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“It’s been a strange and savage journey,” says Willie Simpson as he marks five years at the helm of Seven Sheds. It’s one that’s seen him move from home brewer to commercial brewer and, as of this year, hang up his typewriter after 19 years as the Sydney Morning Herald’s beer writer too.
From the hop farm, cellar door and erstwhile meadery (of which more later) he and partner Catherine Stark set up in Railton, in Northwest Tasmania, he has sent out 100 per cent peat smoked beers, melomels, a spiced Willie Warmer and even a beer that recreated a historic sea journey into the world. And it sounds like they’re just hitting their straps, with 5,000 people coming through the cellar door each year.
“It feels like five years compressed in a third of that time,” he says. “I guess that’s why we celebrate these milestones. It’s been a funny one for us because we’ve been gradually shedding day jobs. We had a regional business plan which said that the business should be supporting us with some sort of full-time income by year three. That pretty much happened so it’s going to sound like this has all been carefully planned. A lot of people think that starting the brewery was a cunning plan that I’d had for years and years [but it wasn’t].”
Today, pretty much every drop of his beer is sold in Tasmania, other than that ordered direct from the brewery online. They once felt that it was crucial to sell beer in Melbourne (it’s actually easier for them to get beer to Melbourne via Devonport than it is to deliver to Hobart), but when that proved an unsatisfactory arrangement they returned to a local focus that has paid off.
“[When we started] I wouldn’t have thought that we would have had 10 tap points around Tasmania,” says Willie. “We should produce 40,000 litres this calendar year and I’m confident I can sell all of that in Tasmania.
“Hobart is going ahead in leaps and bounds; we’ve got four taps in Salamanca now. Alchemy in Launceston has a great range of Tassie beer too. The Kentish Ale is on tap in Queenstown and we’re doing a keg a week over summer at the Mole Creek pub.”
In recent months, there have been some upgrades to the brewery (located in the largest of the seven sheds on his home plot) that allow for increased batch length and shorter brew days – but not a desire to get any bigger.
“We’re at the stage where this little, artisan brewery has reached saturation point,” he says, admitting they considered more tank space and increased production but concluding that “it’s important to remind ourselves that we are artisans. When we go to festivals, I relate more to those other stallholders that are cheese producers or produce smoked salmon or lettuce than the larger microbreweries.”
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