Born to Brew
Woodend’s Holgate Brewhouse is celebrating Oktoberfest with a sneak preview of its new brewery and tasting room.
If you’ve been to Woodend, you’ve seen – and without a doubt admired - the Holgate Brewhouse.
The imposing two-storey red-brick Victorian hotel is the de facto welcoming committee when you arrive in town off the highway from Melbourne. Even if you’ve just planning to drive past, the sight of people kicking back with a beer at the outside tables is enough to make anyone find room their itinerary for a quick stop.
Opened 20 years ago by Paul and Natasha Holgate, the brewhouse is rich with history. Its previous incarnation, the Commercial Hotel, was the stagecoach stopover on the way to the goldfields. The original building burned down in 1896; the current building was resurrected the same year. And the Holgates can certainly stake their own claim in the history of craft beer. Pioneers in the Australian scene, they opened at a time when few people knew anything beyond Foster’s and Melbourne Bitter.
“It was only myself brewing for our first 10 years,” says Paul, who now has three or four brewing crew at any one time. “There’s a lot more knowledge out there about how beer is made and the possibilities.”
The front bar, from central casting, lined in honeyed timber with enormous leadlight windows, is currently the place to try the broad range of beers. “They go from your very popular modern American hopped IPAs to a chocolate porter. There’s always a sour beer as a nod to the Belgians – we’ve got a raspberry fruited sour beer - and wild fermented funky beers that are really deep and complex. Basically, we like experimenting and making beers we like to drink.”
The German and Belgian beers have a special place in Paul’s heart. “They were the first things I really started getting into when I began seriously pursuing craft beer,” he says. “These were the days before the internet, when there just wasn’t the same amount of information out there, and they’re what I first found.”
They’ll naturally be playing a starring role at Oktoberfest, alongside an Oompah band, and Bavarian cuisine (yes, that means sauerkraut, sausages and other hearty stuff from a kitchen that specialises in great pub grub). The other star of the show will be the new brewery, visitor centre and taproom, which will be unveiled for the first time ahead of the official opening in November. The steel and glass structure, a slick modern riposte to the red-brick history beside it, has been many years in the planning and three years in the building.
“For our double decade we thought we’d do something special,” says Paul. “We’re really proud of what we’ve done over the last 20 years and Oktoberfest will be a great sneak peak of where we’re going for the next couple of decades with the tap room and brewery. Exciting times.”
Paul and Natasha Holgate
79 High Street, Woodend
(03) 5427 2510
STORY BY LARISSA DUBECKI