If you’re going to open a brewery in a part of Australia where craft beer has barely taken hold, you may well decide to play things safe when it comes to naming your business.
Maybe you’d adopt the name of the town or region where you’re setting up, or plump for a prominent local landmark or legend. You might choose to go with something distinctly beer or brewing related. Maybe you figure, like many Aussie brewers before you, that your name is strong enough to carry the brand.
Alternatively, you could unload your stainless steel into a warehouse in a regional town with a population of around 2,000, in a part of Victoria with little local beer and (at time of writing at least) bugger all in the way of quality craft beer bars or retailers, and call your brewery Noodledoof.
That was the approach taken by Sam Rudolph and Alex Carr, and in fairness it’s been working out just fine for them. And, if we’re going to be honest, the brewery (and now distillery) is named after the founders – or their nicknames anyway: Sam picked up the Noodles tag thanks to his lengthy reach when the star player at Port Fairy’s footy club; how and why Alex became known to mates as Dufus, we’ll leave you to ask in person.
Aside from the unlikely choice of name, however, the business launched by the two mates who first met in Adelaide is very much a contemporary craft brewery. OK, so the branding and colour palette decorating their beers and merch also avoids looking overtly beery, but aside from the name and the branding, Noodledoof serves up what any discerning beer lover is seeking.
Take the venue itself: a brewpub in a redbrick warehouse with a prime position in Koroit’s main street. It’s bright and breezy enough – not least thanks to the mural paying tribute to nearby Tower Hill and the region’s amazing fauna along one wall – for you to happily bring your entire family along in the knowledge they won’t complain about being dragged to another brewery. Yet the brewhouse and still are on full display between the indoor seating / dining area and the beer garden at the rear.
On most of the days it’s open, it operates as a café from 8am too, with a small yet varied menu of generous, beer-friendly but not-just-the-obvious dishes available at meal times too. There’s smoked meat platters and outrageous loaded fries on the one hand, salads and vego offerings on the others. The pizza oven that takes centre stage in the beer garden gets fired up (literally) regularly, and there’s a range of kids’ meals.
If you’re just there for the beer, you’re all good too. The number of taps protruding from the wall behind the bar has increased since they opened, and the staff serving them are as knowledgeable when it comes to the liquid in your glass as they are friendly and accommodating. What’s more, as a small, family-run operation, there’s a good chance Alex or Sam (or both) will be on the tools, or on the juice, when you stop in.
When it comes to the beer offering, they initially figured they’d stick a little closer to the playbook than they did with the name. The gold medal-winning Pale and helles-style Lager they’ve been refining over the years remain at the heart of their lineup, yet the tastes of Koroit regulars have surprised them.
Given the town’s long and lively Irish connections – it’s home to a hugely popular Irish Festival every autumn – they were always likely to find people with a taste for a tipple. Whether they expected a stone fruit sour to be the beer they couldn’t brew fast enough within two years of opening is another matter. But, in tandem with their move into cans and the occasional limited release in bottles that’s allowed them to send beer a little further afield, the diverse taste of their hometown crowd means you’re likely to find everything from pilsners to saisons, IPAs to barrel-aged stouts on tap or in the fridge.
The experimentation doesn’t stop there, either, with a line of spirits taking shape too; their standard gin proved a winner after I picked up a bottle on one visit. They don’t make their own wine, but they do stock a nicely-curated list of local offerings, as well as soft drinks from independent producers.
Completing the picture is the entertainment on offer. Time your visit right and you might catch live music in the beer garden, particularly if you’re there over summer. At other times, they’ll have DJs spinning vinyl, often by a collective known as the Koroit Record Club. Sure, that’s the name Sam, Alex and their mates decided to give themselves when gathering to listen to each other’s records, but they do have excellent taste in music.
As I type these words, we’re at a moment in time when everyone hopes we’ll soon be referring to the pandemic in the past tense, but it’s worth mentioning here anyway. Along with their partners, they opened the doors to Noodledoof for the first time in late 2019, which meant they had to close the venue within months of selling their first beer. But rather than enduring a disastrous start to life, they found the town and surrounding region taking a shine to them and their beers – within weeks of the nationwide shutdown, they were getting upwards of 100 growler orders a week.
It’s proven to be a common tale around the country, one that offers encouragement for the future of small, local and independent breweries across Australia. Certainly, having switched careers as semi-pro footballer and sparky-turned-Holgate-brewer respectively to launch their own operation, Sam and Alex appear to have experienced COVID as much as wildly entertaining ride as terrifying roller-coaster.
Looking ahead, expect to see even more experimentation, both with beer and spirits. The pair grow hops on Sam’s hobby farm and are always exploring ways to showcase the region in everything they produce.
Oh, and if you like honey, take a bucket along with you: their bees are producing so much of the stuff they’ve no idea what to do with it. Even in a town where a stonefruit sour has proven to be the surprise hit, a permanent braggot tap might just be a step too far…