Holgate Brewhouse at Keatings Hotel review: From pale to porter

Read our writer's views on this property below

Patrick Donovan finds full flavours during a stay at a country microbrewery.

It's best not to drive home from a brewery. Fortunately, Woodend craft brewery Holgate has 10 refurbished rooms upstairs in the Keatings Hotel that are only a short stumble from the bar.

Legions of gold diggers refreshed themselves and rested overnight here (as did their horses in the stables out back), as the hotel, known then as the Commercial Hotel, was built in the 19th century as the main Cobb & Co. stopover from Melbourne to the Bendigo goldfields. The Keating family owned and ran the hotel from the early 1900s and its name remained after they sold it about 1940. Paul and Natasha Holgate took over the pub in 2002 with a mission to re-create classic beer styles, full in flavour and rich in character, to complement gourmet food using local ingredients.

There's an old-world charm about the place and plenty of original features, such as a sign that reads: "No muddy shoes upstairs".

Check-in is via the bar and with only one staff member there, it took a few minutes but it, like the tour of the building, was warm and informative.

Downstairs, along with the brewery, are a restaurant, a bar, a lounge, a courtyard and a function room. The hotel rooms are functional but spartan.

Each room has queen-size beds and crisp, white linen, hydronic heating, a desk, stainless steel ceiling fan, phone and PC dial-up internet facility, as well as facilities to make tea and plunger coffee. The best rooms have views of the village, the clock tower and Mount Macedon. In one of the hallways, a massive internal window looks into the brewing area at the back of the building.

On the negative side, there are hanging racks instead of a proper wardrobe, an ugly bar fridge on the floor and the small, flat-screen TV is hard to see and has a tinny sound.

Each room has a large en suite with a bath-shower combination and basic toiletries.

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All of this beer-tasting makes one peckish. The bar offers basic pub grub such as burgers and a mixed grill. The restaurant offers more upmarket meals with some produce sourced in the area, such as organic venison and chocolate jelly trifle using their own porter ale.

We opt for the bed, breakfast, dinner and beer-tasting package, which includes a village-view room, three-course dinner, cooked breakfast and beer tasting paddle for each.

While the "three courses" descriptor is slightly misleading - we have a choice of mains and dessert but only olives and bread are offered instead of an entree - the thick and fluffy ale bread (which is also served with the cooked breakfast of bacon, eggs, tomato, mushrooms and thick pork sausage) is similar to corn bread and stunning.

As part of our deal we also receive a paddle of eight 90-millilitre beer samples from their brewery, ranging from its pale ale to its porter, which is one of the highlights of our stay. And excellent beer is the whole point of a brewery, isn't it? Its wine list also features many local drops, including the sublime and reasonably priced Curly Flat pinot noir from nearby Macedon.

There are a few hiccups with meals and service, which you generally accept in a regional dining experience but probably wouldn't in a slick Melbourne restaurant.

We are disappointed to learn that there are no brewery tours on the weekend, which seems strange if the brewery is targeting the weekend-away market from Melbourne. Maybe next time we'll opt for the "day in the brewery package" and observe every step of a real brew day.

But for beer lovers who want to get to know the machinations and beer of one of Victoria's finest microbreweries, it's a fascinating and friendly experience.

VISITOR'S BOOK

HOLGATE BREWHOUSE AT KEATINGS HOTEL

Address 79 High Street, Woodend.

Bookings Phone 5427 2510, see holgatebrewhouse.com.

Getting there Woodend is 45 minutes drive from the city along the Calder Freeway.

How much $250 for bed, breakfast, dinner and beer tasting package. Or just the rooms (with breakfast) for $135, $165 or $185, depending on views.

Summary Great value for money, this package is an affordable way to experience the delights of the Holgate Brewhouse. The rooms are simple but if you are there for just one night, you'll spend most of the time in the pub.

Verdict 14

The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable.

All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller