It’s hard not be impressed with the warehouse conversion in Collingwood that houses the Stomping Ground brewery and beer hall. ‘Hall’ really is the only appropriate word for the vast space that has been transformed into a welcoming and thoughtfully constructed craft beer destination by Steve Jeffares, Guy Greenstone and Justin Joiner. These guys started off serving beer at the Local Taphouse and then celebrating it at their annual festival, GABS. Now they’re making it too.
Sure, on weekends, Stomping Ground is packed. Everyone’s brought their kids, their aunts, their neighbours and anyone else they could round up to fill the big booths, long tables, and what appears to be every vintage timber school chair in Victoria that are spaced out around the venue. But head in on a weekday for a much more languid affair. Make your life easier by downloading the Clipp app to your phone in advance, because they don’t do credit card tabs here, and if you’ve brought your laptop for a little working in situ time you’re going to want to punctuate your stay with as many 100ml tasting serves as you can before the keyboard gets blurry.
They’ve got a whole lot of vintage rock and soul weaving its way around the space, which helps make it feel cosy in spite of its cavernous qualities. The beers at the big timber bar fall loosely into yeast-forward beers like sours and saisons, hoppy beers like IPAs and easy drinking malty types – they do gentle guidance well here. There are brewery tours on weekends, but you can also just sit up by the big windows that separate the brewing operation from the drinking operation and watch and learn.
You may as well discard that artist’s impression of an ale aficionado right now, because you’re much more likely to run into a young family with kids in the cubby house than you are the mythical cargo-trousered craft beer snob. These guys even do the odd round of yoga classes. When your venue is this big you really can find space for everyone. We reckon it could get nippy over winter, so lucky there’s an Indoor fire for those frosty arvos that we know will come. But on a balmy arvo in Melbourne’s fashion warehouse backstreets, it’s all about the indoor plants, timber finishes and native flowers keeping things cool and fresh. The big, open kitchen is doing luminously red and seriously hot wings that burn your nose and eyes on arrival and then have you reaching for the suggested red IPA match at double time to tamp down the fire. Grab all the napkins in sight because the only way you’re getting out of that dish stain-free is if you’re wearing a hazmat suit.
In a sign of synergy, everything on the menu comes with a proposed beverage match, like the charcuterie plate with a US-style pale ale match. But don’t let food take up the space you need to try the juicy, fruity wet-hopped Flower Power ale that tastes like a tropical orchard with a pine needle floor, or the One-Eyed IPA that is all about the bitter citrus. Service is friendly, but steers away from full-throated beer geekery – but if you like to advertise your preferred pour where others can see, they also sell merch. They’re pretty confident you’re going to like it here, and we have to agree with them.