A Little Bit Bigger

December 10, 2013, by Crafty Pint

A Little Bit Bigger

The doors to Little Creatures‘ new venture in Geelong are open. The $60 million brewery and hospitality venue was opened by the Victorian Premier Dr Dennis Napthine in front of an audience of invited guests yesterday and welcomed the public for the first time today.

It has been producing beer for the past few weeks, but the finishing touches – such as the imposing neon sign that welcomes visitors as they pass through the front gates – were only put in place in the past few days. The long-mooted venture, which will brew Little Creatures beer for the East Coast and add a 500 capacity venue to Geelong’s hospitality scene, becomes Creatures' third brewery location, alongside its original base on the waterfront in Fremantle and White Rabbit in Healesville.

It has been created on the site of the former Valley Worsted Mill, a 1920s textile mill comprised of a series of saw tooth red brick industrial buildings. The existing structures have been retained with the various elements of the brewing and packaging process, as well as the bar and kitchen, fitted within to create what head brewer Warren Pawsey calls “a little walled city”. It’s an apt description for the sprawling site, which is set to put even more Creatures and White Rabbit beer into the hands of drinkers.

Thus far, Bright Ale and Pale Ale have been brewed, packaged, delivered and drunk, with the first run of White Rabbit Dark Ale making it way through the impressive, environmentally-conscious German Krones brewery in the past week. With Little Creatures now part of Lion, Kosciuszko Pale is set to be brewed in Geelong too, while other beers from the parent company’s craft range could also follow.

“This is probably the most technologically advanced craft brewery in Australia,” says Warren, who moved back to Australia from Lion’s main New Zealand facility 12 months ago to oversea the development at Geelong.

He heads a team of 15 brewers operating a brewery designed to push through up to 10 brews in any 24 hours. Currently, if it was only brewing Pale Ale, it would take 15 brews before all fermenter space was filled, he says. For now, we’re told it is producing 80 kegs an hour or 15,000 bottles an hour (on a warehouse-filling packaging line) or the equivalent of 10 million litres a year.

Despite its already impressive size, two of the largest buildings on site remain unused.

“There’s lots of ideas,” says Warren. “An art gallery, cheese maker, coffee roaster… These buildings have very high ceilings and are very atmospheric.”

For now, the main reason visitors will head there is for the hospitality venue, a combination of a 400-capacity space inside the Mill’s former Cloth Finishing Room, and an adjacent 100-capacity outdoor area complete with sandpit for the kids. The former uses two shipping containers – one for the bar and one for the kitchen – and retains the faded, peeling walls of the original building while filling it with wooden benches, bright coloured seating and educational pots of malt and hops; it’s a little reminiscent of the aesthetic of Matilda Bay’s current brewery and bar at Port Melbourne, albeit on a larger scale.

The outdoor area is set to host fortnightly markets on Sundays from February as the Creatures ethos of becoming fully involved in a local community is brought to Geelong.

Certainly, during yesterday’s opening speeches, much was made of the positive impact the “Temple of Worship”, as one Lion exec described it, should have for Geelong, with newly elected mayor Darren Lyons among the guests. As for the wider beer world, it was as surprising as it was pleasing to hear the Premier use the words “craft beer” and in such a positive manner, describing Creatures as one of the “great success stories of the craft beer industry” and wishing it success in boosting the region’s tourism.

With Creatures having enjoyed an upward trajectory since the first glass of Little Creatures Live was poured in Freo, few would expect any different for the Geelong project. Drinkers can look forward to flow-on benefits too, with the move of Dark Ale to Geelong (where they have built two open fermenters especially for the beer) freeing up the White Rabbit team in Healesville to create some of their tiny experiments on a much larger scale.

“We’ve got two things,” says Warren. “Firstly, a highly energised team that is dedicated to making the best beer we can.

“Secondly, lots of hops in our beer.”

Sounds like a recipe for success to us.

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