If you’re looking for a place in which to sit down and enjoy a good beer, you don't have to look far in Ballarat.
Known for its rich Gold Rush history, the regional city is teeming not only with pubs galore, but also a collection of breweries looking to further establish its place in Victoria's long brewing history. From pioneering experimentalists to locals for locals and a newcomer led by an old-timer, the former home of Ballarat Bertie has much to offer.
As well as the collection of breweries and beer-focused venues, the city has been home to one of the state's biggest beer festivals for close to a decade. The annual Ballarat Beer Festival showcases brewers (and wine and cider makers, plus big name acts onstage) draws in thousands of punters each summer. In 2020, it was augmented by the Quarter Bar, conceived by locals Dollar Bill as a free pop-up.
The city's university has also helped train scores of brewers now working in Australia and overseas; what's more, the man who used to over see those brewing courses, Peter Aldred, can now be found brewing beers at Ballarat's newest brewery (at time of writing), of which more later.
So, if you're a beer lover in Ballarat, where should you be heading?
Founded in 2005 by Scott and Vanessa Wilson-Browne in Purrumbete, before they relocated to Ballarat in 2011, Red Duck are one of the longest-established breweries in Australia and have been championing craft beer in the region, while also aiming to give drinkers as much variety as possible. Indeed, long before today's era of rapid-fire new releases and wanton experimentation across the country, Red Duck were already at it, playing with barrels, souring techniques, fruit, herbs and more besides.
Since launching, they've released more than 170 different beers (likely higher by the time you read this!), often unlike anything you'll have encountered before. Alongside their relatively straightforward core lineup, you can look out for releases as varied as their barrel-aged imperial stout with maple praline, the Low Tide summer ale with coconut blossom, or Cinnamon Rye Pumpkin Pie, a Belgian quadrupel with spices galore.
You can find the widest range at the brewery cellar door, situated less than ten minutes outside the city centre at 11a Michaels Drive, Alfredton.
Crafty Cabal Member offer at Red Duck Brewery:
Save 10% on Cases at Red Duck's Cellar Door
Dollar Bill Brewing
If you're after beers of the sour, funky and wild variety in Ballarat, set a course for Invermay’s Dollar Bill Brewing.
The brainchild of husband and wife duo Ed and Fiona Nolle, compromise has never been something they considered when they set out to take the sort of barrel-aged blends Ed and his winemaking buddy "Miguel Sanchez" had been playing with as homebrewers for close to two decades.
With wort brewed at Stomping Ground in Collingwood before being transferred to barrels in a shed on their land, the Nolles take pleasure in creating unique flavours through a variety of wild fermentation and blending techniques. From Belgian-inspired blends through fruit beers to a hopped cider and sour stouts, Dollar Bill's aim is to gift people a new experience each time they sample a beer, whether it's out of one of their impeccably-presented bottles or from a tap.
They're currently in the process of gaining approval for a cellar door, and in 2020 launched their Rare Oak Society to give fans access to otherwise unreleased beers. Fi and Ed have also created the Quarter Bar, a 25-tap container bar debuted on the weekend of the 2020 Ballarat Beer Festival they plan to take on the road; read about the concept here.
Cubby Haus Brewing
Childhood nostalgia hit Malcolm Sachs as he started out on his own brewing journey; he likened his brewery build to building a cubby house as a kid. Most of his brewery (apart from the fermenters) has been hand manufactured from random secondhand parts and retrofitted to his own specifications and designs.
He produced five beers for the brewery’s opening in late 2016, which have since been joined by many seasonals, including the ever-popular Pavlova NZ IPA and Good Witch Rye Blonde.
You’ll find Cubby Haus Brewing a mere 2.5km outside the city centre, at 884 Humffray Street South, in close proximity to some of Ballarat's crafty venues.
O’Brien Beer by Rebellion Brewing
These days, anyone looking for a gluten free beer has a relatively wide range of local options from which to choose. But it wasn't always thus. For much of the past two decades, anyone in such a position had to be thankful for Ballarat's O'Brien.
The brewing company was brought to life by John O’Brien after he discovered he had coeliac disease in 1998 and refused to give up one of his favourite drinks. Along with fellow coeliac Andrew Lavery, he developed a broad range of beers brewed with sorghum and millet sourced from Australian growers and malted in-house using specialised equipment.
Located at 36 Gregory Street West, Wendouree, their core range consists of four beers: a lager, pale ale, light lager and brown ale, augmented by seasonals, of which their Stout is The Crafty Pint's pick. "The Brewery that loves you back" has also made a habit of picking up trophies, including gold medals at the 2019 Indies and the Australian International Beer Awards in the same year.
The newest addition to Ballarat’s brewpub scene, Aunty Jacks was aided into existent by funding from the Victorian Government, granted in order to establish a Victorian Craft Beer Centre of Excellence. Spearheaded by one of the best-known figures in the Australian brewing industry Peter Aldred, who previously headed up the brewing courses at Federation University before failing at retirement and instead ending up back on the tools, the majority of the beer flowing through the venue's taps is brewed on site.
An addition to their own beers, Aunty Jacks serves up a range of other Aussie offerings, both those from the city's other brewers and the craft brands now stablemates within Asahi / CUB, such as Balter and 4 Pines.
You can read more about the venture in our interview with Peter here, and check out his beers at 315-317 Mair Street.
The Hop Temple
Sporting Ballarat's largest selection of beer, The Hop Temple is a must attend for beer lovers making the trek to the region. Located in the heart of the city, a short walk down an umbrella-filled laneway off Armstrong Street guides you to the bustling bar.
The rustic charm of the venue’s brick walls and industrial style create a welcoming atmosphere, which is buoyed by the friendly, knowledgeable staff. With 16 taps featuring everything from lagers to sours, IPAs to porters, there's sure to be something for you to enjoy.
The Mallow Hotel
Only a short walk from the main strip of Ballarat, The Mallow Hotel is a pioneer of craft beer in the city and a favourite among local craft beer lovers. The classic old boozer was given a fresh lease of life in 2012 by owners with family pedigree in some of Melbourne's best pubs – and you can tell.
They serve up an ever-changing selection of local, interstate, and, on occasion, international crafties through their 12 taps, and do so in a warm characterful pub that could easily have been transported from a suburb in Melbourne's inner north.
The food is of top notch pub grub standard and the staff are waiting to help you have a good time. Join them at 18/20 Skipton Street.
For drinking in...
- Mitchell Harris Wines – serves up great local wines alongside some of our favourite craft beers.
- The Main Bar – focuses on pouring beers from local brewers through its taps.
- The Forge Pizzeria – A pizza restaurant that's long been a supporter of craft beer.
For takeaway beers...
- Campana's – home to Australian and imported wines, spirits and beer.
You can check out other Crafty Crawls from around the country here and find all the above venues and hundreds more, plus beers, events, special deals and more in the free Crafty Pint app. If there's any glaring omissions, or new operations on the horizon, let us know!