386 Reserve Road Cheltenham, Victoria 3192
|Opening hours||Open Wed-Thu noon-11pm; Fri-Sat noon-midnight; Sun noon-8pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 8555 3175|
To put it mildly, hospitality in this industrial zone near Southland is a bit sparse, which makes stumbling across Bad Shepherd really rather good.
Brewer Dereck Hales is behind a top range of beers crafted on site, and wife Diti Haniotis runs the attached American barbecue restaurant to growing crowds.
It's called Bad Shepherd because it's a house of indulgence – strong beer and sticky meats, ahoy – and they aren't shy about leading you astray.
"There are plenty of reasons to enjoy a beer and we're not here to judge," says the website. Hear, hear! Who wants judgement beers? Not any of the mixed crowd of hyperactive families, boozy boys' birthday groups, and canoodling couples knuckling down for a recent Sunday sesh.
And no one cares about your fade hairdo here – it's as far from the northside hipster nonsense as you can get.
Twanging country rock blasts through the sunny warehouse, bare bulbs swinging from the ceiling, large share tables, fake ferns and black leather couches making the space comfortable and functional.
The expansive white tiled, timber-topped bar highlights a row of taps pumping out Bad Shepherd beers, as well as a couple from Wolf of the Willows, another boutique brewer which shares the equipment on site, plus there's a stack of "guest taps" from feted Victorian breweries such as Kooinda, Killer Sprocket and 7 Cent Brewing.
It's almost too much of a good thing, as the Bad Shepherd range alone provides enough to keep any hardened beer nut hydrated – you can try four on a tasting paddle for $13, and pints are reasonably priced, too, at around $10.
The signature American Pale Ale is a bitter, hoppy version of a classic, and the California Lager is Hales' take on a 19th-century US steam beer: dry and crisp with a hint of grapefruit.
There are two excellent IPAs – the Tiny, a 3.5 per cent mid-strength with Australian hops, or the gutsier Red IPA for a serious session.
You'll also find flavoured beers, such as the Hazelnut Brown Ale brewed with nuts and Frangelico, or a vividly red Raspberry Wheat Ale fermented with fruit puree, which tastes a bit like a Bacardi Breezer.
Don't want beer? There are a few soft drinks or Golden Axe cider.
The food is some of Melbourne's better barbecue, and there's a competition-style upright smoker, fuelled with applewood and red gum wood, out the back, direct from Louisiana.
The "Canadian pig candy" pork ribs are a smash of smoke and sugar, charred gnarls of sweet meat falling off ruler-sized bones, and mac and cheese is a bargain at $4 for a generous cardboard bowl covered in crunchy gratin crumbs, but it needs a pinch of salt. Not so the dill-heavy house-made ranch dressing, decadently served with fried chicken wings doused in luminous buffalo sauce.
Is there better beer-drinking food? Don't think so. Go on, order another serve, there's no judgement here.
Drink this American pale ale, $9.50 pints.
Eat this Canadian pig candy, $19.
Know this Get the beers in bottles to take away.
Say this "I know this great place in Cheltenham."