After witnessing the success of the first Great Australian Beer Festival in Geelong, the organisers told The Crafty Pint that their aim was to turn the city into something of a craft beer capital for Australia. The festival's ongoing success and the boost given to the local beer scene by the arrival of Little Creatures in 2013 suggests they were on to something.
But developments in recent years suggest one of Geelong's near neighbours, the surfing hub of Torquay, may have lofty goals of its own. Since the Odyssey Tavern first brought a kaleidoscopic range of craft beers to the Surfcoast Highway, others have followed suit and the number of breweries is on the rise too. Leading the way in Torquay is Blackman's, opened by local boy Renn Blackman and his wife Jess Guidice.
When we say "local boy", it's strictly true as Renn was born and raised half an hour down the road, but it's equally true that he's well travelled too. Before taking over the iconic Surfrider restaurant in Torquay's Bell Street, he first trained as a brewer at Edith Cowan Uni in WA before embarking on stints at The Monk in Freo embellished with a spot of keg washing at the Sail & Anchor across the road before the brewery was closed down. There followed a spell at the Old Swan Brewery on the banks of the Swan River in Perth before he joined the Aussie enclave at London's trailblazing Camden Town Brewery.
The lure of home brought him back to True South in Blackrock in 2013 and, when he and Jess were ready to head to the other side of Port Phillip Bay to open Blackman's, they brought the True South brewery with them. The Newlands kit was installed at the rear of the building and rapidly expanded while the former restaurant was given a stripped back industrial aesthetic, complete with taps protruding from white tiles behind the bar. Meanwhile, Mr Blackman senior was on hand to help turn Blackman's into the welcoming venue it is now, not least by building his son a beer garden from reclaimed WA timbers.
His input hasn't gone unrewarded as Renn and Jess decided to name the beers after members of the Blackman family; there's Bob the spiced witbier, Reg the IPA that Renn hopes will be the beer his brewery becomes known for, and so on. And fine beers they are too, with Renn showing from the off that his time on the road wasn't wasted. The quality of those beers have been noticed by the brewery's peers too, with Blackman's declared 2019's Champion Small Australian Brewery at the Australian International Beer Awards.
A friend he met on his travels was brought in to ensure the food side of the business was in step with the beers too. Mitch, the man behind Beersine – the Perth-based business that specialises in cooking with beer and creating beer dinners, worked with Renn at The Monk and spent three months helping set up the kitchen, designing the menu and guiding the chefs so they better understood the relationship between beer and food. He left a few of his goodies, such as Brettanomyces chilli sauce, behind too.
It's proven to be a combination of friends and family that saw Blackman's hit the ground running and keep going, with significant expansion of the brewery, the opening of a venue in Geelong, a second brand called The Barrel Farm and much more besides. And quite right too. After all, who doesn't love a tale of local boy done good?