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Farmers drop by for a few drams

Avenel Imperial Hotel owner David Cox pours a glass of 'Avenel ale' (brewed by himself) between serving meals and takeaway orders on a busy Wednesday night. Photo by Daneka Hill

Farming can be a solitary business, with little of the social connectedness an ‘ordinary’ job provides. And country pubs are facing an uphill battle to stay afloat. DANEKA HILL found there was a simple solution to both problems.

Every Thursday a group of farmers descends on the Avenel Imperial Hotel in Victoria’s Strathbogie Ranges for the long-running ‘whiskey night’.

Originally started to support the local pub when it was at risk of closing, the night has become a meeting of agricultural minds and neighbours over the years.

Avenel Imperial Hotel owner David Cox said the whiskey nights were already running when he took over the hotel four years ago.

“Half the time they don’t even drink the whiskey — it’s all about the social aspect,” David said.

“When they arrive I’ll say ‘oh, where’s such-and-such?’ and they’ll say ‘I don’t know’ and I think ‘don’t you blokes talk to each other?’ They don’t communicate outside here.”

David said Thursday night was the hotel’s busiest night for farmers.

“A lot are the older guys, the youngest bloke is around 60 while the oldest is 91,” he said.

“A few will stick around for dinner but mainly I get paid by a corkage fee (on the whiskey).”

Mangalore farmer Linda McKenzie is a regular at the whiskey nights.

“Anything I want to learn about farming, I can learn on Thursday night,” she said.

“There is a retired vet there and enough sheep farmers to get a question answered.”

Linda raises stud Boer goats and produces premium goat meat under the Strathbogie Goat name.

“The residents who first started the whiskey nights did it on Thursday because that was the hotel’s quietest night,” she said.

“I really enjoy it. I also go to the Harvest Home Boutique Hotel, which is where the women often meet up.”

Now that COVID-19 is in the rear-view mirror, David said business had been on a steady increase in Avenel.

“Every night has been building up over the last couple of months, which is really good since COVID made things so up and down,” he said.

“Typically we’re now selling 40 meals on a Wednesday night.”

The Imperial Hotel is also home to the Hop Back Brewery, which David started when he took over the hotel.