Breweries by mountain bike
Jon Miller jumped at the chance to ride Victoria’s High Country Brewery Trail and sample some of the liquid gold being concocted in the region.
Any mountain biker worth their mud-splattered scars knows that beers and mountain bikes are an obvious pairing. A small group of brewers in Victoria’s north east have embraced this and launched Victoria’s High Country Brewery Trail – four craft breweries all with some great mountain biking on their doorsteps.
This is a great excuse to get together with your mates, ride some tracks in a beautiful part of Victoria and enjoy a few special cold ones afterwards. There’s a little booklet you can pick up from tourist offices in the region, the breweries, and online (http://bit.ly/GX6hoV). It talks about the breweries, the beers, events in the region and the brewers’ favourite mountain bike rides.
Black Dog Brewery, Warby Range
The Warby Range, part of the Warby-Ovens National Park, lies between Glenrowan and Wangaratta to the west of the Hume Freeway. There are various access roads into the park which run off the Warby Range Road just outside Glenrowan. Or you can do what I did – stop in at Black Dog Brewery and ask the brewer, James Booth, to direct you through his back gate. This takes you on to Cellar Track in the National Park.
James names his favourite MTB ride as Booth Track which was named for his great grandfather who took over the winery in 1904. It runs along the ridgeline of the Warby Range and has recently been upgraded to Booth Road. As a result of the upgrade, Booth Track won’t appeal much to many mountain bike riders as it’s now a high-quality gravel road. But it does provide access to a lot of old forestry roads in the park which will be more enticing.
The Friends of the Warby Range have recently constructed a walking track which starts and finishes at Wenhams Camp on Booth Road. This 4½km circuit is also open to bike riders. There are some signs but it could do with a few more as I got a little lost when I rode it. The trail is mostly easy, fast-flowing singletrack through the open forest. There’s nothing really tricky, although there are some steep sections. Be sure to take time out to admire the views to the mountains in the distance.
James Booth runs Black Dog Brewery out of the Taminick Cellars winery. The winery/brewery is situated on Booth Road but not the same Booth Road in the Warby Range. This can be confusing as the two don’t meet (but those on mountain bikes can get through).
James has a wine science degree and is the fourth generation Booth to make wine at Taminick Cellars but in 2011, he diversified into beer and launched Black Dog Brewery.
James currently has four different brews available for tasting: the Lazy Dog Ale, a crisp and refreshing beer for a hot day; The Howling Pale Ale, similar to the Lazy Dog but with a distinct hops flavour; the Leader of the Pack, a full-bodied India Pale Ale; and the Dead Dog Stout.
The range is sure to increase in the future as James is full of ideas and not afraid to experiment. He is even growing his own hops plants, which he will use once they are mature.
Bright Brewery, Bright
Visitors have been coming to Bright and its mountains for many years, chasing the activities on offer. But mountain-bikers have tended to bypass the town, heading for the established mountain bike parks at Beechworth, Mt Beauty and Falls Creek.
However, there is plenty of top-quality mountain biking to be had right in the heart of Bright – it’s just a matter of finding it. January 2012 saw the opening of Bright’s first signposted trail – the Roger Packham Trail, named after a local mountain bike advocate and trail-builder who sadly passed away a year previously. The Alpine Cycling Club (www.alpinecyclingclub.com.au) hopes this will be the first of many such trails in the area. They’re negotiating with Alpine Shire Council and local landowners to make it happen.
Starting from Centennial Park, follow the path south along the bank of Morses Creek. Keep as close to the creek as you can as the path goes through the caravan park. Leaving the park, follow the narrow singletrack between the creek and some houses. You will soon reach a swing bridge. Cross this and you will see the first signs for the Roger Packham Trail.
This is an intermediate level trail with lots of what the Alpine Cycling Club call ‘whoop-de-dos’ – a steep downhill followed by a steep uphill. I haven’t heard this term before but it’s a lot more descriptive than gully. The signposted trail is only a kilometre or two long but there are a lot of unsigned tracks crisscrossing the creek valley between Bright and Wandilligong that you can explore. It’s mostly very tight singletrack, whoop-de-dos abound and there’s a hairy section with a four or five metre drop right next to the trail.
The Alpine Cycling Club runs regular social rides for all abilities and is very welcoming of visitors. Check their website or ask at the brewery for details.
Scott Brandon and his wife Fiona moved to Bright about 10 years ago. Riding the trails with Scott, I asked him what brought him to Bright. He answered with a big grin and a single word – “Lifestyle!” It’s hard to argue with that.
They opened Bright Brewery in 2006 in a prime location right next to the Tourist Information Office in a beautiful setting overlooking parklands and the Ovens River. There are six beers on tap all year round plus three others which vary with the seasons. The permanent beers start with a classic lager and go up the range through various ales to a porter and finally Fainters Dubbel, a Belgian abbey-style beer at 8.5% alcohol with lots of complex flavours.
Sweetwater Brewing, Mount Beauty
Big Hill Mountain Bike Park is accessed just a few hundred metres from the town centre heading towards Falls Creek. There is a large sign directing you to the car park off the Bogong High Plains Road. Here you will find a shelter, a toilet block and large billboard detailing upcoming events.
At the Mt Beauty tourist office you can pick up a hand drawn map of the trails for $3 or you can download it for free (http://bit.ly/JfEkVc). The map’s quite difficult to follow but is better than nothing.
There is an estimated forty or fifty kilometres of singletrack in the park. The trails are graded using the same system as the ski runs – green for easy, blue for intermediate, and black diamond for hard. You could easily spend a couple of days exploring all the tracks. I didn’t have that much time so decided to ride the Survey Track. At 5km, it is the longest individual trail and almost all downhill. It is on the opposite side of the road to the majority of the trails. To get there, I rode up the sealed Bogong High Plains Road. The start of the track is at the hairpin bend with a big sign pointing 5km back to Mt Beauty. There’s a dirt road to the left, marked by a rusty old sign, which I followed. A couple of dozen metres down this road, there’s a small Survey Track sign and I was on my way. This is a green trail so quite easy free-flowing singletrack for the most part. There were a couple of steep sections, some narrow squeezes between trees and a few rocky patches.
Peter Hull left Melbourne in 2006 to be closer to the mountains. He built on his knowledge as a food technician to start up Sweetwater Brewing. Originally, he operated out of Annapurna Winery but in January, moved to new premises right on the Kiewa Valley Highway. You have to make allowances for the décor because he’s still in the process of completing the move and settling in. But there’s plenty of seating, both inside and out, with views across to Mt Bogong and the beers are on tap.
There were four beers available when I visited: the summer ale and pale ale which were both lighter styled beers but with a distinctive hop flavour. The golden bitter was more of an English style with a strong malt flavour. I finished with a full bodied porter.
Bridge Road Brewers, Beechworth
The mountain bike park in Beechworth is signposted right from the centre of town. Follow the signs north-east along High Street for about a kilometre then turn left along on to Alma Road for another kilometre. The mountain bike park is on your left.
The car park is very rough and there are no facilities, just a sign with a map of the trails and some notes on MTB etiquette. There are plans to build toilets and a shelter here too but there’s no funding for these at present.
You can pick up a copy of the map from the tourist office or download it from the Beechworth Chain Gang web site (www.beechworthchaingang.com) but it isn’t really necessary because the signs throughout the park are excellent.
There are only three tracks: a 1.6km easy green cross-country track; a 10km intermediate blue track and a 1.2 km difficult black downhill track. The map also indicates there is an intermediate track heading back to Beechworth.
The green track is quite flat and very easy. There aren’t any real obstacles, just some nice free-flowing singletrack through the forest. I met a chap there who had brought his three young children out for the day and they managed it without difficulty.
I rode up the unsealed road next to the park and joined the trail half way round. This is also where the downhill course starts. A sign directing you to this point from the road would be nice but given the quality and frequency of signs in the park, it’s hard to complain. The intermediate track has lots of twists and turns making very good use of the space available.
The Beechworth Chain Gang runs regular mountain bike rides on Wednesday evenings and also on the weekend. The Wednesday ride is hard and fast, for experienced riders only, while the weekend rides tend to be easier.
Ben Krause went to Europe in his early twenties to study wine-making. His plans went a little awry and he ended up working in a micro-brewery in Austria. He returned home to Beechworth in 2005 and started up Bridge Road Brewers in his parents’ back shed. It soon outgrew the shed and moved to its present location at the old coach house in Ford Street, Beechworth.
There are 10 beers available year round (plus seasonal brews and collaborations) so you’re bound to find something to suit your palate. These range across varieties such as a German style wheat beer, an Australian pilsner brewed with locally grown chestnuts, the Celtic Red Ale and the premium Chevalier range.
Need to know
Wangaratta is the closest big town to the Brewery Trail. It’s on the Hume Highway about three hours’ drive from Melbourne. It is serviced by three V/Line trains a day, all of which have ample room for carrying bikes. Taminick is about 20km away to the south west while Beechworth, Bright and Mount Beauty are about 40–100km to the east. You can ride between the towns, as I did, but this makes for a lot of riding so driving from town to town is another option.
For more mountain biking trails in the area, check out the Dirty Dozen (www.thedirtydozen.com.au), a collection of mountain bike trails in the north east. The Dirty Dozen incorporates most of the Brewery Trail and adds to it. You can also look for the Beechworth & District Mountain Bike Guide Book and Mountain Biking Guide – Bright & District for other trails.