It is somewhat fitting that new brewpub on the block, Rogue Wave Brewery, which calls the Aireys Pub home, is located not much more than a stone’s throw from the iconic lighthouse Split Point. That was where the popular '90s children’s TV program Round the Twist was filmed, a show whose plot lines – based on the quirky stories of Paul Jennings – are in keeping with the unlikely tale of the pub.
Twice in its 111 year history it has fought back from extinction. The first occasion was in 1983, when the devastating Ash Wednesday fires tore through the town and wiped out the pub. Back then, community spirit ensured the pub survived, temporarily operating out of a tin shed while it was rebuilt.
This spirit again came to the fore almost three decades later when, in 2011, the pub closed its doors, seemingly destined to be lost to developers. In stepped a group of ten locals – led by friends Tim Wood and Phil Johnson – and saved the pub by buying it for the sum of three million dollars, including the 1.2 hectares of land surrounding the pub.
Their actions not only ensured that the pub survived but also, subsequently, that it would thrive, ultimately resulting in the launch of Rogue Wave Brewery at the start of 2015; a brewery that launched with a bold statement in keeping with the pub’s survival against the odds past.
“Our beer is a continuation of our lifestyle,” states the brewery’s website in words that will find favour with those bemoaning the swallowing of small beer brands by the global beer giants. “We won’t be told what mass produced beers we have to put on tap by some foreign owned, multinational, beer factory."
As a result, the small town of Aireys Inlet, found on the Great Ocean Road between the well known Victorian seaside towns of Torquay and Lorne, now offers something that would have seemed almost impossible a decade earlier: locally brewed beer that is adding its weight to the ever-growing Australian craft beer industry.
Where you find good beer, you'll usually discover good food; and thankfully the Aireys pub has both. A varied menu serves food that is fresh and local, curated by head chef Corey Fowler, that compliments the beers on tap; recent examples include beef brisket braised in the brewery’s dark lager.
The spirit of “do it yourself” stretches beyond the brewery too: they also roast their own coffee (which goes into the seasonal Ink Stout) and regularly welcome talented musicians from Geelong, the Surf Coast and beyond. But back to the beer...
Resident brewer Christopher Haren has developed the recipes that currently make up their core and seasonal ranges of beers. Using mostly Australian ingredients, they range from the popular Salt, a clean, easy drinking, pale lager, to the 8.2 percent ABV Cranky Missus, a big, but balanced, double IPA. Other beers to look out for include a Witbier brewed with coriander seeds and orange peel, the Session Ale, which was their first release, the aforementioned Dark Lager that balances classic roasted coffee and chocolate flavours with a single Aussie hop, Ella, the Ink Stout infused with cold drip coffee, and Rusty Chestnut, a 6.5 percent ABV Belgian red ale brewed with 25kg of roasted, hand-split chestnuts.
But it's their current biggest seller, the Moby Pale Ale that has generated the most interest, not only because of its big flavour and drinkability, but because of its relationship with environmental warriors, Sea Shepherd.
“[Moby] is an Australian Pale Ale with a beautifully balanced fruity hop profile,” says Tim. “And because we love the ocean, and believe in its protection, we’ve done a licensing agreement with Sea Shepherd and donate part of our profits to their noble cause.
“We call it ‘Drink a Pale, Save a Whale’.”
There are plans for more taps, bottles and special releases, with three of their beers – Salt, Moby and Cranky – soon to be brewed and bottled in Melbourne and distributed throughout the Surf Coast, Bellarine, Geelong and beyond.
Their draught beers and special releases will continue to be brewed on site, which until recently had been only one of two places you could sample their beers, along with nearby Wye River Beach Hotel.
For those who've not toured the Great Ocean Road, Wye River is an even smaller town than Aireys, and is where head brewer Chris Haren lives after starting his commercial brewing life at Tooborac Brewery before joining Southern Bay in Geelong then opting for a lifestyle change that led him to his current position.
“Christopher heard on the grapevine what we were up to and promptly inserted himself as our head brewer. He is incredibly passionate about beer and the cleanliness of his brewhouse and his attention to detail and enthusiasm for his craft made him our first and only choice,” says Tim.
Chris is, indeed, incredibly enthusiastic about all things beer, having started homebrewing at an early age before getting his commercial breakthrough in his mid-20s. Even today, he half-jokingly says: “I’m actually never thinking about anything other than beer,” while excitedly talking about future plans for collaborations, a special yeast program, wine barrels, sours, and what he mysteriously calls his "Conical X project".
That same adventurous spirit is reflected in the name Rogue Wave, which perfectly represents the surfing town and coastal lifestyle enjoyed by many, while also reflecting the way they have rebelled against the mainstream.
“We bought the Aireys Pub when it was looking down the eye of being closed for good and turned into a housing estate,” says Tim. “So we found ourselves owning, and then running, a pub.
“The big beer companies came calling to supply us with a new beer system, but we smelled a rat, so we decided if we bought the pub, we wanted to control the taps and may as well buy our own beer system. Then we decided that we enjoyed the craft beers and brewers we were dealing with so much that we wanted to become a part of the family.”
With its homely feel, inspiring views, and focus on quality fresh food and beer – combined with the spirit of independence, ambition, and perseverance that has ensured it has survived two major threats in the past – the Aireys Pub / Rogue Wave Brewery is here to stay, offering an exciting new destination for craft beer lovers to explore while cruising the Great Ocean Road.
Rogue Wave Brewing Co is found at 45 Great Ocean Road, Aireys Inlet.
About the author: Mark is a writer and craft beer enthusiast from Geelong who sometimes writes a column at www.runnerstribe.com.