Craft beer origin

ONCE upon a time, a few decades back, there was a brewery in Hawke’s Bay.

A brewery — just the one — and it was called Leopard and sat on the edge of central Hastings.

It was closed, however, in the early ’90s but it did not spell the end of the art of brewing in Hawke’s Bay. This was the time of the initial spark which slowly grew into what has become known as microbreweries, or craft breweries.

Many within the industry refer to that time as the “craft beer revolution” and, in terms of what the smaller but passionately devoted breweries began turning out, it was indeed a revolution.

One which left smiles on the faces of folk who were taken to new and unique taste levels.

People began getting familiar with things called IPA and pilsners and brown porters and English reds and pale ales.

Among the first on the scene was Roosters Brew House in Hastings, which began brewing and pouring in 1994 and is still fizzing.

A year later the Hawke’s Bay Independent Brewery (Hawke’s Bay Brewing Company) based in Napier (which kicked off with the Mates line) hopped aboard and the now closed Limburg Brewery also emerged before the decade was over.

Craft beers had begun appearing from one end of the land to the other, and while Hawke’s Bay may have initially been behind the growing “revolution” it has very certainly now caught up.

According to the New Zealand Craft Beer Industry, total of sales of craft beers were up by 35 per cent over the past year, and it is estimated craft beers now account for around 15 per cent of domestic sales and consumption.

The last five years have been particularly explosive in terms of the emergence of new labels on the shelves, and the taps.

Based on sales, and the amount of people it would have likely taken to consume the beers, Luke Nicholas of Epic reckoned five years ago there would have been around 10,000 devoted craft beer imbibers.

Today he reckons it is about 100,000.

In the wake of the surge of unique and interesting varieties emerging on to the scene, Havelock North-based Giant Brewery brewer Chris Ormond summed it up pretty well saying “if you are a beer lover, you have a lot to choose from”.

So while once upon a time, just a quarter of a century ago, there was one brewery in the Bay and today the list is hovering around a dozen.

Small bar, inhouse-only breweries, medium on-site sale and commercial sale breweries and relatively large scale outfits like Zeelandt and the Hawke’s Bay Brewing Company.

And across the whole country there are 95 craft breweries on the Brewers Guild of New Zealand register, although there are scores of others which aren’t with the guild.

Some estimates notch the total number up to around 200.

In the five-year period between 2010 and 2015 brewing had “exploded” was how the guild’s chairman Bob King put it.

In that relatively short time, the number of professional brewing operations across the country had trebled.

It has continued to grow and Hawke’s Bay is strongly on the map in terms of creating fine ales and hauling in the accolades for them.

Matt Smith, who steers Brave Brewing alongside wife Gemma, started brewing in his garage in 2014 and just three years later was being called forward to receive a total of seven medals and the trophy for the Best in Class in the US Ale category at the guild’s annual awards.

“Yeah, it started out as a hobby business in the garage and it took about a year to phase out the day job — at the end of year two we’d moved into our site in Warren St.”

And things took off, to the point where the demand for the popular lines he started out with meant it was difficult to put new beers out.

“We were on the back foot a bit just trying to keep up,” he said, adding that yes, that was a good thing.

The 300-litre vat was accordingly replaced with a 1200-litre job.

Mr Smith said over the past decade people had begun to realise how fine and diverse, and tasty, beers could be.

It was more than just something that came in a green or brown bottle.

People stopping by for a tasting would try something like a fruity pale ale and be astonished.

“Because it is something new.

“We’ve also had people come in and say they weren’t really beer drinkers but they would take to it.”

He said people’s palates were getting more discerning, and that was a good thing as it raised the bar in creating a unique and fine beer.

There was also a desire to try something fresh and new, and know how it was being made and where.

“Provenance comes into it — it’s local and people like that.”

With the development of craft brewing he had seen the growing emphasis on quality and consistency.

And Hawke’s Bay was fortunate in having good water.

“We filter it of course but it is low in mineral content and that means we can play around with different mineral profiles.”

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