Spend enough time around the beer industry and you’ll likely hear someone utter the joke: “How do you make a small fortune? Start with a big one and open a brewery.”
Equally, while the appetite for beer that’s something other than industrial lager continues to grow, the marketplace is a tough one, with more than 600 brewing companies of every size and shape vying for drinkers’ and retailers’ attention and dollars at time of writing.
Yet the dream of becoming a brewery owner and dedicating your life to producing something you hope will bring joy to people remains compelling. And there are still parts of Australia ripe for a local brewer to bring their own spin on beer’s story to a new audience.
All of which brings us to Red Bluff. It’s the Lakes Entrance operation launched in 2017 by Wayne and Donna Burnett. After thirty years in the construction industry, they decided it was time for a tree change and relocated from Pakenham on Melbourne’s eastern edge to Lakes Entrance, where Wayne started dabbling in homebrewing in his shed.
Over time, realising 4 Pines and Fat Yak were pretty much the only craftier beers on offer in the region’s pubs and clubs – and that there was a strong tourist influx, particularly in summer and around Easter – they started eyeing up a different future. After all, they enjoyed brewing beer and their friends enjoyed drinking it so why not see if more people would too?
“It was either a case of build a bigger homebrew kit to keep supplying friends and freeloaders or buy a small commercial system and see if we could help boost tourism,” Wayne says. “Because people do gravitate to microbreweries.”
And thus Red Bluff Brewers was born, in part inspired by their travels on which they’d always hunt down local microbreweries. Wayne scaled up some of his brews and the couple started bringing them to a town with no brewery to call its own. All while adjusting to their new reality…
“It’s more hours and more work and the income isn’t as good,” he says. “It’s more of a lifestyle and that’s why we moved here: to make a living out of a dream we’ve always had.”
Over summer 2020, they launched a pop-up taproom where visitors can try the beers – regular and seasonal on tap. They've also started bringing in food trucks and live music for special events and will be developing the space into a fully-fledged venue with food showcasing local produce.
You’ll also find Red Bluff beers in a growing number of the region’s pubs, clubs and hotels. And, since they launched the core lineup of beers with bold label designs that celebrate the surf coast, courtesy of Clint Weaver of Pocket Beagles (CoConspirators, Froth, Brewmanity), they’ve been popping up in the odd Melbourne store too.
As for the nature of those beers, for the most part they would typically be classified as sitting within the approachable realms of the beer spectrum. As Wayne points out, the market in and around Lakes Entrance is rather different to that of inner Melbourne and they want to cater for – and attempt to convert – their locals first and foremost. That said, you’ll still find sessionable fruit sours appearing alongside the likes of their lager, pale and summer ales.
In this increasingly busy beer marketplace, the prevailing wisdom is that anyone entering the market these days is best to find a location lacking a local beer option and create a hyperlocal brewery venue. And, from location to ethos to branding, that’s what you’ll find at Red Bluff.