Torquay can be a quiet place in the middle of winter but these days it's not lacking when it comes to beer. Blackman’s, Sou’West and Bells Beach Brewing all call the coastal town home, and the last of those have been particularly busy over the last few months.
The brewery, which launched in 2015 and is run by Adam Smith, Jono Mostrop and Jeff Crow, have just completed an expansion that will enable them to double their output. Having opened the doors to their Torquay brewery and taproom at the end of 2018, Adam says they're excited to have reached the point where they needed to expand.
“To be able to fill the original brewery space in three years, with two years of those COVID affected, well, we’re pretty happy with that,” he says.
“Even with all the shutdowns, we were brewing all the time. So, if want to spread our wings at all, we need to step up.”
The expansion has seen the team take over the building in front of their industrial home, install a new cold room and fermenters, as well as separating the packaging side of production. It's a change that allows them to streamline their brewing as well as the ability to scale up production to around 350,000 litres a year.
The need to grow has been driven in part by their second home in Geelong as well as support for the brand along the Surf Coast. The Brewery – Geelong is located in the city's nightspot area of Little Malop Street and was formerly the home of Blackman's Good Beer Bar; despite swinging open the doors as the state went into a lockdown in February – the first of several in 2021 – Adam says the venue has started to gather pace.
“Last year was a bit of a write-off, with every time we had a bit of a run we got locked down again," he says. "But now people are finally getting to come in, enjoy the space, and come back.”
As they grow, Bells Beach are working to do so sustainably: the brewery is currently working towards becoming B Corp certified. Businesses can gain the certification when they achieve certain standards with regards to social, business and environmental practices. If successful, the Torquay operation would join the likes of 4 Pines and Stone & Wood in the beer world, as well as multiple businesses found on the Surf Coast.
“It’s one of our pillars and core to our brand really; minimising our impact is just part of the whole ethos of our business,” Adam says, adding that, although the brewery is small, aiming for the certification feels like the right path.
“The hardest thing about it is having the time available to do it. But because sustainability drives all of our decision making anyway, it’s really just a matter of writing down what we do.”
Torquay might be busiest in summer, but with three breweries in town and more in the surrounding region, they're finding tourists are visiting the area for more than just the iconic surf spots. What's more, locals now familiar with craftier offerings are helping keep the Bells Beach taproom staff busy even through winter. That said, the past two years – during which near neighbours Blackman's have also expanded – have shown the Bells team that slowing down can have some benefits.
"[COVID] helped us be able to grow with some level of control," Adam says. "When you’re running too fast to make sensible decisions you make mistakes, and COVID gave a bit of breathing space to stop running around so much and be a bit more strategic on things."
Part of that strategic shift is to spread their horizons – within reason. Having garnered support from most bottleshops and venues throughout the Surf Coast, the next stage of their expansion will see them continue to train their focus regionally: their eyes are set on Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong and surrounding parts of western Victoria. In particular, they hope to see craft beer gain a foothold in Geelong similar to that in Bendigo.
“We just see it as a great opportunity,” he says. “We were up in Bendigo for Bendigo on the Hop in March and that place just pumps. Bendigo has been so good at getting people outside of their city to come in and enjoy craft beer.”
With the likes of Noodledoof Brewing & Distilling in Koroit, Middle Island Brewing – a new arrival searching for a home of their own in Warrnambool, and a handful of small operations around the Grampians, gaining a foothold with their own locals and tourists, Adam hopes to see craft beer continuing its march along the Victorian coastline.
“Warrnambool has a couple of breweries around it now and I think there’s so much opportunity around those centres," he says. "They have such a massive tourist trade in the summer too.”