For beer drinkers in Melbourne, the name Beer DeLuxe needs little introduction. In fact, for beer drinkers from anywhere who have been to Melbourne it probably needs little introduction.
The flagship venue in Fed Square was turned into one of the best beer venues in the country by visionary management around the start of the decade, collecting awards for the Best Beer List in Australia along the way. And, having long been the late night, post-Australian International Beer Awards hangout for the beer industry, the venue graduated to become Good Beer Week's Festival Hub in 2015.
There has been the odd speed bump along the way. When new owners took over the venue in 2012 with a promise to expand the Beer DeLuxe brand across and outside Melbourne, there was an initial loss of direction at the original site that led to consternation among some in beer circles – consternation that only grew when copper tanks pouring "Brewery Fresh" Carlton Draught were installed, complete with ostentatious copper pipes carrying the beer over drinkers' heads to the bar.
However, significant investment in the venue has created one of the best urban beer gardens in Melbourne (plus a second one at the top of Fed Square itself) and its beer identity has been rediscovered: an identity that still embraces craft beer but in tandem with a broader appeal befitting a venue of its size in such a central location. What's more, the second venue (pictured below) has developed, under the stewardship of some of the most passionate and knowledgeable staff in the city, into one of the best places in the city to indulge your every beery whim – and does so in the rather unassuming suburb of Hawthorn to boot.
Two became three early in 2015 when the owners turned Paddy's in Albury into a Beer DeLuxe, albeit more in look than nature with the vast majority of taps still pouring beers from Lion and CUB. Now, in the next few weeks those three venues will become five as the Armada Hospitality Group prepares to open Beer DeLuxes in Wagga Wagga and Sydney; a sixth venue is mooted for Brisbane in September 2016.
Ahead of the openings we chatted with Tom Allan, Beer DeLuxe’s marketing and sales manager, about the steady northward course being plotted by the venture. We started by asking about the attraction of regional towns like Albury and Wagga rather following the common logic of attempting expansion straight into another big city, to which his matter of fact reply was inarguable: “Because they’re thriving inland metropolises and they love beer as much as the rest of Australia. Why should they miss out?”
As if to underline the point, the Wagga venue sounds like it could be the most ambitious of the lot, boasting an outdoor deck with capacity for 400 people, vertical garden, 300 person function space, 500 person nightclub, live entertainment stage, 50 taps and a packaged beer range 200 strong.
“Architecturally, it looks fantastic,” says Tom. “It was challenging to construct as it was above the main street shops of Wagga below – we actually had to install columns onto the main street – but what was delivered is spectacular. It’s got something for everyone and, we hope, will be a mecca of entertainment for the residents of Wagga.”
Far from the main street of Wagga and under the growing shadow of Barangaroo, Darling Harbour provides a different set of challenges and opportunities. The area throbs during the day with tourists flocking to nearby museums, attractions and eateries while evenings welcome well-dressed city types who trickle down from the CBD into the late sunshine. But, the King Street Brewhouse aside, it’s not an area that’s wholeheartedly embraced the interest in craft beer which has swept over many over nearby suburbs. Not that Tom’s particularly concerned.
“Sydney has a massively thriving craft beer culture so that party’s already pumping and it’s something we’ve wanted to be a part of for a long time. So when this site came up, we jumped in.
"The reason we chose Darling Harbour is that the location is beautiful. With the harbour and the views it’s really the kind of place you want to have a beer.”
Outlook aside, should drinkers expect something uniquely Sydney or something more resembling the other Beer DeLuxe venues.
“There’ll be some similarities and some differences,” he says. “In terms of size, it’s a bit bigger than Hawthorn and a little smaller than Fed Square (pictured above). It’ll be the same basic model in that we’ll have 24 beer lines over 40 taps and we’ll be pushing more than 150 packaged beers.
"You’ll see a lot of similarities in the international selection, though you’ll see a lot more support for local New South Wales brewers. On the food menu, there’ll be subtle changes but a core similarity, the big difference being that we’ll source the produce as locally as possible."
From the reintroduction of mainstream beers on one hand to reaching out for local produce with the other, it seems that a bit of tactical variation has become key to what's developing into a burgeoning brand.
Says Tom: “We now cater to such a diverse market that if we get, say, a Stone Enjoy By IPA from the USA then we’ll have beer geeks coming for that, but plenty of our customers are white collar workers who just want a knock-off beer. If we can point them in the direction of a craft beer, that’s great, but there’s no room for snobbery in our venues. If people want a mainstream beer, we have that too.
"The main thing we’re working on is to ensure that if you go to any Beer DeLuxe you’ll have a great experience.”
He says they're "hoping for an early Christmas present”, with Wagga due to open to the public on December 11 and Sydney the following week.
Beer DeLuxe Wagga Wagga is at 109 Baylis Street and Beer DeLuxe Darling Harbour is at 9 Lime Street.