It started off innocently enough as the name of a beer brewed specially for a wedding. But soon 3 Ravens was taking on a life of its own. By 2003, a microbrewery had opened in a warehouse in northern Melbourne, knocking out traditional European beers and putting them into a handful of nearby pubs.
Today, the Thornbury brewery is not only one of the veterans of the local beer scene, but has become one of the most wildly innovative too – having enjoyed an, at times, equally wild ride to get to this point.
Perhaps the brewery's reinvention in the second half of the Twenty-teens as a tireless hotbed of creativity should be no surprise. Back in their early days, Ravens was one of the first to install an English hand pump in a Melbourne pub then supply the owners with cask-conditioned ales for it. And, while it might not sound so crazy now, having a smoked beer as part of your core range back when most (at least those who'd heard of craft beer) still thought it was a fad that would die out.
Over time, they began experimenting with barrel-ageing, initially with big stouts and Belgians such as the whisky barrel-aged Black Mass and Pedro Ximinez-aged Druid, before in 2013, as the tenth birthday approached - and with a tenth anniversary beer in the tank - it looked like it could be curtains. Disagreements among its original owners led to the business being put up for sale, with WA's Mash Brewing – then looking for somewhere to brew beer on the East Coast – riding to the rescue, rewarded with the Champion Small Australian Brewery at the Australian International Beer Awards the following year.
That wasn't the end of the roller coaster ride, however; fast-forward a few years and Ravens and Mash have consciously uncoupled while the former offices spaces upstairs have been reworked into the contemporary shared workspace, CoBrew. Below that, the original owners' "Pleasure Palace" – their private bar – is no more (although the ceiling of empty cans and bottles and some of the colourful furniture remains), with a brewery bar in its place, one that hosts regular masterclasses and less regular but typically out there parties.
Perhaps the biggest change has been on the beer front, however. Some of the legacy beers remain but a new multi-layered offering has seen them both increase sales and catch the eyes of a new audience. A core (or CAW) range of lager, pale and IPA do much of the heavy lifting on the volume front, aided handsomely by the Juicy NEIPA series and other ongoing series like the Acid sours and Shake milkshake IPAs.
Add in all manner of barrel-aged, mixed fermentation, beer-wine hybrid and fruited beers, plus those featuring house-produced malt, foraged ingredients or even their own barrel-aged vinegar and you've got one heck of an eclectic collection, one that mirrors the team that's been assembled at the Thornbury HQ.
Given it once looked like the end was nigh, it's both comforting to see an early Melbourne pioneer reinvigorated and exciting to see just where their flights of fancy will take them next.