When the Malt Shed opened in Wangaratta midway through 2017, brewing’s arrival in the rural city represented something of a return to form. During the 1880s, when the population of Wangaratta was roughly 20 times smaller than it is today, the regional centre had not one but two breweries making beer for locals, while many others were to come and go over the years.
From the beginning of the 20th century, however, the local brewing industry receded until Wangaratta found itself without a beer to call its own. And that’s how it remained until Grant Jones, Andrew Bett and Mathew Saunders swung open the doors of the Malt Shed, ensuring the people of Wang again had a brewery in town.
The spark that would lead to the Malt Shed dates back rather further - to 2014 - when Grant, a perennial homebrewer, convinced his two future business partners the time was right for their hometown to have its own brewery. And, as they set about finding a home for their nascent idea, they dipped their toes into the local market with Malt Shed beers gypsy brewed at Zierholz in Canberra.
Eventually, they found what they were looking for in an old farm supply store turned Italian restaurant. The industrial shed provides quite the space for their endeavour, with its barn-like tin roof and open fireplaces creating an ambience that’s part country pub, part town hall. Outside, the bar’s extensive beer garden, the Malt Shed Yard, that backs onto One Mile Creek makes for a spot where views of the surrounding bush can be enjoyed with fresh beer and food in hand.
From the earliest days, when Malt Shed was just an idea bouncing between mates, the plan was always for the “P” in brewpub to be one that was metaphorically capitalised and underlined. As such, their home serves up a menu that focuses on quality pub fare for mains, augmented by a plethora of sharing options that ensures drinkers won’t be short of pairing options for their beers.
As for the brewing side of the operation, the brewhouse that sits at the front of the shed allows Grant to create a constantly changing lineup of specialties, from New England IPAs to passionfruit pale ales. Meanwhile, the core packaged range is gypsy brewed at Social Bandit in Mansfield, although, with Malt Shed having taken over the space next door, the plan is to bring all brewing in house in the near future.
Given the name, it should come as little surprise Malt Shed’s core beers tend to focus on beer’s backbone, with the likes of a dark mild and amber bringing to mind versions of such beers shipped from Europe. For those hoping to explore the brewery’s tagline of “Adventures in Malt” further, the list of boilermakers are a great place to start. And, soon enough, the fruits of a burgeoning barrel program focused on ageing beer in local Corowa Whisky barrels will start appearing too.
It’s a barrel program that speaks to the focus Grant, Andrew and Mathew place on their own region, one that’s becoming an ever more popular drawcard for tourists seeking good beer. Sitting at the gateway to the High Country, Malt Shed is a welcome addition to the region’s Brewery Trail, which has grown to cover much of Victoria’s north and only seems to be getting bigger.
Although such a trail offers clear benefits for the local tourism industry and brings in greater numbers of thirsty travellers eager to sample local flavours, it’s the locals of Wang – bereft of a local brewery for so long – who have the most to gain from the Malt Shed.