We left ‘bustling’ Canberra early Sunday morning for what I thought was going to be a three to three and a half hour drive to the Victoria High Country, the northeastern part of the Australian state. We were headed to the self-proclaimed “premier craft brewing region in Australia” and their seven stop Brewery Trail. The drive turned out to be be closer to five hours but as they say, good things are well worth the wait.
Despite the unexpected long drive, we still found a few minutes to stop for some more Australian kitsch. Located right off the Hume Highway, the “Dog on the Tucker Box” is a small statue of a dog sitting on a box. A piece of folklore that dates from the 1850s, the dog is said to be protecting his master’s possessions. The statue on the highway was unveiled in 1932.
After the Big Merino, I expected something BIGGER…a giant dog on top of a giant tucker box. The little statue was a bit underwhelming. I guess in the 1930s, people just weren’t into bigger is better. And the requisite gift shop wasn’t even open, as it was undergoing remodeling.
After our quick stop, we were back on the road headed to the High Country.
Our first stop on the Brewery Trail was Sweetwater Brewing in Mt. Beauty. Located on Annapurna Estate, a vineyard and winery, the idyllic and tranquil setting was the perfect cure for a long drive.
Owner Peter Hull, a former Melbourne-ite (or is it Melbournian?), is living the dream of many beer geeks: he got away from it all and opened a brewery. The brewery is located in a building on the Annapurna property and has a small bar with outdoor seating at the winery’s tasting room.
The beers tasted really good after the long drive. There were five to choose from, ranging from a Weissbier to a Porter. Besides an IPA, my other benchmark beer is a Hefeweizen; good breweries know how to do it right. Though slightly under-carbonated for my tastes, it had all the flavors of the good Hefe.
The other stand out beer was the Summer Ale, a 4.5% ABV brew using local hop varieties. It was the perfect beer for the 80-some degree late spring day.
Our next brewery was up the road in the town of Bright. The aptly named Bright Brewery is located on the main road that goes through town. A modernish-looking building comprises the brewery and tasting room with ample outdoor seating out front. Actually, it seemed to be the only seating which left us wondering where people sit in winter. The breeders are even accommodated as the brewery is located next to a playground so the kids can be ‘unleashed’, as their brochure says. On this early Sunday evening, a good-sized crowd enjoyed their beers while listening to a music duo. With sample paddles in hand, we joined the them.
Bright had six beers to try, including an Amber and a Pale Ale. Their Witbier was really nice; another perfect brew for the hot day. The other favorite (oddly the beer not suited for the day’s weather) was the 8.5% ABV Abbey-style Dubbel. While more apropos after a day on the nearby ski slopes, it was a nice Dubbel, something I never expected to find Down Under. The sixth beer on the paddle, the “Brewer’s Choice” was an Australian Light Lager. While not a fan of the style, I mention it here because it was made from all Australian ingredients.
We were then off to our final destination of the day: Beechworth. Our base for the next few days in the High Country, Beechworth is a historic gold mining town from the 1850s. [As an aside, we highly recommend our hotel in Beechworth, the Latrobe… a former lunatic asylum.]
Beechworth is also home to Bridge Road Brewery. The brewery, tasting room and beer garden is located on Beechworth’s main street behind Tanswell’s Hotel in the old coach house. Entering through a covered lane off Ford Street, the beer garden is an oasis from the town’s busy shopping area.
We even got to try a beer out of the fermenter. A person, who I assume was brewer/owner Ben Kraus noticed that we had gravitated towards the hoppy beers and gave us a sample of the not-yet-released brew. It was a single hop Ale made with local Galaxy hops… a brew that instantly went on my potential ‘best of the trip’ list.
Like many of their American counterparts, Bridge Road has created a high end line of beers, the first time we saw this in Australia. The Chevalier series is comprised of three beers: Saison, Bière de Garde and Dunkelweizen. All three are available in 750ml bottles and we tried all but the latter on draft. While I didn’t like them as much as some of the brews in the regular lineup, Bridge Road gets props for pushing the envelope in the Australian beer scene.
A great first day on the Brewery Trail.. Part II is next.