Collingwood is home to an impressive number of small breweries, pubs and craft beer bars, but it’s not just the scale of postcode 3066’s beer scene that makes it impressive, it’s also the scope.
The breweries that have turned many of Collingwood’s old warehouses into watering holes and community hubs have done so with their own particular style and flair in a manner that makes any journey between them one of distinction and discovery.
The Mill Brewery captures the essence of Collingwood’s modern beer scene perfectly: despite being housed in an old warehouse, it’s a place that feels effortlessly intimate, relaxed and idiosyncratic. Not that it came to life effortlessly: founder Mirek Aldridge spent more than a decade mulling the concept before throwing open the doors to the public in March 2017.
Inspiration came while enjoying a Little Creatures Pale Ale with his brother at that brewery’s Fremantle home, inspiration that in turn led to homebrewing followed by a rapid progression from kits to all grain brewing.
As his interest in brewing turned into an obsession, Mirek told friends, family and anyone else who would listen about his intention to open a brewery, all while working in the film and TV industry on some of the country’s finest, as he puts it, “trashy dramas”.
It wasn’t until the end of 2016, however, that he took over an old mechanics’ garage in Sackville Street, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the junction of Smith and Johnston Streets, and began designing and building the small brewpub himself. Now, in place of the mechanics' gear you find a warm and inviting space named after the hand-cranked Corona mill that did him proud during his homebrewing days.
The back of the warehouse is taken up by a 600L brewhouse, while the front bar is divided between shared tables, cosy couches, a warming fireplace and its own arcade machine. It’s a setup that makes full use of its industrial setting: rows of skylights and the large roller door allow light to flood in during daylight hours; red gum tables line the walls indoors while the bar takes centre stage, welcoming you inside to enjoy a beer.
When the taps are pouring, the driveway out front features more tables, lending the venue the feel of a neighbourhood pub. On a warm afternoon, expect to catch the sound of lively chatter between mates before the brewery is in sight.
If you're looking for a meal to match your beers, Melbourne's cult favourite taco slingers, Dingo Ate My Taco, are responsible for the food – and if you've never tried one of their tacos with a fresh, hoppy beer, well, let's just say The Mill's locals know what you're missing out on. Indeed, whether they’re there for the tacos or weeknight trivia, The Mill has cemented itself as a brewery for locals as well as those who’ve travelled to check out the surrounding beer scene.
For the first few years of The Mill’s existence, Mirek and his team’s focus was almost entirely on their surrounds too, with only the odd larger batch making it into cans and further afield. But, as demand grew, so did they: in late 2021, one became two as they commissioned a 30-hectolitre production brewery in Thomastown. They chose the new brewery’s opening as the moment to introduce a core range of Cracking Lager, Daydream Session Ale, Mosaic Pale and El Toro IPA, and ramped up distribution significantly.
They don’t just produce beer, either, but even their hard seltzer is in keeping with the brewery’s ethos. While many on the market take inspiration for their look, feel and marketing from health drinks, Serenity’s has taken a road less travelled: it’s inspired by metal music, a theme you’ll spot throughout the brewery’s branding too.
Despite the expansion, not only does brewing continue on the original 600-litre system but The Mill’s heart also remains firmly in Collingwood; call in and you’ll often find the wider brewery team sharing ideas with locals over a beer.
It may have been a decade in the making but, with The Mill now ingrained in the Collingwood community and their beers a regular sight across the city and state, you can’t help but feel it was well worth the wait.