If ever there was a brewery you’ll want to enjoy by the pint, it’s Love Shack Brewing Co.
The Castlemaine outfit launched in the final hours of 2020 and, since then, they’ve forged a path that’s entirely their own, which feels fitting given the wild stallion in their logo. Behind the operation are two brewers who learned their craft at Stomping Ground, Conna Mallett and Harrison Cox, before deciding to move away from Melbourne and build a new life and brewery in the historic Goldfields town.
Initially, their home was the literal (and tiny) shack that sat inside the Theatre Royal’s beer garden. The legendary live music venue doesn’t just sit at the centre of the historic town but has long served as a cultural hub too: the kind of place where you’re just as likely to find yourself enjoying a beer beside a local musician as you are to catch a touring act.
From the moment Lock Shack started making and pouring beer for theatre-goers and thirsty locals, they found their brewery embraced by the Castlemaine community. Despite operating at first inside an impossibly small space, they managed to squeeze in a 600-litre brewhouse and fermenters as they set about brewing beer and having a good time in equal measure.
Love Shack brew a range of styles but if there’s any single line that runs through them, it’s that all are pint beers. They specialise in the sort of beer you finish and instantly want to order a second, or the kind of tinny you wouldn’t be eager to share unless you first made sure you had plenty to go around. Whether it’s their lager, IPA or red ale – a mid-strength packed with flavour that’s become something of a cult classic in Victoria, the beers that bear the Love Shack name are quintessentially quaffable.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the pair soon outgrew said shack but, as luck would have it, the neighbouring shop came up for rent. By the end of 2021, they’d moved production next door, opened a bottleshop out the front, and set to work creating a brewery experience that feels as timeless as the Love Shack beers.
Often, we use the term “taproom” when talking about a place where beer is made and served, but there are only a few words in the English language that really capture the essence of Love Shack: public bar, or pub. Although it’s a completely fresh refit for the building, their home feels like a place that’s been around forever; it couldn’t be a better fit for Castlemaine, a town that at once feels like it’s been plucked from the 19th century and yet also like you’re strolling through inner north Melbourne.
As you walk inside, you’re welcomed by a long, curved bar that’s practically begging to be leaned on over many a lazy afternoon as you enjoy beers poured from the dozen gold-plated taps. That said, if an ESB poured through a traditional handpump is more your speed, you’re in luck too. It’s one of many nods to tradition that run through Love Shack’s beers as much as their front bar.
The walls are lined with old paintings and vintage items that Conna spent years collecting from op shops; clearly, he’s an avid collector as the decor may well change between visits. Fresh native plants complete the picture, serving as a wonderful accompaniment to the warm lighting and wooden bar.
Alongside the beer, Love Shack also features a substantial backbar, plus local wines and cocktails that tend to change with the seasons. The kitchen serves up toasties so good they instantly shot to local fame, alongside burgers and bar snacks.
There’s never been a shortage of reasons to take a trip along the Calder Highway to Castlemaine but Love Shack’s arrival in town has made the country town even more of a destination, one that at time of writing can now boast two local breweries. Or, to quote the brewery’s motto – which was found stuck on a fridge in the Theatre Royal: it’s a place to Experience the Experience.
Written down, it might not make that much sense but that’s Love Shack for you: a brewery out of time. A place where the air swells with the warm hum of vinyl, darts thwack into the board, beers best served by the pint flow from the taps, and the experience is, well, experienced.
Photos without The Crafty Pint watermark are by Fred Farquhar.