Sydney's Redoak Brewery on top of the world

Redoak brewer David Hollyoak with sisters Janet and Helen at their pub in Sydney's CBD.
Redoak brewer David Hollyoak with sisters Janet and Helen at their pub in Sydney's CBD. Photo: James Brickwood

In the space of 2½ weeks last month, a small Sydney brewery won three top international trophies, competing against more than 700 rigorously selected beers from around the world, and was named champion for bottled beer at this year's Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show.

Redoak Brewery, which makes its beers in Camden and celebrates its 10th birthday on Wednesday at its CBD beer cafe, won World's Best Stout/Porter with its Baltic Porter, and World's Best Flavoured Beer with its Special Reserve at the World Beer Awards in Britain. This followed closely on the heels of being declared supreme champion at the International Beer Challenge, also held in Britain, for the second year in a row. This year's champ is a wild-fermented beer, Chateau Sour, that uses the natural yeast present in the air for fermentation.

The wins have brought attention from around the world, with 20 countries keen to import Redoak's beers. Master brewer David Hollyoak, who founded the company in 2004 with his sisters, Janet and Helen, plans to start exporting in six to eight months, which he hopes will boost the small business's finances.

In Australia, the tax on a case of Redoak's Special Reserve is $40. In the US, it is 90¢. Hollyoak has spent a decade lobbying the Australian government to lower local beer taxes in line with the wine industry, which pays far less in tax than small craft brewers. "The end goal is parity with the rest of the world," he says. 

As chairman of the Australian Real Craft Brewers Association, Hollyoak represents small breweries around the country. When he started Redoak, he estimates there were about 12 small independent breweries in Australia. Now there are about 150.

Describing his champion beers, he says the Special Reserve, made from barley and aged in oak for two years, is like a cross between cognac and Spanish sherry. The Baltic Porter, based on a beer made in 1952 he stumbled across in Poland, tastes like "a triple chocolate mud cake in a glass".

He has two new brews ready for Wednesday's birthday party: a German-style dark lager called Icebreaker, which involves freezing the beer during its conditioning stage, and a Belgian IPA in honour of his Belgian wife.

Hollyoak, who started brewing ginger beer at 14 and worked as a civil engineer before starting Redoak, can't name his preferred beer. "Whatever I'm drinking is my favourite."



Trophy for World's Best Flavoured Beer, World Beer Awards, Britain - Special Reserve. A 12 per cent wood-aged barley wine (made from grains, not grapes) conditioned in oak for more than two years. Tastes like a fortified wine.

Trophy for World's Best Stout/Porter, World Beer Awards, Britain - Redoak Baltic Porter. An old beer style dating back to the 1700s when it was first brewed for Catherine the Great as a gift to the royal court of Russia. Tastes like mud cake in a glass.

Supreme Champion, International Beer Challenge, Britain - Chateau Sour. An emerging beer style in Australia that dates back centuries in Europe, surprisingly refreshing with great depth of flavour. Tastes like fruit compote. 

Champion Bottled Beer, 2014 Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show, Royal Agricultural Society - Chateau Sour