One of the country's longest-established breweries could be yours as Red Hill founders Karen and Dave Golding have today put their Mornington Peninsula brewery on the market. The decision comes just shy of 18 years after they poured their first beers and almost a quarter century on from their earliest discussions about starting a brewery.
Red Hill Brewery is one of a number of Victorian breweries that have helped build the state's craft beer community, launching at a time when people more commonly referred to microbreweries instead of craft breweries, and to beers as "boutique" rather than craft.
Predated in the state by only a handful of existing operations, including Holgate Brewhouse, Grand Ridge and the now CUB/Asahi-owned Mountain Goat, they brewed their first beers around the same time as Bridge Road, Bright, Red Duck and Hargreaves Hill.
Along with their peers, they not only introduced many drinkers to new flavours and experiences – including their annual hop-picking days on the Penn – but Karen and Dave played key roles helping get industry bodies off the ground, including the Victorian Association of Microbreweries and Pink Boots Australia, which grew from the Victorian Women of Beer events, which in turn was started by Karen and a number of her mates in the then-fledgling local scene.
Speaking to The Crafty Pint about their decision to put the brewery – the brand, beers, brewery and bucolic venue and land in the heart of the Mornington Peninsula – on the market, the Goldings said it came down to one key factor: a desire after nearly 25 years to do something else before they retire.
"There's something we want to do other than the same job for the next 20 years," Karen says. "I'm not sure exactly what it is yet, but until we change up what we're doing we won't find that next opportunity or interest, whether that's going on a big trip or whatever."
With the elder of their two daughters – who spent most of their lives growing up in the house attached to the brewery – only just finishing high school, there was no chance of a family succession plan. So, after weighing up various options, from selling the business and land separately to leasing the venue to be run by a third party, they decided to exit completely and seek a clean break – while hoping new owners will build upon their legacy.
"There's still so much potential there if people want to expand," Karen says. "As we've always been so determined to have our own brewery and make our own beer and have a venue, we feel very strongly about it remaining a craft brewery. The permits are tied to it being a craft brewery, unless someone wants to turn it into their retreat.
"The best thing for us would be to see it become even better than what we have done."
Dave adds: "It's also such a local haunt. It's such a great thing to have a little brewery in Red Hill and be able to pop down."
The sale of the business is being handled by Kay & Burton, and comes at a time when there's been plenty of movement in terms of ownership and funding of brewing companies across Australia. Recent months have seen many embark on crowdfunding campaigns: last month saw inner west Sydney breweries Wayward and Batch join forces to launch the Local Drinks Collective, Good Drinks acquired Stomping Ground in August, and in June Catchment bought fellow Queensland brewery Fortitude while Adelaide-based Little Bang was taken over by an SA pub group. Just last month, Tooborac Brewery & Hotel was listed for sale too.
As they prepare to step away, the Goldings have plenty to reflect upon. We joined them for a trip down Memory Lane when they reached their ten-year milestone in 2015, and much has since followed, including a full rebrand and surviving the pandemic.
One thing that has remained constant is their love for their Imperial Stout, the beer they picked as the highlight of their first decade and which remains close to their hearts today.
"There's a few varieties now," Karen says. "There's [spiced mole version] Pancho, which is a beautiful beer and has done really well, and our beer club members got a bourbon barrel-aged version that's also absolutely beautiful. The original beer got gold at the Indies and the AIBAs this year and must have more gold medals than any other beer in Australia."
It's soon to be joined by another imperial release, this time a pilsner brewed to mark their Queensland distributor Calibre's tenth anniversary, while the Imperial Stout was their version of a beer first brewed in New Zealand by Ben Middlemiss at the time they were preparing to launch their brewery. That both beers are tied to friends in the industry is no accident, given the collegiate nature of the world for which they abandoned corporate careers.
"It goes back to 25 years ago when we were starting the business," Dave says. "We had to prove the amount of water we'd use was within the guidelines of what we could process on the property. We were sent records from breweries in Australia and New Zealand just by putting word out saying we needed support.
"That's always been a big part of what the industry has been like. The way people collaborate just doesn't happen in other industries."
As they contemplate a future enjoying the fruits of the industry from the outside looking in, I ask how they view their role within the development of the local craft beer scene.
"We see ourselves more as part of the small producers [community]," Karen says, likening their approach to beer as "more like cheese or wine or sourdough bread – not so much part of the larger brewing game. We just have a brewery that operates differently."
She cites the important role tourism has played within the Red Hill story, and their part in helping beer tourism become what it is today, as well as the way breweries like theirs can become key parts of a local community.
"We've had longevity and a reasonable lifestyle," she says, "and we're happy with that."
As is Dave about the approach they've taken to brewing.
"We've always had control over what we want to brew," he says, "other than Kaz making sure we always brew Scotch Ale. I don't like drinking sours so I don't make them."
Once a sale goes through, they'll be relinquishing that control and looking forward to new chapters for both the brewery they built and themselves.
"There's still so much more than could be done there," Karen says of the business they've run for close to two decades. "We just want to do something else with our lives before we retire. It's just time for a change."
Full details of the sale can be found here.