Budding young winemaker Ben Kraus headed to Italy at the start of the Millennium to learn more about the art of making wine. Somewhere along the way, he got distracted on the ski slopes of Austria and ended up working at Tiroler Bier, a traditional microbrewery in Innsbruck, and returned to Australia a brewer, steeped in the traditions of the amber nectar.
Founding Bridge Road Brewers in his dad's Beechworth backyard, he quickly established himself as one of Australia's finest craft brewers and later installed his brewery at the High Country town's old Coach House and Stables. There, visitors can sit among wooden clad tanks sampling a wide range of beers (and occasionally cider) while watching the brewers at work.
Ben didn't just bring brewing skills back from Europe, however, he brought his Austrian partner Maria, who bakes the best pretzels this side of Munich ' perfect for soaking up your beer.
An everpresent at the High Country's festivals, Bridge Road Brewers also hosts regular events of its own, from lederhosen-laden Oktoberfests to slot car racing with a track that weaves around the tanks. In late 2009, Ben began expanding into the neighbouring warehouse and entered the international export market in a bid to fly the Aussie craft beer flag overseas. It's an expansion that seems to be never-ending, whether that's installing a new brewhouse, more tanks, Australia's first foeder at a brewery, or the dozens of new beers that leave Beechworth every year.
Always on the lookout for new ways to brew and to spread the word about craft beer, Ben was been at the forefront of Aussie brewers taking part in collaborations, flying to Norway to brew with Nøgne Ø, then welcoming the brewer Kjetil Jikiun back to Beechworth, sending one of his brewers to brew at the UK's Thornbridge and also collaborating with Mikkeller. In 2012, he also began inviting staff from Australia's top beer bars to concoct their own beer ideas and bringing them to the brewery to help make them.
Indeed, innovation and grand marketing concepts are as much part of the Bridge Road Brewers story as the beers. Ben and his team have celebrated Aussie hops more than any other brewer, even creating The High Country Hop Festival at harvest time, while their messaging about independence arguably reached their high water mark when he declared the brewery its own micronation.
It's a winning combination of fun and creativity, aided in no small part by the warm and family-friendly nature of the brewpub, that has kept Bridge Road Brewers at the vanguard of the Australian craft beer world even as the number of other breweries has swollen by hundreds. Long may it continue.