Melburnians have to wait a little longer for their freedom but, from today, the rest of Victoria can enjoy pints poured at a brewpub, pub or bar. Let’s not go into how many weeks it’s been since the last round but, with new coronavirus cases in regional Victoria now at a low threshold, Victoria’s Premier Dan Andrews announced this week that – with restrictions – hospitality could reopen.
Bright Brewery (pictured above) opened their doors at 11am today, with marketing manager Laura Gray saying they’re expecting a busy day, weekend and few weeks ahead.
“The phone has literally not stopped ringing,” she says. “We didn’t even know the announcement had been made – we were alerted when the phone started running [on Tuesday] with people making bookings.”
Laura says they're still working out the finer details of the new restrictions, which require a two square metre density limits outdoors, four square metres per person indoors and caps on the number of people in different spaces.
However, sitting on the banks of the Ovens River and with wide open spaces to play with, it means the brewery is in fairly good position to pivot towards the new alfresco dining, even though Laura says they'll still be a long way from their capacity. Initially they'd hoped to have 150 to 180 people in today but once they received written guidelines this morning they discovered it was a maximum of 50 outside and 20 inside in two spaces.
“In the height of a peak summer we can seat 550 people at a time so sitting just 70 is a drop in the ocean still,” she says. “But it’s a lot better than it was and we’re grateful for that.”
For the tourist town and the wider region – home to one of the best known brewery trails in the country, 2020 has been far from normal. The summer’s devastating bushfire season meant the region missed out on much of its peak tourism and COVID-19 has ensured tourists have barely been able to return since.
With a $5,000 fine in place for anyone leaving Melbourne without a valid reason and the border between Victoria and New South Wales still closed, it means many of the regular tourists who head to the High Country at this time of year will need to wait a little longer so Laura says they look forward to welcoming people from other parts of the state with open arms.
“We’re expecting a lot of visitors from regional Victoria as well," she says. "Everyone who isn’t in Melbourne is now allowed to travel and, with school holidays starting next week, it seems like they’re going to.”
That feeling is shared by Wayne Burnett, who runs Red Bluff Brewers in Lakes Entrance. Like the High Country, much of East Gippsland's peak tourist season disappeared due to the catastrophic bushfires, and with so much of the state lockdown this year – and international travel unlikely for some time to come – there’s a feeling this summer might be a big one.
“People are hanging out to get out,” Wayne says.
“From our point of view, pretty much the floodgates are going to be open from this week onwards.
“Now that people can travel, they will. So we’ll get a fair bit of business out of that, but obviously the locals have been itching to be able to come in as well.”
It’s welcome timing for the East Gippsland operation as they’re putting the finishing touches to their taproom. The hope is to be open in early October at their location on the outskirts of Lakes Entrance, a few hundred metres from the beach and with its own expansive outdoor space.
Like many breweries, Red Bluff’s focus for much of the year has been directed at takeaway and online sales. Now they can open, however, Wayne says they’re looking forward to welcoming their community through their doors, including the newest members.
“A lot of people are packing up and moving down here permanently," he says, suggesting the rise in working from home is encouraging people to make a sea or tree change. "We’re finding the housing market around here is going quite strong.
“That will open up a whole new world of shops and venues that’ll provide a change around here I’m really looking forward to.”
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