The two-storey bluestone building that houses the Tooborac Hotel & Brewery has long been one of the most striking country pubs in Victoria. Yet, for several years after the turn of the Millennium, it sat empty – until, on a trip to nearby Heathcote, James and Val Carlin spotted the “For Sale” sign, fell for its charms and decided to give it a new lease of life.
Upon opening in late 2005, the couple was unable to get hold of a Carlton globe for the roof to let passers-by know they were open so came up with an ingenious ruse: Val bought an inflatable Santa, stuck him on the roof and word began to spread.
Before too long, the restaurant had such a reputation among locals the Carlins had to build a 70-seat extension at the rear to cope and, emboldened by their success, they decided to extend the offering. The old Cobb & Co stable was falling down and in real risk of collapse, but serendipity struck when they found a “Brewery for Sale” sign on their doorstep. The old Rifle Brigade Brewery, in Bendigo, was available so they snapped it up and set about rebuilding the stables.
Fully two years later, it was all in place and ready to go, with the first beers rolling out of the brewery in 2009. Ten minutes south of Heathcote and just over an hour north of Melbourne on the Northern Highway, the brewery offers a refreshing alternative in an area dominated by wine. It’s seen the hotel grow from popular pub and restaurant to a destination in itself, helped by the onsite accommodation: a one bedroom B&B room attached to the main building and a three bedroom cottage to the rear. Visit at the right time of year and you can even catch the annual sheep shearers challenge, an event that brings in people from all across the region.
Tooborac Hotel & Brewery Beers
Stonemasons Pale Ale
All of Tooborac’s beers are named after the tradesmen local to the area, with this so called “in memory of the local craftsman who hewed and sculptured the iron hard granite which reflected the mason’s own strength and artistry.” The new Stonemasons is a classic Aussie pale ale, albeit one that doesn’t use any Aussie hops, instead using British East Kent Goldings and US Citra to create a well balanced, crisp beer with a light citrus aroma and gentle bitterness.
Style: Australian Pale Ale
Woodcutter's Amber Ale
Named in honour of the woodcutters of the region who would “echo the ring of their axes as they felled the massive iron and stringybark of the local McHarg Ranges”, this new recipe Amber Ale is an easy drinking, smooth amber coloured ale with hints of toffee and a mild bitterness. Crystal and chocolate malt provide the colour, while Amarillo and Cascade hops provide the citrus balance.
Style: Amber Ale
Tooborac Blacksmiths Porter
Originally a limited release from Tooborac, the Porter has now joined their permanent range. This smooth, rich dark brown beer has plenty of chocolate malt flavours backed up with some spicy Goldings hops.
Tooborac Shearer's Lager
Given they’ve held sheep-shearing contests at the hotel that is home to Tooborac Brewery, it seems only right that they have a beer named in honour of it. And it seems only right that the beer is a refreshing lager, the sort you’d hanker for after a solid days' shearing. Pale straw in colour with a lingering Hallertau hop finish, it’s the brewery’s gateway beer for newcomers to craft beer.
Tooborac Gunslingers American Pale Ale
OK, so we said elsewhere that all of Tooborac’s beers take their name from the traditional trades of the region. Whether “gunslinger” counts as a trade, we’re not too sure, but what we do know is that this is the brewers' beer for the hopheads out there. The use of Cascade hops gives the beer big citrus and grapefruit characteristics, making for a refreshing drop.
Style: American Pale Ale
Tooborac Brewer's Own: Dark Ale
The first in what will become a series of Brewer’s Own releases from the Tooborac brewery has just been bottled. It’s an eminently sessionable dark ale, one in which you can see a progression from the brewery’s classic style Aussie Pale through the gentle toffee malts of the Amber to this. Pouring a dark brown with orange hints and a thin tan head, it’s a malt led number that’s all about sweet chocolate and toffee on the nose and follows through in a similar vein in the mouth, where there’s a hint of dark cocoa too. Like a lighter porter, it’s one that will go down easily even as the weather warms up.
Tooborac Hotel & Brewery
Prince Patrick Hotel, Collingwood
Gin Palace, Melbourne
Style: Dark Ale
Tooborac’s new brewer asked us not to do a listing for this as he’s down to the last handful of bottles. But what the hey, it’s such a good statement of where Chris intends to take the tiny brewery an hour or so north of Melbourne that we thought we would anyway. Having remade the brewery’s Pale and Amber to his recipes, he’s knocked out the driest of dry stouts and this over the winter months, this being a sizeable dark ale (his Porter we believe) that spent two months in a merlot barrel. The result is nice and smooth, with the wine subtly apparent in the aroma and in the mouth, blending rather seamlessly with the chocolate and toffee malt characters. You’ll have to be quick to taste this year’s batch, already next year’s version – which will spend around a year in the barrel – is already bubbling away in the brewery.
Style: Barrel-Aged Dark Ale