In a city that feels close to bursting with craft beer, it takes a bit of effort and invention to stand out. Setting up shop in a part of town that’s gone without good beer is one way to do it, as too is creating a unique drinking experience.
When they opened the doors to Republic Tavern in September 2019, the brewpub’s owners achieved both at once and brought a new kind of beer and brewing experience not only to the suburb of Epping but Melbourne too.
Located at the bottom of Mantra Epping, Republic Tavern is a far cry from the uniform outfitting and scarce selection of drinks you might expect to find inside such a hotel. Its unassuming entrance belies just how well the ornate wooden fittings, dim lights and leather booths combine to create the sort of warm, rustic space that feels more like a small bar you’d find far closer to the heart of the CBD than Melbourne’s airport.
The space is the work – and long held dream – of Ian Wilson, who’s spent more than two decades in the world of hotels. Having worked closely with Brian Watson from New Zealand’s Good George Brewing to install SmartBrew systems in other parts of the country, Ian wanted the new venue to stand apart from other hotel experiences.
Thus, once inside, you’ll find no fewer than 20 taps to choose from: eight are set aside for nothing but independent Victorian beer and ten are dedicated to those created in the venue itself. The latter take shape on the SmartBrew system that sits behind the bar; it’s made up of six fermenters, with wort produced offsite and all fermentation, hopping and tweaking put in the hands of the Republic’s head brewer James Cowperthwaite.
Given this all sits more than 20 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD – and a fair distance from any other nearby dining experiences – Republic Tavern’s plethora of beer choice feels more akin to being dropped behind enemy lines than part of craft beer’s slow and steady march outwards from its traditional heartlands.
Credit here goes to venue manager Adrian de Silva. Brought in from the Sand Hill Road Group, which operates high profile venues including The Espy, Garden State Hotel and The Terminus in Abbotsford, he brings with him extensive knowledge of fine spirits, cocktails, wines, food, coffee, music and the wider hospo experience to aid the owners on their mission "to create a great modern Australian brewpub".
On the food front, the menu is based around sharing quality fare, from popcorn prawns and buffalo chicken bao to the meat republic: a hearty mix of rotisserie chicken, steak and kransky served alongside slaw and pickles made with their own IPA.
The brewery side of the business is divided into two halves: Beer Republic, which focuses on more accessible beers brewed to style, and Twist Brewing, where head brewer James has a little more room to explore flavours and beer’s more esoteric realms.
The two taps that aren’t pouring beer instead deliver cocktails, while the wine focus is predominantly Australian and the spirits list extensive. It’s a list that’s set to get all the more extensive by the end of 2019, too, when the team starts to distil as well. First, they’ll be releasing a range of gins followed by whisky, with barrels spread throughout the bar giving guests an insight into how the drink in their hand came into being.
Whether it’s the ability to drink a spirit beside a barrel or enjoy a fresh IPA while looking at the tanks in which the next batch is being dry-hopped, there’s no doubt Ian has succeeded in his goal of creating a unique experience. Add in the pool tables, regular live music and a fireplace that looks better suited to a glamping site, and it’s clear he’s created a venue in which you could easily while away plenty of time too.