They say that alchemy is a form of speculative thought, practised to transform precious natural resources into cures and ailments, a universal elixir that can improve life. 

For me, a universal elixir is none other than a lovingly hand-crafted ale. Juice of the land. Nectar of the gods. Liquid gold.

And when I think of the naturally rich lands of central Victoria, particularly the Daylesford and Macedon Ranges and Goldfields regions, my mind is instantly drawn to the alchemy of ‘place’. Not just the spoils and riches coming from the earth in forms of precious metals and mineral springs, but of the alchemy – the chemistry – of its people. 

The region exudes creativity. For a visitor, this creativity can be found everywhere you look; in the boutiques and galleries, the preserved architecture, the pubs and hotels, the cafes and restaurants, the wineries and distilleries. And, of course, the breweries and cideries. 

This region is home to so many craft breweries and cideries, from big to tiny, old to new. 

Don’t let the name fool you, Harcourt Valley Vineyards may be a well-awarded winery, but they also produce beer, mead and the hugely popular Ginger Kid ginger beer. This tasty brew is indeed liquid gold, and I challenge you to find a better alcoholic ginger beer. Their cellar door is open 12-4pm on Sundays and it is well worth a visit.

From big to small, Old Slang Brewing is a quaint operation out of Chewton that produces unpretentious (and delicious) beers named after classic old slang such as the “Fresh as a Daisy” Pale Ale and the “Argy Bargy Dark Ale”. Old Slang beers can be found in various bottle shops around the region and there’s no better place to drink fresh (as a daisy) on tap than at Chewton’s Red Hill Hotel. This historic pub offers friendly hospitality and brilliant pub meals, Scottish treats and a wonderful beer garden with an open fire.

A few kilometres west is the creative town of Castlemaine, where you’ll find Shedshaker Brewing Company. Located in The Mill precinct – an eclectic hub of crafts, antiques, food and beverage – Shedshaker’s taproom has weekly live music and serves 11 beers on tap. Don’t miss the annual release of their Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale, a warm and smoky brew aged 12 months in wine barrels. You can also grab a tasty gourmet pizza and charcuterie board. 

While in Castlemaine, Love Shack Brewing Co are new kids on the block as far as breweries are concerned. Started by a couple of former Stomping Ground Brewing Co brewers, Love Shack operates out of a small shed space and are open to visitors from Friday to Sunday.

Tooborac is a small town that lies due east of Castlemaine, where you’ll find the National Trust-listed Tooborac Hotel and Brewery. It’s a charming, old-fashioned country pub with modern ideas. It’s a place where you could share a beer and a laugh with a local farmer, shearer or wood-cutter. Their beers are absolutely top-shelf. Named after local trades to recognise their craftsmanship, you can try a wide variety, including a Shearer’s Lager and a Blacksmiths London Porter. Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the tastebud-tingling Chilli Chocolate Sanchez Stout. It’s big, smooth, and quite possibly the best beer I’ve had this year. 

If hand-crafted cider is more your thing, Daylesford Cider is for you. Set on beautifully sculpted – and pet-friendly – grounds, you’ll enjoy views of rolling hills surrounded by a large apple orchid. Inside the cellar door, passionate staff are eager to educate you on their ‘proper’ cider, which is lovingly made in the neighbouring barn from heritage cider apples. Notable ciders are the Spiced Cider, a homage to mulled-wine made with local honey and Christmas-y spices and served warm, and my favourite, the Wild Oaked Cider, which oozes character and is a match made in heaven with roast pork and crackling. 

While we’re in Daylesford, the brand spanking Daylesford Brewing Company taproom will soon open its doors. Here you’ll enjoy a bright and welcoming space with circular booths to relax and enjoy their tasty brews and local wines. Staple brews include a golden ale, lager, porter and pale ale, and keep an eye out for some new and funky varieties: a spiced plum sour and black IPA.

If you like your microbreweries micro, don’t miss Bankhouse Brewery in Dean. Possibly the smallest brewery in Australia, you’ll meet the brewer Damien, who opens on weekends and by appointment. The brewery is situated halfway between Daylesford and Ballarat in a cute 150-year-old former bank. The beers source locally grown grains and hops. Grab a refreshing Session Ale or ty the Ginger Beer. 

One of Victoria’s original craft breweries is Holgate Brewhouse in Woodend. With the feel of an English country pub pouring traditional ales from the pump and serving hearty meals, this brewing stalwart is an ideal stopover for Melburnians heading north into central Victoria. It also has a contemporary taproom and state-of-the-art brewhouse with 16 taps of special-release beer. My all-time Holgate favourite is the Temptress Chocolate Porter, and this spring, they are producing a new creamy fruit sour. 

Now, if this hasn’t made you thirsty, I have failed you. But I hope there’s a newfound thirst for travel around this amazingly rich and crafty piece of Victoria. The Daylesford-Macedon and Goldfields regions are not only a delight for your eyes, and they’re a treat for your tastebuds.

Cheers!

Hero image above: Love Shack by Chloe Hall

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Charles Deuchrass
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