MELBOURNE | The City Lane (via our beer-based spinoff, The Brunswick Beer Collective) was invited to try a tour from Ben’s Brew Tours. In this instance, we were on the ‘Northern Stars‘, a tour of some of Melbourne’s northern breweries.
But one thing before we begin. While I can’t speak for the rest of the The City Lane team, I personally have always been a little skeptical about any sort of brewery tour. This is based on my past experience where the tours’ focus on manufacture and brewing significantly outweighs the tasting, sampling, and sheer enjoyment of the beer the brewery actually makes. A good example of this is a trip to the Guinness factory in Dublin, Ireland, but perhaps Conan O’Brien summed this up better.
But with that out of the way, we can thankfully say that this tour offers none of those issues.
Our tour starts with a bus ride out to up-and-coming brewery, Hawkers, although from the outside, the place we would be perhaps better described as a very non-descript factory. It’s a Saturday, and the brewery isn’t actually running, but one of the founders is there to show us around. It’s highly industrial on the inside, and filled with nothing but shining equipment. Without going into too much detail (you can learn that on your own tour), Hawkers is a fast-growing brewery that intends to be a very big player in the industry, and everything it does goes great lengths to show this. It was started in 2015, and if you haven’t heard of them yet, we are certain you will soon.
But here’s the part that will make you smile. While it’s interesting and often quite fascinating to see how things are made, a brewery is really only as good as the beer it creates. On entry to the brewery, we were all issued a tasting glass and offered a sample of what all the equipment and people in the building actually produce. It seems like a small thing, but returning to our mention of the Guinness factory, this beer sample offered an immediate association with the equipment in front of us and massively increased our appreciation for what we walking around and experiencing. It is the first of many samples to come and is a welcome contrast to the hop-filled, just-let-your-fingers-run-through-those-grains tours you may have experienced in the past.
The next stop is lunch at the always-reliable Terminus Hotel in Fitzroy North (or Clifton Hill occasionally, depending on which map you’re looking at), a place known for both its great food, and its extensive tap list. This is a chance for a debrief, a lining of the stomach, and a few more samples. It’s also a welcome chance to bond with your fellow tasters as you prepare for the next brewery.
The next brewery is 3 Ravens, a place that offers a very different experience to Hawkers. Of course, they both make great beers, but while Hawkers shines in its newness and Apple-like efficiency, 3 Ravens is far more like what you would expect of a craft brewery. It doesn’t have the same capacity as Hawkers, but it doesn’t intend to either. As with each place, the visit combines a chance to learn the storied history of the brewery, they were one of the first craft breweries in Australia, with a very healthy sample of what the brewery’s hard earned work has achieved.
Our final brewery is Moon Dog, a further contrast to the craft brewing family. Located in Abbottsford, the fabled brewer is something of a mystery and also something of an oddity. This one is for the artists. It’s cool and unique, and it takes risks that many other breweries wouldn’t even consider, and as we learn on the tour, some of those pay off, while others end up discarded. But this is the philosophy of Moon Dog and it serves to show what a significant difference there is in the modern craft brewery scene.
We finish at Foresters Hall on Smith St in Collingwood with a walk through the keg room underneath. This finale for the tour effectively caps off a journey that takes us from where craft beer begins to where it ends up. And If you want to kick on, tourers get 25% off all beer available, and believe me, with the 28 taps at the venue, there is a lot to choose from.
Returning to my earlier point, I have always been skeptical of brewery tours, but with the approach from Ben’s Brew Tours, I find the whole thing difficult to fault. In taking a ‘Three Bears’ approach (this brewery is too big, this brewery is too small, this brewery is just right… I’ll let you be the judge of which is which) it means that no experience along the road is the same and that tourers get to see a lot of what is great about the craft beer world in Melbourne.
It’s a big day, there’s no denying that, but if you’re curious enough to try some new beers while hearing a little about what went into making them, then Ben’s Brew Tours is something for you.
Ben’s Brew Tours
Tours run every Saturday, check website for what tour is available.
Pick up: 11:00am from Little Creatures Dining Hall
222 Brunswick Street
Duration: 6 hours approx.
Size: 10 people max.
Price: $165 (includes gift bag, glass, lunch, and private brewery tours)