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Phil Sexton returns to Matilda Bay

Brewer Phil Sexton at the Giant Steps in Healesville.

By Andy Young, TheShout

Australian craft beer pioneer Phil Sexton is going back to where it all began, returning to Matilda Bay, the brewery he co-founded more than 35 years ago.

Matilda Bay was Australia’s original craft brewery and was fully acquired by Carlton and United Breweries in 1990. Sexton left not long after that takeover and has established himself as a well-regarded winemaker, however he told TheShout that an element of unfinished business and the opportunity to revive Matilda Bay saw him take the opportunity to work in partnership with CUB.

“I’ve got a son who’s been doing some craft brewery work around the world, and I was talking to him about Matilda Bay, and I’ve always had a good relationship with the CUB guys. So when I chatted with them and raised the idea with them, they just said ‘come to dinner’.

“I talked to them about this, they told me how they felt about Matilda Bay and it’s an incredibly important business to them, the history of it.

“And it’s absolutely an important business to me. For me it has been a fabulous story; it did start an industry but then it lost its direction in that industry, and I’ve always thought it would be pretty cool to actually get back involved with Matilda Bay and tackle unfinished business.”

He added that when talking to CUB about the brewery and the plans the team there said “we are just the custodians of Matilda Bay, we don’t consider ourselves the owners”. That was something that really resonated with Sexton.

“I loved that,” he told TheShout, “because you are the custodian of a story, a real story that is a piece of history.”

“Restoring Matilda Bay to its rightful place as Australia’s leading craft beer is unfinished business for me,” Sexton said. “I want to grow craft beer by showing people how special good small batch beer can be.

“I founded Matilda Bay in 1983 to give drinkers beautiful craft beer. And as the original craft brewery, it still has a special spot in the consciousness of Aussie beer lovers. It’s the right label to finish what I started and re-affirm what artisanal brewing should stand for: sessionable, flavourful beers that stand the test of time.”

The brewery will be in Healesville in the Yarra Valley, an hour east of Melbourne, and will have a pub attached. It will exclusively develop and brew a new Matilda Bay range and some Matilda Bay classics such as Redback and Dogbolter.

Speaking about the new range, Sexton told TheShout that for him, brewing is all about using the proper materials in the correct way and in particular the German purity laws that beer is made using the four ingredients of water, malt, yeast and hops.

“I think we’ve got to focus on getting back to great beer and what’s great beer, well it’s a beautiful beer to drink that’s not challenging. Because the moment you start challenging people with extremes of bitterness, extremes of alcohol or extremes of sour, they are going to say ‘that’s interesting, that’s cool’ it might win a gold medal, but it is not going to have people sit there and say ‘I love drinking this, can I have another one?’.”

And while he didn’t reveal details of the new beers he did say that he will be looking at developing some oak-aged beers.

Speaking about the partnership, CUB CEO Peter Filipovic said: “Phil will oversee everything from brewery construction to brewing and marketing. He is a craft beer visionary who revolutionised Australia’s beer landscape. There is no one in the world more suited to delivering this venture than him.

“We’re meeting the changing needs of consumers by creating beautiful new beers in pristine surroundings that live up to Matilda Bay and Phil’s original vision. We couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity and we know beer drinkers will love it.”

The Matilda Bay brewery and pub will be built on the site currently occupied by Giant Steps winery and restaurant, which is owned by Phil. Construction is expected to start in coming weeks and the brewery is expected to be operational by the end of the year. More than 20 new jobs will be created.

The current Giant Steps site will close Sunday. Tasting will re-open immediately at a new site in Healesville and the winery will re-open soon, with more details to be announced in coming months.

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