Is there a greater enigma in the Australian beer world than Redoak? The Sydney-based brewery has been creating award-winning beers and exploring rare styles of brewing since 2004 while its Boutique Beer Cafe in Clarence Street is one of the finest places in the city to explore the marriage of beer and food. What's more, its co-founder and head brewer, David Hollyoak, is a passionate and often outspoken advocate for independent Australian brewers and the founder of the Australian Real Craft Brewers Association (ARCBA).
Despite this, he and sister Janet have managed to maintain a cloak of mystery around the business that has spawned all manner of colourful stories, rumours and beer world myths. It's an intriguing and beguiling situation; even after six hours spent in their company one evening, sampling one trophy-winning beer after another alongside a procession of their kitchen's excellent creations, the Crafty Pint team left little the wiser as to what exactly lies behind the veil - and rather amused by our failure to pierce it.
David has allowed no one into his brewery a short drive from the city since its very earliest days, the result he says of inviting a group posing as home brewers inside only to come to believe they were on a spying mission from one of the majors. He tells staff what he thinks they need to know about the beers and nothing more. Essentially, he and Janet leave the beers - and their venue - to do the talking.
Thankfully, it's a job the beers in particular perform rather impressively. Since starting out, Redoak beers have collected the most illustrious of awards all over the globe with a regularity bordering on the incredible. In 2013 alone, its Special Reserve was named Supreme Champion at the International Beer Challenge in the UK (alongside five golds for the brewery at the competition), picked up two golds at the European Beer Star in Germany then snagged two World's Best titles at the World Beer Cup for its Blackberry Lambic and Wee Heavy.
What those awards also highlight is the vast range of beers, ciders and perries brewed by David. Having started out brewing alcoholic ginger beer aged just 14 at his family's farm, there's little he hasn't turned his hand to, from a wide range of sours and barrel-aged beers to fruit and honey ales, strong Belgian styles and multi-layered malty treats. What's certain is that you'll rarely, if ever, find the same lineup of beers on tap on two visits to the Cafe - and that's before you even delve into the bottle and reserve list.
As for the Boutique Beer Cafe, it's one of the classiest joints in which you'll find craft beer anywhere in Australia. Run by a team that's headed up by staff so loyal they've been there longer than most Sydney restaurants survive, inside you'll find wood-clad tanks, tables made by their father from 700-year-old Jarrah wood that are decorated with Italian mosaic tiles, and a room whose walls are covered in giant photos of hops. Although the occasional Redoak beer can be found in bottle or on tap elsewhere, for the most part this is where you need to head and the only place to indulge in the full Redoak experience.
As for whether anyone will ever get to see the inside of the brewery, well, it could happen. David says that once all tap contracts in Australia have been abolished he'll open the doors. First allowed through them will be John Stallwood, founder of WA's Nail Brewing, so they can brew a beer together. And surely that tantalising prospect is reason enough for the ACCC to come down on the side of the little guys.
NB The list of beers below represents the most frequently brewed beers from the Redoak range and a few specials. You'll find many more – often brewed in tiny batches – available at the Cafe.