Ballarat is rich in many things. History, fine art, unique dining experiences. The regional Victorian city can now add another jewel to its crown as the ultimate destination for artisanal brews.
This month's Meet the Maker series has given thirsty punters an insight into the city's finest food and drink offerings, including Australia's leading craft beverage producers Larrikin Gin and Red Duck Beer, born and bred in Ballarat's very own Kilderkin Distillery.
Fancy a gin with bush-tucker notes? Appreciate a good kettle sour from a strong ale?
Provenance of place
Chris Pratt of Larrikin Gin reflects that Ballarat's rich heritage has shaped the company's artisanal identity; promoting smaller-scale production with exceptional attention to detail evident in every bottle from their core range including Scoundrel, Original Larrikin and Buccaneer.
"The first legal distillery in the colony of Victoria opened in Ballarat in the 1860s…we still use these traditional distilling methods, balanced with more recent approaches," Pratt notes.
"When tasting, people develop an appreciation of the influence on flavour of different botanicals we use in the process of making gin, as well as the impact of the level of alcohol. Our experience is that many people are amazed at the complexities of flavour and realise there is a whole world of craft gins to explore," he says.
A taste of the landscape
The pride Chris and his partner Rebecca take in overseeing production of world-class gin is apparent on every level; from each blend's creative concept, to its distillation, through to its bottle and label design. Produced in Ballarat's Kilderkin Distillery, Larrikin gins feature a range of Australian-sourced botanicals including lemon, anise myrtle, pepperberry and roast wattleseed.
No surprise the quality of these ingredients has made the product a favourite for top bars, restaurants and niche bottle-shops in every state and territory across the country.
A better drop
But with the 'artisanal' tag so often bandied around by producers seeking to elevate their alcoholic offerings beyond the commercial 'industrial' landscape, what really distinguishes Ballarat's brews from the rest?
Scott Wilson-Browne of Red Duck Beer believes the point of difference lies in a philosophy encompassing not only craftsmanship and attention to detail, but sustainable manufacturing. He and his wife Vanessa are dedicated to being one of the few breweries producing unfiltered and unpasteurised beer:
"We spend more time and use more expensive ingredients and materials to make our beer. When the product is better, it's healthier for consumers. We care about the longevity of our customers, and the planet," he says.
Season to season
Also produced in Ballarat's Kilderkin Distillery, Red Duck's regular and seasonal brews such as the Pale and Amber Ale, the Porter and the Cherry Tart are all chemical and preservative free. All of the company's beers are conditioned, achieved via a process of secondary fermentation in the bottle, can or keg.
What does this mean for the drinker? Put simply, the beer stays fresher for longer, and tastes better, naturally.
And the best way to enjoy a Red Duck beer? Cold, of course.
"Cold Ducks have been popular for a long time. If at home, a beer is better in a glass. You can see the colour, the aromas are lifted, it's easy to take a sip or a long draft. If you're out and it's a hot day, neck em' straight out of the bottle," Wilson-Browne suggests.
Get in before the crowds
Undoubtedly, an increase in tourism to Ballarat over the past few decades has further enlivened its vibrant food and drink culture.
This has been one of the city's most enduring features since the Gold Rush days, when its first hotels, pubs and restaurants were established. It seems – like so many of the city's artisanal offerings – that the far-reaching appeal of Ballarat's craft brews can be surmised by Red Duck's slogan: 'Small. Independent. Good.'
We'll drink to that.