet toffee flavour and some bitterness from English Fuggles hops.
Style: Nut Brown Ale
Yarra Valley Gold
Brewed as a tribute to the quality produce of the Yarra Valley, this is a hop-driven pale ale with a lively aroma and smooth malt backbone. One of Crafty’s favourite Grand Ridge beers.
Style: Pale Ale
According to the brewery, the Hatlifter is an Australian style stout. Crafty’s not too sure what that means, but does know that it’s a darn fine drop, combining smooth, creamy sweetness with chocolate and coffee flavours from the roasted malts in a beer displaying a surprisingly full body for its 4.9% alcohol. A good cold weather beer – or one to use in your beef pies.
Black & Tan
A blast from the past, this reinvents the old half-and-half mixing of lighter and dark beers, this time the Gippsland Gold and Hatlifter, resulting in a rich, multi-layered malty brew.
Style: Black & Tan
Given the way brewers at home and, even more so, overseas are pushing the bounds of how high alcohol content can be taken in a beer, the Moonshine’s 8.5% might not turn too many heads today. When it was first made by Grand Ridge more than two decades it stood out from the crowd and still stands the test of time as a massively malty Strong Scotch Ale to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace late in the day. It also warrants the best line in any of Grand Ridge’s tasting notes: “Enjoy with a lover and chocolates of the highest calibre.” Ooh, matron!
Style: Strong Scotch Ale
A true “not for the fainthearted” beer, this one, it’s the daddy – or grandfather – to the Moonshine and comes in at a whopping 11%. Rich in nature, it boasts characteristics of treacle and molasses with a touch of cashew nut and roasty, toasty flavours. An after dinner treat best enjoyed with rich desserts or a full-flavoured cheese.
Style: Barley Wine
Grand Ridge Hoppy Frog
We’ve had English IPAs, American IPAs, Belgian IPAs, Australian IPAs, Black IPAs, White IPAs, Double IPAs, Imperial IPAs… And now we have a French IPA. The Hoppy Frog is the latest release from Grand Ridge, a beer that uses all French hops, including the new Triskel variety, for a new take on the classic and increasingly popular style. In keeping with the first IPAs' origins, the malts are predominantly British, while the hops are all sourced from the Alsace region of France. According to the brewers: “The result is a unique floral aroma with pleasing lemon overtones and a gentle yet assertive bitterness.” Prepare to bid it a sunny “Bonjour” when it makes its way from the brewery any day now.
Other venues tbc very soon…
Style: French IPA
Grand Ridge WHOA!
When flicking through the results booklet after last year’s Australian International Beer Awards, a name jumped out from the crowd, the WHOA! from Grand Ridge. It had medalled but we’d never heard of it. Now the mystery is solved as it’s been bottled and released around this year’s hop harvest. The WHOA! stands for wet hopped oatmeal ale, meaning it’s brewed with fresh hops from the brewery’s own collection and uses a little oatmeal in the grain mix. The result on the hop front is rather subtle – a mild grassy hop aroma – but more prominent on the grain side of things, with the light golden, crystal clear beer reminiscent of those English golden ales with a strong cereal character.
Style: Wet Hopped Golden Ale
Grand Ridge Rye Marzen
Rye malt is starting to make an appearance with steadily increasingly regularity among Australia’s craft brewers, from 3 Ravens roggenbier to IPAs from the likes of Mountain Goat and Feral. And it’s easy to see why given its rather unique characteristics. This new limited release from Grand Ridge uses it to give a Vienna style lager – or Marzen – something of a twist. It gives the beer an added earthy, almost woody, character to go with its sweeter malty elements as well as the richer mouthfeel associated with the use of rye, all rounded off with a gentle spiciness from the classic German lager hop Hallertau. Out in individually numbered 330ml bottles now.
Style: Rye Marzen
Grand Ridge's Mirboo Specials
A fresh release of Grand Ridge’s two limited release beers, the Mirboo Madness and Mirboo Midnight, have just hit shelves around Melbourne. The former – a highly hopped strong Red Ale awash with big hop aromas, sweet caramel, toffee and nut flavours and plenty of bitterness – has been aging in bottles since the initial draft only release and, according to Grand Ridge founder Eric Walters (who told Crafty upon its initial release it was the beer he’d been waiting years to make), “is tasting bloody beautiful”. The latter – an oak-aged dark ale packed with roasted malt, creamy chocolate and dark, treacly fruits – has spent a few more months in barrels since Crafty last tasted it. The first release was pretty special so we heartily recommend hunting it down, despite the fact summer appears to finally be here; there’s bound to be a cold snap soon, after all.
Nillumbik Cellars, Diamond Creek
Blackhearts & Sparrows
Bedelis Liquor, Croydon
Malt and Vine, Newport
Thirsty Camel, Seddon
The Waiting Room at Crown
IGA Ferntree Gully
Seaview Cellars, Beaumaris
Finest Drop Cellars, Mt Waverley
Purvis Beer Richmond
Harvest Wine, Northcote
Dionysos Cellars, Richmond
Macaulay Cleanskins, Kensington
Pauls IGA, Ringwood East
Eighty One, Berwick
Prince Wines, Essendon
Style: Strong Red Ale & Oak-Aged Dark Ale
Strength: 6% & 6.9%
2010 was the year when, comfortably settled into its 20s, Grand Ridge decided to reward the faithful with some seasonal specials. First up was the hop-heavy American style Amber Ale Mirboo Madness, now followed by the dark beast that is Mirboo Midnight. A heavy, jet black winter ale, this is packed with roasted malt flavours livened up by dark fruits – all rounded off by a waft of woody goodness after the beer was aged for a few weeks in a former wine barrel.
Style: Barrel-aged Dark Ale