One of South Australia’s largest and longest-established craft breweries is heading back home to the place with which it shares a name. Tomorrow (Friday) sees Vale Brewing throw open the doors to their new taphouse in the McLaren Vale, just weeks after restocking their trophy cabinet with big wins at the World Beer Awards.
It's the latest move for a business that first appeared in 2008 as the McLaren Vale Beer Company – albeit with beer brewed under license in NSW and without a brewery of its own – and has since transitioned to Vale Brewing, launched the craftier offshoot brand Fox Hat, built a brewery in McLaren Vale, been acquired by SA drinks company Bickford's and subsequently moved brewing and logistics out of the Vale to Salisbury, before starting work on this latest stage in its evolution.
And it's an impressive step too. Perched atop a grassy hill in the middle of the 70-acre Beresford Estate, Vale’s new taphouse and restaurant takes in views of several McLaren Vale vineyards and has a capacity of 200 people inside and out. Guests can sample Vale and Fox Hat beers while looking through glass panelling at the brewery where they were made in a space with a look and feel that's like a more casual version of the Renmark home of Bickford's-owned 23rd Street Distillery. There's also a large, grassed area with interactive games that should suit parents needing to occupy their kids while they sample the drinks on offer.
"It has taken us a long time to get the venue up and running and that is largely due to COVID," Simon Habib, Bickford's brand manager, told The Crafty Pint. "So, it is very exciting that we are finally at a position now where we can open our doors.
"It is important for beer brands to have their own home; people can really connect with the brand where people can see it and feel it."
Of the 14 beers that will pour on tap, three to five are set to be limited releases, with the initial offering to include an Aussie IPA, the Hazy Tropic Ale, and a red lager.
"The new venue will really allow the exploration of new beers as well as getting direct feedback from the customer," Simon says, with the new taphouse also set to showcase other drinks within the Bickford's Vok Beverages lineup. This includes Beresford Estate and other SA wines, plus a number of Vok spirits.
Former Sean’s Kitchen chef John Rankin will be steering the ship in the kitchen, with a remit to work alongside the brewers to create dishes that match with the beers, which will come from the same team that has been winning awards year in, year out at the Royal Adelaide Beer & Cider Awards and, more recently, at the World Beer Awards overseas.
Longstanding Vale head brewer Jeff Wright (pictured above) has brought the original Vale brew kit back out of storage to be installed at the taphouse.
"The Adelaide beer awards success is put down to the ongoing sensory evaluation that our brewers execute," Simon says. "The guys in the brewhouse are constantly running quality sensory sessions and benchmarking our products against the market.
"It’s a lot of drinking so I tend to stay out of it when there is work to do, but clearly their technique is working."
Just last month, Vale's Tropic Ale was named World’s Best Pale and World's Best Bitter up to 4.5% at the World Beer Awards, with Fox Hat's Red Pelt taking out World's Best Bitter over 5.5%. In July, Vale claimed a third straight Champion Large Brewery at the Adelaide competition.
"The World Beer Awards is an outstanding achievement," Simon says. "Awards like this make me proud of our beer and of course the brew team. The results help us benchmark against the best of the best and, right now, we know our Tropic Ale is a wonderful beer based on the competition having over 3,000 entries from all over the world."
He says the Vale Taphouse will become a base for innovation and the trial of new beers, as well as a chance for fans of those beers to head behind the scenes on brewer-led brewery tours.
"There are a lot of elements that work together to create this experience," he adds. "There is something for everyone at the Vale venue. The key for us was to create a welcoming space, not necessarily just for craft beer lovers but for families as well."
The Vale Taphouse is located at 252 Blewitt Springs Road, McLaren Flat. You'll find it alongside well over a thousand breweries and good beer venues across Australia in the free Crafty Pint app designed to help beer lovers find the nearest good beer wherever they are.