At this point, Melbourne’s hidden laneway bars are a cliché. Outside the CBD, the backstreet warehouse brewery is fast catching up. See: 3 Ravens, Boatrocker, Moon Dog Brewing, etc.

The recently launched Hop Nation is hidden better than any of them, down the back of a vast industrial enclave in Footscray. But there’s nothing familiar about this grand old building. The former soap, candle and ammunition factory was built in the 1880s and features decorative brick arch work and a 10-metre-high pitched roof.

It was the first and only site inspected by former winemakers Sam Hambour (Paringa Estate) and Kiwi Duncan Gibson (Yering Station), who met working in New Zealand’s Central Otago region. “We walked in and said, ‘This place is amazing. How can we get it?’” Gibson says.

The guys have been contract brewing at Hawkers in Reservoir and Cavalier in Derrimut for the past 12 months, but this is their first home. Mate Stephanie Moseley – who lives in Canada – also owns a share and helps out with label design and social media.

Grab a tasting paddle and ascend to the roomy mezzanine for a better view of the timber-clad brewing equipment, which was salvaged from Sawmill Brewery in New Zealand. It turns out three core beers – The Damned, an easy-drinking Pilsner lightly infused with Kiwi hops; The Fiend, an all-Aussie IPA; and The Buzz, a red IPA charged with American flowers.

They’re all excellent, but The Sturm – one of two seasonals – is on track to be one of the best beers of 2016. It’s unbelievably fresh and bright, owing to the five per cent concentration of wild-fermented riesling juice contributed by Victorian winery Jamsheed. The resulting sour tang is as subtle as they come, but acts as the perfect foil to the sweetish body and German hops.

On the flipside, the duo makes a mean Russian imperial stout – one of the beer-iest beers there is – named The Kalash. Its dark, bitter edges were tamed after several months resting in old barrels from Yering Station, where Gibson still works part-time.

The remaining three taps will always be reserved for guest beers – one local, one Kiwi and one international. Food trucks also visit the site regularly, provided they have detailed directions.

Hop Nation
6/107–109 Whitehall Street, Footscray

Hours
Fri 3pm–10pm
Sat 12pm–10pm
Sun 12pm–6pm

hopnation.com.au