This small bar pouring 14 taps of independent beer and cider isn’t in Melbourne. Nor is it even in Victoria; it’s a kilometre over the NSW border as the crow flies (or two kilometres for those of us who aren’t crows). But The Woolhouse is an oasis of good beer in Albury, a kind of outpost of Melbourne’s small bar scene.
When Gavin Spencer, a Melbourne boy through and through, decided to open a venue in his partner’s hometown, it made sense for him to bring a taste of the Victorian capital to the border community.
“The mantra very much was ‘a Melbourne-style small bar – but in my way’,” he says. “The sort of bar I would want to go to: nice and relaxed and friendly.”
That last part isn’t new for Albury – “nice and relaxed and friendly” could be the regional city’s tourism slogan. But what The Woolhouse brings to town is Gavin’s insistence to only ever pour Australian-owned beer.
“I had no idea how it’d be received in Albury… but one of the most important things was that every beer on tap is independent craft beer. And the ciders as well.
“Support the little guys.”
While the taps are the main drawcard at The Woolhouse – six pouring house favourites that more or less remain the same, six rotating through different beers all the time, and two pouring ciders – it’s hard not to caught up in the tastefully rural aesthetic of the place.
The centrepiece is the bar itself, made from a slab of impressive Blue Spruce pine cut down in Melbourne in the ‘80s. Add to this tables made from 100-year-old Redgum – reclaimed sleepers from an old stable – and this place will put a glint in any xylophile’s eye. After all, when was the last time you set your pint down on a piece of timber older than your grandaddy?
Inspired by the name “Woolhouse”, a surname on Gavin’s grandmother’s side, the decor also gives a nod to the sheep shearing history of the Riverina area: the corrugated iron throughout the venue is reminiscent of a shearing shed; rusty shears hang on the wall alongside other old tools; and there’s even a print of the famous Tom Roberts’ painting Shearing the Rams. Not to mention the Woolhouse logo itself – a shearer clipping away at a giant hop cone.
The beer garden out the back sees plenty of action, and it’s easy to see why – it’s the perfect spot to stand around a wooden barrel and enjoy your beer in the clean Riverina air. But, while Albury still has some of the charm of a country town, there’s nothing parochial about the nibbles menu. Order a share plate of Szechuan pepper squid or Korean fried broccoli, or pick at a well-curated cheese or charcuterie board, and you’ll forget you’re 300km from the foodie hub of Melbourne.
An appealing variety of easy-drinking wines – often delivered to the bar by the winemakers themselves – and a list of clean, simple cocktails help to broaden the appeal of The Woolhouse even further. But, quietly, Gavin hopes the range of independent beers has most tastes covered.
“There should be beer for everybody,” he says. “That’s the idea with all those taps – they’re all different. You should be able to find a beer you like, and if you can’t… well, we tried!”