Australia's first airport brewery is up and running with Stomping Ground's brewers firing up their six hectolitre system in Melbourne Airport's Terminal 3 today.
The brewpub venue has been open and serving beers since last Saturday but this is the debut brew – and they've chosen a memorable beer for the occasion too: their version of the Resilience Beer being brewed by 200 breweries worldwide in support of bushfire relief.
The joint venture with global hospitality company Delaware North was announced last year and becomes the second Stomping Ground venue in Melbourne – as well as just the fourth operational airport brewery in the world. Their home base in Collingwood was the first to brew beer in the suburb in a century, while a third Stomping Ground brewpub is scheduled to open in Moorabbin in July.
Co-founder Justin Joiner described the project as "a unique beast", but said the enthusiasm of the airport management and their venue partner had helped overcome the singular challenges of building a brewery in a busy passenger terminal.
"Everyone out there has been amazingly keen for it to happen," he says, going on the describe the process of moving in the brewhouse and fermentation tanks – a scene that sounds like it could be lifted straight from a Steven Soderbergh crime caper.
"Getting the brewery in was a crew of six of us – [brewery co-founder] Guy Greenstone, myself and four brewers," he says. "We got there late one night and rolled the tanks in. They moved the security scanners out of the way for us, we were going in through exits...
"It was challenging but as good as it could be under the circumstances."
When we first spoke to Justin about the plans last July, he talked about everything – every bag of malt – having to be scanned through security, but says they're already getting into a groove at the 160 seat venue that sits roughly halfway along Terminal 3 (the Virgin Australia Domestic Terminal) on the site formerly occupied by Fly Bar.
"We've got 16 beers on tap plus half a dozen wines," he says. "The setup is pretty much the same as Collingwood: 30 taps – six wine, 23 for beer and one Willie Smith's cider. Some [beer taps] will double up but we could reach 20 different beers."
Of those, they hope in time at least two or three will be brewed at the airport by lead brewer Conna Mallett. Following the Resilience Beer brew they're planning a hoppy pilsner and inviting the public to come up with its name, a move inspired in part, Justin says, by an email conversation with Stomping Ground's third owner, Steve Jeffares, in which I suggested a few punny titles for airport beers.
"Really, we're trying to recreate the Beer Hall in Collingwood – taking a lot of the cues from there but reflecting the environment it's in," he says. This includes the tramcar seats that have been a feature of Steve and Guy's venues since The Local Taphouse in St Kilda, beer fonts that are very similar to their original brewery venue, and the large communal tables. There will be an extensive menu plus takeaway cans too.
"It's a bit slicker than what Collingwood is [and] we had a bit of trepidation but when you see it you realise it would have looked a bit faux if we'd tried to rough it up.
"If you've been to Collingwood you'll feel that it's a genuine reflection of that," he adds. "Plus there's a view of the airfield, which is pretty cool."
Initially, they plan to brew there once a week and focus on beer styles that are likely to sell well. Later on, they may go down a more experimental route and share kegs with their other venues. But already they're confident the venture will attract more customers than the pop-up bar they ran for a few months a year outside the airport.
Over that time, they found travellers' habits to be pretty ingrained: people don't stop moving until they've got into the airport, dropped their bags and made it through security – not ideal when your bar is landside, less of a challenge when you're airside.
"We're only five days in but there's significant breakfast trade that then transitions into a pretty humming vibe from lunchtime," Justin says, before adding with a laugh: "Flight delays are our friend now!"
Stomping Ground's airport brewpub is in Terminal 3. It opens daily at 5am and operates through to 9.30pm. And, even if you're not flying with Virgin Australia, you can still visit the brewpub.