Long ago, Castlemaine’s claim to fame was the local abundance of two valuable resources: gold and beer. Despite the town retaining so many of its historical buildings, those particular reasons for being had long since gone; the gold had all been mined and the last brewery closed its doors in 1925.
Prior to that, during the 19th century, Castlemaine was home to more than a dozen breweries, including Lion Nathan-owned Castlemaine Perkins before the company was moved to Queensland. The rest of the town’s breweries closed their doors over time, with many of them bought out by competitors in Melbourne.
Yet, in 2014, brewing made its return as Shedshaker Brewing – initially Castlemaine Brewing Co – beers started appearing across Central Victoria. Initially brewed out of Bendigo’s Brookes Brewery, since April 2016 Castlemaine’s own brewery and taproom has been operating in the town’s historic Woollen Mills.
Sitting opposite the Botanical Gardens, the Woollen Mills date back to 1875 and were transformed in 2016 into a hub of local and artisanal production. Castlemaine’s fellow tenants include bakeries, a coffee roaster and a small winery, all of which share in the brewery’s community-centric ethos.
Although when the brewery launched it bore the name of the town, a cease-and-desist from Lion Nathan, concerned the name would invoke confusion with its Castlemaine Perkins brand, led to a refresh for the brewery. With that, Shedshaker Brewery was reborn, the name having previously been used for one of the brewery’s best-selling beers and chosen for its country connotations.
Castlemaine’s rebirth as a brewing town owes it to the brewery’s three owners, Michael “Wolfey” Wolfe, Jacqueline Brodie Hanns and Doug Falconer. All three are a big part of the local community and were spurred into starting the brewery by an eagerness to see brewing return.
Wolfey’s family’s history in the area extends all the way back to 1856 when his ancestor Peter Wolfe arrived. The Wolfe family’s lore holds that, despite being a local cop, Peter didn’t mind making booze on the sly.
Fans of Australian music are likely to be fairly aware of Doug too: he's the drummer in Hunter & Collectors. Meanwhile Jacqueline’s background in event planning and hospitality leave her well placed to run The Taproom and plan the brewery’s busy calendar of social events.
When Shedshaker Brewing first started, its beers were largely focused on traditional styles but, after he took over as head brewer, Brad Iles was given freedom to experiment: their porter and lager are both classic examples of their respective styles, while the Knucklehead Rye IPA and Espresso Lager show a willingness to push styles and collaborate with some of those businesses under the same roof. Another unlikely collaboration – this time with CSIRO for a conference – led to the creation of hemp ale Hempathy.
As of early 2023, a new head brewer moved in: one of Cavalier's founders, Andrew Cronin, took over the reins in the brewhouse, bringing a decade of experience during which the brewery he helped build released scores of beers in a vast range of styles.
As Doug put it at the time: “Andrew come to us from a brewery that has found success with its core range of ales and lagers as well as some very interesting specials. Cavalier has also brewed for a number of new and emerging breweries, something that Shedshaker has done and will continue to do into the future. This combination made him a great fit for us.”
Andrew opened his account with a West Coast IPA at the start of a big year for Shedshaker; the brewery is set to move into larger premises on The Mill site.
Prior to the move, you can enjoy their beers and hospitality at The Taproom, where you can also try a few local ciders, wines and ginger beers. The Taproom itself sits adjacent to the brewhouse and is something of an extension of the people created it. The walls are lined with Wolfey’s artwork, while Doug’s Hall of Fame ARIA sits next to equally impressive trophies from the local “Castlemaine Idyll”.
As something of a community hub, The Taproom regularly hosts comedy nights and live music that visitors can enjoy from the bar, shared tables or the beer garden out the back. From Friday to Sunday the visitors can sample the brewery’s beers alongside house made pizzas. And, in a new offering devised during the COVID-19 shutdown, they now offer tapas from Tuesday to Friday.
With brewing having been absent from the town for close to a century, Shedshaker is a much-needed addition. Furthermore, Castlemaine’s location between Bendigo and Woodend means the brewery is contributing to the region’s growing reputation as a craft beer destination. Beer tourists from Melbourne or further afield can now travel all the way from Victoria’s capital to Echuca making regular stops at a variety of craft breweries along the way. Just as it used to be.