Fewer than 200 people call Forrest home, but the tiny Victorian town between Lorne and Apollo Bay has increasingly stood out over the past decade, thanks in part to Forrest Brewing Company.

Situated amongst lush rainforest (which has the state’s highest rainfall) in a century-old former general store, the small-scale 600-litre brewery is also close to Lake Elizabeth and some 60 kilometres of mountain-bike trails.

“We’re a destination brewery, so the town in its own right is a point of difference,” says co-owner Sharon Bradshaw, who opened Forrest Brewing in 2010 with her brother Matt Bradshaw. The siblings knew the location was unbeatable – right down to the pristine water source in the West Barwon Reservoir, which supplies fresh Otway water to the Geelong region.

“The craft-brewing scene [in Australia] was still pretty new 10 years ago, and we saw it picking up pace,” Bradshaw says. “Since we first started brewing, palates have changed a lot. Our core range was designed to be for anybody who wanted to try a new style of beer without frightening them too much. It’s a much more educated market now.”

And so beyond the core range of pale ale, lager, stout and Irish red, there are popular seasonal brews such as a double IPA (Untamed Turkey) and an imperial stout (Blockspitter), as well as smaller batches available on-site only, from an XPA to a strawberry sour.

Forrest Brewing is malt-focused rather than hops-driven, which goes somewhat against the grain of current craft-beer trends. Due to its small size, beer is only brewed three months in advance, so the product is consistently fresh – no lingering on the shelves. Everything is brewed on-site and hand-bottled and labelled, and 95 per cent of the beer is sold by the brewery itself (instead of through wholesalers). In fact, the Bradshaws made a conscious decision not to compete in the overcrowded Melbourne beer market – instead they focus on the stretch of regional Victoria from Geelong to Port Fairy.

Their philosophy is all about keeping things close to home – they even raise their own local beef for the lunch menu, and the cows are fed with spent grain from the brewery. They’ve also revitalised local hops left over from when the region used to supply hops to Ballarat’s beer industry, using them in part for a wet-hopped seasonal lager called Sticky Fingers. And even as Forrest Brewing looks to expand to a larger manufacturing facility with an outdoor event space, it’s staying local at the town’s former timber mill.

Of course, 2020 has brought its challenges: Forrest Brewing missed out on the lucrative Easter trading period, then stopped brewing for four months. But the Bradshaws used the downtime to rebuild the brewhouse and build up the online retail presence, both through Forrest Brewing’s website and the Click for Vic initiative, with free delivery across Geelong, the Otways and the Surf Coast.

Now the brewery is open again and welcoming a renewed rush of tourist trade from Melbourne and beyond, and Bradshaw is glad she was able to give the site a boost before everything kicked back into gear in time for summer.

“Our venue was pretty worn out after 10 years of heavy traffic,” she says. “It’s now looking good and it’s busier than it’s ever been. Every weekend has been like a long weekend for us.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Visit Victoria. Support Victorian producers by buying online through Click for Vic, and hitting the road to visit in person.