MELBOURNE | Melbourne has firmly established itself as the craft beer capital of Australia in recent years (although the other state capitals are catching up), however the plethora of choice of craft beer pubs in this city is both a blessing and a curse. To help those of you out there who are into craft beer, we have set out our favourite pubs in Melbourne where you can get access to a wide range of beers on tap and in bottle, as well as knowledgeable bar staff who can help you find the right beer for you if you’re not sure what you will like. Be sure to let us know in the comments if you think there are any venues we have missed!
The Alehouse Project
Our local, which is conveniently located close to our office, is The Alehouse Project in the heart of the ever-developing Brunswick East precinct of Lygon Street. Since opening in August 2012, The Alehouse Project has transformed the space that formerly housed The Comfortable Chair into the premier craft beer venue of the inner north, offering 12 regularly rotating taps featuring the best of both Australian and imported craft beer and a selection of over 100 bottled beers. The setting is casual and relaxed, with a combination of high benches and couches in the main bar and three televisions showing sports in the side bar. The Alehouse Project also regularly runs special events featuring either on a particular style of beer (such as the HopFest which focuses on India Pale Ales) or a specific brewery, as well as being the perennial host of Pint of Origin New Zealand during Good Beer Week which features over 100 of the best beers from across the Tasman. If you are not a beer drinker, or have non-beer drinking friends, The Alehouse Project has you covered with an excellent array of top-end spirits and a focused selection of local wines.
The Alehouse Project
98-100 Lygon Street
The Local Taphouse
South of the river is the elder statesman of the scene, The Local Taphouse which is generally recognised as the first true craft beer pub in Melbourne. Offering 20 beers on tap and an impressive bottle list, “The Local” as it is known by regulars is split over two levels with the downstairs having a traditional pub feel with a warm atmosphere that is perfect for a quiet Sunday night and the upstairs offering an outside deck and beer garden that is always in high demand on a sunny afternoon. The beers themselves offer something for everyone with half of the taps typically being quite approachable and the other half more “interesting” for the true craft beer fan.
The Local Taphouse
184 Carlisle Street
St Kilda East
It also important to keep the home well stocked with craft beer, so it is not surprising that alongside the rise of the craft beer pub there has also been an increase in the number of bottle shops specialising in craft beer, a number of which are set up for drinking on site. One of our favourite craft beer bottle shops is Slowbeer on Bridge Road in Richmond, which along with two wall-length shelves of bottled beer has four rotating taps that are available for consumption in house and also for takeaway in growler form. The space can be cramped so if you are going on a Friday night be sure to get there early, but if you are lucky enough to get a space on the long communal bench or the tables out on the street you are in for a treat – in addition to the tap beers any of the bottled beers can also be had on site for a small additional fee.
468 Bridge Road
The Terminus Hotel
A trend in the Melbourne pub scene in recent years has been upgrades of older pubs with fresh decor, food menus and beer lists. In our view, the best pub face lifts are those where it feels like the pub always looked like it does now and The Terminus Hotel in Fitzroy North is one of the best examples of this. The Terminus has always featured a strong beer list and one of the best steak menus in Melbourne, but now offers an expanded tap list (16 in total) and two distinct spaces – the bistro serving a full gastropub menu, and the craft bar with a smaller menu with a modern take on pub classics and a beer garden.
Both spaces offer a casual, family friendly experience and also televisions for those interested in watching some sport over a beer. Wine drinkers are also well catered for via a solid wine list. As with many places on this list the Terminus regularly puts on special events including beer releases, brewery tap takeovers as well as several of the best events of Good Beer Week.
The Terminus Hotel
492 Queens Parade
The Park Hotel
Looking over to the west, The Park Hotel in Werribee looms large as another of the standard bearers for craft beer in Melbourne. Situated just a few minutes walk from Werribee train station, The Park boasts over 300 craft beers including 16 on tap which can be had in pot, pint or as part of a tasting paddle. The Park also offers a food menu that was recently changed to embrace the American barbecue wave as well as a variety of burgers and pizzas. The pub makes good use of the greater availability of space in the outer suburbs with a large, well lit indoor space and a partially covered beer garden where we have enjoyed many a beer (and also recorded a podcast episode or two).
The Park Hotel
12 Watton Street
East of Everything
Melbourne’s craft beer scene has traditionally been heavily concentrated towards the north and also the west of the CBD, however since its 2012 opening East of Everything has been flying the flag in the eastern suburbs. Occupying an upstairs space just across Burke Road from the “dry zone”, East of Everything provides a short but solid tap beer offering with six rotating taps styled after craft beer bars in the US with the taps themselves located on the wall behind the bar and beer names and ABVs written on the wall. The space is hip and laid back, typical of Melbourne’s small bar culture, and the food offering is simple (but excellent) with a focus on cuisine of the American south – po’boys, Texas-style chilli and quesadillas. Seeing as the venue is located virtually right next to the train station if you are into craft beer there is no reason not to make a trip out to East of Everything one Friday or Saturday night soon.
East of Everything
3/7272 Auburn Parade
Another of the mainstays of the Melbourne craft beer scene and festival hub for Good Beer Week, Beer DeLuxe can be found right next to Federation square in the heart of the CBD. With around 20 beers on tap (of which about half rotate regularly), and an extensive bottle selection spread over six fridges, Beer DeLuxe has one of the most extensive ranges of craft beer in the city. Beer DeLuxe makes good use of the advantages of its location, with both a large beer garden with a large number of shared tables both in the open air and on a heated covered deck and the main bar inside which is more “pub-like” in nature. The outdoor section is designed more for the casual craft beer fan and offers the the more accessible beers while the main bar has the full beer selection. In both areas the full food menu is available which has an array of bar snacks that are a good accompaniment to beer as well as a solid range of pizzas and burgers.
We would note that we do frequently encounter staff there whose craft beer knowledge is not as strong as we would expect, and their bottle list is not regularly updated so we often find ourselves having to spend a lot of time in front of the fridges deciding what to drink. This said, Beer DeLuxe is definitely worth a visit if you are in need of a craft beer fix in the city, particularly if you are on the way to a sporting or music event at the MCG or the tennis centre. There is also a location in Hawthorn, as well as recently opened locations in Sydney and Brisbane.
The Great Northern Hotel
The Great Northern Hotel is one of the few true “old school” pubs on this list, having opened back in 1883 on Rathdowne Street in Carlton North. The pub has been through a number of evolutions over the years, with its most recent change in philosophy involving an upgrade in its beer selection which now boasts 23 taps pouring both Australian and international craft beers and ciders. The Great Northern has a particular focus on US beers and regularly features breweries such as Lagunitas and Brooklyn Brewery, as well as being the annual host of Pint of Origin USA during Good Beer Week. The Great Northern also has one of Melbourne’s best beer gardens which is a great place to spent a summer afternoon in the sun, and there are several large screen televisions where sports in regularly shown.
While the beer selection is solid and the atmosphere is great (particularly during footy season), the food, which is focused on pub classics such as burgers, parmas and steaks, can be a bit hit and miss and we have also found the service to be a little patchy at times.
The Great Northern Hotel
644 Rathdowne Street
Formerly the Belgian Beer Garden, the Village Melbourne is situated on St Kilda Road, just a short tram ride or a leisurely walk from the CBD. There are both an indoor and an outdoor section with separate bars and food menus – the beer garden serves up more casual fare like burgers, pizzas and salads whereas the bistro and main bar inside an old bluestone building is a more refined setting that delivers gastropub-type fare. The bar offers 10 relatively static taps with solid and approachable craft beers as well as two taps that rotate more regularly and a cider. The bottle selection is also relatively extensive although the list is not kept that up to date so it can take a few goes before identifying a beer that they actually have in stock. If you can get past the one minor niggle then the Village is a great spot to grab a craft beer out of the hustle and bustle of the city
577 St Kilda Road
Up in the Thornbury section of High Street where there is an ever-increasing number of excellent bars, Carwyn Cellars has set itself up as possibly the best example in Melbourne of a bottle shop combined with a bar. Carwyn Cellars has been one of Melbourne’s premier craft beer bottle shops for almost a decade, but it was when the back room bar opened in 2014 that this venue was put on the craft beer map. The bar has 16 taps that rotate regularly and offer some of the most interesting and challenging craft beers that you will find in this city, regular tap takeovers and other events, as well as an excellent range of spirits (including 250 whiskies and 50 mezcals) and a couple of cocktails on tap. The full bottle shop range is also available for consumption on-site, although corkage can be pricey and we have rarely found ourselves needing to go far beyond the tap selection (but we often walk out with a box full of takeaways)!
877 High Street
Two Row/Slowbeer Fitzroy
Run by the same people as and with a similar feel to Slowbeer, Two Row is a snug, comfortable craft beer bar near the corner of Smith Street and Johnston Street in Fitzroy. Set over two levels, the bottom floor of Two Row is dominated by the large communal table in the centre, with intimate two person tables along the walls and a bench facing the street, with the top floor having a number of very comfortable couches where you can settle in for the evening. The tap list is short (five taps in total) but focused on the latest and most interesting craft beers, and the bottle selection is extensive and unlike many of the places on this list the bottle is is kept up to date so you can be fairly certain that if it is listed then it will be available.
Food options are limited to grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese/charcuterie boards but that pretty much covers all requirements for snack food while knocking back a few beers. Two Row are also strong supporters of the ever growing craft spirits movement and are often showcasing the latest in Australian distilleries.
*Update – Two Row will be reopening as Slowbeer Fitzroy later this month, with a pool table upstairs and bottles on display to purchase and enjoy in store or to take away, in the same vein as Slowbeer Richmond.
351 Smith Street
Taking over from the venue formerly known as A Bar Called Barry, Foresters Hall opened to much fanfare in 2014 with 50 beer taps (32 unique beers) in a large space with high ceilings. While this should be a “slam dunk” recipe for success, we do find the venue to be a bit difficult to assess. On the one hand Forester’s has a quality tap list and does run regular events, with 32 unique taps it is difficult for the beers to rotate as regularly as at other venues so we do often find ourselves needing to go further than the tap list which shouldn’t really be the case. The space itself is also a bit of a strange combination with the feel of a nightclub but the layout of a beer hall, it is often loud and difficult to communicate with bar staff and we have encountered service issues on a number of occasions in the past. This said we would note that Woody’s Bar at the top of the stairs is a real highlight offering a dive-bar vibe and live music (the problem being that nowadays it is rarely open). The food offering is another highlight, with Shizuku Ramen serving up noodles at the front and a great range of pizzas available in the main bar.
Despite the misgivings that we have, Foresters Hall is a venue that we’ve been to many times over the years, and is worth checking out if you’re in the area.
64 Smith Street
Gertrude Street is, in our view, a bit of an underrated part of the inner north, with Brunswick Street in particular and also Smith Street getting most of the attention. Towards Nicholson Street is The Catfish, one of the real gems of the area which delivering a chilled, laid back atmosphere with friendly service and also live music upstairs. The bar offers six rotating craft beer taps and The Catfish has a strong connection with the Victorian brewing industry which means that the bar frequency hosts beer launches and brewery showcases. Food is provided by Sparrows Philly Cheesesteaks which has a permanent set up in The Catfish kitchen and dishes out a number of different versions of the iconic shredded beef roll, perfect for a late night drinking craft beer.
30 Gertrude Street