Despite the fact there are far more breweries and beer brands operating in Australia than at any point in history, it’s surprisingly rare to be surprised. Sure, there’s a cornucopia of beer styles available in hundreds of bars, pubs and bottlos but, for the most part, brewers are focusing most of their attention in a few areas: hops galore, session sours, and silliness.
Green Gully Brewing, however, slot comfortably into the “pleasant surprise” category. One of the smallest operations in the country – and at time of writing renovating a venue or cellar door of their own – they’re ploughing a furrow unlike almost all of their peers. Although, instead of “they” we should probably being using “he” in the previous sentence.
That’s because Green Gully is very much a one man show, and that one man is Luke Smith: founder, owner and head brewer of the operation tucked away on farmland on Phillip Island. And, while he only released his first beers commercially a few years ago, the former skate punk brings the best part of 50 years of brewing experience to the table.
Luke first started brewing with his dad in the 70s before embarking on his own beer journey, moving his brewing operation underneath his backyard skate ramp in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, often surrounded by mates listening to punk rock.
Embracing the counterculture of the late 80s and early 90s, Luke fronted the band S.I.C, playing gigs around Melbourne, releasing several demos as well as a vinyl EP through Au Go Go Records. While they disbanded long before Green Gully started taking shape, the band members stayed in touch and even got back together for a gig at Collingwood’s Bendigo Hotel in mid-2021 to celebrate the life of a former member.
Back to the beer, and it was on international travels with those same mates with whom he’d wile away his days at the skate ramp that Luke’s horizons were expanded. Traversing the West Coast of America, they ended up spending the majority of their time at what was then a new venue concept: the brewpub. Later, when he spent two years working in New Caledonia, he stumbled upon a little brewery called Les 3 Brasseurs, fell for their French and Belgian-influenced beers, and decided to add another string to his homebrewing skillset.
It was a few decades, however, before Luke decided to take the knowledge he’d gathered since his first assistant brewer’s role with his dad and turn it into Green Gully Brewing, a side project which quickly started to consume his life as much as a full-time job.
Relocating to Phillip Island to take advantage of the lifestyle and create more space for his ever-expanding hobby, Luke says it often feels like he’s working eight days a week between his full-time job in construction and brewing, packaging and distributing his beers.
And, while the story to date is far from your typical craft beer tale, it’s arguably with those beers – released under the "Island Beers" banner – that Green Gully stands apart from the crowd. Luke’s less interested in hops than malt and yeast (even his Red IPA is a farmhouse RIPA), and less interested in the latest fads than creating his own spin on traditional European styles: blonde ales, farmhouse ales, fruited beers featuring berries harvested just up the road.
They’re fashioned on a setup fabricated over a decade and a half from a mishmash of secondhand gear from the pharmaceutical and dairy industries, as well as gear picked up from other breweries. It might have been a long time in construction, yet remains one of Australia’s smallest: a five-hec system with a gas-fired kettle, electric mash tun, three stainless unitank fermenters and some stainless wine tanks and oak barrels.
As for the name, that was inspired by the nanobrewery’s surrounds: Luke works on his beers gazing upon an abundance of native wildlife on the border of Phillip Island Nature Parks.
Ultimately, his dream is to open a cellar door on Phillip Island too, although at time of publication Luke’s focus was on building his direct-to-consumer sales via his online store, Island Beer, an approach ideally suited to a small operation focusing on niche styles eager to connect with the passionate and just as niche consumers seeking out the sort of beers in which he specialises.