This weekend sees The Fox Hotel in Collingwood celebrate its tenth birthday with a party that will likely run on well into the pub's eleventh year. The pub, on the corner of Wellington Street and Alexandra Parade, was opened in its current guise by Clodagh Harris (above right), Bridie Harrop (above left) and Tracy Walsh in 2007, with that trio still at the helm today.
Each brought their own particular passions and talents to the venue, among them Bridie's love for cocktails and Tracy's knowledge of wine, with Clodagh the main driver on the beer front (even if the walls and bottles lining the walls and alcoves come from a haul amassed in conjunction with Tracy).
They took on a venue that had been run into the ground, and then a little deeper, with the main attraction being that, for all its faults, at least it was in their price range. On coming to inspect the pub before they took on the lease, Clodagh recalls seeing "three bottles of spirits behind the bar, with flies, Cascade Light on tap and two old guys at the bar".
But they fancied the challenge and set about turning it into a locals' pub where they'd want to hang out. Over time, the six taps has become 11, none of which are contracted, the single tall fridge filled with interesting beers has become three fridges filled with beers, they hold regular gigs, often in partnership with nearby PBS, run a popular kitchen that's long had non-meat eaters in mind – no token faux parma for the vegetarians, here – built a rooftop garden with views of the city, conceived and run cranking Good Beer Week events and, it's fair to say, have easily achieved then surpassed their initial goal.
As for Clodagh, her involvement in good beer in Melbourne stretches back two decades, starting at Bluetrain, a venue that was among the earliest customers of Mountain Goat, before helping turn Transport into a hub for good beer when it first opened in Fed Square, all while educating many others who now work in the beer industry along the way.
So, as The Fox turns ten, we asked her to become our latest Craft Beer Hero. And she said yes.
How do you fit into the wonderful world that is craft beer in Australia?
I’d say I am a passionate consumer, who endeavours to taste beer in every shape and form and to pass those wonderful beers onto as many as possible. You could say we are the middle man between brewer and consumer.
What drew you to work in beer?
They say you should work with something you love or you will have a miserable life so it was an easy choice for me: the things I loved are science, beer and people.
How long have you been promoting beer in your own particular way?
Well, I have been in Australia 20 years next year and was lucky enough to work with in the craft industry from the year I arrived. Being involved in sourcing beer outside the mainstream back then was not an easy task. We are spoilt for choice these days.
What was the first ever job you had in the beer world?
Like everyone in hospo, I started off picking up glasses and dishwashing. It became very clear, very quick, to me that I’d rather be filling the glasses.
As Wayne Coyne, of The Flaming Lips, once pondered: “Why does it matter?”
Because the little things do matter. Taste, smell, sound, lighting, feel – it all adds to the big picture. We all want to feel satisfied with what we have. Contentment.
What's been your proudest / happiest moment as a craft beer advocate?
Finally having our own place with no restrictions where we could do what we wanted.
Ten years on and I’m still proud of what the Fox stands for: great beer and food within an environment that encourages banter and inclusion for all.
Describe your craft beer utopia.
Free unlimited beer around likeminded individuals.
Water, malt, hops or yeast?
All! You can’t have a great beer if one of these components is average – they all need attention and they all impart flavour to the final product.
If you had one minute in which to convert someone to craft beer, how would you spend it?
Finding out what they like then tasting beers to match their taste profile. I can convert the most hardcore draught drinker.
And if you had three beers with which to convert someone, what would they be?
Oh, that’s hard. It all depends on the person.
I’d start with an Australian pale ale like Cavalier, move on to something a little different, like a fruit based weisse or gose and finally a darker beer with a bit more attitude.
I’d hope to hit their taste buds with one of these styles but I would definitely open their eyes to the fact beer is not just one flavour – it can be many. There is a beer out there for everyone you just have to explore the world of beer, which is fun within itself.
You can join Clodagh, Bridie and Tracy for their tenth birthday bash from 3pm on October 21. There will be happy hour prices all day and night, the launch of a Blood Orange IPA from Cavalier, DJs and entertainment that includes face-painting, hula dancing and a drag show. Or, as they put it, "an old-fashioned piss-up". More here.
And you can check out past Craft Beer Heroes features here.