It was one of the highlights of the night. Half an hour into the live-streamed Indies 2020, the winner of the Champion Lager trophy was announced, and it went to Hepburn Springs Brewing Co for their Pilsner.
As the screen switched to their venue, it captured a gobsmacked family in the moment of realisation: one daughter clutching her face in joyous disbelief; mum Helen giving husband Nick a kiss; delight and bemusement all around.
Prior to the awards, most in the craft beer world had never heard of the tiny Central Highlands brewery, who only started distributing their beers beyond their own premises in 2020. And now, speaking with owner and head brewer Nick Galik (pictured above), he says he still hasn’t quite accepted the achievement, admitting the win left him in disbelief.
“I’m still shaking my head,” he says, laughing. “During lockdown, I thought I'd enter into the Indies. I was proud just to be able to enter, but to actually win, I was speechless. I could barely stand, actually.”
Dig a little deeper into Nick’s story, and you can understand why the prestigious trophy took him by surprise – and had Helen fighting back tears again when The Crafty Pint's founder and Indies co-host James Smith paid a surprise visit three days later.
The family have run Cloverhill Hepburn Springs Accommodation for close to 30 years and, up until six years ago, craft beer had never even entered Nick’s mind. This all changed after one fateful evening at The Sherlock Holmes, in Collins Street, Melbourne.
“They had all these English beers that they had imported,” Nick recalls. “I used to drink a lot of beer, however I got sick of drinking the same thing over and over again.
“These beers piqued my interest, the flavours were incredible. It was beautiful.
"When I got home, I decided to look further into it and really explore this growing world of craft beer.”
After purchasing some homebrew kits and diving head first into his new hobby, Nick quickly ran into a few hiccups, mostly due to using the natural spring water at his property.
“To put it simply, the first few batches were awful,” he admits with a laugh. “I hate to think of the thousands of dollars I spent on homebrewing kits before I actually really knew what I was doing.”
He started to find his brewing feet after completing a master brew course with Vincent Costanzo of Costanzo Brewing.
“[Vincent] was super helpful in guiding us down the right path,” he says. “From then, we just started to create recipes with rain tank water. Initially, we were putting out really small batches and experimenting with our beers.
“Once we put out a couple of recipes that people were liking, we applied for our producer's licence. At first, it seemed a bit silly when we were only pumping out a few hundred litres of beer. We were really a homebrew setup on steroids.”
The brewery on-site in Hepburn Springs produces 200 litre batches, with Nick brewing often enough to keep twelve taps pouring different beers at all times. Many are of a traditional bent; when The Crafty Pint called in, alongside the Pilsner were offerings including a red ale, amber, hefeweizen, porter, stout and witbier. Nick lists the full ingredients and other technical details from each batch, with recipes often featuring less than common ingredients, such as the rye in his trophy-winner.
After years of working through their licence approval, Hepburn Springs Brewing Co started receiving positive reviews from visitors to the accommodation. However, the business continued to fly under the radar as local council restrictions didn’t allow them to distribute beers outside the venue.
“It was frustrating to an extent,” he says. “We wanted to get as many people trying our products... we want as much feedback as we can so we can make what people want.”
After an extended period, restrictions were finally lifted at the start of 2020, which coincided with the decision to contract production of their Pilsner and Pale at Barossa Valley Brewing in South Australia to meet demand.
“During the pandemic, we were getting quite a good response from regional Victoria and from
the people who could get their hands on the beer,” he says.
“The number of people who could try our products continued to grow and the reactions stayed positive; it made us very proud. Since Melbourne has opened up, our stock has been completely wiped out, it’s been incredible. For the life of me, I didn’t realise how many people would come through.”
As for what’s next for the small family business, Nick says his focus will remain the same: please the public.
“We’re driven by what the people are enjoying... that’s what we want to continue making. We
want to keep fulfilling the customer's needs.”
You can sample Nick's beers and the family's warm hospitality at 12 Forest Avenue, Hepburn Springs. And you can enjoy the family's reaction to their trophy win around 33 minutes into the Indies stream.
You'll find Hepburn Springs Brewing Co and hundreds of other good beer venues across Australia in the free Crafty Pint app.