Back when they were at university together, Neil Mills and Phil Gijsbers decided to start a café. It’s an unusual brewery origin story but, then again, Burnley Brewery is a little unusual.
In the years that followed, Phil started a few more cafés and Neil eventually ended up entering the world of beer via brewing equipment supplier Spark Breweries & Distilleries. Throughout this time, the two of them would still talk about starting a brewery together. The problem with their plan was that the timing – and the space – was never quite right.
Enter Renton Carlyle-Taylor, who was running Romulus & Remus and fancied a change; suddenly, serendipity was on their side. The Italian restaurant had spent years as a popular haunt at the easterly end of Bridge Road, that part of Richmond where nobody is quite sure whether or not it’s its own suburb. Admittedly, when Renton decided it was time for a change, he didn’t quite imagine installing a brewery in one corner but when Neil and Phil brought the idea to him he couldn’t say no.
So, late in 2017, Burnley Brewing was born, adding an extra dimension to Bridge Road’s good beer scene, while also bringing a new kind of brewery to Melbourne. In part, that was thanks to the brewery retaining some of what made the restaurant so appealing: the booths that had long been filled with families sharing antipasti remained a place for sharing, though now it wasn’t just food but tasting paddles being passed around; the space’s light shades remained, complemented by the north-facing windows that bring natural light flooding in and keep the brewery’s pastel logo shining bright.
Unsurprisingly, considering the new brewery’s former inhabitant, Burnley’s focus has been as much on good food as it has been on the beer pouring through the taps. With Romulus & Remus’ staff retained, the brewpub inherited a wealth of hospitality experience along with a menu based around house-made pastas and pizza. To that has been added more traditional pub fare – burgers, steaks and the kind of snacks that go hand in hand with beer.
But, of course, at its heart, it’s now a brewery; so bringing this all together is the beer – 14 taps of the stuff. They’re the work of brewer Michael Stanzel, a Melburnian who spent years learning to brew (and malt barley) in Germany before returning home. Indeed, his background as a brewer is a winning combination for an inner city Melbourne brewery: he’s just as comfortable brewing a Reinheitsgebot compliant lager as he is throwing fruit into a stout.
For the first few months of the brewery’s life, the beers were contract brewed as the Burnley crew waited for not one, but two brewhouses to arrive. The first of those to be installed was the brewery’s Dandenong South production site, while the second now sits in one corner of their Bridge Road home.
The production brewery focuses on the beers destined for wider release, with the first two of those a Pale Ale and Vienna Lager that are available in 440ml cans. Meanwhile, the smaller, 500 litre brewery sitting in corner of their Bridge Road home is in a state of constant flux, Michael having set himself the challenge of using it to come up with a new beer each and every week. When ready, the majority travel directly from bright tank to your beer glass.
Whether it’s thanks to the tanks that line the front windows, or the bar that wraps around the brewhouse, or even the staff’s willingness to recommend their favourite beer and food combination, there’s no doubt you’re in a brewery. It just happens to be one that feels a little more refined than most.