Geelong may have taken a little time to embrace craft beer but these drinkers have a growing range of options whether they’re seeking out beer bars or local breweries.
From the tiny Barrabool Hills Brewing Company (home of Cockies beer) through to the might of Little Creatures, Geelong’s craft beer scene is on the up. An easy one-hour drive or train ride from Melbourne – or a flight into Avalon airport if you're coming from further afield – Geelong’s bounty is easily accessible.
With that in mind, the following is an update to the guide we first ran in December 2016, one that's focused on venues and breweries that are all within easy walking distance from the two main train stations in the city.
Stop One: Little Creatures Brewery
What better place to start your beer journey than at the brewery that has helped ignite Geelong’s beer scene more than any other. A ten minute walk from the South Geelong train station, this former wool mill, close to the Barwon River, was repurposed and turned into Little Creatures’ East Coast base, opening its doors to the public in 2013.
All the old favourites await at what Little Creatures call The Canteen (pictured above), including their iconic Pale Ale and the phenomenally popular beer brewed for the Victorian market, Furphy – a beer inspired by the Kolsch style and brewed using wholly Victorian grown ingredients that has pretty much outgrown the brewery that created it.
If you're wanting something a little different there's usually a couple of their seasonal, limited release or single batch beers on tap, which have so far included everything from a raspberry beer to a gose. There is also a comprehensive selection of beer-friendly food to enjoy while relaxing in the spacious and lively surroundings.
Little Creatures' Geelong home is found at 221 Swanston Street.
Stop Two: White Rabbit Brewery and Barrel Hall
So when we said you'd have to cover rather more distance on this Crafty Crawl, we meant later on. You only need to step across a courtyard between two industrial buildings to go from stop one to stop two here, as Little Creatures' sibling brewery White Rabbit shares the same site.
White Rabbit has been a valuable addition to the Geelong scene since moving from its original Healesville location. Alongside their staples – past AIBA Champion Australian Beer, the White Ale, plus Dark Ale and Belgian Pale Ale – there's a serious focus on barrel-aged beers, open fermenters and more experimental/lesser known styles. Foremost among these is the barrel aged Flanders style Red and the popular Teddywidder, a Berliner Weisse style beer that can be enjoyed in its natural state or blended with a fruit based syrup such as blackcurrant or rhubarb.
The industrial style venue part of White Rabbit's home offers tall tables and welcoming leather chairs in which to enjoy your beer (and there's an open fire in the colder months). If you're feeling peckish, there's a range of fine cheeses, meats, bar snacks and more hearty dishes to feast on, while the whole space is set up to allow for a spot of self-guided education too; make your way along the barrel-lined walls and you'll find boards explaining what happens where and just what each stage of the process contributes to the beers pouring at the bar.
Stop Three: Barrabool Hills Brewery Company (Cockies Beer)
Just a five minute walk from the Little Creatures site, you'll find the home of Cockies Beer, a brewery that quickly became a popular place on a Thursday or Friday night for locals keen on good beer and live music. Founder and brewer Jamie Roydhouse decided to take his hobby of homebrewing – one that he'd been indulging for more than four decades – more seriously, first opening his 1,200 litre brewhouse to the public midway through 2015. Already into his 60s, he figured it was time to have a little fun before the time was past and it seems to have been a wise move as he collected the 2016 Australian International Beer Awards Best New Exhibitor title.
Jamie’s original and gold medal-winning beer, Cockies Ocean Road Pale Ale, has been joined by the likes of a golden ale and a big and zingy west coast style IPA. And it's easy to see why he collected the trophy too as the beers are typically tight, suggesting a lifetime of homebrewing hasn't gone to waste!
Don’t be surprised to see brewers and workers from Little Creatures and White Rabbit unwinding after a big day of brewing. Also, if you’re lucky, Jamie’s wife will give you a complimentary cheese platter to enjoy with your beers.
Sample some Cockies at 112 Balliang Street, South Geelong.
Stop Four: Big Ears Bar
UPDATE: Just days after this was published, there was a shock announcement that Big Ears was closing as they couldn't secure their premises. Given they had events locked in weeks ahead, this clearly came as a surprise. Here's hoping the team finds a new venue...
In the heart of Geelong, in the recently revived Little Malop Street precinct, lies Big Ears, a bar dedicated to cold brews and hot balls. By that they mean good beer and meatballs, with the former spread over six taps and a bottle and can list that sits around 80 at any given time and, like the taps, is constantly changing.
The beer list categorisation, from “Just Want A Beer Mate” (full of more accessible beers) to “Freak Me!” makes it a venue that’s there for anyone, no matter what kind of beer they’re after. It’s part of the team’s wider focus on education, one that includes keeping Cicerone guides by the bar and running regular beer classes.
Murals from a local artist line the narrow and curved space that almost make it feel like it’s been built from set pieces from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sour beers and meatballs in space... cheers, Big Ears.
Get your fill of beer and balls at 86 Little Malop Street.
Stop Five: Blackman’s Good Beer Bar
Blackman’s Brewery has been a big hit with locals and visitors alike since opening its doors in Torquay in 2014. Thankfully for inner Geelong urbanites, founders Renn and Jess Blackman have since expanded into central Geelong, opening the Blackman's Good Beer Bar less than ten minutes stroll from Geelong train station (and mere metres from Big Ears) in the heart of the bustling Little Malop Street precinct.
You'll find their core range of beers on tap along with a rotating cast of their seasonal/limited batch beers and guest beers from their mates in the brewing world too too. A small range of beer friendly snacks is available and you can order food in from nearby restaurants too.
The bar itself has an intimate, modern industrial feel, with welcoming diner style tables and couches upon which to relax, plus regular beer events and launches, making the Good Beer Bar a welcome addition to a much rejuvenated part of the Geelong CBD that is now bustling with quality food and drink options.
Pick from an array of good beers in Dennys Place.
Stop Six: Valhalla Taproom
Valhalla made their beer world debut in 2016 as a gypsy brewing operation based in Torquay, releasing beers inspired by Nordic myths and the excesses of Vikings. Late in 2018, owner Scott Hunt decided it was time for Valhalla to have a home of its own and opened the Taproom on Union Street, a short stroll from Little Malop Street.
The bar features ten taps, with half of them dedicated to his beers and the others rotating through offerings from his other beer business: Lotus, which distributes for a growing number of independent breweries. Along with the beers, you can tuck into jaffles, while Scott’s love for music also shines through, with vinyl regularly spinning (including a bring you own night on Wednesday), live music across the weekend, and photos of icons on the walls.
The space itself doesn’t feel too far removed from a lounge room from the days when vinyl still ruled, where dim lighting, second-hand chairs you can sink into and skull-lined walls (thanks to custom-designed wallpaper) make for a comfortable, if left of centre, place to drink local beer and listen to rock ‘n’ roll.
The Valhalla Taproom is at 12-14 Union Street.
Stop Seven: Telegraph Hotel
Situated at the start of one of Geelong’s best known foodie destinations, Pakington Street, the Telegraph Hotel or the Telly, as the locals know it, has come a long way since it first opened in 1855. For much of its existence, any of the more adventurous beer offerings currently found at the bar would have been almost taboo. But, since Rhonda and Sam Longo took over the running of the Hotel in 2007, things have changed considerably with a contemporary makeover that has included a range of local craft beer being offered on tap, in bottles and cans alongside more traditional selections.
Since the start of 2016, the Telly has been holding craft beer tasting nights where beers are matched with (mostly) local produce, in keeping with their philosophy of supporting the local region and its products.
The Telegraph is at 2 Pakington Street, Geelong West.
Craft Friendly Bottleshops
There's a growing numbers of stores that can help satisfy your needs at home too.
- Bottles and Barrels: As per its name, this is a space dedicated to all things wine and beer, selling a range of local and international craft beer at arguably the most affordable prices in Geelong. Located just off Pakington Street, a further 2km up from the Telegraph Hotel, Bottles and Barrels is a great spot for sourcing more adventurous offerings in both beer and wine. 132 Aberdeen Street, Geelong West.
- Celebrations at Chas Cole: A spacious, all-in-one alcohol store with a large number of fridges dedicated to craft beer. 395 Moorabool Street, South Geelong.
Photo at the top of the article taken from atop the towering fermenters at Little Creatures Geelong.
NB "Crafty Crawl" is our catch-all title for suburb, area or PT line guides to good beer around Australia and we're not suggesting you take any of them on in one go unless, of course, they're approached sensibly.