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Vale: Geoff Scharer

May 9, 2012

Sad news reached us today about the passing of brewer Geoff Scharer.

Geoff Scharer 2008

Hyperbole often abounds in newspapers with the passing of significant people and the word “pioneering” is overused. However, I can’t think of a more fitting word to describe Geoff Scharer.

Geoff was granted Australia’s first brewpub licence in 1981, a step taken before the words ‘microbrewery’ or ‘craft beer’ meant anything, let alone provoked arguments over definitions.

Geoff came from a pub background. Writing for the Pubs: Liquor, Larrikins and the Law exhibition at the Justice and Police Museum, Sydney, beer writer Willie Simpson described Geoff’s publican upbringing:

Geoffrey Scharer is a retired fourth-generation publican (and pioneer craft brewery owner) who was born in 1940 and remembers early teenage years spent in his father’s pub during the last days of the “six o’clock swill” (which lasted until 1954 in NSW):

“My Old Man [Bernie Scharer] ran an incredibly busy pub at Rushcutters Bay. The public bar had 12 different beer taps and they all poured the same beer – Resch’s Draught – and there were no seats or stools in the bar, at all. Everyone stood at the bar five and six deep and there was sawdust on the floor.

“As it got closer to six o’clock, guys would piss or chuck [vomit] where they stood, rather than lose their place in the queue. It was horrible! My brother and I had the job of sweeping up the sawdust after closing. Dad would ‘salt’ it with two-bob coins – which was our payment – and the sawdust was full of cigarettes and piss and vomit. We swept it up with two broad brooms and Dad came behind us with a hose and then squee-geed the water out until the bar was all nice and clean and ready for opening the next day.”

Goeff (third from left) with some of the leaders of the new crop of brewers (l-r) Richard Watkins, Brendan Varis, Dermot O’Donnel, Dave Bonighton and Brad Rogers on a tour of the US West Coast in 2008

When asked about his influence on the small brewing industry, Willie explains that for a long time Geoff was the small brewing industry. He recounts the story of when Geoff first went to NSW liquor licencing in the 1980s to get an application form to open a brewery.

“There wasn’t one, “ Willie laughs.

“The guy behind the counter asked whether Geoff was sure that he didn’t want to close a brewery, saying ‘we have plenty of those forms’.”

“He was a true pioneer who, once he started his brewery, took off the majors and only sold his lager.

“He was a country publican don’t forget, people said he was mad.

“He probably was, but he made it work because his beer was bloody good.”

“They broke the mould when they made Geoffrey,” Willie says.

He was also a mentor and inspiration to a generation of modern brewers. Brad Rogers recounts that Geoff’s Scharers Little Brewery at the George IV Inn at Picton near Sydney was the first brewery he set foot in wearing brewers boots, back in 1989.

When asked what Geoff was like, Brad pauses before exclaiming, “Holy dooley. He was a character.”

“He was one of those people who you either loved him or couldn’t stand him. He had an amazing presence,” Brad said.

It is impossible to sum up his career in a few words. I encourage brewers and those in the industry who knew Geoff and would like to share their reminiscences about him to do so in the comments below.

Below is also an article written by veteran beer writer, Charles Coll. Reproduced with permission.

Geoff Scharer by Charles Coll

If there’s ever a Legends List for Australian craft brewers, Geoff Scharer is easily in my Top 5 contenders. He not only defined a beer style to Australia with his glorious Burragorang Bock, but aggravated, annoyed and pestered every politician, councilman, or government official for craft brewery equity with big business. Cantankerous, controversial, and verbally abusive would best describe my first encounter with Mr Scharer over 15 years ago. It was in the hazy recovery period that I added passionate, generous, and visionary to his profile.

The new ‘young turks’ of craft brewing should take homage to one of the ‘elders of the tribe’.

Virtually everyone in the brewing industry has a ‘Scharer story’ each one better than the last. I asked Dave Edney, past brewer at the historic George IV Inn at Picton from May of 1996 to December 2000 for his thoughts.

“Eccentric, bloody minded, and a barrel of laughs at times. Bigger than life, an easy target, a dreamer where some ideas worked some didn’t but he at least had a go. Geoff’s passion for pure unfiltered lagers was matched with campaigns for poker free pubs ‘A scam for lazy publicans’ and local council objections against his proposal for an expansion to the brewery.”

Folklore has it that Geoff Scharer began brewing in the cellar of his father’s Sydney pub ‘manufacturing’ Resch’s draught for the upstairs taps at the tender age of 5 or 6. A street kid of the beer world had created a savvy arrogant attitude to complacency and lifelong ambition to brew pure unfiltered lagers from his newly acquired pub in Picton in 1968.

His hobby of rare collectables and a quest for the perfect pub-brewing system led Scharer to England in 1975 to attend a Commercial Brewing and Bottling Convention. It was there he met the respected brewing team of Pollack & Poole who recommended he consult with Otto Binding in Germany. Otto Binding, is considered the modern godfather of small-brewing in Germany for his visionary drive to renew the Bavarian custom of tavern-breweries in smaller towns and villages and pioneered brewing with organically grown barley and hops. Binding, who would become Scharers idol and mentor, advised him go observe the first brewpub he assembled for doctor of medicine and beer lover, Hans Nidecker, in the city of Basel, the German-speaking part of Switzerland. According to Scharer “I was blown away, it was the faultless mini- brewery, 400-500 litre capacity, all copper that produced excellent beer.”

His vision of a utopian pub-beer community hit the wall after being granted a brewing license in 1981 although he can lay claim to creating one of the oldest pub breweries in Australia. From 1982 til the first beer flowed from the tanks in 1987, Scharer had to struggled and fought with dithering bank managers incapable of reaching a decision for funding approval. “I bought the brewery in Germany and gave myself 2 to 3 years to have it up and running. I had to knock down walls, relocate all the utilities, meticulous work. A local bank manager (name withheld) walked in one day, looked around and said ’I’ll get you the money’. He only secured the loan after he’d become a member of the Board of Directors at the bank and by that time the price of everything had doubled.”

With limited space, I’d recommend viewing the ripper 10 part doco produced by The Lifestyle Channel called The Pub With One Beer that highlights some of the more colourful moments in the history of the GIV including emplyee dismissals, the pub catching fire, Geoff’s anti pokis campaign,etc. The documentary follows the progress of two young city boys who buy this old country pub and the departute of Geoff after 37 years in business.

Another part to the Scharer legacy was leasing the Australia Hotel in the Rocks to provide a venue to offer his, and only his, beers for the inner city beer drinking public over a decade ago. Paitings, the Scharers Lager mirror, and my favorite, a wall map for illiterate and non-english speaking drinkers identifying tram routes and access to streetcar stops.

And as for my disgraceful condition after a two day bender on my first meeting? Scharers reply was “That’s all right son, we had to pour Michael Jackson into his room on his first visit.”

I ask for all craft beer lovers to be upstanding, charge your glasses, and join me in last drinks to a true champion of the industry and make it a bloody good lager. I salute you Sir Geoffrey for all your passion and bloody-mindedness when if came to real beer, You will be remembered.

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30 Responses to Vale: Geoff Scharer

  1. Stephen Hopcraft on September 28, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    Further to my earlier comments on Geoff: Not only did we brew together but in the afternoons I used to go upstairs to Geoff’s loft and put down a brew of home cooking as well. We ate and drank uproariously then I’d retire to one of those monkish sleeping cabins downstairs and freeze til morning but too drunk to care!

  2. Alan Hartley on September 15, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    A sad day for Picton, losing the best Bock brewer around, and a sad day all round

  3. Stephen Hopcraft on May 23, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    As a Brewer I used to get calls from Geoff to go down to Picton and put down a brew or two. It was fabulous work so unlike working a big commercial brewery and incredibly satisfying. I liked Geoff he was generous and fun. The Bock had to be the best brew ever!

  4. Frank on May 22, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Geoff was a real character and a ratbag. At times highly amusing or alarming or completely obnoxious or generous. He really did not appear to give a stuff for rules or what people thought of him. I miss the eccentrics most of all.

    Back in the days when Blair and Willie ran the One Eyed Beer Tasters Club at the Lord Nelson, we were getting moved one at the end of the night when Geoff just said come back to the Australian where he opened the bar for us. At some point his missus came down and kicked us out.

    He’d also show up at wine tastings and make a beeline for me to ask what was good. When I asked why (I’m only a punter) he said “cos you’ve fucken already tasted most of them and you fucken taste a lot of wine” or words to that effect possibly involving worse language than that. Anyway, a compliment.

    I would love to see that cable reality show about him selling the pub in Picton.

  5. Faith Madden on May 19, 2012 at 2:24 am

    I was there when Geoff was fighting Tooheys and Tooths to get his brewers licence in ’81.He was a great friend who ate like a mediaeval king when he came to the farm and ate wild duck and pheasant with (fresh from the garden) baby leeks in vinaigrette,”This is the fucken food I want in my place”and when those bastards at Prospect council along with the bastard neighbours conspired to cut off electricity,in an attempt to force all rural properties to have their own individual power line regardless of practicality,and we faced an unwinnable court case against the big guns,and The Digger Family by the way…Great Pillars of the hobby farmer lobby..6 cows and a bad fence..And an electrician son who cut the power running through their property and ours.Ruination followed but Geoff welcomed us to open “The Poacher” Game Restaurant on weekends.I havent a bad word to say about Geoff,except when he pinched the painstakingly peeled quail eggs..or scaled his fish in the kitchen where the Creme caramel desserts were cooling.He was a bloody nuisance like that..Still .Thats just the way he was and he ran a damn fine pub.With CHARACTER not like the pissy little ultra modern swanky stylish rubbish you find today.Vale Geoffry Scharer :-)

    • Chris Gaffney on June 6, 2015 at 11:17 pm

      Faith & Kerri,
      This is Chris Gaffney, Raymond’s father and Mark Fransis’s mate and partner.
      I just found this tribute page to Geoffry and am passing it on to Raymond.
      I think Geoff and Mark taught Raymond what life was really about.
      He was a man;s man and truly a “Man for all seasons” and his beer I am sure is now totally reserved for that “Bar in Heaven”
      If you want to connect 0499010788

  6. Kerri on May 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    I worked for you all those years and would still have been if you hadn’t sold the pub. That long I got the nickname Mrs Scharer. I could write a thousand things about you Geoff but all I can say is… You were just you, not concerned what other people thought but just getting on with what you wanted in life (great beer). You could be outrageously naughty and a whole lot of other things BUT you were a great mate I will dearly miss you Geoff. It’s not going to be as much fun without you!

    • pete beck on May 16, 2012 at 6:15 pm

      i think it unkind that dick stole that title off you kez,!and i reckon he should give it back!!!!!!whamo.

  7. pete beck on May 13, 2012 at 9:02 am

    i only went there for the beer…that was 1970,ended up staying on,and laughing my arse off soon became the order of the day.you could’nt write a book about geoff there is just too much stuff to put in,the adventures he had,i.e, being one of the first abalone divers in the u.s.a.trips down the ‘valley’,and fun in the hot tub,,a massive steel cylinder about six feet off the ground with a fire under it!,he hid his bulldozer down there once,covered it with old army camoflourge,auction purchased..did such a good job,it took him nine months to find it again. auction houses must have rubbed their hands when they saw geoff,,the african queen,, i’m still laughing bout that now..and wot happened on one of his last days..lol..geoff was probably the worlds biggest mezo fan,,a visit to his home will testify to this,some of that shit is so cheap,it doesn’t have a switch to turn it on! burragorang bock.with a picture of geof’s beloved valley on the bottle.six of those and i was anybodies!8% all the way.nector of the gods,gone now with geoff to a better place,no more late night cricket games in the bar,no more pavarotten,..i wonder if geoff will haunt that place?with all it’s history we never saw a ghost there.proud to have called you my mate,mate…

    • pete beck on May 13, 2012 at 9:30 am

      remember the original anthony hordens sign attop of razor back?..while i live ,i will grow…then it became,,sharers larger,the beer we brew around here…both history now!!

  8. Brian Jessop on May 12, 2012 at 8:57 am

    I was lucky enough to share Geoff’s society and product,mainly at The Australian.A good bloke for whom the phrase “larger than life” might have been coined.

  9. Donna Moore on May 12, 2012 at 1:03 am

    He was a rebel. He was an entity before his time,the strutt ,the give em hell or where all doomed and sunk. With you there was no bullshit sir. We enjoyed being part of the George,thank you Geoff. Hi to the gang for us. I wished Id said hello that last time. But sending now,a HOORAH. You have graduated with honours congratulations !. Love .

  10. Mike Williams on May 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    My association with Geoff goes back long before he gained his Brewery Licence. I worked for Geoff on maintaining the refrigeration for the George for many years.
    I first heard about the brewery from a excited Geoff and that I would be installing all the fridge equipment [Oh Shit]
    In the planning stages Geoff rewrote the book of four letter words, all setbacks were set aside for his dream.
    Supplies were never a problem, he would just go to an auction somewhere in Australia and bring back more than required, My job was to make it work[You beauty] My accounts were always too high, but paid on time.
    After much trauma the brewery was up and running[Thank God] He accomplished his dream.
    We shared many a lager and many fun nights. I will miss him, he will never be replaced. From the fridge man

  11. jane Lindsay on May 11, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Marcus, then I dont think you have the right to comment at all. Geoffrey was an original human being and a dear friend. Clearly You did not know him and he did not want to know you. He donated money to charity, hated poker machines, loved good music.. and obviously good beer..and he did something big with his life. I cant say something nice about you. In Geoffs defence, You sound like an utter prick to me. We will miss him, and we loved him dearly.

  12. Venessa Schols on May 10, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Wow… what to say. Geoff gave me my first real job. I already had a fairly good idea as to what he was like (being a kid whose outing was to the George IV every sunday with the family) but ohhhh boy! He was a character truely larger than life. He could be a right pain in the arse at times,and could come asross as an arrogant old bugger. But to those who truely knew him, he was a loveable rougue, a true friend and a man who achieved. Geoff taught me ‘to give as good as i got’ in the mans world of working in his pub. Geoff, i will miss you dearly now, “Suck em up and f#*k off!” love ya!

  13. lock on May 10, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    My fav beer from the george was Scharers Seven Chakras an epic brew

  14. Toby Gibson on May 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    The world has just lost a truly amazing man. Geoff Scharer, a man of rare quality was an inspiration, role model and larger than life character with a heart of gold who could turn big dreams into reality. I will miss you deeply Geoffrey and hope you are in a better place where everything is possible. Love you Geoffrey

  15. Angela Plantzos on May 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    It is the end of an era, what a man. I am so proud to have known Geoff… He was such a character, he made the George the pub i grew to love. no words can describe how i am feeling at this moment. He made his mark in the history of the brewing industry in Australia. So many fun times had with Geoff, He is gone BUT WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN… The girls threw our bras on those lights in the pub again… turn up the music and enjoy… what great nights had in that pub..

    He was in my eyes a great boss.. he gave me a go.. great person to work for…

    I was the lucky one… He will live on in many of our hearts….

    Ang ..

  16. Patrick Moloney on May 10, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    I have spent a great deal of time in Picton and of course The George IV Inn. I have know Geoff all my life. He could of course be difficult at times but he was a character who did what he believed in and what he was passionate about with litte regard for what people thought. What you saw is what you got with Geoff.

    I worked as a labourer when Geoff built the Brewery at The George and whilst I was still at school. Recently I was a purchaser of The George IV and the Brewery. I am sad to loose Geoff as a great and eccentric friend. I am also sad that I no longer have Geoff as a brewing mentor. I feel privileged to have been part of Geoff’s extended and crazy family.

    • Larissa on May 10, 2012 at 7:45 pm

      If you’re the same Patrick I remember, I probably spent more time with your brother when dad would visit your dad. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. How have you been?

      • pete beck on May 16, 2012 at 6:27 pm

        your glasses arnt;\; holding head,patrick,it;s an easy fix..geoff scubbed every glass on brush pole in solution,EVERY time it was used,and before it went in steroliser,yours is the only pub in the world i drink tooheys,with a struggle ,all factory beers ,shit selection,come on,,,any one could do better,,peter may be a beer drinker,,,but he is certainly not a beer thinker,,,nothing there geoff would drink,,thats for sure.

  17. Matt Hendry on May 10, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I drank at the Australian in the 90s and was working for Mel Robson at ESB homebrew Supplies .Geoff was our favorite publican and would often lock us in at the Aussie for after hours drinks .I remember one afternoon me and Paul Hayes the delivery driver for ESB where asked by Geoff to help him put up the tram sign that is still in the Aussie today after many years for free jugs of beer ! Thanks for your vision Geoff and hope they serve Sharers Bock in heaven .

  18. Murray Duncan on May 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I think Dave Edney said it best. I had a lot of weird and wonderful experiences thanks to Geoffrey and his pub, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never come across anyone or anything quite like it again! Hope all the friends I made through the George are happy and well, and thanks Geoff, I don’t know if you ever truly understood how you and your creations brought people together, but to me that’s your enduring legacy.

  19. Dave Edney on May 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Loud, uncompromising, colourful and larger than life. He gave me my first brewing job straight out of Uni and i’m forever grateful to Geoff for giving me that opportunity. There are a million stories, some of them bizarre and most very funny, about the pub, the brewery and Geoff. I guess we’ll all be telling them over a few beers at the Beer Awards next week. I’ll miss seeing you around, farewell and good luck on your journey. Hope there’s plenty of good beer, good wine and good food where ever you end up Geoff!

    Cheers mate!

  20. Dave Bonighton on May 10, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    We’ve lost one of the good guys in Geoff. Champion spade caller, elite swearer and passionate beer advocate. Rough as guts, but could still pull off boat shoes and bright red shoulder-jumper. One of the true characters of the industry…he certainly left his mark.

  21. Marcus L. Muller,BSc. on May 10, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Yeah, a character…..
    Acceptable the comments from those, who worked for him. Like Dean.
    All others, yeah, you didn’t know him. Good manners say, that if you have nothing good to say about a person, then better say nothing at all. Something like that. I worked for him,and yes he was insane. And then, here comes the silence, since I have nothing good to say. Except, for that he was a Pioneer in the brewing industry, but for all the wrong reasons.Now, Dave and Luke, truly ‘every day is a Geoff-free day’.

  22. Dean McLeod on May 10, 2012 at 4:01 am

    I loved that old bastard. Unlike the other ‘colourful’ small brewery owners I have worked for, Geoff was a genuine big-hearted good bloke who lived large and followed his own compass. I raise a pint to you mate.

  23. Darryl Trinne on May 9, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    A bloody character! so proud to have known the man I called my mentor….ha ha. Don’t be so f’ing ridiculous Trinne….don’t enter this f;ing industry…. Fond memories of a man who called it as he saw it. Sad day. I raise my glass to the one and only………..

  24. Larissa on May 9, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    This was the man I called ‘dad’. Not by blood, but because he took a fancy to my mum 33 years ago and they stayed together for quite a few years. He really was one in a million and we miss him so much already.
    Kirrily, I can totally picture that. Calling you ‘hot lips’ and pinching your bum. It’s why I can now laugh a little, picturing him chasing all the young ‘chicky’s’ wherever he is.

  25. Kirrily Waldhorn on May 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    So sad to hear the news about Geoff, he came to quite a few of my events including the show at The Opera House which he sat right up the front and heckled me the whole way through. I loved his character, so upfront and opinionated yet with a very gentle heart. one minute he would be genuinely offering advice and really wanted to see me succeed… the next minute, he’d be pinching my bum and greeting me with “hello hot lips”… a huge loss to the beer industry and a personal loss to me. Give them hell up there Geoff!

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