Started by Beechworth local Ben Kraus in 2005, Bridge Road Brewers has accumulated a healthy collection of awards for its craft beers, as well as providing a time-sucking pit-stop hidden in the middle of the historically beautiful town.
The brewery is tucked behind Beechworth’s main drag in a converted coach house from the days when a certain Edward Kelly roamed the neighbourhood. Head through the stone archway next to Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel on Ford Street, into a courtyard that has a little playground and plenty of picnic tables sheltered by umbrellas. Inside the old red-brick building with steepled roof you’ll find the brewery itself, with beer vats providing the mood-making backdrop for the casual bar-bistro tables and a lone sofa in front of the open fire.
If craft beer’s your thing, this is the place — at any one time 10 of Bridge Road’s brews are on tap, from cider and an India pale ale to darker ales and a porter. The indecisive can order a complete sampler that arrives with a mini Ned Kelly iron mask (the brewery’s mascot) and tasting notes. You can also check out the first beers from the Bridge Road Bar Series, a collaboration with dedicated beer venues Australia-wide. The short wine list is local and each month features a different north-eastern winery.
It doesn’t take long to figure out the menu is built around the brewery’s product.
There’s beer in the thin, nicely crisp pizza bases, beer in the gutsy version of beef chilli, beer in the meat pies and beer in the giant pretzels made each morning that prove a saltily addictive partner in crime to the ale (and attract German expats who clear the whole stock). It’s hearty fare: ploughman’s platters, saison-poached mussels and beer-braised barbecue pork ribs as well as seasonal salads using regional produce. Dessert? The Germans will also like the strudel.
The brewery attracts tourists, beer aficionados and locals across the age spectrum, and is open daily from 11am, serves lunch from noon-3pm, and dinner on Sundays from 6pm. (bridgeroadbrewers.com.au)
Willpower is thrown to the wind as I gaze at our picnic table almost groaning under the weight of local goodies at Beechworth’s Lake Sambell Reserve. Cheese, bread, pate, ham, beer, wine, grapes and berry tarts are also being eyed by all who pass.
It’s the bounty collected during a leisurely cycle through Beechworth using complimentary bikes, an initiative of Bridge Road Brewers, Pennyweight Winery and the town’s Larder Fromagerie and Provisions.
It’s their way of encouraging visitors to discover local highlights using easy-to-ride three-speed bikes that are perfect for a gentle cruise. The bikes and helmets can’t be booked ahead, so it is pot luck.
Home for two nights is a luxury self-contained couple’s retreat at Beechworth’s new Stone Tryst Spa Villas (luxurybeechworthaccommodation.com.au), perched on a gentle hilltop overlooking the historic town’s spectacular craggy gorge.
On two hectares of land once covered by vineyards, the stone ruins of Tanswell’s champagne cellar, where bottles of bubbly were stashed in the 1890s, remain.
Stone Tryst is also home to more than a quarter of a kilometre of hand-built drystone walls that frame the property on two sides. Villa Granito is the largest of three cosy one-bedroom, self-contained villas and the only one with a solar-heated plunge pool.
As we step through the front door, we are greeted with charming views framed by picture windows overlooking the gorge and township. The villa’s small kitchen has everything we could possibly need to create a special meal. There is also an excellent coffee machine and a preordered decadent platter of local wine and chocolates. Polished eucalypt timber floors and a log gas fire create a snug feel, while the split system quickly heats the villa.
We preordered dinner one evening from North East Feast (northeastfeast.com.au), a boutique catering company run by local chef and foodie Cate Hardman. The meal comes with heating instructions, and the fish pie with salad and a delicious pear tart with a Pennyweight wine is the perfect way to spend a night in.
Villa stays are from $245 a night Monday-Thursday, $260 a night Friday-Sunday. Villa Granito is from $275 at weekends. For stays of two nights, a gourmet breakfast hamper is provided.
Stepping out, you’ll discover Beechworth Gorge, with its moss-covered rocks, waterfalls and rock pools. Guided walking tours are offered by the Visitor Information Centre (beechworth.com) and there is also a self guided heritage walk of the central business district. If you pedal the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail from Beechworth to Everton it’s an exhilarating downhill ride, but do arrange for a pick-up at the other end, courtesy of Riding High Cycling Tours (ridinghigh.com.au)
North-east Victoria’s finest restaurant is stylish but not stuffy. It often rings with the laughter of big tables of locals when, among the sophisticated degustation dishes, up pops a crowd-pleaser such as crisp-fried smoked potatoes with chilli and Kewpie mayo, defying you to resist. Don’t. Like much of the food here, they’re executed precisely and prepared perfectly.
Housed in an old bank, Provenance is on the austere side of elegant. It’s handsome rather than luxurious. But oh, the food! Chef Michael Ryan offers degustation and a la carte menus, but opt for the full journey and you’ll be taken on a tour of regional produce, from chestnuts to hazelnuts to game. Ryan loves his vegetables — they’re often a hero ingredient — and the vegetarian degustation is one Victoria’s finest.
The wine list, compiled by Ryan’s wife, Jeanette Henderson, is similarly a celebration of local treasures. And after a generous dinner on a crisp night, the accommodation out back is as classy as the food.
Michael Ryan is the 2012 Age Good Food Guide Chef of the Year, with Provenance winning best country restaurant. The restaurant is open Wednesday - Sunday for dinner, from 6.30pm until late. Provenance Accommodation is available seven days a week, year round. (theprovenance.com.au)