We’d wager there’s plenty of folks out there who have been lured into the world of craft beer after being handed a new beer by a work colleague. For the couple behind Loch Brewery & Distillery, Craig Johnson and Mel Davies, their path to making beer followed that familiar path. Albeit with a whisky detour.
Like scores before him, Craig used to think of whisky as nothing but a good way to set your mouth alight until a workmate introduced him to higher end single malts. It was then that both he and Mel realised that their disinterest in the spirit stemmed from the quality (or lack thereof) of what they’d been drinking. The two of them became instant devotees of the spirit and set out to discover as much as they could. In 2010, this led Craig to Tasmania, where he spent time learning from Lark Distillery, the godfathers of the modern Australian distilling industry.
This in turn led Craig to brewing; after all, both whisky and beer start life the same way and to make good whisky you need to start with good beer. So, while the origin of Craig’s brewing was born from his love of whisky, beer soon became yet another devotion and both he and Mel knew their future would feature an equal mix of spirits and beer – with a particular focus on real ales when it comes to the latter.
It’s somewhat fitting then that they found their home in Loch. This small South Gippsland Village is a little over 90 minutes from Melbourne in the heart of Victoria’s dairy industry – picturesque and surrounded by rolling green hills. They purchased the town’s historic bank and adjacent butchery in 2012, converting the former into their distillery and cellar door and the latter into their brewery. The butchery was disused when it was purchased and, after refitting it, production soon started, with doors opening to the public in 2014.
The 1200 litre brewery was designed by Craig based on what he had seen on a research trip to the UK. Built by local stainless steel fabricators, the brewery is compact but somewhat unique, with a gravity fed mash tun and open top fermenters. Their core range of beer consists of traditional English style real ales: Best Bitter, County Ale (an English amber ale) and Dark Ale. Their limited release beers reflect collaboration with other producers, such as a Chilli Dark Ale and Chilli Oat Stout, loaded with Atomic chillies supplied by a local grower.
By comparison with the brewing side of the business, distilling is carried out on a larger scale, with six copper stills – the first of them handmade in Portugal – ranging from five to 1200 litres in operation (and with expansion underway at the time of writing). In 2018, the first of the Loch whiskies were ready, with the first batch selling out in a flash. Since then, they've started to slowly build up their stocks so a visit to the cellar door can quickly turn into an afternoon trying boilermakers from the same malt base.
As they waited for that whisky, the pair developed a Classic London Dry Gin. Considering they now have three gins stocked by the likes of Noma and Attica, as well as a slew of high end cocktail bars across the country, this looks like a wise move.
You'll find Loch beer at independent bottleshops and bars throughout Melbourne. And if you visit Loch everything is available from their cellar door, along with a chance to try a pint of hand pumped cask ale right next to where it was made. Anyone looking for a quick stop should be warned, however: the two can be easily encouraged into technical discussions on exactly how their beers and spirits are made and talk excitedly about their love for the region.
Indeed, the importance of their locale is something of a running theme for the brewery; while their limited release beers often showcase local ingredients, they’ve also become something of a supplier to other local business. Nearby bakers, farmers and cheesemakers use Loch’s beer in their products, suggesting the area has embraced the brewery and distillery with open arms.
With a combination of white spirits, whisky and beer all rolled into one, anyone with a love of all things booze is likely to be just as impressed.