Bells Beach’s surfing credentials are known far and wide. The Rip Curl Pro has been held there continuously since the 1960s and tourists regularly flock to the beach – and the surrounding Surf Coast region – for a dip, surf and wipe out.
However, as anyone who’s spent time there over the years will know, good beer wasn’t always part of the area’s lure. But it’s a situation that’s changing fast, with Blackman’s, Salt and Bells Beach all brewing beers within a few kilometres of each other – and more found in the wider region.
The Bells Beach story can be traced back to 2012, when expat Brits Adam Smith and Jono Mostrop were drinking at a pub on a Surf Coast beach and chatting about what they missed about their homeland. By and large, the conversation turned to the beer and the pubs. And, while they’d hardly be the first Brits – or the last – to have that conversation, they did what very few do: they decided to do something about it and started down the path from car engineers to brewery owners.
Initially taking to homebrewing to fill this gap in their lives (but falling short of building their own British pub in a backyard), as time went by Adam and Jono became increasingly invested in the beer world, discovering new styles and working out how to brew them.
By the end of 2015, they had decided to take their hobby professional, first brewing a saison at Cavalier in Melbourne’s west. The style might not be the most common debut release for a brewing company but, being as it was Adam and Jono’s favourite beer, their thinking went something like: “If the whole endeavour doesn’t work out, at least we’ll be able to work through the beer easily enough.”
They launched the beer on New Years, welcoming 2016 with saisons in hand and, from that point, they were off and soon had a range of beers out under the Bells Beach Brewing name.
Fast-forward a couple of years and Adam and Jono decided it was time to move on from contracting and put down roots in Torquay. Amid the maze of surf stores and outlets that line one side of the Surf Coast Highway, they set up home in an industrial unit, transforming it into a brewery and taproom – one where the rows of stainless steel tanks sitting in front of ceiling high lettering spelling out the brewery’s name loom through open roller doors.
Behind the tanks sit the brewery and canning line; in front of them are the bar and shared tables, chosen to create a community feeling. Facing the bar is a large screen typically showing sport or surfing movies, while upstairs, the mezzanine floor provides a perfect vantage point to watch the operation below. The entire venue is lent character by old surfboards and reclaimed timber, with food trucks and regular events adding extra reasons to drop in.
As for the beers, they’re a celebration of the region. Not only do they bear the names of local surfing spots, but the likes of Southside Saison, Bells Beach Blonde and Bird Rock Brown also come in cans featuring photos of said spots.
It’s a neat touch and one that’s down to Jeff Crow, whose background as a professional photographer focused on the sports world left him well placed to capture the beachside vibe of each beer. Initially, Adam and Jono approached Jeff to buy a few of his photos but soon found themselves with a third business partner and an extra set of hands to help run the brewery.
Now that they’ve travelled from those initial chats via contracting to their own production brewery and taproom, their beers have started travelling to the bars and bottleshops of Melbourne too. But getting into the sports bars, pubs and bottleshops of the Surf Coast remains their main focus. After all, given Bells Beach Brewing was sparked by a love of the local breaks – and a desire to drink good beer by them – it makes sense they’d want to make it easy for others to join them.