Back in his native Siberia, there was any number of takeaway shops that Tru Bru founder Anton Sagan could walk into, fill his big glass "growler" bottle with beer and take it straight home to enjoy, pub fresh. So much so, when he first moved to Australia to study, Sagan was shocked it wasn't the norm here. When a mate visited from Moscow, the pair resorted to pouring a jug of Stella into a container under the table at the Ringwood RSL to take it to a BBQ.
Sensing a gap in the market and an opportunity to educate Melburnians on a whole different way of enjoying some of Australia and the world's best craft brews, Sagan opened Tru Bru's dinky little shop front in a laneway just off Yarra Street next to South Yarra Station, counting on plenty of custom from the multitude of apartment towers springing up nearby.
Tru Bru offers a deceptively simple and incredibly cool concept delivered impeccably. It's a stylishly compact space with chunky wooden shelving and a polished cork floor; a big cartoony mural depicts Melbourne's city centre on one wall. Despite its diminutive size, Tru Bru packs a lot in, with 20 kegs of beer and cider in the cool room out back. They might include Aussie brews like Mornington Peninsula Brewery's Red Ale, Barrow Boys Brewing's Stormy Amber Lager or the Double IPA from the amusingly named Kaiju! An international highlight when we popped in was Franziskaner's Hefe.
Tru Bru's 'Pegas' system that makes it all work is ingenious. Five kegs each are attached to four clever glass cylinders that siphon the beer direct into glass (or cheaper plastic) takeaway bottles in three handy sizes – the 1.89l growler, 950ml squealer or 475ml whistler – at the turn of a handle, with the lines purged of any trace beer by injecting CO2 and ensuring oxygen is stripped from the destination bottle too, keeping it pub fresh. Even better, there's practically no waste involved in the process. "I hate wasting beer, I reckon it's a sin," Sagan laughs. "I get upset if people don't finish their samples."
Sagan's more than happy to let you try as many of the 20 as you like while you sit in Tru Bru making the all-important decision, with snackage on hand including tasty beef jerky-like Biltong, cut meats and cheeses, or bacon and bourbon-flavoured popcorn. You can buy Tru Bru-branded merchandise like t-shirts or a leather carrier for your growler. Once you've bought one of the big glass bottles, you get to keep it, clean it and refill time and again. You can also sign up for the monthly Bear Club, with Sagan handpicking six of the month's most exciting craft beers and mailing them direct to your door in 750ml bottles for only $90 a go.
A cheery guy with a quick wit and an astounding knowledge of the global craft beer scene, Sagan's adept at making punters feel at ease. As far as he sees it, there's no point bamboozling folks. He wants everyone to go home with the perfect craft beer for them. "We've got to be approachable. Beer is such a damn sociable drink. I'm all about approachability."
Attracting a constant stream of Melbourne's ever-increasing beer savvy crew of both sexes, Sagan, who jumped ship from the corporate world, is clearly onto a winner with Tru Bru and has big plans to expand across Melbourne and beyond. "We didn't invent a new square wheel, but no one was really offering fresh takeaway beer here. It doesn't matter if you're on the main street or not, good product will bring in the crowds."
Part of his mission is to introduce speciality brewers to the people, with Doug Bremner from Gisborne's 7 Cent Brewery on hand the Friday night The Urban List dropped in. He was showcasing their recent Great Australian Beer Spectapular favourite, the fresh and spicy White Rocket in Flight, Afternoon Delight – a Belgian Farmhouse Witbier with actual wild rocket added during the brewing process.
"It's always great to talk to the punters," Bremner says. "It all started when I got a home brew kit from my brother for my birthday ten years ago. I started making beer for the sake of cheap piss to get drunk on while I was at uni, and it tasted absolutely rubbish; the worst beer you can imagine drinking. It slowly grew from there."
These days, he and his two best mates Brendan Baker and Matthew Boustead (all three studied engineering at Monash Uni) run the far more sophisticated 7 Cent microbrewery at the weekends, on top of their full-time jobs, much to the occasional annoyance of their partners, Bremner admits.
He loves the opportunity Sagan provides to get face-to-face with beer nuts looking for an exciting new beer to try, and thinks that the Tru Bru concept will be very successful in Melbourne's beer-mad scene. "It's great to be able to come into a place like that, talk to someone like Anton who knows a lot about craft beer, sample a bunch and take home a growler-full to share with your mates and get talking about it. I reckon he'll do very well."
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Image Credits: Tash Sorensen, The Urban List.