Redoak brewer David Hollyoak is a character reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonker. He runs Australia’s most-awarded brewery producing more styles of beer than anyone else in the country but, unlike most of Australia’s microbrewers who make a feature of their brew houses, little is known of his brewery or brewing methods. And David likes to keep it that way.
But just like the fictional chocolate maker, there is a loyal and ever increasing band of beer lovers who seek out his beers and even plan trips to Sydney just to try the latest brews on offer at Redoak’s inner city restaurant and beer showroom.
Hollyoak himself is an inspiration to any homebrewer who secretly dreams of owning his own brewery. He first started brewing ginger beer at 14, telling his parents it wasn’t alcoholic, “But they soon worked out it was”, he laughs.
Within a year he was brewing beer, jumping straight into all-grain.
“I actually started on all-grain and the reason for that was my next door neighbour was homebrewing with all-grain and he showed me,” he said.
“Though through high-school and uni I used wort kits because it’s so quick.”
A civil engineer by qualification but a builder by trade he studied engineering at University before worked for construction company Baulderstone upon graduating.
After several years working on a number of major construction projects, he left at 24 to start his own construction company before fulfilling his dreams of brewing and founded Redoak. The brewery was several years in the making, and Hollyoak and his sister Janet opened the doors to the café in mid-2004. The label met with immediate success at the Australian International Beer Awards, winning five gold medals and a swag of other awards.
Since then the brewery has gone on to become Australia’s most awarded brewery notching up a host of major awards including the Grand Champion Trophy for highest scoring beer in 2006 and Champion Small Brewery this year.
The brewery’s extraordinary success has met with criticism that they are simply chasing awards, a charge that Hollyoak dismisses.
“We get that a lot,” he says. “It actually makes me laugh.”
“I try and brew the best that I can every time. When we opened Redoak we set ourselves the mission of brewing world-class beers and that’s what I try to do every time I brew.
“The way we can see whether we’ve done that is to enter our beers in awards and if we win, it’s great – it means that we are doing what we set out to do. But we don’t set out to win awards for their own sake.”
The greatest mystery about Hollyoak is where he finds the time to do all he does. While most Australian breweries confine themselves to maybe half a dozen core styles and maybe a few seasonals, the Redoak website advertises more than 40 styles with more than 20 currently available in styles as diverse as kolsch, framboise, hefeweizen, chocolate stout and Baltic porter. Most have at least won medals at the AIBA, many have contributed to a trophy case stuffed with major awards from prestigious British, European and American brewing competitions.
How does he do it?
“We work 80-100 hours a week, that’s how we do it,” David says earnestly.
Is working that hard sustainable?
“Probably not, though I hope I can do it for a lot longer. We need to slow down a bit at some stage, but a lot of what we do is because we need to get the business to the stage that we’re confident that it can pay for itself – and we’re not there yet.”
So why do it the way he does, is he a perfectionist?
“I think so,” he acknowledges.
“I wouldn’t say obsessive, or driven…more ambitious. But it’s more that Janet and I really love what we’re doing, so the success or how well we’ve gone is because we love what we’re doing so much.”
“My main motivation is how rewarding it is. Just like when you spend the time to cook at home, when you put a bit of effort in and at the end tasting the effort that you put in. Brewing’s similar. It’s pretty rewarding when you taste your beers,” he says.
Despite the criticism of his approach, Hollyoak himself is unfazed.
“It seems to worry others more than us,” he says.
“We are just trying to showcase world-class beer and brew traditional and forgotten styles that no-one else is doing.
“I am a big believer that an important part of great beers around the world and why people enjoy beer is the romance and experience that comes with them.
“We want to take people who come into our café on a journey. Our approach reflects that and if we’re successful I think that’s good for everybody in the industry.”
Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe
201 Clarence Street Sydney
Phone +61 (0)2 9262 3303
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