In a country in which craft beer continues its seemingly inexorable rise, breweries are beginning to appear in all manner of unlikely spots. While reimagining an old warehouse in an industrial corner of town still seems to be the primary mode of transformation, beer tourists can discover much else on their travels.
Among the more unlikely brewery locations is the site upon which St Andrews Beach Brewery now sits: the 38-hectare former home of one of the world’s leading thoroughbred training facilities.
Markdel, at Fingal, was operated by Australian horse racing royalty for more than a decade. Over that period, the Freedman brothers turned out a long line of champion thoroughbreds, most notably triple Melbourne Cup winner, Makybe Diva.
Eventually, the brothers decided to sell the grounds, with most of the siblings moving away from training horses altogether. Unsure what would happen to a property that enjoys almost uninterrupted views of Bass Strait, the grounds and stables lay unused for three years, waiting for a good idea to come along.
That idea came from Andrew Purchase, another man with a background in sport – in his case, building and designing golf courses – who had worked closely with the Freedmans to create Markdel. Years earlier, Andrew had been persuaded by friends to invest in a brewery, Heads Beach Brewing Company in the French beachside town of Seignosse, and had fallen in love with craft beer.
Andrew felt the 38-hectare property next to St Andrews Beach would make the perfect spot for a brewery so, along with Michael Freedman and professional jockey Tommy Berry, set out to create one.
The idea became reality just before Christmas 2017, as St Andrews Beach Brewery opened its doors to huge crowds and joined the swelling line-up of breweries that are now found on the Mornington Peninsula.
To walk into St Andrews is to walk into a beer garden designed with laid-back, lazy days in mind. Tables line the pathway and lawns leading you towards towards the bar. The beer garden’s pièce de resistance, however, is the converted horse stables on either side. Each one now houses a booth ideal for families and groups looking for a place to spend long afternoon sessions. All are named after the famed horses that once tore around the grounds.
The bar itself is a large, open space accessed via large, retractable glass doors; the space is filled with share tables and comes with an acoustic roof designed to keep things lively without filling with noise when visitor numbers swell. Peer through the large glass windows lining the back wall of the bar and on full display is the brewery’s 25 hectolitre brewhouse, allowing drinkers to see how and where their beer is made.
The beers themselves celebrate the property’s history, with names such as 6 Furlongs Pale Ale, an ode to the track’s length, and Box 54 Golden Ale, named for Makybe Diva. They were designed by master brewer Dermot O’Donnell, who brought with him more than 50 years' experience in the Australian beer industry, with day to day operations led by Matt Stitt, who joined from the Hunter Valley’s Hope Brewhouse. Most of the beer is sold through the taps a few metres away from where it's produced, with the entire core range available for takeaway in bottles too.
It’s not only a brewery, bar and beer garden housed at the ground – most of the property has been given a new lease of life. A hop farm has been planted while vast swathes of the old track now have varieties of old English cider apples and pears growing upon them, ready to swell the homegrown booze offerings in time.
There’s also a two-acre vegetable garden supplying a kitchen that produces a menu primarily designed for sharing and grazing: small plates of oysters, wings and calamari roll out of the kitchen alongside a selection of pizzas and larger items which conjure beachside dining.
The reinvention extends to most of the buildings on the site: the area behind the brewery is being converted into a tasting room for brewery tours, more stables are in line for conversion and the old feed sheds still hold grain, albeit now destined for your glass rather than a thoroughbred.
Markdel enjoyed a global reputation as one of the finest training facilities in racing and in its new guise looks set to earn a reputation as one of the finest brewery homes in Australia too, bringing the sort of experience enjoyed at Margaret River’s more flamboyant breweries to the Victorian coast.