Since launching in 2005/6, Bright Brewery has grown from what was little more than a tin shed on the banks of the Ovens to one of the most impressive brewery venues in Australia. Along the way, it has picked up a series of major tourism awards – including its most significant yet at the weekend – while putting out everything from smoked beers and IPAs to imperial stouts and fruit beers.
Yet, unless you've called in to the brewery or come across their beers in High Country venues, this may have passed you by. Aside from a period in the brewery's early years when beer was sent regularly to the Melbourne market, the team has focused most of its efforts on the venue, selling close to 90 percent of its beer in-house and within Bright.
That's set to change, however, as this stalwart of the ever-expanding High Country brewing community has just opened Fred's Shed, a second production facility within the alpine town. Prior to firing up the new 35 hectolitre system, Bright had been producing 120,000 litres of beer per annum; now, says owner Scott Brandon, the hope is that Fred’s Shed will allow them to triple production in the next 12 to 18 months and re-enter the Melbourne market once more before, in time, expanding nationally.
"Scott got a government grant to get some business mentoring in 2015," says marketing manager James Davidson. "It was a grant that helps small businesses grow to become medium sized businesses. They looked at our options to grow sustainably; one was to keep expanding at our current venue and to open other venues, the other option was to go into production.
"Because we are tourism based, there's risk if the tourism industry falters. Bright is environmentally sensitive, for example to bushfires, so adding production gives the business another line of income."
The launch of the second facility, which can be scaled up to three million litres per annum and will soon transition to using solar energy, will allow the brewers to produce more seasonal beers at the original site on the Great Alpine Road. At the launch, Scott said it also gives them room for greater experimentation, which is set to include a sour beer regime. And, while they're based within one of Australia's richest hop growing regions, head brewer Rich Chamberlain is keen to produce more malt driven beers that hark back to his English origins.
The opening of Fred's Shed has been followed by more good news for the team at Bright. No strangers to tourism award success – or indeed securing government grants – the past weekend saw them collect their most prestigious trophy yet. Having won the Gold Award in their category at the Victorian Tourism Awards earlier in the year, they went through to the national level where they collected the Australian Tourism Awards Silver for Wineries, Distilleries and Breweries.
"It's pretty awesome," says James, explaining how their experience of winning silver at the state level in the previous two years had "taught us how to be a better tourism business" – leading to greater investment in staff and training: certified beer pouring training for venue staff; putting the head chef through a business management diploma and so on.
"Every other state winner was a winery, except in New South Wales, where Cupitt's is a winery and brewery, so to be recognised solely as a brewery in that category was really exciting. We will have a look at judges' feedback in the next couple of weeks and see if we can go for gold next year."
Such goals should ensure that, even as they start eyeing up the wider Victorian beer market on the back of Fred's Shed firing up, they retain a keen focus on their hometown. Indeed, while it might have been more convenient and cost effective to build the facility closer to Melbourne, Scott said it was important that Bright Brewery beer is produced in Bright, enabling them to promote the town and region as much as their beer.
"The plan is for long-term, sustainable growth," says James. "We're just really excited about being able to go out to the wider beer market and open up our ability to do more crafty stuff. We've felt a bit restrained in terms of being able to do innovative stuff because we've had to produce enough lager, pale and amber for the venue.
"We're not looking to take over Australia all at once. We'll focus on Melbourne and Victoria then will look at going beyond that as we've got heaps of room."
About the author: With a long history of working in the alcohol industry, Jack is passionate about all that is craft and drinkable.