The Colonial Brewing story is one that can be neatly viewed in two parts – parts that are equally neatly centred on each coast of Australia. Part one began in the West, way back in 2004 when "craft beer" wasn't even a phrase used by those brewing it, while part two has at its heart this brewery and venue in Port Melbourne.
Starting at the beginning, it was in 2004 that Colonial Brewing opened its sleek brewpub in the heart of the Margaret River region. Many have since joined them in the region in which Bootleg first led the way, yet few come close to the Colonial brewpub's ambitious scope.
If you're someone who appreciates good beer, you'll likely have called in when touring the region. Yet, aside from tucking into their typically traditionally minded ales at the Margaret River base, you'd have struggled to find Colonial beers anywhere else unless you stumbled across one of a dozen or so venues in Melbourne, Perth or, most recently, Sydney with their beers on tap.
At least, that is, until we hit part two...
This part of the story began in earnest in 2016 after Colonial took over what had previously been Matilda Bay's brewery in Port Melbourne, walking into a ready made brewery that would allow them to instantly increase production capacity significantly while also having a base to get beer fresher to the East Coast.
The brewery had already installed a canning line at its Margaret River home and started sending Draught (formerly Kolsch) and Small Ale into the world; with this second facility up and running, Colonial tap heads began appearing with greater frequency across the East Coast too. Since taking over the eye-catching old warehouse, new tanks have been added alongside a much larger and faster canning line meaning, well, meaning more of everything beer wise.
They were able to launch their new core range, adding IPA and Pale Ale – both in tinnies with the 360 degree lid they first introduced with Small Ale – and cold pressed Apple Cider Bertie, named with a nod to the Bertie Beetle lollies once made under the same roof. Augmenting the lineup are regular one-offs – often festival or brewery exclusives or collabs with the likes of Padre Coffee and Starward Whisky, the annual Inquests (always 10 percent-plus and dark) and One Keg Wonders that allow the brewers to let their imaginations run wild.
The brewery in Port Melbourne comes in three parts: a space filled with old sofas sat underneath classic photos of AC/DC, 70s boozers and holidaymakers at the beach; one filled with benches and tables alongside a cinema screen of sorts; and the area around the bar looking into the working brewery.
Usually, the bar and kitchen are open from Thursday to Sunday although, with a capacity of 400 and plenty of space for entertainment, it regularly hosts events and functions too. For those that call in, the view of the beamed ceilings, rows of tanks and stacks of tinnies is rather different to the farmland surrounding Colonial's original home. But, as the brewery accelerates its plans to become one of Australia's major craft players, it's this venue that will be its engine room.
Indeed, it's an engine set to boast some serious firepower. Late in 2018, they embarked on a project that will see the installation of a custom-designed, four vessel, 50 hectolitre BrauKon brewery from Germany and a collection of 100 and 200 hectolitre fermentation tanks. With more capacity being added in WA too, the aim is to move to four and then six million litres per annum, continuing Colonial's evolution from Margs brewpub to one of the country's largest independent operators.
Some photos copyright Simon Shiff