When Simon Bismire let people know about his plans to bring craft beer to one of Victoria’s most popular holiday locations, he was met with a mixed response.
A large proportion of people, both Phillip Island locals as well as frequent visitors, were thrilled. Yet he was met with some hesitancy too.
“Some people thought we were mad,” he says of those pre-launch times.
Like many holiday destinations, Phillip Island is a place where the population is in a state of flux, swelling over summer and dropping off over winter. But, since Ocean Reach Brewing opened their brewpub in Cowes towards the end of 2016, one thing has remained consistent: its popularity with locals and tourists, something Simon sees as a reminder that you should never underestimate the power of craft beer to bring people together.
His own journey to become a brewery owner started in 2011 when he first tried his hand at homebrewing in his parents’ garage. But it was while on holiday in 2015 that he and wife Alex began planning in earnest to bring local brewing to the seaside destination, ultimately naming the brewery after a local surf break.
With Simon’s father Wayne also part of the team, the initial plan was to stay small with a taphouse in Cowes where they could brew and showcase Simon’s love of everything beer. Indeed, when The Crafty Pint first visited shortly after opening, it appeared he was everything beer – brewing it on the small kit behind the bar and pouring it from the row of taps lining the way separating bar and brewery.
“Phillip Island had been screaming for something like this for a long time,” he says. “That became really clear once we started pouring beers."
The taphouse is located in Cowes’ main strip, just a short walk from the ocean, where the combination of local beer and a menu designed with beer in mind – their Food Van serves up burgers, wings and onion rings – proved a winning combination on the Island.
As demand for his beers grew, it wasn't long before the Bismires were drawing up new plans for a larger, off-site production brewery – as well as putting beer into cans and starting to distribute further afield, not something they'd envisaged prior to opening.
In 2018, they moved brewing out of the taphouse and into a warehouse on the island, before enlisting Craft Instinct – also responsible for The Crafty Pint's rebrand and subsequent design work – to design their cans. It's proved a wise move with their Tropical XPA cans landing in the top ten of the inaugural GABS Can Design Awards.
Evolution has played a big role in shaping Ocean Reach’s beers too, with Simon holding onto his roots as a homebrewer keen to experiment while balancing a core range that's an approachable mix of classic craft styles with limited releases that frequently head into hazy or sour territory – sometimes both. A pair of golds for the core range IPA and Porter show the beers aren't just pretty on the outside too.
That said, the first half of 2021 saw them focus on the pretty a little more with the launch of their Artist Series. The first two releases feature work by Joel Ebsworth which you can check out here.
The combination of a passionate family, making beer in a picturesque locale, and serving it in welcoming venue, makes you wonder why anyone would have doubted Ocean Reach’s ability to be welcomed into town. But, as Simon says, there’s a power to craft beer.