Flying Brick: Craft beer and cider takes off in Geelong and The Bellarine

The black cockatoos found around Geelong have a reputation – not unlike the city itself – of being tough and persistent. So much so, that local farmers have nicknamed them "flying bricks".

This colourful imagery has been co-opted by a cider house in Wallington, east of Geelong. Opened in December 2014, the sleek contemporary architecture of the Flying Brick Cider House is designed to resemble a chunky bird from above.

Inside it's a big airy space, with concrete floors, angled timber ceilings and lots of natural light. At one end is a compact industrial space where its limited-release house cider is made.

The success of Flying Brick is a reflection of the craft brewing movement, which has seen local beers and ciders pop up across the nation.

"We have a lot of people come in who say 'I don't like cider, never have,'" says venue manager Ross Ebbels. "Then they try it and love it. They're not used to having good quality, fresh cider. And wine drinkers like our pear cider, because it's quite dry."

I can see the appeal. I'm taken, however, by the current in-house cider, an improbable blend of ginger, chilli, lime and pear which precisely appeals to my taste buds.

At the far end of the same highway is Queenscliff, a popular holiday spot at the end of the Bellarine Peninsula. One of its mainstays is the elegant Vue Grand Hotel, whose front verandah has been refashioned into the Vue Street Bar. It's an intimate, casual space with a view of the heritage buildings across the street.

The venue has made a point of stocking beers from regional brewers such as Bellarine Brewing and Southern Bay.

Popular options include the Queenscliff Honey Wheat Ale, named after the town, and the Lonsdale Lager. But far more interesting (read "odd") is Bellarine Brewing's Mussel Stout. As the name suggests, it has a hint of the sea in its depths, and a faintly seafood aftertaste.

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Matched with the bar's artichoke, pumpkin, zucchini and provolone pizza, it's surprisingly good.

My next stop is the Odyssey Tavern, a bar with quite a different vibe. No Victorian-era grande dame this, more an American-style roadhouse plucked from a James Dean movie (with an old motel next door to complete the effect).

A lively, informal space with regular live music, the Odyssey was ahead of its time when it set up on the road to Torquay.

"When we opened over three years ago, Geelong hadn't seen any real craft beer scene," says owner Grant Byrne. "It was renowned for Carlton Draught and chicken parmas, and we got told we were crazy for doing only craft beer."

Inspired by the small breweries he'd visited on a driving holiday in Western Australia, Byrne was convinced the demand would be there.

"A lot of the beers we put on, no-one had ever seen down this way. For probably 75 per cent of the people who came through, it was their first experience of craft beer, and the other 25 per cent were stoked to have us. It was embraced."

Even Little Creatures has bought into the game. Owned by the Lion Corporation, it's hardly a craft brewer. But within an atmospheric former red-brick wool mill in Geelong, it creates its Furphy ale from Victorian ingredients for the local market.

Though Furphy's not a very challenging beer to my tastebuds, it's worth visiting the Little Creatures site just for the architecture, including the sprawling bar area beneath the sawtooth skylights of the old factory complex.

My final stop is the cellar door of Mount Duneed Estate winery, on a green slope southwest of the city. The building now includes the Pettavel Road Brewing Company, which began in late 2014 with a pale ale.

Its Barrel Hall dining area is an impressive lofty industrial space, with huge steel vats suspended high above concrete floors.

General manager Matthew Browne sees the rise of craft beer as something familiar.

"I see a lot of parallels between beer now and wine 25 years ago," he says. "Especially the desire of the drinker to understand the product. People want to know more about beer, they want to understand how it's made.

"In this age of mass consumerism, people are saying 'Please show me something that someone's put effort into.' "

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Tourism Greater Geelong & The Bellarine.

THE FACTS

TRAVEL

Geelong is an hour from Melbourne via road or V/Line train (vline.com.au).

STAY

Vue Apartments, 6 Bellerine St, Geelong, vueapartments.com.au

Starhaven Retreat, 13 Calimo Pl, Indented Head, starhaven.com.au

EAT & DRINK

Flying Brick Cider House, 1251 Bellarine Hwy, Wallington, flyingbrickciderco.com.au

Vue Grand Hotel, 46 Hesse St, Queenscliff, vuegrand.com.au

Odyssey Tavern, 611 Surf Coast Hwy, Mount Duneed, odysseytavernandbrewery.com.au

Little Creatures, 221 Swanston St, Geelong, littlecreatures.com.au

Mt Duneed Estate, 65 Pettavel Rd, Waurn Ponds, mtduneedestate.com.au

TOUR

Bellarine Taste Trail, thebellarinetastetrail.com.au

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