When we launched our Crafty Crawl series with a trip along Melbourne's 86 tram route, we were able to just about squeeze all the bars and brewpubs we thought you should check out into the one article. But, such is Melbourne's growing appetite for craft beer, having one article for the country's craftiest public transport route line just wasn't good enough. So, less than two years on, we've split it into two.
You can check out the first part of the 86 Crawl – the southern leg from The Catfish to The Craft & Co here. If you're ready to extend your tour further north, read on.
Clifton Hill Brewpub – Stop 23
This suburban corner pub has enjoyed many personalities over the year: a home for the Irish community, a popular gig venue and, most recently, brewpub. The family that has owned the former Clifton Hill Hotel for more than three decades saw where things were headed around them in inner north Melbourne and brought in La Sirène head honcho Costa Nikias to install a brewery in the heart of the pub and design their launch beers.
At first, a quartet of approachable in-house brews were accompanied across the 16 taps in the front bar by a selection of top local and international craft beers. But it was when the owners decided to truly embrace being a brewpub and invited their young brewer to fill as many of the taps as he could with in-house brews that things really got interesting. Soon, almost all of them were pouring everything from session ales to imperial IPAs and barrel aged sours. More recently, the monthly Brewer’s Reserve releases have showcased even more experimentation from the young brewing duo; the first beer in the series took out top spot in our session sours blind tasting too.
If you can't get your fill there before leaving, the Thirsty Camel drive thru bottleshop out back has an ever-growing number of fridges offering up quality brews too.
The Terminus – Stop 25
The Terminus Hotel is the kind of place that feels like a true local: good pub fare (plus food of a more refined nature in the restaurant), plenty of sport and great beer on offer. Indeed, it’s been that way for many years now, but first made beer its number one focus in 2013. That was when it first opened its Craft Bar where once there had been a drive thru bottlo, promptly becoming Good Beer Week’s first Festival Hub within days (or was it hours) of the builders finishing up.
The Craft Bar and Beer Garden serves 16 different beers and ciders, half of those on regular rotation, while the modern take on Asian cuisine from the venue’s second kitchen is particularly suited to those supping on a tasty brew. The hotel’s dining room is a slightly more formal affair with gastropub grub prepared to an exceptional standard and rated highly, contributing to the Termi's clutch of Best Pub gongs in recent years.
For the sports fans, as well as the screens found throughout the bars and beer garden, there's an upstairs bar that plays AFL on a big screen as well as opening for other major sporting events.
Wine Republic Northcote - Stop 31
While Brunswick Street in Fitzroy can lay claim to the first Wine Republic, it’s the Northcote store that’s most devoted to beer of the mini-group found around Melbourne. As the name alludes, it’s a bottleshop that takes a serious approach to wine (ask for a little advice and you can easily write off the next half hour or more), but is just as devoted to beer. Walking in, you'll be drawn to the fridges filled with scores of local and international beers. Keep walking and, other than a bit of shelving typically showing off barrel aged imperial stouts and barley wines, and the fridges keep on keeping on. Pretty much the entire first half of the store is lined with something like 800 beers, almost all kept cold.
Those beers range from some of the newest locals out there, to a huge swathe of imports from Europe and America. There are core range beers in there, but the store's buyers like to source as many limited run beers as possible too so, as with the wine, maybe set aside a little time. And, as you do, offer up a little prayer to the beer gods that more serious beer retailers invest in more fridges too; sure, it's not great for the planet (maybe walk and cycle more to assuage your guilt) but it's good for the beer.
The Small Bars...
OK, forgive us while we take a little break from the format here. But it's needed as there’s no talking about – or crawling around – Northcote and its surrounds without discussing the multitude of small bars. Over the years, myriad old shops have been transformed into small cafés and bars and, though some pour only a small selection of booze, they do seriously consider what they're stocking.
The first one you’ll hit along this Crafty Crawl is in Clifton Hill, where Some Velvet Morning lies just a few steps along Queens Parade from the Clifton Hill Brewpub. This café meets bar has to be one of Melbourne’s most intimate live music venues and, across its three taps, the staff pour a rotating lineup of local beer.
Hop off the tram in Northcote’s southern edge and you'll find Low Key, whose owners took over High Street’s Myrtles Crepes & Coffee late in 2017 to create a bar focused on wine, beer and straightforward cocktails. It may be a little hard to spot, but the luminescent Bodriggy Brewing sign will point you in the right direction.
Further north sits Joe’s Shoe Store (pictured above). There, on the crest of Northcote’s bustling Ruckers Hill, the booths of the narrow front bar regularly fill with locals. Alternatively, you can continue through to Joe’s much loved beer garden to enjoying beer from one of the venue's two taps or its selection of cans and bottles.
Anyway, back to the mission at hand...
Northern Git - Stop 39
Just after that point where Northcote morphs into Thornbury, you’ll find Northern Git on the corner of High Street and Smith Street. It's part restaurant, part boozer, all dedicated to bringing the best of both together under one roof. As both the name and the theme running through many of the beers on offer makes clear, it's also a venue with its heart in England: Git founder Michael Slade hails from Yorkshire and the menu, often featuring ingredients grown in the beer garden at the rear, takes inspiration from classics from his home, with modern twists and turns along the way.
The devotion to England doesn’t end with the food, with many of the restaurants 12 taps pouring English classics alongside local beers and wine. Then there's the 13th beer offering: the handpump that sits behind the bar, surrounded by decals like a shrine to beer, pouring ales of a traditional bent, whether imported from the UK or brewed by their mates down the road at 3 Ravens.
Carwyn Cellars – Stop 41
This is the longest ride between venues on the entire 86 Crawl, but what’s on offer at Carwyn makes the long haul up High Street worth it. Carwyn Cellars has been a popular craft bottleshop for some time, initially at a different location a short walk away, but now at a seemingly ever-expanding site that's garnered a nationwide reputation. That's in part down to the addition of its Backroom Bar, turning it from fine bottleshop to many beer geeks' favourite Melbourne hangout as well as a pumping locals' spot too.
It's where you’ll find 20 taps pouring mostly beer (one’s usually pouring Negronis) including those brewed with brewing mates by the venue's staff. Since opening the bar, they've moved into the adjacent shop and also added a beer garden out the back. They run some of the best events in town – including outrageous tap takeovers – and, if beer's not your thing, there's an amazing selection of natural wines, spirits, ciders – you name it, they'll probably have it, if not behind the bar then in the bottleshop at the front.
Something A Little Different – Curry Café
We like to end these Crawls not necessarily at the end, but with something a little quirky. And, in this case, it's with a local legend. Packed with both vintage furniture and diners most nights, the Northcote Curry Café has long been a favourite of locals who file in for the Indian restaurant’s expansive menu. Yet, beyond the staples of roti and butter chicken, the Curry Café has half a dozen taps pouring local beer, plus a few more on offer in cans and bottles.
Among those on tap, there's always a house lager on tap, but expect to find offerings from the likes of KAIJU! and Cavalier there too, helping the regulars who come in to design their own curry match the right beer with it too. As for the food side of the menu, there's some classic Indian dishes, but plenty more of an off kilter bent too. You'll find it on the same strip as Westgarth's Palace Cinema.
OTHER PLACES OF NOTE
There's far more to uncover than just the above, with these beer-friendly locations worth consideration too.
- Village Vineyard – On the edge of North Fitzroy, with a changing selection of craft beer, cider and spirits.
- Thornbury Local – Longstanding live music venue and watering hole taken over by new owners in late 2017. Currently, they have four taps but there are plans to expand once renovations are completed in winter 2018.
- Harvest Wine & Liquor – One of High Streets oldest spots to find good beer, both local and international, and an owner who knows what he's talking about.
- Wesley Anne – Historic church that’s been turned into bar, restaurant, live music venue all in one with one of Melbourne's truly great beer gardens.
Love this tram, don't wanna get off? Then check out the Crafty Crawl we did for Preston.
Or, if you're reading this in another part of Australia, see if there's a Crawl near you here.
Curry Café photo pilfered from the venue's Facebook page as we forgot to take a decent one in time. Please forgive us.