It is a massive understatement to say that until his recent retirement Max Burslem and Roger Ibbott had spent some time together at Cascade Brewing Company. That’s like saying beer goes well with chips. Or that Lady Gaga likes attention.
With close enough to 43 and 40 years service to the brewery respectively and, after all that time sharing desks divided by little more than a computer monitor, they encapsulate what makes this brewing institution different from so many others. Dismissing the obvious elements of length of service and working day-in, day-out for one of Australia’s iconic brewing businesses, the partnership goes much deeper.
Max had been the Head Brewer and General Manager at Cascade until he took on the role of Transformation Manager prior to his retirement . Roger Ibbott, with his farming background, has headed the malting side of the business with much of his time spent either out in the fields or, one suspects, at the bar with his long time mate.
Far from being like a pair of old spinsters who finish each other’s sentences, these two are archetypal, old-school mates who have seen the brewery change and develop and produce new beers and take new directions but have stuck honestly to what they do – and have continued to do it well. A morning spent wandering through barley fields with these two men is a lesson in mateship and working productively together.
Max Burslem is the kind of bloke who really doesn’t look out of place in a brewery although he does look slightly uncomfortable in a hi-visibility safety vest. This is probably a remnant of many years in a workplace where ‘O.H. & S.’ meant cobbling together a stack of odd boxes before climbing them to change the light bulb.
He possesses that natural rugged frame that comes with a working lifetime of hands-on work and heavy lifting and his ‘carriage’ is a well crafted blend of manual labour and just a little quality control of the beer he helps to brew. Looking at an old photo of Max in his days as a footballer with the brewery team suggests that any punch thrown at Max on the field would not have been the last one thrown. At work, as on the football field, he’d be a handy bloke to have alongside you.
Roger Ibbott, while not necessarily the polar opposite of Max in a weird ‘Odd Couple’ kind of way, certainly balances the relationship with his angular features and a frame more wiry suggesting that his role takes him ‘out and about’ a bit more. It is fair to say that his 40 years at Cascade, including 38 years purchasing and malting barley have contributed to his healthy constitution and sunny disposition.
These attributes are also the possible result of working for so long beside a close mate like Max. It is almost impossible to tour the Cascade facilities without encountering evidence of their friendship. From abutting desks to adjoining car park spaces it seems they never stray too far from each other’s company. Old photographs show them standing side-by-side in matching lab coats and mutton-chop sideburns.
Sharing a meal and a few beers (Cascade beers, of course, and, well, maybe more than a few) with these two blokes is like watching one of those interactive displays at a tourist destination. You get plenty of information, an entertaining slide-show and, with the push of a button you can change the subject and learn anything you can imagine about any topic of brewing interest. From the history of the brewery itself to the beers they have produced over the years and the characters that have made the business what it is today, the conversation is all colour and movement from start to finish.
But be warned; with Max in charge of proceedings, the end of the night might actually be merely ‘half-time’ as you leave the restaurant and seek out a nice pub for a couple of ‘afters’ but you can be sure that when you think you’ve heard the last story there is always one more to come. The two men shine in their element and it is as if they are aware of some ancient oath that the stories must be told lest they disappear.
And it is not such a stretch to assume that this partnership has a bit to do with the way in which the Cascade brewery runs. Theirs is a relationship based on mutual respect and loyalty to the company. It is about caring for the product you make whether that be malt for beer and whisky (at the nearby Lark Distillery) or apple juice and cordial or the many household names that beer lovers both here and across Bass Straight have a fondness for.
Cascade Brewery Co has recently undertaken the next in a long line of changes designed to ensure the brewery remains competitive and dynamic in a changing cultural and economic landscape. Max has moved from his role as General Manager and Head Brewer to lead the way forward as the company strives to reduce waste and improve sustainability across its many facets. His replacement as Head Brewer, Mike Unsworth brings a wealth of experience in the UK to his new role but one can’t help thinking that he is in for several sessions at the bar before he can carry the torch that Max has held aloft for so long.
Roger likewise while having no immediate plans to retire will continue to maintain the Cascade Brewery Company’s values and ensure it retains a dynamic growth for as long as he is Maltings Manager. It’s fair to say that now that Max has retired, if Roger follows, it will be a challenge for the licensee of the pub they decide to call their retirement local.