Brewer Paul Holgate stands proudly in his brand new taproom. The sweet smell of malted barley and the sharp tang of hops fills the air.
The stunning new space, all polished concrete floor, and curved wood panelling is the finishing touch to the four-year renovation. The 16 tap tasting room, bar, and retail space blends seamlessly into the state of the art brewery overlooking the historic town of Woodend, about an hour north of Melbourne via the Calder Freeway. “A few weeks ago we gave the room a trial run for my daughter’s 21st birthday,” says Paul with a smile. “She was just eight weeks old when my wife Tasha and I were touring New Zealand looking at microbreweries,” says Paul. He and his fellow scientist wife Tash met at uni in the late 1980s. They fell in love and travelled the world. When they returned to Australia, they knew they wanted to brew quality beers like they had enjoyed touring the world. In 1999 they started brewing in the garage of their Woodend home. They were at the vanguard of the craft brewing movement, and there was not a lot of information online. “We had to research old school style,” says Paul with a laugh. “We had to read a lot of books and back then there most of the information was about European style beers.”
Paul pours a small tasting glass of lovely honey coloured beer. It has bright citrus notes on the nose and with a rich malty flavour and clean hoppy finish. Called Road Trip American IPA it is inspired by the one of the many tours the Holgates have made through the US exploring their vast brewpub culture. Twenty years ago, they started out making European style beers. Tasha would deliver kegs to pubs around Central Victoria. Soon the Holgates had outgrown their garage and needed space to grow. In 2002 they moved operations to the historic 1896 Keatings Hotel in the heart of Woodend. Along with accommodation and good pub grub, the new Holgate Brewhouse became a destination in itself. “People liked the beer, and they liked Woodend,” says Paul. He pours another tasting glass. This is an ESB, or Extra Special Bitter. Slightly malty, lightly gassed with a mildly bitter hops finish, it is reminiscent of the great bitter ales of the UK.
While the bar in the old brewhouse is still a busy place for a drink and feed the new tap room is a more elegant place to concentrate on the beers themselves. The 16 taps are connected to kegs sitting a few metres away on the other side of the wall, ensuring the freshest beer in the best condition. There’s a clang from the brewery. Paul looks up. After 20 years in business, he has around 40 employees and has been brewing 600 000 litres a year. “We’re now able to brew five million litres,” says Paul proudly.
A tasting paddle of eight 90ml tasting glasses costs $20.
79 High Street, Woodend; (03) 5427 2510, Daily 12pm-11pm, holgatebrewhouse.com.au