Okay so we have seen what the big guys in the high country had to offer, but what about the little fellas?
We actually started our trail in Taminick, which is the home of the Booths, who I’m told have been making wine since about 1904. I’m sure everything was going fine and dandy and all cultured like until they hit the fourth generation (isn’t it always the fourth generation who are the troublemakers?) when James Booth decided that as well as doing the wine thing it might be a good idea to bang out some brews as well and Black Dog Brewery was born.
It’s well known that visiting a winery is so much more romantic and let’s face it, socially acceptable than visiting a brewery, it’s all rolling hills of vines and quaint old barns with big wooden barrels of fermenting grape juice. Given that the Black Dog Brewery is located at a winery it should come as no surprise that it is not like other brewery trips. Firstly you are going to need to spend 10 minutes on some arse-numbing corrugated dirt roads to get there, then you’re are going to have to admire the rolling hills of grapes and wander into a quaint barn past the barrels of wine to the rack of four taps up the back.
But it’ll be worth it as James seems to know how to make beer. The Lazy Dog Ale and Howling Pale Ale are very well made, but reasonably standard craft beers that appeal to the gateway craft drinker. Of course we are all card carrying beer geek people here, so we expect bigness, and for that you want to head for the Leader of the Pack IPA, which is a very good IPA. It smells of citrus, but in a sweeter marmalade sort of way likely a result of a nice balance between the sweetness of the malts and the fruitiness of the hops, there is not too much carbonation either which helps the flavour shine through. Pint
The other stand-out (if indeed you can have two stand-outs) is the Dead Dog Stout, which has a lovely toasted character both in the nose and the mouth, it has a nice solid body without being too hard to work through – a good solid wintery beer that you could still happily drink in summer (or autumn or spring) – Pint.
But more important than the beers, and certainly the reason you go to the brewery is to meet the people and I have to say both James and his dad Peter were genuinely nice guys (and by the way I tend not to tell people that I’m a world renowned blogger* so it’s not like I’m getting special treatment). They both happily sat around and chatted to us as we worked our way the range, we even got to meet Macca, the dog after which the beers are named, who was happy to sit at our feet and be patted, again as we drunk his beer.
Being country people they then of course invited ‘out the back’ to have a look at the brewhouse, which is actually more akin to an elaborate homebrew set up than the shinny commercial breweries you see in the big smoke, from there it was on to meet a 4 day old baby lamb (it was starting to get a little weird by this point) and of course we got told they were planning to do brewdays with a big spit roast and everyone could stay in the guesthouse they are opening and we should ‘all come back now y’hear.
Okay so they weren’t actually country hicks, or the cast members of Petticoat Junction, but it was impossible not to instantly feel welcome. James is just starting out, but they have big plans, a great brand (the names and graphics on the labels are awesome), some good beers and a great attitude. Look for their beers coming to Melbourne town soon, or better still get up to Taminick and get them at the source.
Sweet Water Brewery is at the complete other end of the trail, up in the hills just short of Mount Beauty. This brewery is not at all what I was expecting, I think I had some grandiose vision of a alpine lodge with a magical waterfall and possibly an Oktoberfest style beer wench serving steins (this may have been because I saw a Swedish milk maid climbing over our fence earlier that morning, but that’s a whole other story).
In truth there is no waterfall, rather what you get is a pretty standard (in fact largely empty) suburban shop on the main street of Tawonga South. Now of course the view from the shop is just a tad better than most suburban shops but it was a little bit odd.
The beers were a little strange too. Maybe it was something in the water (Sweet water is named that because it’s uses Kiewa River water and Kiewa means ‘sweet water’) because these were a collection of the sweetest beers I’ve ever tasted. None of them were bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they were again just not what I was expecting, and not what I was used to.
This of course made the pick of the bunch for me the Weissbier, which had this sweetness which worked very well with the banana tones of the yeast, it made it almost like a dessert beer (although it wasn’t cloyingly sweet) – definitely Pint worthy.
My tip here is if you are a skier, then next time you are heading up to the snowfields drop in at Sweet water, it’s a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon enjoying some interesting brews that have local flavour, and isn’t that was beer touring is all about?
*Any resemblance to an actual world renowned blogger is purely coincidental.