For all the negatives that came with COVID and its lockdowns, there were a handful of positives to arise from the pandemic too. Many people got to know their communities better and spent more time exploring them, walking every inch of their local streets and parks, meeting neighbours they’d only acknowledged with a nod before and finally getting to know the name of the barista they’d rarely seen due to long hours in an office.
In the case of Matt Simpson and his family, the mundanity of lockdown led to the launch of Twang Brewing. Although he’d long considered building a bar and brewery in his North Melbourne neighbourhood, it was successive lockdowns that spurred him on – and not because he’d lost work to COVID either.
Like many, Matt walked to his local café each day and, as he did, he passed a long-closed bottleshop, which before that had been a milk bar, on Melrose Street. However, unlike most, Matt paid close attention to the dusty storefront and started imagining what it could become. The project manager in him didn’t see empty space: he saw a bar filled with people from the local community, drinking fresh beer from a small brewhouse. More than that, he started picturing just where each tap would go and where every table would fit.
Adding to the appeal was the fact that while many inner Melbourne suburbs had become home to a brewery (and, in some cases, a few more), that wasn’t the case in North Melbourne. So, after years of wondering if and when someone would come along and fill that gap, he realised that someone was him.
As for the brewery’s name, well that story predates the brewery dream: Twang was the name of a website Matt already owned. Years earlier, he’d bought the domain name with the intention of starting a music blog; while that idea faded, it now lives on via the Twang logo featuring a tuning fork.
With the business name sorted and a head full of dreams, it didn’t take long for that empty space he’d walked past countless times to be transformed: by the middle of 2022, Twang Brewing was open.
The small venue can host around 60 people, with the intimate setup designed to cater for anyone keen to catch up over a beer, a cocktail, or a bowl of chips (also known as the vast majority of humanity). Whatever draws you through the front door, you’ll be able to enjoy Twang’s wares at one of many finely-polished wooden tables that sit alongside rustic decorations and lighting in a space that effortlessly combines its twin focuses of manufacturing and hospitality.
That said, “manufacturing” might not quite be the right word: Twang is about as small a commercial brewery as you’ll find, with Matt brewing his beers on a 200-litre brewhouse. The bar looks over the brewhouse and fermenters so you can check out the next beers taking shape as you work through a tasting paddle. In the warmer months, the brewery floor opens onto a courtyard beer garden that captures the feeling of drinking in a friend’s backyard.
The Twang beers are often classics brewed with a twist: for example, you might find a Kolsch on tap that mixes a traditional malt bill with new world hops and late hopping – a take that might not impress brewers in Cologne but certainly appeals to Melburnians.
When it first opened, Twang operated more as a bar, pouring beers from other craft breweries as the brewhouse installation was completed. Today, Matt likes to still pour beers from others across his eight taps, so expect to find offerings from some of Melbourne’s other smaller breweries featuring alongside those produced onsite.
Given the cosy size of the venue, Twang’s in-house food offering is made up of snacks, with bigger appetites catered for by the pizza place two doors down, the aptly named Melrose Place. Twang is also kid- and dog-friendly, making it a perfect fit for a small brewery built for North Melbourne locals by a North Melbourne local.
And, while lockdowns are thankfully consigned to the past, anyone who appreciates the benefits of a vibrant community hangout – especially one with fresh beer on tap – will be grateful they led Matt Simpson to bring 21 Melrose Street back to life in such welcome fashion.