A new brewery is coming to Verdun in the Adelaide Hills to breathe new life into the former Grumpy’s Brewery site after it was destroyed by fire in 2016.
Founders of the new Grunthal Brewery are Sheree and Saul Sullivan, are best known as cheesemakers at Udder Delights, and sold the majority of the business to Japanese milk giant Megmilk Snow Brand in 2017 for just over $14 million.
After two successful decades in cheesemaking, the Sullivans are turning their attention to brewing, and have received a Tourism Industry Development Fund grant from the South Australian government, to the tune of $273,972, towards the $3 million project.
“We wanted to do something different after more than 18 years and I wanted to extend my skills into another area which involves fermentation,” explained Saul Sullivan.
“The opportunity came up through a developer for the old Grumpy’s site. It burnt down about five years ago. The developers came and contacted us and wanted us to help develop it into a large tourist facility.”
Having already run a successful venue with their Udder Delights cellar door in Hahndorf, the Sullivans thought it was a perfect time to branch out.
“We will relocate the Udder Delights cellar door to this new facility and put it on massive steroids, it will be a massive scale project,” Sullivan explained.
“We’ve got a winery partnering with us, a function centre, it will be the home of Udder Delights cheese and the craft brewery on site, Grunthal Brewery, will have a cellar door with beer tours, beer paddles and events.”
The site will eventually allow up to around 600 people in the venue, Sullivan said.
“The site is so prominent with the most beautiful view, we’ll have 500 or 600 people out there overlooking the river and just enjoying pints of everything from a cider to a nitro stout or a barrel-aged Saison.”
Beers and brewing
The new brewing venture at the Grunthal will be headed up by brewer Kai Cook, a local brewer who will be working on a kit which is set to arrive next week.
“One of the skills I’ll be able to bring in, after being in cheesemaking for such a long time, is to do with the innovations I helped head up,” said Sullivan.
“We were making groundbreaking cheeses that hadn’t been made in Australia before, using really interesting ingredients and cheesemaking techniques to create products that take your core customer base to a new level of excitement and on a new venture.
“You’re seeing that in the craft beer sector, they establish a core range and then these what I call ‘sustainable innovations’ on top of that, taking their customer base on a journey with them to try new ideas.
“Some craft brewers have dozens of products, some good, some not so, but they have a go and they are innovations which are becoming the status quo now.”
Sullivan will be bringing his skills to help Cook with the brewing process.
“I’m working with Kai on the styles of beer we’re going to create. I’m definitely the mad professor, coming up with ideas and concepts for the beer, but I utilise Kai’s science background and brewing expertise. He’s worked for prominent SA craft brewers, some really well-known companies, and his science background will underpin and fasttrack us from having to do a lot of painful learning like we did with cheese, to come up with something people will love, bringing the art and the science together.”
First and foremost will be an Australian lager, which Sullivan said would plug a bit of a hole in the SA market.
“[We’ll have] a decent craft lager, a good pale ale, juicy NEIPAs, session ales, but what I would love to perfect as well is some of the really dark Belgian ales for winter in the Adelaide Hills, which is a good six months of the year. People are looking for something heavier and meatier on tap.
“[Our focus will be on] local or providence-driven ingredients and different techniques.”
Sullivan said the team would be brewing with a 500-litre kettle and eight fermenters.
“It’s not a huge scale brewery, but that will keep us going, we will probably brew three to four days a week to begin with, but there’s room to grow and expand.
“I’m nervous because of the journey we’ve had with Udder Delights, scaling up a factor, I know you have to scale and do volumes, and at this scale we don’t want to be huge.
“The cellar door sales and local pubs will be able to access limited keg runs, pubs around will want a keg here and there, and we’ll service local hotels and bottleshops, but really it will be strictly cellar door.
“Cheesemaking has given me OCD and mindset of perfectionism, I want to focus on low quantities and high quality – I don’t think the industry needs any more average beer.”
In the meantime, Cook and Sullivan have been working on smaller pilot batches.
“We’ve been doing some small scale brewing in the brewshed now, we’ve only been using 60 litre Grainfathers, just honing in and perfecting the recipes. Then we will bring in a small canning machine to do printed cans with a small labelling machine, once we’ve identified the 12 different beers we will start with.”
As part of the project, Grunthal Brewery applied for and received a Tourism Industry Development Fund grant from the South Australian government, a hot topic for brewers as we see increasing numbers going for manufacturing, tourism and modernisation funds at both state and federal level.
“We were asked to apply for some funding, and basically you could ask for 30 per cent of your investment costs,” explained Sullivan.
He said that as with the majority of grants, it was an onerous but worthwhile process in determining costs and return on investment.
“In hindsight I really appreciate going through the rigorous reporting and the quotes we had to get and the detailed business plan we had to do.
“If you aren’t obligated then I’m not sure how well everyone would do their homework and then things could go pear-shaped.
“Before we were even able to talk about money we needed to submit a plan, including cashflow projections, budget forecast, everything we were going to buy we needed quotes for.
“Every dollar had to match everything you asked for. It’s a logistical nightmare, but I’m grateful we were made accountable, and good thing we’re very organised people.
“And now we just follow the recipe.”
Scaling a business
Interestingly, the Sullivans were faced with a very similar situation as many brewers are being faced with when it comes to scale, and have learnt from their experiences for their new project.
“Four years ago we sold 90 per cent in Udder Delights to a Japanese listed company, Megmilk Snow Brand. We retained a share of Udder Delights but the speed the business was growing at – of 30-40 per cent every year – and to service our national operations and customer base, we were putting in so much money year-on-year. It required millions, you can imagine the burden.
“We wanted to get on with running the business and not stressing about losing our house.
“So we made the decision to go big and bring in partners that were heavily backed. They understand the way that we do business, they have been an excellent support for us and remotely allow us to get on and do what we do best.”
Udder Delights and the Grunthal Brewery team have also been faced with the challenge of setting up during COVID, which many new breweries will be familiar with.
“We’ve been really fortunate in South Australia. In the whole time we’ve had maybe two or three [multi-day] lockdowns. That’s been nothing compared to other states and I’m grateful it’s been like that. We also had one of the wettest winters in the Adelaide Hills in a long while, which has been hard on builders, with delays with building materials and unavailability of building material which is unprecedented. We’re waiting on things and seeing price rises caused by demand right across the board – it’s increased 7 to 8 per cent just because of that unavailability.
“There’s a lot working against us, fingers crossed we won’t have any more lockdowns.”
A very real possibility for much of Australia at the minute, the ongoing pandemic-related lockdowns have highlighted the importance of domestic tourism.
“We were looking at tourism through our existing cellar door for Udder Delights and it’s very much locals and local tourists. When the vaccination rates allow borders to reopen or us to be able to get on top of COVID, we’d like to see travel bubbles as states are going to allow state travel bubbles. It will be 18 months to 2 years until we see international travellers again,” Sullivan predicted.
“But the grand scheme of things, it’s short term pain and long term gain.”
Grunthal Brewery and the Udder Delights Cellar Door will be open by January 2022.