Thanks in large part to the gold rush, Ballarat is a city with a long connection to beer and brewing. As one of the wealthiest places on Earth for a period, it became not just a grand city, but one awash with pubs; at one time, you’d have found hundreds of watering holes scattered throughout the booming town.
Over the decades, as with the shrinking number of pubs, Ballarat’s breweries faded from existence too, but the rise of craft beer across Australia has seen a number of smaller breweries starting to take their place. Add in the fact that the city’s university has been running a course for would-be brewers since 1971 – something that was a rarity in Australia then and remains an uncommon sight today – not to mention the many years it’s been home to a summer beer festival, and it's clear that connection remains to this day.
Late in 2020, Aunty Jacks joined the regional city’s long beer history, opening an impressive brewpub venue in the heart of the Ballarat on Mair Street (or Ballaarat as printed on their cans in another nod to history). Walk through its broad doors and street-facing beer garden and a sensory overload hits you immediately – and that’s before you smell the malt being mashed in or taste a freshly-poured beer.
Unusually for a brewpub, at Aunty Jacks it’s the eyes rather than the olfactory system that are the first to be treated to a show: the former blinds and curtain store has undergone a quite startling transformation. The sprawling warehouse space’s gnashing sawtooth roof cuts down into the most intricate of design details in a manner that feels like the Industrial Revolution, suburban Australia in the 1960s, and a Moroccan bazaar all crash-landed in the same Ballarat warehouse at once.
The multi-storey venue has capacity for 400 inside, features three distinct and equally eye-catching bars, and is filled with so much historical memorabilia (and a cement mixer because, why not?) that you wonder if some of it should be in a museum – and potentially question why other bits and pieces weren’t taken to landfill decades ago. The answer is that owner Brian Taylor is an avid collector who’s amassed some impressive snippets of history, while Ballarat locals have contributed to the time-traveling experience too.
Original bluestone recycled from the renovations when installing the brewhouse lines one wall, sample wallpaper another. One bar’s beer taps are made from repurposed meat grinders, while some hollowed-out televisions serve as shelving as another plays old shows in black and white. Vintage radios pop up elsewhere. Then there’s the suitcases built into one wall that seem to say: “Just arrived in town? Put your feet up and relax. We’ll look after you now.”
Fortunately, the beer is just as likely to act as an encouragement to stay. It’s all brewed on the thousand litre system located by heading to the back of the venue and turning right (behind the indoor tree, of course). Much of the beer runs straight to serving tanks that sit behind the main bar.
Aunty Jacks’ history doesn’t stretch back as far as the black and white TV images suggest, but it did launch with a man at the helm whose reputation in brewing has been built over decades.
Peter Aldred needs no introduction for many in the Australian beer world; the former associate professor at Ballarat’s brewing course has helped launch the career of many brewers – arguably more than anyone else in the country. Late in 2019, he retired from being a teacher only to walk straight into a role leading brewing and beer education at the brewpub, where he’s since been joined on the tools by local lad Matt Ives.
The brewery’s core range consists of the gold medal-winning Unfiltered Lager, plus their Session Ale, Pale Ale, IPA and Vanilla Porter. All showcase the sort of balance that comes with a storied career like Peter’s: full-flavoured yet highly drinkable, and approachable for newcomers too.
A key part of the brewpub’s mission is education, with Pete and Matt running classes in beer education in among the tanks each Sunday. Those eager to learn more can take part in brew days, while the brewpub and Ballarat’s university share a close relationship via the Craft Beer Centre of Excellence, a venture that was still taking shape at the time of writing.
Proselytising beer might sit at the heart of Aunty Jacks, but it’s only part of the brewpub’s appeal. The food menu – built around sharing plates and pub classics – and regular gigs make it feel much as much like a country pub in a quiet town as a CBD brewing hub.
Even the name strikes at the heart of that ethos: the titular Aunty Jack is actually unimportant to the whole story – they could be anyone’s family member. The point is to create the feeling you’re at home, surrounded by your friends and family. Well, that and good, fresh beer, and the contents of half a dozen vintage market stalls.