Hops To It

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Hops To It

The last decade has accommodated a veritable revolution within our collective palate, thanks to the overwhelming explosion of the boutique beer market – to the stage where even the slight mention of pale ale triggers a response that would make Pavlov’s Dogs looked relatively parched. The idea of a beer connoisseur adapting their drinking habits in a seasonal manner would not too long ago been admonished as being pretentious. But these days every boutique brewhouse has at least a few seasonal offerings, whether it be well-loved and sought-after annual drops, or something a little more experimental. Heading into another chilly winter, we check up with a couple of established names in the business.


Situated north of the city and tucked away in Thornbury’s industrial blocks is burgeoning microbrewery 3 Ravens. Catering primarily to the surrounding northern suburbs since its inception in 2003, the company is now finding itself spreading its reach to national-distribution levels.

Dave Brough, 3 Ravens Production Manager, runs us through just how the brewery started.

“It was necessity that was dictating the emergence of 3 Ravens. This was previously an engineering operation, which had a certain amount of space downstairs which was underutilised. The local hostelry, which used to serve cask beer, was going to close, or just stop serving cask beer. So it was decided that the spare space downstairs must be converted and turned into a brewery to service the requirement for cask condition beer,” he explains.

This has lead to a strange inverse of floor operations at the 3 Ravens estate, with the top floor currently occupied by vacant cubicles, while the downstairs area now a buzz with vats, casks, barrels and bottles.

“The engineers back in 2003 set it up – a small 3-hectalitre brewhouse, basically just some small little androids on wheels. I suppose it was started with a fun perspective in the to start with, more of a case of, ‘Let’s give it a go, how hard can it be?’ One of the guys had a passion for it in particular. He was a bit of a homebrewer to begin with. They were engineers, so I suppose they got involved in a lot of projects they don’t really know anything about.” Dave explains. “And I guess they thought that if they didn’t sell it they could just drink it themselves.”

The 3 Ravens range is now a diverse offering of all manners of styles, in spite of a more specific original goal. “Well the aim was to replicate something along the lines of that cask beer at the hostelry, something like an English-style ale. But for some reason it has kind of morphed into a bit more of a European/German influence here. More or less paying homage to their quality of beer. Plus they have a lot of varied styles of beer over there. So we have this European theme – starting off with the golden ale, which is in the style of a north-German specialty. I suppose that is the most approachable of our ales. Then there is that interpretation of the classic English ale. Then the Belgian style wheat beer, similar to a Hoegaarden,” he lists.

“Then we have the American style pale ale. Who hasn’t got one of those these days?” Dave quips. “We call it ‘55’. It was brewed on the fifth anniversary of the brewery, it’s five percent, uses five different malts, five different hops – we could have gone on ad nauseum with the five,” he laughs.


Nestled at the cusp of the Yarra Valley wine region, Coldstream Brewery has blossomed in a relatively brief space of time – now offering a healthy mix of core brews and delectable seasonal offerings, as well as delving into the boom cider market. Speaking on the brewery’s fourth birthday, manager Cindy Wilson recounts the benefits of beer’s complementary nature to the wine region. “Well it’s really excellent here at the start of the Yarra Valley – people will either start or finish their winery tours here. We get a lot of people at the end of the day coming back from winery tours who are just ready for a beer. Wine is great, but you can only drink so much of it,” she laughs. “It’s really good to come back and have a beer or a cider afterwards. So that’s been a bonus. We also sell to a lot of the wineries, so in their restaurants they have our beers or our bottled beers on tap. It’s a really good community out here with a great feel.”

As well as a renowned selection of Pilsner, Ale, and a crystal-clear cider crafted from freshly-picked Yarra Valley apples, Coldstream also boasts a mouth-watering selection of seasonal brews. “We have the Chocolate Winter Ale, which we haven’t packaged or distributed: it’s only available by keg. There are several places in the city that sell it by the keg, and we have it here at the brewery, of course,” Cindy explains. “The Porter we’ve only just put that into six packs, it used to only be available in the 750mL long necks.”


Attracting a solid pre- and post-footy crowd every weekend – and a steady stream of budding beer connoisseurs all other times – is the bustling Portland Hotel on Russel Street. Incorporating the James Squire brewhouse into the comfy surrounds of The Brewer’s Lounge, the establishment offers large array of core and seasonal brews to suit palates in any stage of development. The best starting point for entry-level beer fans would be the renowned Tasting Paddle – armed with a selection of a half-dozen drops.

“This year will be our tenth year of having the brewery in,” explains venue manager Joe Baily. “Basically it started off with a couple of beers, when James Squire started up, which was part of the Malt Shovel brewery. That had all been going for a couple of years before there was an opportunity, here, to put a brewery in. So they put in the first James Squire brew house: so this is the first one, the original and the brew house has been here for ten years.”

As we all know too well, winter nights in the city can be a frosty affair. Luckily, the brewhouse cushions the blow with a tasty selection of seasonal offerings – with darker brews sure to warm the cockles “Well there’s definitely The Craic,” Joe states. “We do the wheat beer in the summer months and bring on the darker beer when it gets a little bit colder. Occasionally though, we’ll do a dark wheat beer called Midnight Gambler just for something a little bit different, there’s a little bit of chocolate malt in there. Around the Oktoberfest we do one called the Oktober Brow, which is a Munich Lager—pretty traditional, along with the beers they do over there anyway: it’s a less hoppy, lager-style beer.”




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