An epic cycling trip from Alaska to Costa Rica, visiting 150 breweries along the way, was all it took to convince partners Billy Barneston and Anna Suthers to start a brewery of their own. Travelling more than 9,000 kilometres through nine countries provided them not only with an impressive amount of market research, but extensive time in which to brainstorm.
Billy, then a brewer for a Sydney-based contract operation, and Anna, a physiotherapist by trade, but with a penchant for graphic design, began creating the recipes and branding for their creation, the Reub Goldberg Brewing Machine. Upon their return to Australia, they hit the ground running and set up shop close to home in a former bakery in Tarrawanna, in Wollongong’s northern suburbs.
Most intriguing is the name, a reference to the concept of an overcomplicated machine used to indirectly perform a simple task; for the uninitiated, watch this video. In this case, that task is brewing, and the overcomplicated fashion is that, where possible, liquid transfer between vessels is predominantly done manually, taking full advantage of gravity.
The reason for that is twofold – firstly, it makes the brewery look extremely cool, but it also avoids the use of pumps and metres of stainless steel tubing, whose electricity and manufacturing costs have most consequence on the environment.
In fact, sustainability is one of the brewery’s core values, evidenced in part by the closed-circuit cold liquor system. It works by using water from the refrigerated tank to cool the wort during brewing, then transferring the now-heated water to the open-topped lauter tun, where it is left to cool to room temperature before returning to the cold liquor tank. This process gets them through around 20 brew cycles before needing to replace the cold liquor, giving the brewery a water to beer efficiency of 2.6 litres per 1 litre brewed (in layman's terms: bloody efficient).
Another example of sustainability is found in the bar top, made from recycled Radiata Pine from a tree that fell on Anna’s family property in the Blue Mountains six years ago.
Within the venue, the Brewing Machine takes prime position. Firm believers that beer is best enjoyed in the “shadow is the brewery in which it was made,” the taps are merely a few steps away from the brite tanks from which they are served, which in turn are close by to the fermenters, all named after female sportswomen (such as American gymnast Simone Biles, Australian rugby sevens player Charlotte Caslick and surfer Steph Gilmore).
The beer in those fermenters isn’t served anywhere else, not even in kegs. The only way to take some away is via reusable, counter pressure-filled stainless steel growlers, emblazoned with the brewery’s logo.
The entire brewery and its furnishings were built by Anna and Billy themselves, with help from family and a few friends whose names have been immortalised in the ever-changing lineup of beers. Each beer has been through rigorous microbiology testing thanks to the little laboratory positioned in the corner of the brewery and, as a consequence, are likely to be some of the best examples of those styles around. Speaking of labs, they hosted the launch of local operation Mogwai Labs, whose yeasts you'll find in RGBM beers.
Those beers can be enjoyed, as Anna and Billy intended, in the shadow of the brewery itself, in a space that’s tastefully decorated with little trinkets, clean wood, tile furnishings and fairy lights between the fermenters. Alternatively, they can be enjoyed in full sun in the outdoor beer garden, sunscreen provided.
From 2022 onwards, tucked into one corner of the garden is Gringa Taco Bar. The local slingers of authentic Mexican tacos and other equally beer-aligned foods moved in and, once a spot of renovation and wall removal has taken place, will become fully part of the brewery venue, increasing its capacity along the way.
Greater capacity is no bad thing, either, as they've done a fine job of winning over locals with their winning combination of small batch beers, delicious food, regular live music and events, and warm smiles only matched in size by the owners' work ethic. Last time The Crafty Pint called in on a Sunday arvo, we reckon Billy alone had covered five kilometres keeping customers happy on his way to and from the bar. [Update: we've since been informed he tracks his steps on his Apple Watch and covers 18,000 steps, or approximately 14km, in an average shift, and when busy that rises to 22,000 steps, or approximately 18km!]
In the absence of distribution and with their marvellous Brewing Machine to marvel at, if you don't believe us, there’s only one way to find out why for yourself.
Marie Claire Jarratt