The Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s most popular wine regions but the area is also ripe for cider and beer-lovers to get their fill of top brews.
And for people who aren’t sure where to start, the Cider & Ale Trail is the perfect way to sample the wares of 11 local spots, all within a 20km radius.
One of the more well-known locations on the trail is Kellybrook Winery, which is known for its vino, but its Kelly Brothers Cider and Riders Brew Co beer are just as popular.
Attentive staff provide tastings to everyone from tour groups to hens parties and they know their stuff.
Forget the commercial ciders that are packed with sugar and flavours, the Kelly Brothers’ cider takes up to six pieces of fruit to make each bottle.
They have the traditional method sparkling cider (formerly known as the champagne cider) which is fermented in the bottle, plus apple and pear varieties.
The Kelly brothers, Phil and Gus, added beer to their repertoire in 2014, and they now have their Easy Rider golden ale, the Loose Trucks porter, Pale Rider rye pale ale and XPA India pale ale.
It’s easy to spend a whole day there, with sprawling gardens including a 120-year-old oak tree another drawcard.
But for more cider and beer, head to Coldstream Brewery.
The place has become so popular they no longer have the room to brew on site but the drinks are still true to the original recipes.
A $12 tasting paddle gets you samples of their Czech pilsener, golden ale, Australian pale ale, grand porter, and apple and pear ciders (as shown in the main story image!).
The brewery also has a specialty beer, which at the moment is a German-style Hefeweizen.
For another drinks stop, which also has amazing food options, Hargreaves Hill in Yarra Glen is a great option.
The cellar door and restaurant has been in the town’s main street since 2007 and has gone from strength to strength despite the original brewery in Steels Creek being destroyed in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Their meals feature amazing local produce and range from snacks, to fresh and healthy options, a variety of burgers, and mains.
It was hard to go past specials like handmade gnocchi with wild mushrooms and goat’s cheese, and scotch fillet steak.
Wash it down with a tasting paddle of Hargreaves Hill beers, featuring a golden ale, Hefeweizen, pale ale, extra special bitter, Abbey Dubbel and the 9.6 per cent Phoenix.
The cider and ale trail also includes smaller establishments like Buckley’s Brewery in Healesville.
Owner Brendan Murnane is basically living any beer-lover’s dream – to turn his home-brewing passion into his job.
He didn’t have any interest in beer until about six years ago when he got into craft brews.
Mr Murnane and wife Julie took over Buckley’s Brewery – housed in an industrial space – about a year ago, in a move he described as “serendipitous”.
A family member had sat next to the brewery owner’s wife at a fundraising event and they got talking, leading to the opportunity to buy the place.
Mr Murnane has played around with a few of the beer recipes, and currently offers four types – an English pale ale, a pilsener, a bitter and a dark bock – which you can sample on a $10 tasting paddle.
Mr Murnane still works his day job in sales but hopes to make the move to the brewery full-time in the next few years.
His dog Missy is already a regular fixture at the establishment.
Another small gem on the trail, a few minutes’ walk down the road, is Watts River Brewing.
Watts River’s cellar door has only been open for a few months, and is brought to you by Aaron Malmborg and Ben Hamilton, brewers who went out on their own after their former employer, the White Rabbit Brewery, moved to Geelong.
They have just started brewing on site and have three beers on tap to sample – a blonde, an IPA and a stout.
The brewery is full of eclectic furniture, including a pianola which got a good workout from punters while we were there.
Now if you’re getting peckish after the drink samples, the Public Brewery in Croydon has the answer.
With plenty of indoor and outdoor space, it’s an ideal place to relax with friends and some food.
Think snacks like southern fried chicken, mains like beer-battered fish and chips and a lamb salad with flatbread and mint yoghurt, and substantial sharing plates.
And you can not only drink beer there, you can brew your own, too!
Sessions on Thursdays to Sundays take a few hours to brew a batch which makes about five slabs of beer, and then you can go back about a month later for bottling.
They also have a bottle shop full of local and interstate beers, wines and spirits.
There is so much cider and beer to try in the Yarra Valley that it is worth more than just a day trip, but what better excuse to spend more time in this beautiful part of the world?