When Ben Kraus and his wife Maria founded Bridge Road Brewers way back in 2005, the Beechworth brewery bar, with its focus on balancing its craft beers with a great menu, soon became a regional destination.
But Kraus has had his mind on opening a Melbourne outpost since day one.
“I thought, if I could bring this somewhere that isn’t so reliant on holiday trade and weekend trade, it could be a really strong business,” Kraus says. “But making that step took a long time.”
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Now, after two years of planning and nearly two decades of percolation, Bridge Road’s new 350-capacity Brunswick East brewery and dining hall is open for business. The split-level, U-shaped venue takes up a corner of Nicholson Street’s new mixed-use Bluestone Way development. Design firm Studio Y handled the vibrant interiors – orange and blue, perfect opposites on the colour wheel, dominate the space. Upholstery is terracotta-coloured, the bar is royal blue.
It complements the gradated purple-to-orange mural, by street artist Drez, that runs throughout the bar. The space is divided into a public bar of high-top tables and booths, a small cellar bar with a focus on wine (though there are plenty of wines on tap at the main bar, too), and outdoor seating on both Nicholson Street and the rear laneway.
Despite the sleekness, there’s no trying to hide the fact that this is a working brewery, with gleaming tanks and fermenters on show. “We want people to know that beer is going to be made there and they can be a part of that and feel attached to that,” Kraus says. It means that East Bru nswick will feature a healthy mix of beers new and old running through the 30 tap lines.
Classics such as the Beechworth Pale and Robust Porter were never going anywhere, while more adventurous sours from the Mayday Hills range (like the gruit, which replaces hops with other bitter botanicals) and the dark Belgian-style B2 Bomber will rotate through. The in-house brewery, will offer plenty of exclusives – one early highlight is the new Village Pils, which takes inspiration from dry-hopped Italian pilsners.
Bridge Road’s Beechworth home has always had a reputation for enjoyable food, but the Melbourne location is really kicking things up a gear. Chef Jabili Mchawala’s menu builds on his time with social enterprise Free to Feed, respectfully taking in broad influences. “It’s kind of trying to thread the needle in that I don’t want to bastardise anybody’s food,” he says. “These are little nods to things without being like, hey, I’m an African-born, South Australian-raised chef who’s saying I’m going to make Iranian food.”
Kraus and Mchawala have consciously tried to steer clear of pub tropes while still being hearty and beer-friendly. In Beechworth, it was all about the pizza, and favourites such as the roast duck with peking sauce have made the journey down the Hume. Notable new vegan pizza toppings include a miso mushroom with nori, shichimi togarashi and daikon on a tonkatsu bechamel base.
Mains and small plates continue the multifarious flavours. There’s grilled eggplant, smothered with soy, ginger, chilli and sesame oil, influenced by a classic Xi’an dish. Brisket is served with a chilli beer sauce and tempered by the acidity of Afghani mustard pickles, while Caribbean influence pokes through in a grilled jerk half-chicken, served with cornbread and lemon yoghurt.
With its diverse menu and slick interior, Bridge Road Brunswick is certainly a different beast to Beechworth. Fans of the original will find familiarity – particularly in the beer – but it was never meant to be a transplant.
“We didn’t want to insert a ye olde Beechworth replica – our venue is what it is,” Kraus says.
Bridge Road Brunswick
137-141 Nicholson St, Brunswick East 3507