Harvest Cellars is a pretty tight little space. Sure, it occupies a prime spot in Belgrave South, on a roundabout where it can catch the eyes of beer fancying visitors to the Dandenong Ranges and locals on their way home. But, once inside, you'll discover owner Danny Arsic hasn't wasted a millimetre in his mission to bring great booze to this part of Victoria.
Wherever you look, there's something to catch your eye, whether you're a wine aficionado looking for labels not found in the major chains, fond of fortifieds or on the hunt for a beer you've not tried before. In fact, the closer you look, the more you're likely to uncover: yes, that is a Grange in the wine fridge; yes, he has sourced that rare bottle of Scotch ale from a brewery that hardly ever sends beer outside its home state; yes, he has used his lifetime in the industry to have his own dessert wine blended; and yes, that coolroom in the corner really is stacked to the ceiling with nothing but beer.
Danny's been in the industry in various roles for more than two decades, since the days when Chimay and Duvel were the most exotic beers landing on these shores. And, after a career spent setting up and running venues for others, he decided to return to the area where he'd grown up and do it for himself. His years of experience and contacts show in the selection he offers, but there's more to it than that.
If you've been around the industry a while, you'll know there are plenty of breweries out there who, with good reason, only like to offer their specials and limited run beers to venues who shift a lot of their core beers too; yet here, in a little corner on the outskirts of Greater Melbourne, you have to try harder to find core range beers among the specialties.
Danny reckons it's because he treats people right, has good relationships with reps (many of whom hold Friday tastings in store) and pays his bills when they come in – not exactly rocket science, but not as common practice as it should be. Our experience in the days leading up to visiting Harvest Cellars back his theory up. When we mention to brewers or reps we're off to Harvest Cellars, the response is typically a smile and: "Say hi to Danny from me."
The rewards are there for the drinker. Want to select from a broad range of Epic beers? Done. Fancy something newly landed from the States? Got you covered. Need some fresh tinnies from a local brewer? Take your pick. What's more, while space is limited, he points to every spare space and explains how he can get more in – he hopes to add a small bar / tasting space in a nearby shop at some point too.
Driving this are intentions that are heart-warmingly humble. He wants Harvest Cellars to become a respected part of the local community, while also offering a selection so good it draws people in from far and wide (he has customers from Pakenham to Knox as things stand). And he wants this to be the place where he works and that he builds until he's ready to retire, not a stepping stone to something else.
The one concession to mainstream beer is found at the back of the coolroom: a wall of local and imported lagers where everything is six for $16. And even this offers a snapshot that suggests he's as good as his word. While we're taking photos, hidden behind a wall of wine, the door opens and someone pops in to give him $20. It turns out he'd picked up one of those sixes earlier in the week only to realise he didn't have his wallet; Danny told him to take it anyway.
"Keep the change, mate," he says. "Seriously, keep it. You helped me out."
And we're sure Danny would love to help you out too.