Dr Morse Bar & Eatery is a hidden gem within Melbourne’s bevy of craft beer bars – in spite of its close proximity to the heart of the city’s beating beer scene. This could be due to craft beer sharing the stage with coffee, casual dining and even disco at this multi-faceted Abbotsford local haunt.
Yet, the good stuff has always flowed here too, and the pedigreed Jac Morgan (formerly of Foresters Pub & Dining and Glasgow’s best European beer bars) was brought on board to help keep the beer list – one where you're likely to find a lager from Sydney next to a limited release from the bar's brewing sibling Bodriggy and a 10 percent-plus imperial stout – as fresh as ever.
Here he is as the latest person in our Behind Bars series, where we ask people, um, behind bars where beer is and where it's headed.
What are bar staff drinking at the end of their shifts?
Jac Morgan (pictured top left): All the staff members are totally into drinking something that’s fun and interesting. It must be well made and fresh. Fresh is a huge thing for us. If it was kegged the day before, it’s always going to be a staff favourite. We just love those fresh hops that burst out of the glass!
We’ve been into funky and sour beers lately too. Cavalier’s Cherry Sour went down a treat and Sailors Grave’s [Dry Hopped Raspberry & Elderflower] Grisette was awesome. La Sirène beers and anything from America [gets drained] fairly quickly.
What is the general uptake of staff favourites among Dr Morse punters?
JM: The thing is, because staff members are drinking [the beers we get in], they’re easy to recommend. When we’re passionate about beer, recommending it to people is the easiest part. A beer tends to go quickly if it’s well received across the staff board.
We’re always rapidly rotating everything. In fact, we recently had a La Sirène sour cherry beer [on tap] and it lasted about two hours. The whole beer garden was a sea of bright purple!
What are some general bar trends? What are people asking for?
JM: Punters are loving single hop beers, those highlighting just one element. People are especially asking for what’s fresh as they start to understand fresh is best. They’ll ask what’s been moving [as a gauge].
We’re not being asked for beer cocktails, which are two things that should be kept apart [laughs]. Boilermakers are great, beer and whisky definitely belong together, and it’s something I’d love to bring in. We’ve got a good selection of whisky and awesome beer, so why not marry the two? [In saying that] I was asked for a lagerita the other day…
Are people starting to drink craft where they weren’t before? What’s winning over the newcomers?
JM: We do get a broad demographic here at Dr Morse. We get our Saturday night party crowd that comes in for something easy drinking, but always [something that’s locally made]. We always try to get something in that’s approachable as well as local, fresh and interesting.
We don’t always get people in looking for craft beer, but bar staff give them samples and they walk them through the [beer’s flavours]. The newcomers end up drinking all the sours and everything that’s on tap as they’ve found a brand new interest, and that’s really good to see!
People who once thought craft beer meant heavy, dark or super hoppy are finding [approachable] styles like Berliner Weisse and saisons. We’ve had Moon Dog’s [Del Polka Vista] Fruits of the Forest sour ale on tap, which tasted like fermented roll-ups, and people have been taking it up.
Ninety percent of the time people will try something new – if they don’t like this they’ll try that. They love the idea of a beer being brewed with love and care by two guys in a warehouse in Footscray instead of a massive factory. People can taste the difference.
Given Dr Morse is on the fringe of what's a craft beer hotspot, is it mostly locals or do craft beer hunters come from further afield?
JM: Yes and no. We get in a lot of locals, some are craft beer drinkers who also frequent [other local beer bars]. But I always see familiar faces come in regularly as well. They’ll ask if they can have a beer we had on [during a previous visit] again and they can’t because it’s been replaced by something from a different brewery. But they might come back in a month and it’s on again. It’s literally rotational.
We also get people who come up from South Yarra for a drink on a Saturday night. On Sundays, we get a huge local crowd. It depends where people are going.
What do you think will be the next big thing in craft beer?
JM: I think there will be a lot of reimagining of styles that were once forgotten. There will be a lot more emphasis on wild and super funky flavours, and pushing the boundaries of what breweries can do.
All Australian ingredients will [gain prominence]. I think Australia has grown enough of a pedigree with our produce – we don’t have to get in our hops from America or New Zealand anymore. Australia has its own craft beer identity now too.
What's next for Dr Morse?
JM: We’re finding our feet in the community. This area is becoming a lot more built up as more apartments are built around us, so we might have to evolve. Less disco DJs and more refined service and dining. In terms of beer, we’ll keep getting in out there stuff and evolve it as we can.
As Bodriggy Brewing [located across the other side of Johnston St] goes up, we’ll be supporting them as much as we can. We’re looking forward to seeing where it all goes – we’re still a young venue having been open for three years.
Finally, any comments on where you think beer is headed?
JM: People using beers in degustations. A chef in America is doing a ten-course degustation with beers he’s brewed in-house. Instead of wine, which can be quite stuck in the style and the type of grape that it is, beer is more malleable. [In terms of food matching] there is a lot more scope when working with beer.
The beauty of beer is that it can be many things. Breweries will continue pushing boundaries as people's palates expand.
It’s great to see the market expand and evolve. Where all we had in the beginning was a handful of microbreweries, now the craft beer movement has exploded. Sometimes we get as many as three reps in per week. It might be just a gypsy brewer brewing out of Cavalier but it’s great to see people [getting into brewing] and doing their own thing.
You can read past Behind Bars features here.
About the author: Graham "Stoutwhiskas" Frizzell is a legally blind beer writer and brewer in the making. You can find his beer writings at Blind Taste Test. Full disclosure: Graham writes occasional blog posts on beer for the Dr Morse team.