You can count the number of independent Australian breweries in their third decade on your fingers, such is their rarity amid today's increasingly crowded field of 600-plus brewing companies. And for one of them, Holgate Brewhouse, they've arguably never been busier as they embark upon their 21st year in beer.
This week sees the Woodend brewery open their Taproom & Visitor Centre, a new space that occupies part of the major expansion that's been underway at the rear of their historic hotel home. It sits next to their recently-installed German brewhouse, which is on full view amid the walls of glass and polished wood, and comes with a contemporary look and feel that contrasts with the traditional English leanings of the pub on the other side of the brewery.
The Taproom, which opened yesterday (November 11), represents another major milestone in Paul and Tash Holgate's grand plan, one that was started in earnest around five years ago and has been supported by the Victorian State Government via a major grant.
"It's fantastic, and we're really happy, but there's also part of us that feels it's about bloody time as it's two years overdue," says Tash of the opening. "It's quite a large project, especially for a small business like ours in regional Victoria, when you have to still keep the retail and the brewery side of the business going at the same time."
While they'd intended to reach this stage by 2017, various unforeseen delays pushed the project back, but now it's open they hope it will bring something new not just to what they offer, but also to their part of regional Victoria.
"Some of the wineries have cellar doors, but there's nothing like this in the middle of a town where people have the chance to taste from a few producers," Tash says. "It's something to help drive tourism in regional Victoria – to get people out of Melbourne and into regional Victoria – and also to help create more jobs."
She launched Holgate with husband Paul back in 1999. Initially, they brewed at the rear of their house before taking over Woodend's Keatings Hotel. While there have been other expansions over the years – not least to their family, with both children now helping out part-time within the business – the project they've undertaken in recent years has been their most ambitious.
What was previously open space at the rear of the hotel is now home to a vast building with their state-of-the-art Braukon brewhouse and a growing number of tanks and barrels sitting in one side and the Taproom in the other. With a successful crowdfunding campaign completed last month, they now plan to install a canning line and complete the construction of offices and a walkway over the brewery that will link the two public sides of the operation.
"We didn't want to copy what we've got in the hotel," Tash says of the Taproom. "People can come and have a taste of our beers and other local beverages – ciders, gin, local wines – and buy takeaways, and we're doing platters of food for people to snack on. But if anyone's after a proper meal or want to sit down for a few hours then the hotel is the best spot."
As for reaching their "Double Decade" – the name given to a series of special brews released for their anniversary – as an independent brewery, she says: "Things like the crowdfunding and the support we've had from everyone has been fantastic. There are a lot of people that want to support independence and keeping things local.
"It was great having some of the older staff and previous brewers and locals here [when they held their 20th anniversary celebrations]. A lot of people said afterwards that they hadn't realised what we'd done on the beer side of things over the years.
"I suppose having a milestone like that makes you pause and have that sort of reflection."
Although, with a canning line to install, a walkway to build and tanks to fill, we doubt the pause has lasted too long.
The Holgate Taproom & Visitor Centre is open seven days a week from 11am to 5pm.
And, if you're reading this in Sydney in time, you can hear more about the Holgate story and taste their beers at the Aussie Beer Club on Wednesday, November 13 – details here.
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