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The intention was merely to find a way to mark the 150th anniversary of his pub. But as Scott Meager considered ideas such as a commemorative beer, things started getting a little out of hand. Next thing he knew, the owner of the Steam Packet Hotel was speaking to liquor licensing and various local council departments and the Willy Beer Fest – or Williamstown Heritage Beer & Cider Festival to give it its full title – was born.
The festival will take place just a short walk from the pub on November 23, featuring a mixture of brewers stalls, live entertainment and a handful of cider and wine stalls. What’s more, it will also feature an as-yet-unnamed commemorative beer that is being brewed in conjunction with Two Birds Brewing, the brewing company based just a couple of suburbs away in Seddon.
“The idea came from the pub turning 150 years old this year,” says Scott. “Also, on January 7, the liquor licence [originally granted to the Ship Inn on the same spot] turns 175. I thought we should have an event to celebrate both.”
The original pub on the site of the Steam Packet was a wooden structure that burnt down a couple of times before the bluestone building that it currently occupies was built in 1863. The interior of the pub underwent a reshaping a few years back, but photos of its past line the walls, including those of a family that owned it for more than 60 years and the day a donkey wandered in and was served carrots at the bar (pictured below). It has also served as a boarding house and bakery.
The Willy Beer Fest and commemorative beer are the latest – and biggest – of a series of events marking the anniversaries that have already included a showcase (part of the town’s Art in Public Places event) that saw the pub become a gallery of images featuring Williamstown’s current and former pubs and hotels.
“After we’d displayed his artwork, I thought about what we could do for another event. I did some research online and discovered that Willy used to have its own breweries in the 1800s,” says Scott. “I thought it would be cool to have a beer that represented Williamstown that we could sell for that month [of the anniversary] to highlight the heritage.
“I made some enquiries and spoke to Jayne Lewis from Two Birds Brewing. She said they could do it, but that 1,000 or 2,000 litres was the minimum we could make. I figured that was a bit much for us to serve on our own, but didn’t think we could have a Steam Packet day if other places were going to sell the beer as well. So I thought, ‘Let’s make it a festival.’”
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