By Emily Friedel
Chris Turner and James Smith want to bring people back into the old Alexandra butter factory building. But they’ll be doing it with beer rather than butter.
The factory was built in 1892 by local entrepreneur William Nicholson. An article published in The Standard newspaper in 1891 suggests that the butter factory arose from the need to support local dairy farmers. In the 1930s, the wooden building was replaced by the structure that still stands today with its striking redbrick façade and gabled roof. Since then, it has housed an upholstery factory, a sawmill, a metal machining business, and been used for storage. This long history in Alexandra means many locals have links with it. And sometimes the ties stretch a little further.
“Almost everyone we talk to has some sort of connection to the butter factory,” Chris says.
James adds: “I popped into a home brew store [in Melbourne] I worked at in 2005 to buy some stuff, and I was talking to my old boss – I hadn’t seen him in over ten years – and I was telling him about this place. He said, ‘Oh, my grandmother used to work at that factory.’”
For Chris and James, the old brick building is now home to their long-held dreams of owning a brewery. James has been home brewing since he was old enough to legally drink alcohol, and the idea of getting their own brewery popped up in the pair’s conversations many times over the years. A ‘For Sale’ sign at the butter factory catalysed the transition from dream to reality, and On Point Brewery was born.
“My wife and I were up here holidaying, and we saw the butter factory for sale and said, ‘That looks like a brewery.’ So we ended up purchasing it with the view to turning it into a brewery. That was two and a half years ago,” James says.
“When we first set up, we were driving up on weekends and some nights after work, doing the commute from Frankston some nights after work. Then after the first year, we moved up here full time, committed,” Chris says.
In its transformation to a beer production and distribution facility, the butter factory has seen some big changes over the last couple of years – with plenty more to come. The spacious, high-ceilinged building now houses the craft brewery, which produces a variety of beers inspired by the picturesque Murrindindi Shire area and its distinct seasons.
“We’ve got a core range of four beers, and we made them to represent the seasons. The pilsner’s a great summer drink, the red IPA being a bit sweeter is a good autumn drink, the brown ale’s a nice winter warmer, and the pale ale’s a spring beer. We do a few seaonsals as well: we do a strawberry sour, we do a cherry porter, and we’ve got a new one coming out, ‘The Mutt’, which is our big 7% IPA. None of our beer is pasteurised or filtered, so it’s all as fresh as you can get,” James says.
Of course, being avid beer drinkers themselves, Chris and James are dedicated to producing beverages of the highest quality and are willing guinea pigs when it comes to testing them.
“We make sure they work well. We don’t add anything to keep it longer or anything like that because that sort of kills the flavour. My favourite’s our brown ale – I call it an English-style brown ale with American hops,” James says.
Chris chimes in: “I’d probably go with The Mutt, it’s nice big, bold IPA – lots of flavour to it. Great drink to settle down with as well.”
The beer labels also have a local flavour, with designs based on some nearby natural treasures.
“The pale ale is the Goulburn River, the pilsner is Bonnie Doon,” Chris says.
“The winter one, the brown ale, is an image of a stag because a lot of people go hunting here in winter,” James says.
Similarly, the brewery name and logo are a salute to local life.
“I’ve got a vizsler dog, a pointer, so we took images of him to our graphic designer, and we sort of based if off that. I think it resonates with the area – a lot of people have pointers and go hunting,” James says.
Currently, the brewery produces roughly 1,000 litres of beer a week, which is distributed all around north-eastern Victoria. On Point beers are on tap at pubs throughout the region, and James and Chris take them on the road to festivals and local markets. As of December last year, they also opened a temporary bar at the butter factory, dispensing their beers in take-away packs or schooners. The latter can be enjoyed in the beer garden or a comfy spot indoors on a couch, possibly with a pizza or kransky cooked on site.
But demand for their beers is growing beyond current brewing capacity, and there are plans to get more fermenters in the near future to substantially increase production. Other plans for the year include installing a permanent bar by summer and continuing to renovate and expand the indoor drinking area. For winter, warmth and entertainment are on the cards.
“We’ve got a lot of event ideas as well. We had live music down on Australia Day, and we’ll get more live music in. We want to have days where we set up a community festival here and get food trucks. We’ve got a few ideas of things to run during the winter period to make it interesting. We’ve got a fireplace inside as well, so it’ll be a nice cosy place to come and sit down in winter,” Chris says.
They’re also hoping to branch out and reconnect more of the local community with the old butter factory or welcome visitors coming to explore the area.
“I think craft beer and cycling goes hand-in-hand, so we really want to get people from the Rail Trail over here – ride the Rail Trail, then come here for a pizza and a beer and ride back,” James says.
James and Chris also want to assure customers that On Point Brewery’s beers are suitable for accompanying other outdoor activities in the area, including camping and fishing – both of which they have personally trialled to guarantee drinking pleasure.
“They’re well tested,” Chris says.
Whatever your reason for grabbing a beer, Chris and James encourage you to drop into the butter factory to get one and connect with what’s happening there. The old building has plenty of life left in it and will be invigorated even more over the coming year. So this winter is a great time to join Chris and James on their brewing journey.
“Come check it out now, but there’s lots more to come,” Chris says.
On Point Brewery can be found at 9 Downey Street, Alexandra. For more information go to their website onpointbrewery.com.au or find them on Facebook facebook.com/OnPointBrewingCo