Unfinished Mead Business

January 17, 2020, by James Smith

Unfinished Mead Business

Another Australian brewery has been put on the market. But in the case of Tasmania's Seven Sheds it's not due to a struggling business or the need for a fresh injection of funds. As anyone who knows founders Willie Simpson and Catherine Stark might suspect, the reasons are rather more colourful.

Sure, the business – brewery, brand, recipes, cellar door, hop garden, house, smoker and associated sheds – is up for sale. But, as Willie approaches his eighth decade on the planet, he's decided there are plenty of other things he still needs to get to, while Cath has become increasingly involved in the wider community around their home in Railton in North West Tasmania, sitting on a number of boards and committees and seeing opportunities there to do more good for the region than through her limited role at the brewery. 

"Cath and I have been fantasising about life after Seven Sheds for the past couple of years," Willie says, with the couple using an independent consultant in 2019 to help them understand where they should be concentrating their focus within the business.

The result?

"I've come around to embracing other projects and half-baked ideas and a list of potential hobbies," he says.

Among them is a return to a part of Seven Sheds that's been somewhat neglected over the years. The operation's full name is Seven Sheds Brewery Meadery and Hop Garden and the mead that was a central focus at the start had been pushed to the side.

"I've separate the mead business," Willie says. "So there's unfinished mead business."


Then there were eight. The bottle on the left signifying Willie Simpson's desire to return to making mead.


That's not all, however. Far from it. There's a desire to hop into the kayak he bought ten years ago and has used twice, to fire up the oven he bought years ago and get deep into sourdough baking, and to embark on a couple of non-beer-related writing projects; Willie was Australia's foremost beer writer before turning his focus to production instead, after all.

Arguably most fascinating is something sparked by a trip to Scotland last August. While there, they learned there were good conditions for watching an upcoming meteor shower and ended up taking in the display for 45 minutes.

"Quite by coincidence, when we visited a whisky distillery we ran into John Campbell Brown, who had been Astronomer Royal For Scotland," Willie says. "A few days later I bought a copy of his book and he signed it for us as we talked about meteor showers.

"He told us August 12 was the best day – and that was the night I saw the meteor shower."

Three months later John passed away, and being someone who pays attention to the Cosmos when it's trying to get a message across, Willie is now armed with telescope and planning to spend more time studying the skies.

Returning to more worldly concerns, he says: "We just think it's a good time to list for the right reasons. We're not desperate for a quick sale. There's two new mountain bike trails here and a third will be built over winter. The dynamic of cellar door customers is changing; someone with fresher ideas could benefit from that.

"We haven't got the next generation to come and take it over like other farmgate businesses ... so really we have to sell it as a job lot."

He admits the decision to list the business and, ultimately, move into the house they built next door three years ago, one they've been running as an Airbnb, hasn't been easy. 

"The day that we hand over the keys and walk out as owners for the last time, there will be mixed emotions," he says. "But it's right to do it now. We don't want to get to the point where we're selling because of ill health.

"Unless you want to do this until you drop, you've got to sell and move into other opportunities in life."

As for the handover of the business he's nurtured over the past twelve years – one he feels has more in common with the farmgate movement than where craft beer sits today – he says: "If the new owners want me to stay on and help them transition for three months – to learn how to grow hops and smoke malt – I'm available.

"If they don't, I'm happy to go next door, make mead and look at the heavens with my telescope. Although not at the same time."

For details of the sale, head here. If you'd like to visit before Willie and Cath move next door for a life of mead, kayaks, sourdough and stargazing, you'll find them at 22 Crockers Street, Railton.

And you'll find our recent piece on Willie as part of our end-of-decade Advent Calendar series here.

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