It might seem an odd phrase, but it’s true that we often drink with our eyes. Taste and aroma might drive the flavour of a beer but our first experience is optics, whether it’s the sight of a beer poured into a glass before being handed over the bar, or the colourful can that captures your eye from a bottleshop fridge.
MilkHead Beer Store pays tribute to this, with the St Kilda bottleshop and bar named after the frothy white head that can sit atop a well-poured beer before it reaches its final destination. Located on Carlisle Street and opened midway through 2021, the store had been an idea whirring away in Alex Webster’s head long before the passion project came to life.
Having worked in retail for years, Alex eagerly followed the goings-on in the fast-evolving beer industry and loved the quality and diversity of styles brewed in Australia. When COVID struck, he felt the time was right to do something he loved: so he joined the beer industry and turned his vision into reality with his brother and their father by his side.
Located next door to trailblazing craft beer venue The Local Taphouse, it’s not the first time 186 Carlisle Street has been somewhere you can buy beer; it was first set up as a bottleshop by the Taphouse crew, later becoming one of Blackhearts & Sparrows’ many outlets. With MilkHead, however, while there are hundreds of chilled beers awaiting you in the fridges, it’s a bar too, with both elements blended seamlessly. It’s a pretty common sight in Melbourne’s north, less so southside.
It’s not just the beer providing a feast for the eyes either; the entire fit-out is visually stunning. That’s clear even from the outside, with the MilkHead Beer Store sign glowing in neon red filling much of the front window and creating a warm glow as you walk inside.
Design elements that incorporate Scandinavian minimalism, white tiles, low-hanging lights, wooden floorboards and plants all come together to create a space in which you want to spend time– a dangerous prospect when you might have popped into to buy a four-pack on the way home, only to find yourself enjoying a couple of glasses at the bar. There’s only 25 seats inside, making MilkHead an intimate venue, while vinyl playing soft, upbeat house conjures an experience for the ears that’s as warm as the one that welcomes the eyes.
Six taps are on constant rotation, while hundreds of beers – all of them independent – sit in the store’s fridges and can be enjoyed there or taken home. Mostly, it’s Australian beer too, augmented by a selection of top-quality imports from America and Europe, and while all styles under the sun are waiting to be discovered, there’s a particularly serious focus on sours. Alex keeps three fridges filled with them at any one time, plus a couple of taps, as he quickly realised fruit-filled, mouth-puckering smoothie sours were favourites among the bar’s regulars.
As much as the modern craft world is a wonderful thing thanks to the vast variety of the beers it provides, the sheer number of breweries and the nonstop deluge of new releases have their consequences. There can sometimes be too much to pick from, making the choice overwhelming and even confronting to those dipping their toes into craftier waters.
At MilkHead, great strides are made to ensure newcomers aren’t overwhelmed, however. The Staff Picks are one way of helping out, as are the guiding and welcoming conversations from Alex and the team; even the way beers are arranged in the fridges helps. There, the visual side of beer is given great consideration, with four- and six-packs perfectly stacked and spaced, so you’re not met with a wall of single tins crammed as close together as possible. In a world where beer cans have become art, the gaps feel natural and make the process of buying rather more soothing than it might be.
You might think having two craft beer-focused venues next to one another could be problematic, but in this pocket of St Kilda that couldn’t be further from reality. MilkHead and The Local Taphouse share the same cool-room and, without a kitchen of their own, food from the latter often makes its way into the former, while food from other local businesses can be ordered in too.
It’s a package that means whether it’s the first time you spot the neon sign while passing on a tram, hearing the soft crackle of vinyl as you walk in, that first sip of a perfectly poured hazy, or even when cracking a can of staff-recommended blueberry sour while relaxing on the couch back home, MilkHead is a true feast for the senses.