Bandolier Brewing’s name stems from a love of Western movies and, while Warragul isn’t exactly the sort of place that conjures the likes of Deadwood, the name still feels incredibly apt.
That’s not because Warragul sits in West Gippsland, about an hour out of Melbourne, either. It’s due to the brewery’s pioneering approach in bringing craft beer to a community with an approach that’s always had a bit of the outlaw about it.
Somewhat ironically, before launching the brewery founder Zander Thompson was a lawyer who landed upon Bandolier – the belt of bullets you can see strapped across a cowboy’s chest – courtesy of his passion for all things Western. You’ll spot a bandolier on the Penny Farthing-riding skeleton in the brewery’s logo too.
Although Warragul is relatively close to Melbourne, it’s not been particularly fertile ground for craft beer: it’s a farming town in which taps are contracted to big brewers and watering holes tend to look the same. Thus, when the brewery opened in an industrial pocket on the outskirts of town, it became the first and only brewery to call the Baw Baw Shire home – with locals quick to get behind Bandolier and their beers.
The brewery’s original home is still the source of beers – all produced with a 500-litre Braumeister – and the bar there remains available for functions, but since 2022 the Bandolier Beer Hall in Mason Street in the heart of town is the main way people have been enjoying the Bandolier experience.
The grand old shed couldn’t better suit the Bandolier vibe, either; while it certainly wasn’t constructed for people looking to enjoy craft beer, American barbecue and good times, it feels very much like it easily could have been. Walk in and you’re instantly greeted by a piano but, rather than the music stopping and heads snapping in your direction as if you’ve entered a Wild West saloon, expect the tunes to carry on while a friendly staff member guides you through the 18 taps.
That extensive tap list means there’s never a shortage of offerings to select from, with their easy-drinking draught pouring next to a classic stout or an IPA. You’re also likely to be treated to beer styles few Australian craft breweries still produce: a Belgian pale or the White Ale, which is a true labour of love for Zander. It was visits to Europe and North America in 2012 that first sparked his passion for beer and brewing, and the Bandolier lineup reflects both cultures, putting timeless styles beside hopped-up American IPAs.
The Western saloon vibe is carried throughout the rest of the venue: the wide wooden bar and stools provide the perfect place to perch for a solo beer while admiring the posters of beer labels on the walls; myriad tables throughout the hall are waiting for groups; and the expansive beer garden big enough to park any number of horses fills with those seeking local beer and a place to unwind. The piano and stage are frequently in use too, with live music a common sound at Bandolier, often local acts performing as groups of friends gather to solve the world’s problems over a game of pool.
Food is served up by Fire’d, who specialise in the kind of low and slow barbecue that, prior to their smoker being fired up, you’d have had to travel to Melbourne to enjoy. Their range of burgers, meats and sides are naturally a fine fit for craft beer, with the pairing heightened by the use of Bandolier’s beers as ingredients in the food.
Having brought Warragul’s locals their first brewery, Bandolier kegs have since made their way into pubs in other parts of Gippsland, while cans can be found across the region too, including in the many surrounding wineries as well as the acclaimed Hogget Kitchen.
Their success as beer pioneers means Bandolier Brewing is less like an outpost in the Wild West and more akin to a vibrant local hub.