Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published December 6th 2011
Harvest Wine & Liquor is more than a bottleshop. Bottleshops are tacky little places where you go to buy a case of beer or a bottle of wine, run by strange old men with beards. Alternatively, bottleshops are great warehouses full of alcohol, complete with aisles and cabinets, a liquid-only version of a supermarket. Harvest is neither of these. Instead, it's a specialty store, where the beer is unusual without being overly expensive. Think of it as the Bar Fred of bottleshops: classy, friendly, and run by people who seriously care about their liquor.
Keep an eye out for this.
You can find Harvest Wine & Liquor on 207 High St, Northcote, next door to Lam Lam Vietnamese restaurant. It's independently owned, so you won't find any glaring advertisements for Foster's Lager or Victoria Bitter. While it does carry some old familiars – Boag's and Carlton Draught, for instance – the majority of its shelf space is taken up by offerings from smaller breweries and wineries, along with a few carefully-selected imports. If you want anything organic, biodynamic, low-or-no preservative, Harvest is likely to be what you're looking for.
Despite being a little more fancy than, say, your local IGA Liquor, Harvest is quite inexpensive. You can pick up a nice bottle of French cider for under fifteen dollars – perfect for impressing a date – or a bottle of fancy beer at the same price. For example, the latest Mountain Goat offering (Seedy Goat Coffee IPA, a strange collaboration with Seven Seeds Coffee) is on sale for ten dollars. You're unlikely to find that at many other places.
The staff are willing to give advice to even the most amateur of beer or wine experts. Wander in with a half-formed memory of a beer you once tried five years ago – it was Monteith's, I think, or something like that, and the label was either gold or green, I can't remember which – and within sixty seconds they'll have you holding either the drink itself or something very like it. This is one of the few professions – independent liquor store owner – where it's reassuring to see them drinking on the job. If they don't sip the latest microbrews when they come out, how can they know what to recommend unsure customers?
Better yet, Harvest offers free drinks – yes, free drinks – on Friday nights. Okay, so they come in thimble-sized cups, and they're part of a tasting session, but still: twice a month from 5:30 to 8pm, you can walk into Harvest and they will let you drink their wine for nothing. Have a friendly conversation about the vintage to increase your knowledge (and if, in the end, you do decide to buy something, the wines on tasting are always slightly discounted on the night.) There are more specific tastings with a small cover charge of around ten dollars, so sign up to Harvest's mailing list for more details. They also offer cider tastings at the nearby Willow Bar, complete with finger food and a wide selection of imported cider.
If you're catering for a party, Harvest might not be the place for you, since they probably don't sell cases, but it's the perfect bottleshop for a quiet night in. They say you can judge a person by the beer they drink: a thick stout, a hoppy pale ale or IPA, a light wheat beer – or something that, arguably, isn't beer at all. Who says that? Alcoholics, probably, but the point still stands. Harvest Wine & Liquor should be your go-to place for when you're feeling a little fancy.