Before I report back on the joys, journeys and lessons of 2013’s Good Beer Week and the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular, here…at long last…is the final entry in my series about our High Country Brewery Trail holiday last December.
The drive from Beechworth to Bright evoked the most amount of excitement for me, as it would take us to the first High Country brewery that we hadn’t visited before (Sweetwater Brewing) and a very attractive stretch of rail trail track.
There is a very long and flat section of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail that I have been eager to ride since first seeing it years ago. It’s the classic promo-photo section because of the long and wide sealed path with beautiful mountain surrounds.
Our accommodation at Bright was a cabin at the Big4 Caravan Park. Again, it was basic, reasonably cheap and hence perfect for our needs. Best of all, it was only a few hundred metres from Bright Brewery. We had a no-fuss stay, so I’ll be more than happy to stay at Bright Big4 again.
We headed straight to the brewery for a lunch of pizza and beer. Since our previous (and only prior) visit to Bright Brewery, the building has undergone a significant upgrade. On this visit, it was still in the final stages of renovations, with the new main bar not yet ready. This meant that the temporary bar was only serving basic pizza and nachos and about half the regular number of Bright beers. That was no problem for us though, because pints of amber ale, pale ale and Bright’s lager fully satisfied us in the heat.
Bright Brewery produces excellent session beers, which makes spending a few hours there all too easy. Brewer Jon Seltin is currently revamping most of the beers in Bright’s range, so I recommend revisiting all of their beers over the next year to discover new flavours and styles.
We joined head brewer Jon for a quick tour of the new brewery setup. Whilst the brewhouse and tanks were the same equipment from the old brewery, it was exciting to see the vision for Bright Brewery’s future through the design of the new building, as well as the presence of several barrels for aged and sour brews.
The new brewery building is quite slick and seems to be targeted towards the primary tourism market for the region – wealthy snow/ski and cycling lovers from the city. Thankfully, you don’t need to be rich to enjoy and drink at Bright Brewery.
After lunch we burned some calories with a fairly easy 5km hike around Bright’s Canyon walk, along the Ovens River. Leaving from directly behind our cabin at the Caravan Park, the mostly flat track included sections of wide sealed paths around Centenary Park, Bright’s main outdoor recreation and swimming area, as well as single lane unsealed bush tracks. A suspension bridge allows you to cross the river and complete a return circuit on the otherwise. It’s a good track for walkers of any ability.
Afterwards I headed back to the brewery for more beer and some wifi access to catch up on Brews News work, whilst Jenn did a little shopping around the streets of Bright. I love the brewery office concept. How can I make that happen more often…?
Over the two nights in Bright our dinner plans (or lack of) proved our downfall both times. We relied on eating out, but Tuesday and Wednesday nights during off-peak tourist season in regional towns can be the equivalent to the locals’ weekend, so many places will be closed. It limited our food options greatly, and we struggled to find cheap and easy options without resorting to consuming more pizza or pub food. On Tuesday night we had take-away Indian, which didn’t really tick our preferred healthy-ish box.
On Wednesday night, our plan was to have dinner at Grape & Grain Bar, but it was closed. After a few circles of the main street, finding no suitable alternative, we bit the bullet and decided to dig into some savings so we could afford to dine at Tani Eat & Drink. The experience was certainly worth the cost.
The beer selection exceeded all expectations. Not only were the available beers either local craft beers of a fine selection of highly regarded imports, but they were also themed very appropriately to the contemporary Japanese influence of the food and the restaurants atmosphere.
We began with Bridge Road Beechworth Pale Ale on tap, then had the Temple Soba Ale. After an entrée of oysters we shared several small dishes of incredibly flavoursome food, which provided ingredient combinations that we had never come across before, such as a plate of watermelon, pickled rind, grain and goats fetta. The small dish of fresh cows milk cheese, raw and sour bread with wild foraged hop shoots was incredible too. Props to Tani for incorporating the local wild hops…in food!
And then there was BBQ Quail with fermented vegetables, fennel and citrus. Wow. I suddenly felt very awkward about being dressed in cargo shorts and a t-shirt. Fortunately, it was not an issue and I was soon again distracted by these new food combinations.
The dinner was much more than we had budgeted for or than we’d normally pay, outside of a very special occasion, but it was certainly worth every cent. It was a wonderful experience, with excellent service in a lovely venue.
On Wednesday we put our bikes in the car again and drove over the mountain to Mount Beauty, which is about a 40 minute drive up then down winding roads along the Tawonga Gap.
We parked at the Mt Beauty Pondage park and rode around the track the circles the Regulating Pondage (including a lap of a BMX track, probably not suited to a hybrid mountain bike) then up along the Kiewa River to Pebble Beach. All up it was a nice flat 7.6km circuit.
Oh, and at Pebble Beach we discovered that there seems to be a mandatory required to stack pebbles if you visit there. Random fun!
After lunch at the Mount Beauty Bakery, we rode the 1.5kms to Sweetwater Brewing where we had arranged to meet with owner and brewer Peter Hull. We were certainly thirsty for refreshment by that time.
Sweetwater Brewing takes its name from the Kiewa river, which is derived from the local indigenous words meaning “sweet water”. It is one of the cutest little breweries that I’ve come across in Australia.
The building was a former pizzeria (the wood fired oven is still inside) and is joined to a butcher. The building stands alone in open space on the outskirts of Mount Beauty, in Tawonga South, and is surrounded by a magnificent mountain views.
The pizza cafe’s kitchen has been converted into a brewery and the serving area is now the main bar, with a small seating area providing drinking space for visitors and locals. The space is also utilised for occasional live music. The brewery bar is still a work in progress, but it has a fittingly dainty and homely feel. If I lived in Mount Beauty, I’d be very happy to regularly stroll down to Sweetwater and make it my local.
He gave us samples of all his tap beers, which all made perfect drinking sense in the quiet little town surrounded by mountains. The beers were fresh, vibrant and balanced.
I’ve had all of the Sweetwater beers in the past via bottles from Slowbeer or tastings at Microbrewery Showcases, but they’ve never stood out to me. My beer geek palate was often underwhelmed with them. However, in their native environment, the Sweetwater beers finally stood out, befitting life in these mountains.
It was a lovely afternoon of chatting and tasting with Peter, reminding us of the quality people and places that surround craft beer and make us so happy to be craft beer fans.
From Sweetwater Brewery we rode the short distance back to our car, then drove to the Big Hill Mountain Bike Park, found just past the town centre, for the 3km Mount Beauty Gorge walk. This short and sometimes steep hike was a little disorienting because it was hard to find the start and finish of the track.
After the walk we drove back to Bright, headed to Bright Brewery for a pint, then had our Wednesday night dinner adventure resulting in the deliciousness of Tani Eat & Drink.
Thursday arrived and it was our final day on the High Country Brewery Trail. A mixture of sadness and excitement came from the ending of the holiday combined with the cycling that I was most looking forward to.
Our day was time limited by the fact that we had to be home by 4:30pm so I could return the hire car by 5:00pm. It’s a 4 hour drive from Bright to home, and there would be stops in Milawa for cheese and a quick lunch somewhere else along the way. Hence, the useable time available in our final day was actually very short.
It was the Rail Trail Café, which is actually a quite famous and popular stop on the Rail Trail, but we didn’t know about it beforehand. The Mexican inspired menu of breakfast burritos instantly sent the café to the top of our “must do” list.
We arrived when the Rail Trail Café doors opened at 8:00am and took a seat at the bench along the front window. The cosy little cafe was full of good beer reading, like Willie Simpson’s “Australian Beer Companion”. It was too early to drink, but I was very happy to see beers from Bridge Road and Sweetwater in the fridges at Rail Trail Café.
Our breakfast burritos were excellent and the coffee was great. It fueled us up perfectly for a 25km ride from the Rail Trail Café up through Eurobin and to the Rostrevor Hop Gardens, the hop fields of Hop Products Australia. Rostrevor includes the HPA experimental hop nursery, where they breed and trial new varieties of hops.
This part of the rail trail can take you from Bright through to Myrtleford and all the way back to Wangaratta, 70kms away. We just wanted to reach the hop farms, and reach them we did!
The flat and straight ride along the wide and seal main rail trail track allowed us to easily speed along the path for an excellent workout. It took us through beautiful scenery in between the mountains and ultimately to alongside the hop bines.
With limited time on our side, I didn’t think we’d make it all the way to Rostrevor. However, the easy ride took us there faster than expected and the sight was certainly rewarding.
It was a wonderful conclusion to the bikes and beer fusion of our trip.
With two barley wines collected during the week (Black Dog’s Bone Crusher and Sweetwater’s Big Fella), we exited the high country with a stop at the Milawa Cheese Factory for blue cheese to pair with those beers.
After that, we were homeward bound. *sigh*
We had lunch at Albert’s Café in quiet little Euroa, then arrived home as planned, very satisfied from our full and successful High Country Brewery Trail experience. It would not end there though, because we had a boot full of High Country beer delights to enjoy over the Christmas period. And enjoy we did!
We are keen to return and cover more of the Murray to Mountain Rail Trail and high country delights as soon as we can. All the breweries are rapidly evolving, providing new reasons to return.
At Black Dog, James Booth is currently commissioning his shiny new brewery, which will give him greater capability and capacity to produce his beers. Bright’s renovations are now complete providing a new brewery bar experience. Bridge Road Brewers continue their expansion and brewery bar improvements. And we just want to get back to Sweetwater during its normal opening hours so we can drink there with the crowd.
Finally, as an exciting beer geek outro to this series of posts about the High Country Brewery Trail, the four brewers of said trail have just bottled a collaboration beer inspired by Rule #47 of the Velominati (an online cycling community): Drink Tripels, don’t ride triples.
“Cycling and beer are so intertwined we may never understand the full relationship. Beer is a recovery drink, an elixir for post-ride trash talking and a just plain excellent thing to pour down the neck. We train to drink so don’t fool around. Drink quality beer from real breweries. If it is brewed with rice instead of malted barley or requires a lime, you are off the path. Know your bittering units like you know your gear length. Life is short, don’t waste it on piss beer.”
Grab your bike and ride for your beer! There’s no better place to do it than in the High Country. Cheers!
The beautiful surrounds of Victoria’s High Country makes it difficult to take a bad picture, even with your mobile phone! So you can see a bunch more photos of our High Country Brewery Trail holiday on the Beer Bar Band Facebook page.