Melbournians are a crafty lot. The sheer volume of beer, wine and spirits produced around the city means people are now more than ever interested in what’s in their glass and how it’s made. Luckily, our local brewers, winemakers and distillers are a community minded lot and keen to share the secrets of their craft. Make like an old-timey bootlegger and get your hands (and sometimes feet) dirty whipping up a stiff drink at these boozy classes, because nothing cures a hard earned thirst like a stiff drink you made yourself.
Not much of a drinker? Try Melbourne’s best pottery classes instead. Or get your bucket list in order with the 50 things to do in Melbourne before you die. Or just let someone else do the hard work and pick up something locally made at Melbourne’s best markets.
After finding a concrete fermenter under his house in Thornbury, Noisy Ritual founder Cam Nicol and friends enlisted the help of winemaker friend Alex Byrne and started making their own wine right here in Melbourne. Though the scale is much larger now, the guys at Noisy Ritual are still opening up the winemaking process to whoever is interested - and that’s where you come in. Each year at the time of grape harvest, Noisy Ritual opens its doors to its members to come and learn about winemaking with a series of workshops. The first workshop starts the journey with the messy fun of stomping grapes to release the juice and begin the process of fermentation. Weeks later, the group returns to press the grapes and put it into the barrel. Over the next 6 months, members indulge in the privilege of tasting the wine periodically as it ages in the barrel. The final workshop in November, after the process is complete, is the big bottling party where members get to hand bottle the wine they created from tiny smashed grapes and celebrate their hard work. Wine never tastes as good as when you’ve put months of work in. Being a part-time winemaker is a popular pastime, so 2019 memberships are sold out – look to 2020 if you want to be a part of the whole nine-month process.
If you want to dip your feet in without committing nine months, they’ll be running an abridged version at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival which is open to all and promises to be a whole lot of messy fun. You’ll want clean feet for this one.
An hour’s drive from Melbourne on the sunny Mornington Peninsula is Bass and Flinders, a gin distillery offering the chance for regular Jos to make their own gin. In a two hour blending class, participants will be greeted with a cheese platter, gin and tonic, a tour of the facility and be given a working knowledge of the process of distillation. Gin enthusiasts then get to blend any combination of 14 distilled botanicals (cardamom, cassia, pepperberry and lemon myrtle feature) until they find a combination they like. If you like you gin citrusy, herbal, or spicy, now’s your chance to control the action. The workshop ends with participants bottling their own gin and hand labelling it. The recipe is kept on file so if you fancy yourself as a bit of a whiz you can even reorder a second batch through their website. Maybe everyone’s getting bottles of gin for Christmas this year?
It seems like a new brewery is popping up every week in Melbourne, and homebrewing is more popular than ever, but like all new skills the learning curve can be steep and the initial results disappointing. The Public Brewery in Croydon offers enthusiastic hop-heads the opportunity to dip their toes into the world of brewing in a way that offers the best ingredients, equipment, and the expert guidance of qualified brewers. Participants get paired with a brewer and get the choice of over 30 types of beer to brew, from pale ales to stouts and lagers. You’ll be walked through the stages of steeping grain, hopping the beer and pitching the yeast, before allowing for three-four weeks for fermentation. When the time’s up, the rewards are sweet - five cases of brewery fresh beer await you (and your hopefully ample storage space). The beers go through a proper bottling line, so there’s little of spoilage. Throw a custom label on that bad boy and you’re made. The Public Brewery is also a bar and bottle shop, so have a few and compare your own skills with the best of the best.
It’s well known for still wines like pinot noir and chardonnay, but the Mornington also boasts some cracking sparkling that you can get in on. Michael Lee, winemaker for Foxeys Hangout, is one of the best around and his sparkling is only available online or at the cellar door. Every weekend, Lee invites a small group of the public in to get a taste (literally) of his traditional method sparkling wine, as well as being able to finish off a personalised bottle to take home. The wine at this point, as you’ll learn, has already gone through initial stages of fermentation, aging on lees (the dead yeast cells that give sparkling its rich flavour) and riddling (turning the bottles regularly to settle the yeast in the bottle neck). You’ll get to learn all about these processes before jumping in for the last few, including disgorgement - where the bottleneck is frozen and the yeast removed - as well as dosage - the addition of a sugar and wine mixture - and finally corking and labelling. You can pick your base wine, too. Want to make a pink, rose-style pinot noir with a hint of sweetness? Or maybe a super crisp and dry chardonnay is more to your taste? Learning is extra fun when drinking is your reward.
Once known as Mothers Ruin for its dangerous tendency to intoxicate the English in the 18th century, gin has experienced a renaissance over the past decade. Australia is lucky enough to be a hub for craft gin production and perhaps no distiller is more well known for its juniper-infused spirit than Healesville’s Four Pillars. Their Maker Class is of a different breed to the masterclass at Bass and Flinders - this one takes you through the process of distillation itself, utilising Eileen (the newest micro-still at Four Pillars) to allow first-hand access to distilling botanicals. Watch as the magic happens, bubbling away inside the still. Eventually the distillate emerges at a frankly ridiculous 90% abv, which is available for tasting if you have bomb-proof tastebuds. Participants get a goodie bag full of gins (and gin marmalade) before the fruit of the day’s labour is sent out by mail as a 700ml liquid testament to all your hard work. All you have to do is figure out how you’d like to drink it.