It’s hard to discuss craft beer in Bendigo without the Cambrian Hotel weaving its way into the conversation as the Arnold Street pub has been flying the good beer flag since 2013, when a decision was taken by its new owners to stock only breweries that are independently owned.
Thus, on any given day, you’ll find the taps pouring offerings from breweries like Brookes, Two Birds, Dainton, Bridge Road, and Tooborac, while the beer fridges continue in a similar vein while also heading further afield and stocking beers from overseas too.
It’s quite a change of direction for what, from the outside at least, is about as classic an Aussie pub as you could wish for. However, despite the forward looking approach to beer and food, brothers Andrew and Adam Carswell have made a point of resisting any desires to contemporise the building itself. Indeed, a number of add ons and hodge podge renovations carried out by previous owners were stripped back by the boys and their team when they took ownership, bringing the Cambrian much closer to its country pub origins.
Those origins stretch back to the Gold Rush era of the 1870s, when miners would pay for their beer in gold and alcohol consumption was at its peak.
Reintroducing the feel of the pub’s past era has seen décor changes that include the introduction of Australian and European artwork from the 1940s and prior, a quoits kit, artificial grass for playing said quoits, and signage that wouldn’t be out of place in the days when gold was still a reasonable way of paying for your beer.
As for the beer pouring today, it favours not just the local but also the independent: nothing owned directly or indirectly by large multinationals will be found on tap, meaning even Mountain Goat received its marching orders when it was sold to Asahi. There are concessions on this front within the row of fridges to ensure the Cambrian’s longstanding regulars are looked after, but no hardcore craft drinker should find themselves short of options either.
The sizeable beer garden and tightly priced menu of pub tucker created by Andrew – think rib eye, taco night specials, and roasts – make it a favourite with Bendigo locals, while the knowledgeable bar staff can take even the freshest of beer drinkers through what will pair best with their chosen cut of meat.
While the priorities for Bendigo locals have certainly changed since the Gold Rush days, maintaining its position as a hallmark Bendigo venue has remained important for the Cambrian team. Many similar sized pubs in the area have closed in recent years, but the Cambrian has held on to its dedicated core of neighbourhood regulars despite a number of changes in ownership.
That continued dedication from and for its community has resulted in a number of hospitality awards for the hotel since 2013, covering categories from front of house service to innovation and hotel dining.
Watching one of the bar staff lead a hardened Carlton drinker into the welcoming arms of a Bridge Road Little Bling highlights the strength of the venue’s place as the friendly neighbourhood pub. It’s a congeniality that allows the Cambrian to cement itself as a place for the locals, while its commitment to quality craft guarantees its appeal for drinkers in wider Bendigo and beyond.