A rough night’s sleep and a particularly aggressive coffee have given me a bad case of the jitters. And as I pile into the front seat of a tour vehicle at Federation Square in the heart of Melbourne, the sudden realisation that the rest of the bus is stacked with American tourists does nothing to calm my nerves. Sure, there’s the promise of a day full of craft beer and cider tasting ahead of me, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that I may be on a minibus headed straight for hell.
I have sudden flashbacks to my previous experiences of Americans abroad: Yankee tourists in Mozart’s Birth House in Austria (‘Hey, this is the place where Mozart was born!’); a train station in Paris (‘Hey, I don’t speak none of your French but I want a Big Mac. A BIG MAC. B-I-G M-A-C!’); and a choir staying at my hostel in Germany (‘Gentlemen! There’s far too much noise in here for a bunch of naked people…’). They’re not exactly my favourite memories of the open road.
But as the sun breaks over the rolling hills of Victoria’s Yarra Valley, I suspect it’s gonna be okay – thanks largely to the convivial professionalism of Scott Dewar, owner of Aussie Brewery Tours.
Scott has turned designated driving into an art form – and a creative business, shuttling tourists and day-tipplers into the countryside in search of the beer less sampled. And while Google is dense with tour companies working the Yarra’s winery circuit, the recent rise of craft beer has helped Scott’s business ascend into TripAdvisor’s top 10 things to do in Melbourne.
Despite his obvious passion for the amber ale, Scott is perfectly happy foregoing the tasting himself and introducing newcomers – of all nationalities – to the area’s finest crafty brews. And he’s not completely joking when he says Aussie Brewery Tours is based on his belief that ‘beer is the greatest thing that has ever been invented in the history of the world’.
No doubt James Squire would have approved of such enterprising spirit!
Scott says the idea for his tour business came after he returned from travelling and caught up with some friends at a suburban hotel where the only beers available were a couple of mass-produced draughts that didn’t exactly fire his imagination.
‘I’d been living in the US and I got used to going to pubs where you could choose from about 15 different beers on tap,’ he recalls. ‘So I started looking up where the craft breweries were in Victoria and, at the time, they were all a fair way outside Melbourne. Then I started looking for someone to drive me to them and there was no-one. Now I am that man.’
He’s also the man – or, as he puts it, ‘beer geek’ – who enjoys filling his customers’ heads with all manner of beer trivia. En route to the first sampling session Scott regales us with everything from the nutritional value of ancient beer versus ancient bread to the lengths soldiers would go to for a cheeky pint during the Second World War – including modifying the bomb pylons of Spitfires to carry beer kegs to the thirsty Allied troops in France’s Normandy region.
Every story, he assures me, is at least 80 per cent true…
Yarra Valley Day Tour
Over the course of the day, Scott escorts our little group to the White Rabbit and Coldstream breweries, Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company, Punt Road Wines (home of Napoleone & Co. ciders and soon to get down and dirty about their brewing as well), Yarra Valley Dairy and Badger Creek, which serves up blueberry wine and blueberry port along with its apple and pear ciders.
A day trip isn’t just about craft beer, either. Along with a nicely varied tasting paddle, Hargreaves Hill serves up a dangerously good steak sandwich for lunch (although there are also menu classics such as fish and chips, pork belly or salads on offer if you’re more into that).
In fact, Scott says people don’t even need to like beer to have a good time on his tours: ‘A lot of women book tours as presents for their partners and end up being surprised at how much they enjoy it. The mix of venues, the good food, the cider, the tasting paddles and really unusual things such as the blueberry wine give the day a real sense of fun that appeals to just about everyone.’
A case in point is the young US couple, Colin and Carissa, on this particular tour. The pair is celebrating Colin’s birthday, with Carissa’s parents in tow as part of an Aussie family holiday.
‘I did a winery tour when I was studying in South Australia, but I’d never heard of anyone doing a craft brewery tour. It just seemed like something different,’ Carissa says.
Colin adds that chilli beer is big in the US right now, along with pumpkin beer – sometimes served with cinnamon and sugar around the rim of the glass to bring back childhood memories of pumpkin pie. Maybe it won’t be too long before someone comes up with a pavlova beer that will appeal to nostalgic Aussies – or maybe we should just eat pavlova while drinking beer, as God intended.
In addition to the Yarra Valley tour, Aussie Brewery Tours also includes an inner city tour that takes in the James Squire Brewhouse in Melbourne. Scott is thinking about expanding Aussie Brewery Tours to include a regular trip down to the Mornington Peninsula, as well as what he calls his ‘single-batch series’ to locations such as Ballarat or Victoria’s High Country. And he can also customise trips for corporate tours, birthday parties, bucks’ parties, or sport and social clubs.
You should go. The Americans turned out to be first-class company – and hey, you get to spend a day sampling craft beer.
– For more information on Aussie Brewery Tours, tour details and to make a booking, visit www.aussiebrewerytours.com.au