Tar Barrel Brewery & Distillery might only have launched in 2020, but the Mornington Peninsula good beer haunt’s history is one that quite wonderfully reflects the story of craft beer in the preceding decade.
That story starts with Mornington Peninsula Brewery and its opening in 2010 following a joyous promise between a group of mates in 2008 as they watched Hawthorn’s first Grand Final win in many years. Steering the brewery was local Matt Bebe, the co-founder who had spent his life on the Peninsula. Steering the beer was Andrew Gow, best known as AG and an industry veteran even when he took the job at Mornington.
Over the next few years, the brewery grew substantially, appearing in major retailers across the country, attracting critical acclaim, gaining national distribution and expanding into a second site around the corner from the original.
No matter where you could find the brewery’s beers, however, it was the original home at 72 Watt Road that remained the best place to try them as you looked upon the brewery where they were brought to life. Like many brewpubs, it was here the range of beers was widest and freshest, and where the accompanying pizzas, excellent beer garden and regular gigs all played a role in making it a home for thirsty locals and Peninsula holidaymakers keen to try a local beer.
Along the way, Matt and AG were among the earliest adopters of cans in Australia, the first to put nitro into a canned craft beer, and regularly experimented with new beer styles and hops before most knew about them.
Mornington Peninsula Brewery’s story was also one that highlighted one of the biggest challenges many independent breweries face: growing to meet demand. In 2018, the brewery reached a point where it needed investment to grow while some of those founders were looking to end their near-decade involvement in beer. One founder who wanted the continue the journey was Matt, who oversaw the brewery’s sale to Tribe Breweries, one of Australia’s major contract breweries and business behind Stockade Brew Co.
By then, AG had already left to help set up gluten free brewery TWØBAYS in nearby Dromana and, while Matt joined the Tribe, his heart remained primarily in Watt Road. As a local boy, his passion for connecting to customers over the bar and talking to them about his love of beer, brewing, spirits and the community of which they’re part never dimmed.
So, at the start of 2020, Matt and AG decided to turn their original brewery into Tar Barrel Brewery & Distillery, with an ethos inspired by little other than the pair’s home. The brewery takes the name from a road in nearby Red Hill, one that’s well known to cyclists in particular, while the core range beers are all inspired by local landmarks too.
Initially, those beers brewed at Watt Road kept the Mornington Peninsula Brewery name but by late 2022, Tar Barrel become entirely its own. Walk in today and you'll be able to choose from the brewery's core range and specialty releases that let AG flex his longstanding love for experimentation.
Tar Barrel is a place where Matt and AG remain eager as ever to share their love and knowledge of beer too, so as well as exploring their offerings with tasting paddles, you can jump onto a tour to learn the story of beer and whiskey from grain to glass.
Of course, that brings us to the second part of the Tar Barrel name: Distillery. Matt and AG wasted no time installing a 1200 litre distillery when they moved back in; the pair share longstanding love for spirits and wanted Tar Barrel to not only be a place where gins and whiskies were made but where some of the best in the country would be showcased – and where people could learn how they were made and explore the difference between malt profiles.
The site has thus become home to the Mornington Peninsula’s first four grain whiskey producer and today, local spirits form as much a focus for Tar Barrel as the beer. Indeed, local is the driving force behind everything Tar Barrel does with the mantra being "The Spirit of Local". It means that, unlike Mornington Peninsula Brewery's beers, these beers never really leave the Peninsula - unless they've been stowed away in a holidaymaker's esky.
If fresh beer, beaches and carefully-crafted spirits weren't quite enough to pull you to Mornington, the brewery's two impressive smokers just might. Arthur and Martha are American-made Yoder barbecues that are a beautiful sight in the Tar Barrel beer garden and are the engine room of the kitchen. Pizzas are still a big part of the menu but throughout the week, those two smokers serve up a broad mix of different barbecue meats as the gentle wave of deliciousness fills the air alongside the sound of laughter and the live music that has long made Watt Road such a home away from home.
It might be a new story but, when you tie in a passion for local, two locals with a serious pedigree in the beer industry, and a pioneering spirit that saw a madcap idea turn into a major Australian brewery, you can rest assured it’s a tale that’s set to last on the Mornington Peninsula well into the future.