Early in 2016, a beer called Once Bitter Urban Ale first appeared in bars across Melbourne under the Collins Street Brewing banner. It was the first release from a brewing company created by Ze'ev Meltzer, who'd decided it was time to start leaving the corporate life behind and switch focus.
The journey from there to the launch of his brewery venue more than two years later was, like many in the beer world, a rather long and windy one. The original plan was to find a site in Collins Street itself, in the heart of the Melbourne’s CBD. But, when that proved impossible, focus was instead trained on a part of the city where there was a dearth of local brewing: District Docklands, home of the Melbourne Star.
The area had previously been known as Harbour Town and, when it became District Docklands in 2017, the intention was to give people more reasons to visit. And, in this day and age, what better way to entice visitors than offering them the chance to enjoy a locally brewed beer? Thus, the Collins Street Brewing team – by this stage also going by a new name, Urban Alley Brewery – took over the old Harbour Town Hotel, opening the doors to the public for the first time in the second half of 2018.
The venue, located beneath the Melbourne Star, is an expansive one comfortably capable of hosting more than 500 people. Despite its size, the fact it’s a working brewery is impossible to miss given the stainless steel is visible from almost any seat inside the bar.
Often, it’s a space that swells with Melbourne’s tourists, although with plenty of offices in the area and an increasing number calling Docklands home, you’re just as likely to find someone heading in for a knock-off drink or a sneaky beer on the way home. On weekends in particular it’s become a popular spot for families, with parents keen to end a day’s shopping in the adjacent malls with a freshly tapped beer and modern pub fare.
By the time the brewpub opened, the business had also grown too, with Ze'ev taking on new business partners and the Urban Alley beers starting to spread into Melbourne's many bottleshops and bars. In the second half of 2019, Ze'ev left the business but the brewery has continued its focus on bringing local beer to the people of Docklands and getting Urban Alley into hands further afield too.
Like many breweries large and small, old and new, Urban Alley isn’t just looking to produce beer for the local market, but is aiming to do so sustainably. Its green credentials are bolstered by the ability to treat water onsite and by being the first brewing company in Australia to use E6PR six-pack holder rings made of recycled material that can be composted once you’ve finished your beer too.
If you pick up a six-pack, you'll be able to choose from a core range made up of four approachable beers: their Urban Ale, American pale, Helles style lager and English brown. Or you can look at the brewery’s limited release seasonals, the Alley series, where head brewer Shaya Rubinstein has a little more space in which to experiment and where you’ll often find saisons, fruit-infused and heavily-hopped beers too.
As Australia’s local beer scene continues to spread its wings and encroach ever more into the mainstream, breweries are moving beyond industrial warehouses and regional towns and into all manner of unlikely locations. Locations such as Urban Alley: brewing underneath a giant ferris wheel in the heart of a tourist-friendly retail district.