Urban Alley Brewery is a sustainable beer haven

In the mammoth shadow of the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel, the District Docklands mall is emerging from a troubled history. Rebranded with a much needed roof, the mall’s new entertainment precinct is headed by Urban Alley Brewery, boasting a swag of Australian firsts in beer sustainability, Kosher-pub food and urban identity. 

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Image source: 
Amy Weavell

Urban Alley’s owner and founder, Ze’ev Meltzer, worked in finance for many years, and saw the black and blue suited people of the world fuss over the origin of their coffee beans while blindly drinking mass-produced pseudo-foreign beers. Conscious of craft beer’s perceived snobbery, Meltzer decided to craft his own for the ordinary-beer lover that still pushed the possibility of complex taste. 

The result was Once Bitter, now branded as Urban Ale, deftly blending the sessionable Australian golden ale with the restrained spice of a Belgian blonde ale. Its success launched the idea of an “urban” brewery in Meltzer’s mind, initially slated for Collins Street, that celebrated the lifestyle of those who occupy Melbourne’s concrete warmth. Sales director A.J Williams beams over the now Docklands-located stained wood table, declaring Urban Alley as “inner-city and really proud of that notion”. 

UA’s core beers are split into the Urban and Alley dichotomy, a relationship alternatively called a Ying/Yang or Jekyll/Hyde by Meltzer and Williams. The four Urban beers span the aforementioned Urban Ale, an Urban Lager, Urban American Pale Ale, Urban Dark Ale and all distil Meltzer’s core brewing philosophy. 

“We’re not about pushing the boundaries within the product categories, but what we are about doing is brewing for flavour – that’s about balance,” Meltzer explains. 

The Alley series arrives in quarterly seasonal releases which is time enough for Meltzer and head brewer Shaya Rubinstein to explore more madcap flavours on the go. This is quickly obvious in the currently available Blush, an American style wheat beer with an inexplicably smooth taste of raspberries, rhye and pie crust. The rotating IPA exemplifies Urban Alley’s careful approach to beer development. As such, Meltzer has been trialling several new iterations throughout the year until he reaches “the best IPA that can ever be brewed”.

Urban Alley isn’t here to rest on its brewing laurels either, its menu is a treatise of polished pub-delights, offering vegan, vegetarian and even Kosher options, the first of its kind in Australian brew-pubs, due in November. The crispy skin salmon fillet is a mouth-watering highlight, plated on a fluffy grain salad. Those heading toward the less traditional menu corners could try the sizzling Thai beef wrap or the broccoli risotto. 

When curating a gastropub menu, certain stalwarts of pub cuisine must feature – Urban Alley pull this off with a truly exceptional chicken parmigiana, flecked with smokey gypsy ham and velvety napoli sauce. No official beer pairings are specified via the menu, however it’s quickly apparent the Dark Ale’s nutty character pairs well with sweeter desert options like the peanut butter parfait. Invariably, the Urban Ale and Urban Lager also sit comfortably with the hearty pub options, particularly the glorious steaks.

Urban Alley’s woody Euro-aesthetic feels familiar, particularly to those who frequent modern gastropubs, but a longer stare reveals a singular character. Mason jar light bulbs, mismatched wood and reclaimed cladding coalesce with a simultaneously homey and exciting ambience. 

Meltzer also holds a sustainable ethos which has been championed by several Australian firsts in environmental efficiencies, including compostable six-pack holders, an onsite bio waste plant and a unique water exchange program with the adjacent distillery. 

“Every single step of the way making this brewery, we stopped and said ‘alright, is there any other way we could do this which would be beneficial for the environment?’,” Meltzer explains.

Urban Alley feels central to a new tide in craft beer; one aimed at approachability rather than arbitrary experimentation. Its modernising and tasteful march towards a new crowd frequenting Docklands’ new entertainment precinct looks set to secure itself comfortably within the Melbourne pub scene.