Spotlight on Geelong: Little Creatures and White Rabbit make for a craft beer experience like no other (VIC)

With Melbourne but a few hours away, a visit to Geelong doesn’t sound too tempting to the everyday food and beer lover, that is until one realises that the quiet seaside locale is home to the Little Creatures Brewing Village. For fans of the ever-growing craft beer scene in Australia there are few experiences as essential as visiting that imposing red brick factory just outside of the Geelong CBD, a large collection of industrial buildings which house both Little Creatures and it’s younger sister brewery White Rabbit.

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The Red Chimney is easy to spot on approach

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Little Creatures expanded to Geelong in 2012, building upon it’s famed Freemantle brewery and finding a base for the brand’s East Coast operations. Fashioned as a village, it soon opened to consumers with The Canteen, large, vibrant indoor and outdoor areas that function very much like a restaurant and bar. In the years following, The Canteen quickly became one of the most popular destinations in the small city and in 2015 the ‘village’ vibe welcomed the White Rabbit Brewery, a team that set up in the much smaller neighbouring building and started on their own distinctive space. Now the red brick factory’s eye-catching tall chimney signals Australia’s most unique craft beer experiences, with two of the country’s most popular breweries open several days a week for food, beer, brewery tours, and even some beer-related retail. It’s like a concrete Yarra Valley for beer lovers, and it’s fucking excellent.

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Inside the Little Creatures Canteen

White Rabbit are especially benefiting from these news digs, and a larger, more focused space for which to store their equipment, which includes two impressive open top fermenters standing opposite original Little Creatures fermenters hauled over from Fremantle. The move from Healesville to Geelong also means White Rabbit have brought their own personality to the village, and they seem to be settling in quite nicely, the brewers soaking in all that free space which in turn lends itself to the brewery’s commitment to always be creating, sustaining White Rabbit’s reputation for creative brews.

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Inside the White Rabbit Brewery & Barrel Hall

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Whereas Little Creature’s Canteen is large and colourful, White Rabbit’s Brewery & Barrel Hall is understated and relatively modest, looking like a quirky blend of an old English pub (complete with a fire place) and an industrial gourmet produce store, of course one which opens up into the working brewery so you one can go on a quick tour, buy a home-brewing kit, and sit down for a tasting and some charcuterie all without leaving the room. Despite the whirring and clacking of the brewers doing their thing, the space still feels like a relatively intimate bar, warm and cosy with access to both White Rabbit’s core range and their constantly rotating exclusives.

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“Fermentation with Imagination” is the motto for White Rabbit, and the attention they have attracted with their core range and occasional exclusives speaks to enough inventiveness that the phrase feels completely apt. White Rabbit, much like their big brother, is at the forefront of the craft beer scene and one quick chat to Head Brewer Jeremy Halse will let you know why. The man is very definition of passion, and knowledge surround all aspects of craft beer; during my personal tour he talks about the two cornerstones of the brewery – open fermentation and barrel aging – as if they’re extensions of his mind, particularly the barrel aging, which is evident from the rows and rows of barrels that sit opposite the main brewing area, slowly aging beer, resulting in such brews like the current White Rabbit Red Ale which Halse seems immensely proud of.

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Halse tells me that seasonality and local produce is starting to have a bigger influence on the brews, particularly as he is interested in dabbling with more fruit-infused beers alongside “doing stuff with barrel inspiration”. The Red Ale seems like a good indication of the balance they have achieved thus far with this method, a distinctive beer that’s fermented with Shiraz grape skins. It’s sour and creamy with toffee and red berries on the nose, extra delicious with some local cheeses. They are wise to add this one as the fourth entry to their craft portfolio, joining the ranks of the already established brews of the White Rabbit White Ale, the White Rabbit Dark Ale (their most popular), and the White Rabbit Pale Ale.

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Looking at the rows of ex red wine barrels, it’s clear that White Rabbit are on the cusp of perhaps a new trend in Australia’s craft beer industry and one which opens up an already vast and wonderful world that unsurprisingly continues to be one of the most discussed and sought-after markets in the country.

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Tours here are assisted by numbered placards stuck to the gate which surrounds the equipment, each detailing a different stage in the production cycle which, coupled with Halse’s words, provide a comprehensive and fully fleshed out picture of what goes on here daily and where all this great beer comes from.

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Observing one of the open top fermenters.

After a quick tour of the working area of the brewery it’s advisable to pull up a stool at one of the many tables that sit in front of the working fireplace and give yourself over to the bar crew on duty. I did exactly that, and with great enthusiasm, the team were more than happy to patiently take me through a tasting.

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Those who have done a tasting at a brewery before know that that there is no better way to explore the different personalities of Australia’s best craft beer makers. Little Creatures’ original brewery in W.A remains one of the top tourist destinations for Fremantle, and this village is undoubtedly one of the top activities in Geelong for the same reason. Getting to taste your way through both White Rabbit’s core and rotating range with the people who made it is incomparable for fans of the brewery, and what’s more is that the team have come up with some flavour-rich rustic dishes to pair, particularly meats – both hot and cold – and cheese.

There’s the core range, of course, but of particular interest is the “curious tap” which during winter is bound to be pouring new and exciting darker beers, an example being the recent Smokey Bock, which was a very strong, very intense beer with a solid smack of bacon on the palate. The White Rabbit Teddywidder was a favourite too, a Berliner Weisse style beer that was tart and tangy, giving it a perfectly balanced sweet and sour edge that is helped with fruit syrup; an example of a good, accessible beer that would easily concert those who walk in claiming to not be “big beer drinkers”, which Paul Rogash of White Rabbit tells me is quite a common occurrence.

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Rogash explained to me that one of the most enjoyable things about the new brewery is the amount of people that come in not knowing much about beer and promptly leaving with a newfound appreciation of the art of craft beer, that and the popular retail aspect of the hall which stocks the range as well as plenty of the produce that’s used throughout the menu, beer-related cookbooks, and home-brewing kits. The home-brewing kits are especially exciting when coupled with the masterclasses White Rabbit regularly host every Sunday with suppliers and brewers.

“There’s nothing we enjoy more than engaging with the general public”, said Rogash. “You may come one week as a guest or patron and taste some of the beers on the taps, then come back another week and there are different brews that won’t go into the market.” Keeping things exciting and fresh for the local community, as well as interstate and international visitors, and being able to meet that continual supply, is evidently another strength of White Rabbit’s new home.

“It’s important because it gives the brewers that challenge to work on something different all the time. I’ve seen the brewers try little home brews and bring it in here, and it could often serve as the inspiration for ideas to try something different.”

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In addition to monthly markets, regular live music, and that obvious craft beer-carnival vibe that comes with having both White Rabbit and Little Creatures a stone’s throw from each other, it’s no surprise to see this place full of patrons by night time. I know it’s quickly become an essential stop for me every subsequent visit to Victoria, especially seeing as it’s only a quick 25 minute drive from Avalon Airport to Geelong’s city centre (and perhaps a seven or so minute drive to the village from there).

Little Creatures Village (Feat. Little Creatures + White Rabbit)

Address: 221 Swanston St, Geelong VIC 3220
Contact: 13 15 13
Website: whiterabbitbeer.com.au
Opening Hours: Sunday to Thursday 11am-5pm; Friday and Saturday 11am to 9pm

Chris traveled to Little Creatures Village as a guest of White Rabbit Brewery.