A group of mates like to brew their own beer. They end up being so successful at it that other mates want to buy it too.

One mate suggests they should start selling said beer but do it on their terms. They want to give something back to the community by reinvesting the profits. They want to support local jobs, grow tourism in the region, brew beer with environmental sustainability at the forefront of all that they do. Brilliant idea! A few months later the Rock & Ranges Brewing Co-op (R&RBC) is founded. 

When you combine ‘mates’ and ‘beer’, most people automatically assume this is a lads thing.  And yet three women sit on the R&RBC board. One in charge of the complex legalities. Another is the master brewer and the third a cutting-edge publican who owns the Victoria Hotel in Woodend.

Like the first sip of ale on a hot day, these women are refreshing in how they approach the business of beer. Uniquely, each woman has two career skillsets that they regularly utilise within the co-op. 

Nicola Rivers is the R&RBC board secretary. She’s also an environmental lawyer. Her role is to ensure compliance with all the strict rules and regulations, along with being the secretary.  

Then there’s the effervescent Jen Howard, she’s not only an IT consultant and handles the “tech”, but more importantly, she’s a key part of the brew crew. This woman knows her beer. 

“Our first release is a dark mild beer. It’s a mid-strength. We call this an approachable beer.” 

I’m perched atop a wooden bar stool in the iconic Victoria Hotel in Woodend. I like beer about as much as a kid likes boiled Brussels sprouts. I’m prepared to lick froth from lips and make non-committal noises that could be interpreted as delicious. I am, however, delightfully surprised how mild and smooth this beer tastes. It’s an English style ale I could easily drink. 

“We currently keg at Shedshaker Brewing in Castlemaine. They make small batches of hand-crafted beer. They are very supportive and have played a fundamental part in producing our first batch,” said Jen.

Collaboration with other craft brewers within the region is a big part of what the R&RBC is about.  Plans are afoot to make the Macedon Ranges - from Macedon along the Calder right through to Castlemaine and up into Bendigo - a regional ‘ale trail’. 

The ale trail is a big idea publican, and previously marketer, Emily Blades is excited by. Emily is a big supporter of regional producers and tourism. She took over the Victoria Hotel last year and has transformed the venue into a family-friendly gastro-pub. 

“Trends in beer are changing. People want to understand the story behind a beer and the producers who have made it.” 

The story of R&RBC has only begun. With the Mt Macedon Hotel now stocking it, and two new beers planned for the next six months, all looks promising. Nothing better than a product made by a community as passionate about giving back as they are about beer. Best you find out yourself though.

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Photo: Emily Blades, Mark Constable, Luke Spielvogel, Nicola Rivers & Jen Howard (co-founders) Photography by Tim Collins Media