One could be forgiven for not visiting chilly Ballarat especially in winter. However, if you’re in the region and decide to bypass the Goldfields, you might just be missing out. Why? Because the city’s craft beer scene, as with more and more of Australia, is on its way up.
Steadily, over the past five or so years, Ballarat has started to embrace the craft beer scene, with a number of events, venues and beer related activities becoming available to all and sundry. Indeed, the city is becoming something of a hidden gem, says local resident and beer lover Clayton Morrison. And here are the reasons why.
On a weekday, you can drop into Red Duck Brewery and, if you’re lucky, could find yourself chatting to owner Scott Wilson-Browne at the cellar door. He’s the sort of character that makes it likely said conversation could easily lead to a look around the brewery or the retelling of the colourful stories – warts and all – behind Red Duck’s quirky and zany, experimental and fun brews (pictured at top). From beer made with parsnip and potato to beer fermented from sourdough yeast cultures, there's always something different on offer at Red Duck. Best of all, you can purchase direct from their cellar door to sample at home too.
You’ll find Scott’s beers among the offerings at the city’s small but growing number of good beer-supporting venues too. Among them is Coach House Ale (pictured right), at 202 Lydiard St Nth (next to the train station), opened by Anthony Perovic in December 2014 after years of planning.
His aim was to provide Ballarat and surrounds with good beer and the range on offer at CHA certainly does that, blending regulars – Brooklyn, Red Duck, O’Brien, Two Birds, Mountain Goat – with occasional exotics, such as 8 Wired, Stone, Rogue and Sierra Nevada – not to mention some downright hard to get beers.
Prior to the Coach House opening, the only place you could find a selection of beer worth travelling for in Ballarat was The Mallow (pictured below). There you’re welcomed by Dallas, Sophie and their team, and are free to sample any of the crafty delights they have on their 12 taps. They have four house taps, from which pour happy hour pots and pints of Holgate Temptress, Mountain Goat Steam Ale, Two Birds Sunset Ale or Napoleone Apple Cider, while the eight guest taps are constantly being updated with fresh fancies. If you’re a bit peckish after the ordeal of tasting (and talking about) such an array of beers, the kitchen whips up a fine line in tasty fare, not least the epic burgers.
Rebellion Brewery, at 36 Gregory St West, Wendouree, is one of Australia’s few producers of gluten free beer under the O’Brien banner. Their core range of Lager, Pale, Brown and Light Lager is brewed with a millet and sorghum base, while there are seasonal releases every quarter. The brewery has produced multiple award-winning beers of which John O'Brien and Andrew Lavery are extremely proud, including taking the first ever trophy awarded to a gluten free beer at the Australian International Beer Awards. Not bad for a pair of blokes who loved beer, but – diagnosed with coeliac disease and united by an ad placed in The Australian Coeliac Magazine – were driven by the desire to create GF beers that could hold a candle to regular, barley-based beers.
A new arrival looming on the horizon at time of writing is the Hop Temple. Whilst not yet open, word is that it will boast taps in the double figures: a mix of regular and rotating drops on offer.
More information will come to light in the weeks ahead, but it certainly promises to add appeal to the developing Ballarat craft beer scene.
Then there is, of course, the hugely popular Ballarat Beer Festival. Held annually, it attracts thousands of visitors to the centre of town where drinkers, brewers and musicians mingle at the City Oval, enjoying a great day in the sunshine in the early part of the year (well, they’ve been blessed with sun every year so far so fingers crossed for 2016!). Dozens of stalls featuring food and beverages from across the state and, sometimes, further afield are just one element of a family friendly event featuring plenty of music, entertainment and kids’ activities that has since been used as a template by other event organisers across the country.
Finally, for those who are looking to take their beer knowledge to the next level, there are the brewing courses at Federation University Ballarat Campus. For people looking to gain employment in the brewing industry or hone their brewing skills, there’s a range of options as well as an onsite, fully operational brewery.
A few short years ago, Ballarat – a town with a proud brewing history – had little to offer the inquisitive beer drinker. Thankfully, that’s changing (indeed, has changed) with some genuinely interesting and welcoming venues and events to check out. Just remember: if you’re coming in winter, bring a warm jacket, a beanie and a smile.
Clayton is a keen brewer and beer lover residing in Ballarat. Outside of beer, he loves his Hawthorn Hawks and his soon-to-be wife, Erikka