July 13 2012 by Crafty Pint
There are, no doubt, plenty of Crafty Pint readers who would give anything to enjoy a honeymoon like Grant Byrne’s. Not only did it last 18 months and involve a campervan and a serious road trip around Australia, but it was a road trip that took in visits to a huge number of Australia’s microbreweries. Grant even managed to fit in a few months' work at Bush Shack in Margaret River along the way. As well as having a blast (and still having a wife after a year and a half touring breweries), there was purpose to the trip as Grant was keen to open his own brewery. And this year is the year it’s going to happen.
Three months ago he opened the Odyssey Tavern between Geelong and Torquay in a venue that had previously been a less-than-successful bar, an ice cream factory and an Italian restaurant before laying empty for a period. Despite this history and, in his own words, somewhat unusual surrounding walls that lend it an air of the Titty Twister bar from Dusk Til Dawn, in a short space of time he’s started packing the venue with punters drawn by eight rotating taps of craft beer and a fridge lined with another 60, mostly sourced from Victorian breweries.
“I’ve wanted to open a brewpub since I was 16,” he says, the pride of finally getting close to achieving that goal overriding the exhaustion that comes from opening a new venue and welcoming a second child into the world at the same time. “I’ve always been keen to try beers that are a little bit different and had seen how the craft beer movement was developing, with Mountain Goat starting to get a presence over here.
“When we were in WA, I could see how well it was working among the Margaret River wineries so when I came back I wanted to open a craft brewery, but not one that only poured my own beers – I wanted everyone else’s on as well.”
The latter part of that has been achieved and with some style. Among the beers on tap when we called in were the approachable, such as Two Birds Golden Ale, and the out there, such as Doctor’s Orders Plasma White IPA. More than 40 different beers were tapped in the first 10 weeks. The result has been everything Grant could have wanted: groups have popped in, expressed dismay there’s no Carlton Draught, been tempted to try a a couple of free samples and ended the night trying their first Imperial Stout. In one case, a group came back the following weekend with some other mates and worked their way through the taps; a week later, with yet more mates, they returned to do the same again.
“The response has been amazing from the local region. People have been waiting for something like this,” he says. “I’ve had people having a go at me because they say they can’t go back to Draught anymore! I’ve taken ideas from a lot of other craft beer venues, such as the tasting paddles, and tried to create a place you want to walk into – a laidback atmosphere where you can happily spend hours.”
The Odyssey’s menu is designed firmly with beer in mind: tapas, pizzas and so on, and is to be colour-coded to give customers an idea of what styles of beer will pair well with each dish. The food will be central to the regular beer events that are set to kick off with a Mornington Peninsula Brewery degustation on August 5. There’s original live music at the weekends too.
As for the brewery (its full title is Odyssey Tavern and Brewery, after all), they’re working on installing a small, probably 200 litre, system in a room behind the bar where the ice cream used to be produced. It will be up and running later this year, with the aim being to pour a few beers brewed onsite alongside the rotating guests.
“We’re talking to other brewers to see if they’ll come in and do guest brews with us, perhaps if they want to try out something different. We want to give craft brewers a way to promote their beers as well as doing something different ourselves.”
For some time, here at The Crafty Pint we’ve believed there will be a growth in brewpubs in the regions. You only have to drive through regional Victoria to see the number of beautiful old hotels on sale for next to nothing, perhaps because the one down the road got the TAB. As tastes change and the craft beer revolution spreads, you would hope more people like Grant have the courage to take these venues on, pop a small brewery out the back and give them a fresh lease on life. Certainly courage is paying off at the Odyssey.
“In the first 11 weeks, we’ve exceeded expectations three or four times,” says Grant. “We’re going into winter but word of mouth has been huge. People are embracing it as it’s not the same old same old. People want to show their mates that there’s something different out there. We’re like a walk-in Jehovah’s Witness changing people’s perceptions about beer.”
The Odyssey Tavern and Brewery is at 611 Surfcoast Highway, Grovedale. To find out more, check out the venue’s Facebook page.