Yes, beer is nice. But have you tried sipping a malty, hoppy brew while also watching a majestic wedge-tailed eagle take flight? Healesville Sanctuary is offering just that with Hop Fest, which is held over the Melbourne Cup long weekend (November 3 to 6). It’s a new event designed for the beer, cider – and marsupial – geek.
Here are five highlights of the inaugural Hop Fest.
The Yarra Valley is most commonly connected with wine, but that association does a great disservice to the region's many excellent brewers, most of which will be represented at this four-day festival.
You can sample some of the best beer from local craft brewers including Hargreaves Hill, Watts River, Coldstream Brewer, Got Ya Back Beers and Cherry Hill, which does an unusual kriek-style cherry-infused brew. For those who prefer their “beer” made from apples, St Ronan's and Napoleone will also be on hand to pour some ciders.
"It's an amazing opportunity to try all of the best craft beers and ciders from the Yarra Valley all in one place," says Donna Paterson, Healesville Sanctuary's events and tourism coordinator and organiser of the event.
For the few who aren't into all things malty, Chandon will also be there with its patented “S” bar, serving spritzy, sparkling wine with a hint of orange bitters.
While some will come for the beer, all will stay for the wildlife. The koalas, kangaroos, dingoes, wombats and echidnas are the real stars – some even roaming around with their keepers to meet their guests.
"It's very unique, the combination of amazing local produce and beer," says Paterson. "Plus you get to wander around and meet heaps of Australian native wildlife. It's not something you can do anywhere else."
The team behind the superb Healesville Hotel is putting together a beer-friendly spread specially for Hop Fest, cooking up options for herbivores and apex predators alike. There'll be sticky ribs with hot sauce, pulled pork and jackfruit tacos, steamed corn with harissa butter, and freshly baked soft pretzels.
The good times
If all the beer and cider you can drink, excellent food from tip-top producers and wandering dingoes aren't enough entertainment for you, then it’s true: your smartphone has ruined your brain.
But even those with minuscule attention spans are catered for at Hop Fest. Throughout the four days, there'll be live bands and acoustic cover acts playing on the grass, where there are also giant Jenga sets, games of quoits and Connect Four all set out on the lawn. "There are all sorts of fun games that hark back to childhood," says Paterson.
The warm and fuzzy feelings
Yes, the event's called “Hop Fest” because it's a celebration of the herbal, fruity flower that gives beer its incomparable flavour. But it's also a clever double entendre: all profits from this excellent event go toward saving the critically endangered brush-tailed rock wallaby (Hop Fest, geddit?).
This agile macropod is doing it tough in Victoria and it needs all the help it can get to protect its population from habitat loss and predation from introduced species. Meaning Hop Fest is one of the rare situations where you can drink a bunch of beer, gorge on fine foods and laze the day away, and still feel great about yourself afterwards.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Healesville Sanctuary.