Just like the wider High Country region it calls home, King Valley is a beautiful place to visit. And, just like its neighbouring valleys, it has much to offer visitors, whether their intention is to explore nature, enjoy outdoor pursuits or indulge their senses with fine local produce.
Unlike some of its peers, however, it's a little trickier to get to. You're unlikely to pass through for a day or two as part of a round trip up through the High Country; instead you have to deliberately choose to spend time there. But if you're a fan of locally brewed, seasonal beers, there's a good reason to do just that.
King River Brewing opened its doors quietly at the very tail end of 2016, hosting its official opening party – one that drew huge crowds – some months later. In doing so, it added yet another destination for beer lovers in Victoria's North East, a region already well enough served to have its own High Country Brewery Trail supported by the local council.
It's the baby of Nathan and Brianna Munt, built on the latter's parents' farm in the heart of the valley, around 40 minutes drive south of Wangaratta. Go back far enough and the property was part of the region's tobacco industry – the bar is housed inside the old kiln – while more recently it was home to a local icon: Brianna's late mother Barb Sartori ran King Valley Cucina, a hugely popular wood-fired pizza restaurant on the farm, and was known locally as one of the Three Nonnas alongside fellow King Valley cooks Josie Politini and Katrina Pizzini.
Today you’ll find the brewery inhabiting part of the building alongside the old kiln, right next to where visitors sit to sample Nathan's growing and ever-changing lineup of true-to-style beers in a Mediterranean influenced outdoor area surrounded by lush gardens in which broad old trees provide enough shade to create a natural playground for kids, even in the heat of summer. Completing the picture is a cosy Bier Hall that serves as the perfect place to enjoy one of Nathan's lagers that pour on a traditional side pull tap.
While setting up the brewery, the couple kept their day jobs in Melbourne, travelling north to brew, package and serve customers every weekend, something they'll keep doing until the time comes when the move to King Valley becomes permanent. And, while their time at the brewery might be limited, they've wasted little of it gaining a following. The pub in nearby Moyhu has a loyal fan base for Nathan’s American IPA (a beer he didn't plan to brew more than once), the Mountain View in Whitfield pours his Kolsch and Smooth Altiber while up in Porepunkah the locals are digging his German inspired Altbier too – with good reason.
When you visit the brewery, chances are you'll find a number of classic German beers, farmhouse style or Belgian inspired beers on the dozen taps; like many brewers, he's a huge fan of saisons. You may well find beers making full use of the abundant natural resources on offer as well; when The Crafty Pint first visited we were invited to help pick figs from trees at the end of the driveway that were destined for a robust porter.
While brewing is giving the farm yet another story to tell, Nathan and Brianna are keeping the previous chapters alive. On the wall of the kiln facing the bar, you'll find the logos of the region’s old tobacco growers printed on hessian. And, at the far end of the bar, are two pizza ovens built by Brianna's dad Walter and alongside the brewery's famed pizzas is a chef's menu that like many of the beers, changes to suit the seasons. Nathan reckons Walter's pizzas are second only to those at 400 Gradi, a sentiment echoed by many King Valley locals. As that restaurant won best pizza in the world in 2014, it's setting the bar high for his son-in-law's beers.