Crafty Crawls: The 86 Tram Pt I

May 7, 2018, by Will Ziebell
Crafty Crawls: The 86 Tram Pt I

Back in 2011, when The Crafty Pint was part of the small team launching the first Good Beer Week, we came up with the concept of the Crafty Crawl. It was a means of giving venues and breweries an easy way to be part of the festival at short notice and with little effort: they put forward a prize, nominated an unusual feature of their venue and we sent drinkers out to take photos of themselves with said features. Those who visited the most over the week won the prizes.

With Good Beer Week growing fast from the off, we were able to retire the Crafty Crawl after one year, despite its popularity: one team took part dressed as pirates and hit up 37 participating venues over the festival. But you can't keep a good thing down so, in May 2016, we brought the name back, albeit in a rather different format.

The Crafty Crawls are guides to the best craft beer venues around the country, grouped by their proximity and designed to be easily navigable either by foot, bike or public transport. The first one we ever ran featured a ride along Melbourne's iconic 86 tram. At the time, it was already the craftiest public transport route in the country; two years on, there's so much more to explore we've decided to split the Crawl into two parts to make it more easily – and sensibly – digestible. You can check out part II here.

During the 19th and early 20th century, trams had a presence in most Australian cities, making them one of the main modes of transport for those living in urban centres. As cars became increasingly common and affordable, most cities chose to tear up their old tram tracks. Luckily, for those who enjoy a good old fashioned bar crawl, Melbourne never got over its trams. Indeed, Melbourne now boasts the one of the most extensive tram networks in the world, making it a perfect way to explore many of the city’s craft beer venues.

Running from Docklands to La Trobe University in Bundoora, the number 86 tram takes passengers through much of the diversity Melbourne has to offer. In keeping with that, these venues – listed in order as if you were heading north from the CBD – that align with the route offer their own distinct styles, but are united by their devotion to craft beer.

The Catfish – Stop 12

Run by mates Kieran Yewdall and Michael Shaughnessy, The Catfish is a great starting point (or finish if coming the other way). With exposed brick decor and an unpretentious vibe, the main bar is both open and inviting. Eight taps downstairs and more in the band room upstairs pour nothing but craft beer and cider, with most taps on rotation, while the sound of blues, soul and rock 'n' roll complete the scene. 

From live music several nights a week, to EP launches plus comedy every Tuesday and its oft-repeated role as a festival hub for events such as the Gertrude Street Projection Festival, the bar satisfies a range of appetites. Speaking of which, Sparrows control the kitchen, serving up authentic and artery-troubling Philly Cheesesteaks. 

Hippo Bottle & Bar – Stop 18

For many years, 290 Smith Street was home to Collingwood’s Cellarbrations bottleshop, one that, over time, helped demonstrate that being a part of a large chain and supporting local and interesting beers needn’t be mutually exclusive. That was until late in 2017, when the owners decided to transform the bottleshop into something new, and Hippo Bottle & Bar was born. 

The new venue retained the space’s well stocked walls of local and international beer, but also turned the back into a bar with eight taps and countless bottles ready to be poured across the bar. And if that selection doesn’t satisfy, the staff are always happy to crack open any stubbie, tinnie or larger bottle at the bar for retail price.

You'll find this Hippo at 290 Smith Street, Collingwood.

Beermash – Stop 18

Such has been the speed at which new craft beer venues have been lining the 86 tram route, you don't have much need for another other mode of transport than your legs while on Smith Street. Between stops 18 and 19 you'll find Hippo and Beermash (and, indeed, Rockwell & Sons below).

When we first published this Crawl, Beermash was operating as a bottleshop and growler filling specialist. But the plan was always to upgrade to a license that would allow punters to drink in too. With that achieved, it's become another high grade offering along this ridiculously good tram route.

It's always had 20 taps protruding from one wall and they've always focused on gathering together an eclectic selection of beers from all over the world, including many short run offerings. Add in a broad selection of packaged product and merch – not to mention all manner of take home draught options and the ability to sit outside and people watch on one of the most diverse strips in Australia – and it's a pretty enticing package.

The Mill Brewery – Stop 19

When The Mill first opened its doors early in 2017, it joined a burgeoning scene of breweries calling Collingwood home (with Fixation set to join them at some point during winter 2018). Located down one of the suburb’s many side streets, just a short walk from Smith Street, the small brewery is the culmination of a long-held dream held by Mirek Aldridge, a homebrewer keen to give the once industrial Sackville Street its own brewery. 

Making its home in an old mechanics garage, The Mill’s many skylights and large roller door help flood the space with streams of light each day. At night, food trucks typically fill the front driveway while people file in keen to try whatever limited batches are now making the short journey from brewery to cool-room to bar. In that regard, the 600-litre brewhouse is a serious workhorse that pushes out an ever-changing lineup of releases across myriad styles.

The Craft & Co – Stop 20

A rather different addition to the Melbourne beer scene landed in Collingwood in 2015. The Craft & Co is something of a showcase for the various businesses its owner operates within the Australian food and beverage industry. Thus, there’s a microbrewery at the rear, a still at the front, machines for making cheese and salami upstairs and regular masterclasses showcasing The Craft & Co’s myriad features.

On the beer front, the 16-tap bar pours beers made both under The Craft & Co’s banner and by the many gypsy brewers who walk through its doors. Uniquely among many of the country’s smaller breweries, The Craft & Co wears the badge of gypsy brew site loudly and proudly, meaning the space acts as a home for plenty of brewers that don’t have a home yet and those testing the water to see how far they want to take their brewing. Aside from that, there’s a restaurant and café, a deli stocked with a mouthwatering selection of cheeses and small goods, a function space upstairs and an ever-growing selection of beers and spirits made on-site are available for takeaway. 

Other Options

And there's more, just in case the above hasn't totally sated your desires...

  • The Incubator – 404 Smith Street, Collingwood – The home of IPA specialist Fixation Brewing opened its doors to the public just after this Crawl was published, in August 2018, and pours ten taps of IPA at all times, some constants, many on rotation.
  • Smith St Cellars – 195 Smith Street, Fitzroy – A bottleshop that’s been serving up a diverse mix of good beer longer than most and also crams a wide variety of wines and spirits into its cosy quarters. 
  • Paradise Alley – 25 Easey Street, Collingwood – As the name suggests, you'll find one of the more recent additions to the Collingwood bar scene in a share space warehouse down an alley. Paradise Alley has proven immensely popular since opening thanks to its lively mix of great booze, pop-up parties, top tunes and eclectic clientele.

Check out for part II here – and remember, you don't need to take in all of even one part in one go: responsible consumption is key!

You can check out all other Crafty Crawls here and find more good beer venues via the free Crafty Pint app.

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