Spend some time at the Mount Macedon Hotel and it would be easy to assume it's been a popular focal point for the surrounding community for as long as it's been standing. It's a fine-looking place for one: paved beer gardens and courtyards front and back leading into landscaped gardens; various themed dining rooms surround the impressive wood-panelled main bar; photos and memorabilia on the walls throughout hint at a storied history.
Yet, prior to 2012, it had been closed for eight years, an abandoned shell on the main road that bisects the Victorian country town. However, the hotel originally built by William Watson in 1864 had already been through many rebirths. Originally the Mountain Inn – then the Waterfalls Hotel, the Oriental Hotel, as well as the snappily titled Oriental Hotel and Growings Mount Macedon Hotel – it had bounced back twice following fires. Yet its most recent reinvention could be the most spectacular yet, especially if you're a fan of good beer.
The first step taken by the new owner determined to create a hub for the local community was to totally gut the building then rebuild it in his own image. And it's quite an image: there's an Oriental Room complete with gaudy paintings on the walls, the beer garden is home to furniture created from old machinery, and there's a guest lounge that could be lifted from the pages of an Agatha Christie novel. It feels like the decor has evolved organically over the hotel's 150-plus years yet almost everything has been gathered by the owner from auctions and second hand shops.
Once he had a venue worth sharing, it was a case of enticing people through the doors. Initially, from a beer perspective, they were somewhat hampered by the fact that all 12 taps were contracted to CUB. But, after bringing a couple of young, passionate beer lovers into the team in 2014, this began to change. One by one the CUB beers disappeared, with 4 Pines and Holgate Brewhouse the first to take their place, to the point where small independents pretty much rule the roost, one where the total number of taps was increased to 16, 12 of them on rotation.
It means that anyone wandering into the front bar today will be met by a wide font as colourful and interesting as those found in most specialist metropolitan beer bars: IPA, gose, pilsner, saison, stout – you name it, chances are they got it. Not too long ago, this would have been a recipe for disaster in such a place, located 45 minutes outside Melbourne. Yet the beer landscape has changed. The demand for Carlton dropped drastically in the early days after the change while overall beer sales, augmented by a fine bottled beer list that's available for take out, rose. Locals have embraced the change, encouraged by enthusiastic and well educated staff, while weekend tourist trade is on the up too.
Elsewhere, things are kept as local as possible. Seventy percent of wines are from local wineries and most of the produce in the kitchen comes from the region too. There the focus is modern Australian, with the odd quirk such as chargrilled crocodile appearing on the menu.
The sprawling 11 acre site also hosts events, both private weddings and functions and the hotel's own. Most notably, they hold a Christmas Eve party that takes over the entire grounds: temporary bars are erected outside and 2,000 people rock up.
Being a traditional hotel, there's accommodation too, with one wing of the building home to a number of cosy rooms that could prove handy if the lure of the beer list proves too strong. And trust us, there's a damn good chance it will.