Finding craft comfort in Melbourne's north

Unless you’ve been hiding in a dimly lit macro-run bar, you have probably noticed craft-beer rumbling along and continuing to sink its frothy claws into bars and ‘burbs both new and old.

The Alehouse Project raises its glass to beer…

One of the newest around (I say “one of” because even though it opened just over two weeks ago, I can name at least two other Melbourne venues doing great craft beer that have opened since.) is the Alehouse Project in East Brunswick.

Opening up in what used to be the Comfortable Chair on Lygon St, it completes a trio of craft beer destinations within a ridiculously short distance from each other; with Temple Brewing and Atticus Finch both only a minute’s walk away (ok I may be exaggerating… if you don’t get the pedestrian-lights then it might take you two to get to Atticus Finch).

The Alehouse Project part-owner Andrew Tynan said he had been looking at the venue for a while so was pretty excited when it came on.

“With the breweries happening in the area and the little bars wanting some nice stuff…ideally it will become a nice little strip,” said.

Around the corner at Temple Brewing, who are still yet to have their first birthday and recently appointed Marketing Manager Xavier Verhoeven, is enjoying the craft progression in the neighbourhood he both lives and works in.

“I’ve noticed quite a big change in the Lygon St strip over the last couple of years. There is an abundance of stuff and beer wise it is incredible… I think it reflects the greater opinion of beer. Peoples tastes are changing pretty dramatically,” Xavier said.

Renata Feruglio, who founded Temple Brewing, with her husband Ron, said opening in Brunswick was always part of the plan for their business.

“We always wanted to be in Brunswick… it was just right for us. We have tried to be as respectful as we can in the area so that what we do doesn’t infringe on anyone and we are actually adding to the area,” she said.

The Alehouse’s amazing, ever-changing chalk board of beer

own the road, Atticus Finch manager, Marty McQuilten, has seen the beer scene evolve and add to its established products.

“I helped brother and sister duo Paul and Jess Ghaie of Blackhearts & Sparrows (the adjoining bottleshop; one of three around Melbourne) open up Atticus Finch at the beginning of 2008, went off to do other things before returning as a full partner in early 2010. Initially it was viewed as the bar extension of the shops, with a primary focus on wine.

“Both the bar and the shops have grown together on the craft beer front, alongside the scene itself,” He said.

These changes are also being seen in nearby Coburg at the Woodlands Hotel. A bar and restaurant that is also less than a year old and which only stocks Victorian brewed beers – along with a solid wine and cocktail list.

“There’s a little community out here in Melbourne’s North and they really enjoy their craft beers,” owner Hayden George said.

“People aren’t going to travel from the city to go to a pub in Coburg unless they are coming here for a specific purpose, but people in Coburg or Brunswick are going to go into the city so first and foremost I thought I had to appeal to people in the local area.

“You’ve got to appeal to your local community because at the end of the day they are the backbone,” he adds.

Up at Temple, Feruglio is enjoying providing a welcoming place for people both familiar and unfamiliar with craft-beer.

“It’s about beer and it’s not about being elitist. I don’t want anyone to think they can’t come here whether they want a meal or a beer,” Renata said.

“We’ve had more and more people in their later years who have actually come in and said ‘this is great because you don’t make me feel like I shouldn’t be here’. You can come in and feel comfortable no matter what age you are.”

Temple is continuing to add to its beer-range, with the recent launch of an oatmeal stout while keeping favourites such as their two saisons and the Bicycle Beer. Renatta also mentions that the black Midnight IPA also proves popular with craft-beer fans who come in and know exactly what they are looking for.

The idea of offering great beer in a welcoming environment is echoed at the Alehouse Project also.

“We wanted somewhere that could serve really nice beer but at the same time you don’t want to come in somewhere and be daunted by it all having swanky beers and you feel like unless you’re a beer nerd you have to turn around and leave,” Tynan said.

Both the Woodlands and The Alehouse Project are aware of how daunting their range of beers can be to drinkers unfamiliar with craft-beer and continue to train their staff in-house in order to make sure they are aware of and knowledgeable about the product

“I hope that it’s an education process for people that come here… we want people to ask questions. People are still very much relying on us to point them in the right direction,” Hayden George explained.

However this isn’t always easy with the now seemingly constant stream of new releases.

“Part of our mission statement is if you are going to come here two or three times a month there is definitely going to be new things on tap for you try each time and, while we revisit beers every now-and-then, we want to keep crunching out new beers that we haven’t tried before,” he said.

“When we get a new beer in, opening it, giving tasters to all our staff (and) just tasting it,” he added.

McQuilten, at Atticus Finch, is also always on the lookout for something different to keep generating interest for his customers, and himself.

“This stems from my adventurous boozy spirit which isn’t happy unless I have a Chablis, a Cognac and a Saison in front of me all at once,” he said.

“I’m constantly hunting for new and interesting tastes. If I’ve had it once I’m disinclined to have it again.”

Feruglio describes how Temple try and use their beer to expand palates, by offering two tasting wheels, one with their lower ABV beers and the other the higher end of their range.

“You need to challenge people a bit. If everything was drinkable at the entry level then I don’t think you would progress,” she said.

“You can start with the Bicycle (beer) and you can go up to the Temple Midnight IPA and you’ve learnt something,” she explains, before hastening to add that people don’t have to learn anything if they just want to come in to enjoy a couple of beers.

The Alehouse Project will also continue changing the tap and bottled beer list and have a range of styles on at all times – and surprisingly it’s not the house lager that is always proves popular with the drinkers.

“On Wednesday we only had 25 people in here but we realised every one of them was drinking a Mornington (Peninsular) Imperial Stout,” Tynan said.

Looking forward to the future, The Alehouse Project has a Hip Hop Hooray festival coming up, with hop-forward beers being a favourite of Tynan’s, and along with live acoustic music on weekends, they have also started serving food.

The Woodlands is making plans for their one year anniversary and, as mentioned, Temple Brewing has just launched a new beer and taken on a new marketing manager with eyes to have more events and involving the local community.

Atticus Finch holds a beer-flight evening the first Thursday of every month along with charcuterie. In addition they hold semi-regular events such as the Beer vs Pig and some mini tap-takeovers.

It should also be mentioned that there are bars nearby who support craft beer and, if you were to put pins in a map, you would see places like The Great Northern Hotel, Post Office Hotel, Prince Wine Store in Essendon, and the Raccoon Club in Preston all offering great beer within a reasonable distance.

Based on all of this we can only assume the influx of great beer in Melbourne’s North will start to bubble over and run down the sides, as craft fans watch, hoping it leaves its mark on bars around the city.

The Alehouse Project

Temple Brewing

Atticus Finch

The Woodlands Hotel (via The Crafty Pint)

Blackhearts & Sparrows

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