A tale of two breweries

When Girl O’ Sea first suggested a trip to her birthplace, Corowa, for a couple of days around Melbourne Cup time, All Ale The Big V’s immediate thoughts were of fortified wines. I pictured myself being chauffeur driven between Rutherglen wineries as I sipped my way through muscats and topaques (still not sold on the new name) and VPs (that one does work for me). With Girl O’ Sea “in the family way” it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. Then a bit of a look in The Beer Lover’s Guide to Victoria’s Microbreweries revealed that we could pop in to a couple of microbreweries as well. All of that and Girl O’ Sea gets a walk down memory lane? I believe the term we are looking for is WIN/WIN my friends.

As has been mentioned elsewhere AATBV hails from northern climes and I haven’t really had a chance to explore regional Victoria, other than the service centres (what was wrong with ‘truck stop’?) of the Hume, so pointing the Kingswood in the direction of our first stop, the Tooborac Hotel, was exciting.
Tooborac is situated 95 kms to the north of Melbourne and just to the south of Heathcote. The Tooborac Hotel, located on the Northern Highway, was built in 1857 and was once a Cobb and Co stop off point. The brewery, which is located in the blue stone stables at the rear of the pub, even comes with its own rifle slots. If you were to ever get involved in a siege then a brewery probably wouldn’t be a bad place for it to happen.

A grand old pub

The Carlin family owns the pub but it was the brewer, Damian Nippard, who was on hand to show AATBV around. Nippard was previously brewer at the Scottish Chiefs in Geelong and has been at the Tooborac for only a few months. The brewery equipment was bought in from the Rifle Brigade Hotel in Bendigo and has a capacity of about 600 litres. Nippard’s first batch of beers was only produced in September.

Damian hard at work

At present there are only two brews on offer: the Stonemason’s Pale Ale and the Woodcutter’s Amber Ale. The amber ale was the pick of the two for me. A mouthful of malt as you would expect from an amber but also with a surprising amount of hops (Pride of Ringwood and Goldings) kicking it along as well. Nippard describes it as “a brewer’s beer”. For me the pale lacked the same personality but I expect it’s a bit more sessionable and that is an important consideration for a brewpub. Better to have their own stuff flowing in the bar than something from the big boys.

At present the two beers are only available on tap at the pub but there are plans in place to release them in 640ml bottles. Nippard told AATBV that future releases would be a stout, already called the Blacksmith’s, and perhaps a hefe.

While the prospect of sitting on the shady verandah of the pub with a cold beer in my hand did seem to be a better option than facing the 35 degree day in a 40 year old car without air-conditioning we did have other commitments. And so on we went to the Murray.

After an evening spent sampling the nightlife of Corowa (we almost got locked in at the Hotel Australia when it closed at 10pm) and enduring an uncomfortable sleep in a cabin at the caravan park (the cheapest option is rarely ever a good option when it comes to accommodation) we rose to find a considerably cooler Cup Day.

Bets placed we headed back across the river in search of liquid refreshment. Although visiting Bintara Brewery was the main game on the day Rutherglen is one of AATBV’s favourite wine regions so stops at All Saints and Pfeiffers were required. Both produce wonderful wines and the memory of those fortifieds rolled around on AATBV’s palate for days.

Bintara Brewery is a part of Vintara Estate and is located 13kms to the east of Rutherglen on the Murray Valley Highway. Michael and Lisa Murtagh, both from old Rutherglen families, own the estate. Michael holds the dual roles of brewer and winemaker, amongst other things. He was out on the tractor working in the vineyards when we drove up the dusty driveway to the very modern looking building that houses the cellar door, restaurant and brewery.

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Bintara H.Q.

Unfortunately the restaurant wasn’t open on the day we visited but I expect it must be a nice place to sit back and enjoy some lunch. Luckily for us Michael took some time off from his viticultural duties to give AATBV a look through the brewery and to pour a couple of cold glasses of the local product.

The brewery has a 1000 litre capacity and at present Bintara is releasing 4 beers: an Asian style wheat beer, a pale ale, a pilsner and an Irish stout. The wheat beer, made with 30% rice and Saaz hops, and the pale ale were on tap when we visited. The pale was the much nicer of the two.

Michael seems proud of his brews but the focus of the operation is obviously on wine. It appears that the brewery is there mainly to enhance the cash flow of the business especially with bulk sales of the stout to a local soup maker. The brewery equipment is even seconded during vintage to be used in the winemaking process.

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Bintara head honcho - Michael Murtagh

We bid farewell to Michael just in time to hear our tips come very close to last in the big race and Girl O’ Sea steered the Kingswood towards the Hume for a quick trip back to Melbourne.

It was only on our return that I found out about another local microbrewery, the Buffalo Brewery at Boorham. We’ll have to visit them on another trip. It’s a tough life this blogging caper.

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