Well, how about 2020, hey?
In March this year, The Crafty Pint took a trip up to Victoria’s High Country to revisit its many breweries with the intention being to write an article encouraging craft beer fans to holiday in the region as soon as they could.
The trip followed Australia’s devastating bushfire season, one that saw towns evacuated and holidaymakers told in no uncertain terms they should make their way home. What came next was an outpouring of support from many parts of the country and the world, with campaigns launched that implored people to spend big in those areas that had lost what is normally their busiest time of years.
In the local beer world, breweries and venues came together to fundraise via Beer For Bushfire Relief while local and international breweries created the Resilience Beer as a fundraiser, taking its name from a similar Sierra Nevada venture that followed previous Californian bushfires.
At the time it all sounded rather intense, but then came the weekend came when The Crafty Pint headed to the hills and things changed dramatically. Driving up the Hume Highway on March 13 – Friday the 13th – news alert after news alert came in of what had been cancelled, what might still go ahead without crowds, and how the hospitality industry would have to adjust by letting fewer people come through its doors.
A long winter followed but, as of November 9, Melburnians are able to leave the city and, from November 23, the border between Victoria and New South Wales is coming down. So it seems like now is finally time for us to run our two-part guide to the High Country’s breweries. Let's hope 2020 has nothing else left in store for us...
Before we get stuck into it, a quick note: Wangaratta’s Malt Shed was one of the first breweries to close due to COVID but they've recently announced plans to return, while changes are also afoot at Blizzard Brewing in Dinner Plain.
If you’ve never been to the High Country (or even if you go all the time) now’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy the High Country Brewery Trail, a Visit Victorian initiative that spans hundreds of kilometres and close to a dozen breweries. The Victorian Government is – perhaps unsurprisingly – encouraging Victorians to travel close to home via the Stay Close, Go Further campaign, which features some of the breweries below in its promotional videos.
There’s no single way to take the tour and every brewery – plus the myriad wineries, distilleries and excellent pubs – are well worth spending a fair bit of time in if you can, so it’s really not possible to get to all of them in one hit. We’ve started off heading north from Melbourne, with this two-parter working as something of a loop from stop one to get you back around to the city.
For anyone looking to leave the car at home, you can book a tour with Ingrained Culture, a local brewery tour company that also curates packs of excellent booze from the High Country.
Black Dog Brewery
The first High Country brewery on the way from Melbourne is Black Dog, located in Taminick, a short detour off the Hume Highway and close to both Wangaratta and the home of Ned Kelly’s last stand, Glenrowan. James Booth started the brewery on his family’s winery – Taminick Cellars – in 2011, with the Booths’ late hound Macca inspiring the name and look of the brand.
The winery’s been in James’ family since 1904 and the old brick cellar door that houses both winemaking and brewing feels like it's barely changed in the hundred years since. The space is lined with grand old wine barrels and standing out front offers the chance to take in commanding views of not just the vines but also the stunning countryside, with the Warby Ovens National Park just a stone’s throw away.
If you make it in on a weekend, James’ beers – which range from the hoppy and clean to the bold and Belgian – will be pouring from the taps, while during the week wine tastings and takeaways remain an option.
If all that sounds like something you’d rather spend days enjoying rather than a few hours, the weather-board cottage by the vines is available for bookings.
Head back in time at 339 Booth Road, Taminick
Mitta Mitta Brewing
The town of Mitta Mitta is as stunning as it is small. Located around an hour’s drive south of Albury/Wodonga, Mitta’s a valley town that consists of little beyond a stunning river, one pub and a general store. That was until 2018, at least, when the doors to Mitta Mitta Brewing Co opened.
The brewery had been in the works for many years prior, after Alec and Chris Pennington convinced their mates Tim and Jen Cabelka to start a brewery on Alec’s family farm. Before making the move, Tim had been brewing at Red Hill for many years and the move to a sleepy dairy town to brew beer and grow hops seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.
The entire brewery and bar were put together by the two families and the bar space is filled with upcycled timber, cosy couches and a roaring fireplace. But where you really want to enjoy Mitta's beers is in the beer garden, which offers wonderful views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the imposing and often snow-tipped Mount Bogong.
Mitta Mitta's beers make full use of the hops grown behind the brewery while the food menu is one that’s focused on sustainably and locally sourced ingredients.
Pull up at 1639 Mitta North Road, Mitta Mitta
Bridge Road Brewers
It’s quite a drive from Mitta to Beechworth so don’t be deceived by how close they look on a map – you’ve got many winding paths to make it through first. Once you do, head immediately to a pioneering craft brewery in the pioneer town.
Bridge Road Brewers was launched by 2005 by Ben and Maria Kraus in Ben’s dad’s shed and, today, their beers can be found in many parts of the country. Nowhere beats trying those beers in the place where they’ve been brewed for most their history, however: the Gold Rush-era coach house in the heart of Beechworth.
It’s there you can sit beside the tanks and try one of the 20 rotating taps of beer while enjoying a pizza or traditional pretzel inspired by Maria’s homeland of Austria. Some of those beers might be traditional but many break the mould, with Bridge Road brewing somewhere around 50 beers a year, installing Australia's first foeder for beer, and often being among the first to explore new styles or hops, taking advantage of Hop Product Australia’s nearvy Rostrevor Farm.
Join the fun at the Old Coach House, Ford Street, Beechworth
Billson’s manages to occupy the unusual position of being both one of the High Country’s newest breweries and its oldest. Parts of the operation date from 1865, when Englishman George Billson took over the site in Beechworth and built the tower brewery that still stands today. It became a significant part of the Victorian colony’s brewing scene, though later turned from beer to focus on cordial production, with which the Billson’s name became best associated.
That was until 2017 when Nathan Cowan and Felicity Cottrill – along with Nathan’s parents – took over the business. They immediately set about restoring the historic building and now the brewery produces not just a range of beers, some inspired by Billson’s earliest recipes, but also myriad cordials, spirits and even canned water drawn from the 150-year-old spring below the site.
It’s not just a brewery, distillery, tasting room and café, though, it’s more akin to a walkthrough museum where great care has been given to recover and showcase historic brewing technics. Downstairs, the Speakeasy bar is a fine space in which to try the spirits and beers if you're less interested in studying historic beverages and more keen to simply drink them.
Step back in time at 29 Last Street, Beechworth
Also in the area...
Rutherglen is best known for bold red wines like Durif and Muscat but the town by the Victorian and NSW border also has its own brewery. Rutherglen Brewery was launched by Fiona Myers and Gavin Swalwell in 2015 inside one of the town’s historic buildings and serves up multiple beer styles.
The connected restaurant, Taste at Rutherglen, provides seasonal menu and fine dining.