Few regional destinations in Victoria match the sheer variety of Ballarat. Recent years have seen offerings in the historical centre graduate from family-friendly tourist attractions to a booming crop of food and drink venues. The gold-rush architecture remains, but now it’s filled out with capital-worthy restaurants (especially around Armstrong Street) and smaller bars that have found a way to shine outside the shadow of country pubs.

Winter is a prime time to visit too, with seasonal produce and wine, plus warming craft spirits and share plates. Below are some truly distinct regional experiences for a weekend away, whether your interests skew towards Scotch, painting or inventive set-menu dinners. Just be sure to book in advance, because spots are sure to fill up fast.

Abstract Art & Ballarat Gin
A hands-on painting workshop meets a guided gin tasting in this unique experience. First you’ll sample a flight of Larrikin gin at Mount Pleasant’s converted-warehouse Kilderkin Distillery, before proceeding to artist and tutor Laura Day’s nearby studio for a lesson on abstract painting that takes direct inspiration from her garden. The two sessions share a botanical theme, with Day showing guests how to use plants and leaves as stencils. And you’ll get to take home your painting on a 35-centimetre-square canvas.

Grainery Lane

Steeped in local lore, a long-shuttered grain house in central Ballarat is soon getting a new lease of life. There are many layers to the site’s history – starting with the bluestone building, which dates back to 1883. First used to store grain, it became a hub for Ballarat’s local theatre productions, and then for its burgeoning alternative scene in the 1990s. Those hallowed halls hosted everything from circus classes to indie music festivals, all with a firm DIY bent. Now it’s about to reopen as Grainery Lane, a saloon-style bar inspired by the city’s gold-rush era and featuring sparkling chandeliers, grand leather couches and a centrepiece mahogany bar imported from the US. There’ll also be a “secret” speak-easy at the back of the building with a strict invite-only policy. As for the drinks, expect eight gins and two vodkas, all made on-site, plus traditional cocktails and a menu featuring gin-infused oysters and food cooked over coals.

Roy Hammond
This warmly lit bar specialises in world-class spirits and pan-Asian-inspired eats. That means you can order Korean fried chicken or Vietnamese banh mi, along with some kimchi croquettes and beef yakitori to share. Or begin your feast with assorted dumplings and tempura prawn tacos before mixing and matching bao buns with fun fillings like soft-shell crab and smoked brisket. And that’s just the food half of the equation: more than 100 varieties of both gin and whisky await at the bar, with a strong focus on Scotch. Rum and tequila are well represented too, both on their own and in crafty cocktails. Serious spirits fans will want to opt for one (or more) of the six themed flights, each focused on a particular distiller.

Mitchell Harris Wine Bar
A sprawling, 1870s-built building on Doveton Street houses Mitchell Harris Wine Bar, an urban cellar door showcasing the wines of Ballarat-based wine maker John Harris. Among his flagship wines, the Sabre Sparkling is a testament to the cool-climate vineyards of Ballarat, Pyrenees, and the Macedon Ranges. Or, try the pinot noir, chardonnay, or a refreshing rosé. The bar also offers a full take away service, so you can grab a bottle to take home. But we recommend pulling up a chair, because chef Jeremy Duxbury has put together a thoughtfully designed menu to complement the wines. Gather up some friends for the seasonal winter banquet, or indulge in small plates featuring Wagyu pastrami by Salt Kitchen, house-made pickles and warm 1816 sourdough.

Mrs Baker’s Still House
This one requires some driving, but it’s well worth it. Located on a working farm in the Pyrenees Ranges halfway between Maryborough and Ararat – and conveniently on the way to the Grampians from Ballarat – Mrs Baker’s is a small-batch distillery making gins and liqueurs, with many of the botanicals grown in the on-site garden. Not only can you tour the operation itself, but you can take in guided tastings and grazing platters against a truly bucolic backdrop. Beyond the expected dry gin, things get playful with pepperberry, fennel and shiraz varieties, plus house-made triple sec, vodka and coffee liqueur. Mrs Baker’s also hosts masterclasses, and you can take home some gin salt, a DIY mulled-gin kit and gin-and-tonic gift packs.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Visit Ballarat.