There's little doubt that Melbourne has led the way when it has come to embracing craft beer wholeheartedly. It's the capital of the state with the greatest number of breweries, its pubs and bars embraced the new wave of brewers earliest and is home to one of the world's best beer weeks, when May sees Good Beer Week, GABS and the Australian International Beer Awards combine.
Yet it doesn't have too many in the way of brewpubs, be they pubs with a brewery attached or breweries with a venue attached – even if that is starting to change. Head further away from the CBD and they're becoming reasonably populous but there's no area like, for example, the inner west of Sydney. Flying the brewpub flag since 2014, however, has been the former Clifton Hill Hotel.
Now the Clifton Hill Brewpub and in its fourth incarnation as it has evolved with the times under the stewardship of the same family, the corner hotel now has a 600 litre microbrewery at its heart. Designed and installed by Costa Nikias of La Sirène fame, who also helped devise the launch beers, it has evolved from an place where just a quarter of the taps featured beers brewed in house to one where the brewers now fill all but a couple of the 16 taps with a rotating lineup of increasingly adventurous offerings. The brewery is surrounded by glass so inquisitive souls can watch the brewer in action.
The setup means that beers, from regulars such as Queens Parade Pale and Dark Ale through to limited releases that incorporate IIPAs and sours, travel less than ten metres from brewery to tap. With a barrel program up and running and some core range and limited release beers being packaged too, there's plenty to keep going back for.
The reinvention of the pub goes further than the installation of the brewery. Out went the TAB and the band room to the rear and in came a cleaner new look and an expansive dining room and cosy outdoor garden at the rear. Behind that is the Thirsty Camel bottleshop that first opened its owners to the potential in craft beer; it now has an entire wall of fridges dedicated to nothing but quality local and international craft beers too.
From late 2017, the brewery has also started releasing short runs of beers packaged in 750ml bottles. Often barrel aged and funky, they hold monthly launches at the venue. The first, a raspberry gose, got them off to a flier too, taking top spot in a Crafty Pint blind tasting.