By Weekly Times Now-
BEER on trains just doesn’t have the same alluring ring to it.
Ales on Rails, however — well, who wouldn’t want to be in that carriage?
If this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival calendar is any barometer, it seems drinking craft lagers on locomotives is the latest fad for quaffers and train buffs alike, with two such themed events.
Running between Castlemaine and Maldon on the Victorian Goldfields Railway, Ales on Rails (subtitled “the ultimate beer food and steam train experience”) will be held from March 17 to 24.
And chugging between Moorooduc Station and Mornington is the Mornington Express Wine and Dine Train, where chef Marlene Hoff will showcase ethical, local, sustainable farm food alongside local wines and other brews on March 24.
Andrew Reynolds from Castlemaine says the central Victorian event is far from a boys’ day out.
“It’s not about pub culture at all, with a range of patrons in all ages and genders,” Andrew says.
“It’s a celebration of local breweries, and our waiters hand out tasting notes provided by the brewers.”
Ales on Rails leaves Castlemaine at midday, travelling the 16km to Maldon, where patrons stop for lunch at the Kangaroo Hotel, before returning by 4pm, sipping six tasting beers.
Beers come from Holgate Brewhouse in Woodened, Brookes Beer in Bendigo, Tooborac Hotel and Brewery and Shedshaker Brewing in Castlemaine.
The Goldfields Railway steam train will be pulling one of two carriages: a Victorian-era “twee” carriage featuring polished maple timber and an outdoor balcony at the rear; or an Art Deco carriage built in the US, which has been described as “cocktail hour in Manhattan”.
“They’re very much a lounge atmosphere rather than the old-fashioned compartment style, which makes it more celebratory.
“We jog along quietly so it’s very gentle and no one spills.”
Andrew says Ales on Rails is run through the year, in addition to other events that even include a film night showing the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express.
He says about 20,000 people ride on the vintage train line each year, with a 30 per cent increase in patrons in the past year alone.
“Most people think trains are for children but there’s a market out there for first-class service that is incredibly popular and has big appeal.”
Andrew says the Victorian Goldfields Railway has two steam trains, one diesel, as well as nine carriages, while more rolling stock can be called on from Steamrail Victoria, in Newport, which restores locomotives.
The line itself ran from the 1880s up to the 1970s before it closed and reopened in stages from 1986 to 2004 and is now operated by about 120 volunteers as a tourist attraction.
The train departs from Moorooduc station, running to Mornington then back.
“It’s just a lovely experience to add a fun element to the food by travelling in a 100-year-old train,” Marlene says. “The minute you get on you smell the age of the train and there’s a nostalgia to the whole experience.”
For the past three years Marlene has run 100 Mile Foodie (the name reflects the aim to champion food and wine within 100 miles) with a cooking school on her Somerville property, where she also has a large organic kitchen garden, as well as a catering service and her own line of gourmet preserves.
She says in all her cooking she aims to use ethical, local and sustainable products, including beef from Hillock Downs in Rye, pork from Woolumbi Farm in Tyabb and Hawkes Vegetables in Boneo.
Marlene also has a property in Venus Bay, in South Gippsland, where she sources local produce.
“I’m growing my own saltbush as I can’t source salt on the peninsula. I can’t source wheat, but I use local bakers and there’s no sugar here but I try to use honey where possible,” Marlene says.
“I want to support local farmers who believe in what they are doing and take care at every stage of the animal.
“I decided to start 100 Mile Foodie because my family was always excited by how much good food we could eat.
“This whole Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event is just me as a vehicle. The suppliers are the real heroes.”