It seemed only a matter of time before the local craft beer scene began to catch up, and after what some may consider a slow start, beer appreciators are increasingly spoilt for choice.

Established local operations Hawke’s Bay Independent Breweries (HBIB) and Roosters Brew House were joined by Zeelandt Brewery in 2012, and Fat Monk Brewing Co. a year later. More recently Brave Brewing Company has hit the market along with Havelock North-based Giant Brewing Co. In the very near future another two brands will join the Hawke’s Bay brewing fraternity: Sneaky Brewing Co. and Godsown Brewery.

Whereas previously Hawke’s Bay could be considered an outlier from brewing centres such as Wellington and Nelson, the recent emergence of these new players gives credence to the claim that the Bay is a nascent beer destination in its own right.

Arts and craft

In some ways the brewers we spoke to consider the term ‘craft beer’ outdated, or at the least, lacking in nuance. They felt it was useful in times past to help consumers distinguish between industrially-brewed lagers and those crafted by smaller boutique breweries.

Based on this definition, all breweries in Hawke’s Bay can be considered craft, even though they range in size from Giant’s small pilot brewery to an output of more than 650,000 litres a year at HBIB.

In a wider sense, craft breweries can be defined by a focus on flavour and authenticity. Many craft brewers have experienced a beer epiphany, a moment when they discovered that beer could taste different to the sweet brown draught or generic green bottle lager that they were raised on. From this perspective, brewers are often motivated by a desire to share this discovery with others, with less emphasis on marketing and more on the beer itself.

Speaking of authenticity, a word about faux-craft. As the name implies, faux or fake craft is the name given to the attempts of the corporate brewers to pass off their sub-brands as originating from independent and seemingly small-scale breweries. While in the end a beer should stand or fall on its own quality, would you trust a beer that intentionally misleads you about its origin and ownership?

Making the journey

For many craft brewers, their personal beer epiphany naturally leads to experimentation with making beer at home. Some readers will recall a similar experience, though few will likely have produced a beer that they considered superior to their favourite beer at the time. Even fewer will have taken out the champion brewer award at the SOBA New Zealand Homebrew Competition, as did Matt Smith of Brave in 2013.

Matt & Gemma from Brave Brewery

Chris Ormond of Giant and Godfrey Quemeneur of Godsown are brewers who followed a similar path, producing beers of increasing quality at home before making the leap of faith to commercial production.

Some others serve time at existing commercial breweries before going out on their own. Chris Barber of Zeelandt is one local brewer with a varied industry background. After working at breweries in the UK, where he also completed a Bachelor in Brewing Technology, he became assistant brewer at Hallertau in west Auckland.

Chris Willis, one half of Sneaky Brewing, has collected commercial brewing experience at Hawke’s Bay’s pioneering Limburg Brewery, Roosters and in the US. He and partner Matt Searle will launch their brand very soon.

Spreading the gospel

One challenge that all low-volume breweries face is securing tap space at bars that are contracted to one of the dominant corporate brewers. As Matt Smith says: “Unfortunately many Hawke’s Bay bars still have tied tap contracts with large breweries which is a challenge for local brewers. We can change that however if enough of us demand better variety and better beer.”

Chris Ormond from Giant Brewing Co

Having said that, as Chris Ormond tells us: “It’s great to see more and more bars and cafes widening their range beyond mainstream lagers and ales”.

For some, the problem of securing distribution can be overcome through vertical integration, or what is commonly known as ‘opening a pub’, or even just an off-licence. Chris Harrison at Roosters took this route, and perhaps as a result seems less focused on securing distribution far and wide. HBIB’s brews are available from The Filter Room in Meeanee, although 90% of the brewery’s product is sold outside the Bay in other cities across the North Island. Again, the prevalence of big brewery contracts is the barrier to local sales.

Fat Monk shares a cellar door with Abbey Cellars on Maraekakaho Road, whilst flagons can be purchased from the Zeelandt brewery on Thursdays and Fridays from one to six. Godsown has perhaps the most interesting project underway, with plans to develop their quarter-acre hop field into a cellar door and eventually a fully operational brew pub. Brave can also see a move to on-premise sometime in the future.

Just one fix

For those in need of immediate succour, however, there are few bars that stand out as destination drinking holes for the beer curious.

One bar that has fully thrown off the shackles of a corporate contract is the Westshore Beach Inn. Proprietor Jeremy Bayliss regularly features beers from some of New Zealand’s most beloved brands, including Garage Project, Liberty, Panhead, ParrotDog, Renaissance and Tuatara.

Those searching for a decent beer selection in Hastings should head to Common Room, where Gerard Barron fills a small space with an impressive selection of bottled beers backed up by a couple of taps offering Zeelandt Pale Ale and Helles by the glass.

Another option for those wanting to expand their beer-tasting repertoire is Beer Appreciation Day, a small-scale festival first held in Hawke’s Bay in 2011. At that time accessing standout brews from New Zealand and beyond was not easy for Bay beer aficionados.

Held at Havelock North’s Duart House in March, the event had previously focused on bringing exceptional beers to Hawke’s Bay from New Zealand and beyond. The recent development of the local brewing community has enabled this year’s format to also act as a showcase for the Bay’s new and emerging brands.

Given the success of events such as Wellington’s Beervana and Nelson’s Marchfest, event organisers feel that the time is now ripe to start marketing the Bay as a beer tourist destination.

Bright Star at Night

So what will the future hold for beer in the Bay? Though each has their own ambitions for the future, all the Bay’s current crop of beer makers seem confident that they are here to stay.

Given the quality and diversity of their products, and the varied nature of their future plans, it seems that things can only get better for Hawke’s Bay’s growing band of beer appreciators.

The last word goes to Zeelandt’s Chris Barber: “The local support has been great so far but it is now time for all hospitality to get behind their local brewers. From McLean Park to BA5 events, think beer, think local.”

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