Craft Beer College

Craft Beer College

Wellington's Friday night beer tastings are back! Join us for the first event of the new programme.

Brett and Barrels Beer Tasting with North End Brewery.

In honour of tastings past, this even will be hosted by:
- Kieran Haslett-Moore - Head Brewer at North End Brewery, and
- Geoff Griggs - International Beer Writer and Judge.

Those in the know, know that this is a great team. Those who don't, come find out.

Your ticket price includes:
- your hosts, Kieran and Geoff who will regale you with stories of all things beer
- a starter beer on arrival to get you settled
- 6 North End specialty beers with wild yeasts, brett and from the barrel, and
- light snacks from the Ruyi Room / Mr Go's talented team.

There's also the chance to win a ticket to Beervana!

Please note our Craft Beer College T&Cs, especially in relation to contact tracing. They can be found here:

We will require the name and contact details of each attendee, and reserve the right to refuse entry to anyone unwell.

Join us for fun times and funky beers.

Pencil in:
- Thursday 15 October for a tasting with The Godfather of beer - Richard Emerson of Emerson's Brewery
- Friday 13 November for a tasting with Brew Jesus - Kelly Ryan of Fork Brewing

Tuesday, 09 April 2019 08:11

Selling the delicious

It may be a surprise to some people that Garage Project employs sales staff but, indeed, it does. Hannah White is their sales representative across the South Island and Wellington region. She moved into the role from a job at the cellar door.

Hannah visits supermarkets and bottle shops, and restaurants and bars around the regions. But, she’s probably familiar to most from all the events she coordinates and runs. Recently, there’s been the Milk Bar at Ma Masion in Akaroa and Pomeroy’s in Christchurch. And, there’s always something new and fun in the pipeline…(keep your eye out on their events page on BookFace).

Her job takes Hannah out of her home base in Wellington on a regular basis. The travel can be hard work but it is balanced by her love of meeting and knowing people across the regions. Hannah comments that she’s got mates everywhere now. Work gives her the opportunity to catch up with them and to see the country. If she’s somewhere new, she can take advantage of it and see the sites.

Although Hannah does miss the comfort of home, and will often get back to Wellington and take time to relax on the couch like the best of us, it seems she has had slightly itchy feet for a while! She spent time in South East Asia and Australia before moving to New Zealand, and then spent a year and a half on the South Island before moving to Wellington.

When she first arrived, Hannah volunteered in the community gardens in Christchurch; helping re-building both the community and the gardens after the quakes. She comments that, “they probably didn’t really need backpackers in the city” when she arrived but, she definitely wasn’t there to gawk. She was there to help. There’s a streak of community service running through Hannah’s work and volunteer experiences. And, there’s a love of gardening. Our conversation strays into permaculture here and there. She’s looking for a new flat with room to put in a vege patch (although I have suggested she take over mine more than once)!

Hannah came to New Zealand and into our beer scene via the highlands in Scotland and Glasgow. She spent her early working years running music venues. It was, “quite rock and roll” but she comments that, “eventually I needed a break”. That came via a move into the disability sector, supporting people with learning disabilities in gaining education and skills. To top up her income – it seems that disability support is under-valued everywhere - she also had a part time job at a German beer hall.

Hannah, like so many of us, fell in love with beer by drinking Weihenstephaner fresh off tap and sampling all the European styles the bar had available – Belgian beers were a key feature. This is when, as she describes it, she developed “a taste for the delicious”! These days, some of her favourites include the 8 Wired Cucumber Hippy Berliner and Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch Ale. Maybe it’s her Scottish heritage, but Hannah comments that she likes a malty drop.

Hannah got her first job, selling “the delicious” for Garage Project, when she was still managing Aro Café, just next door to the brewery. The lads – Pete, Jos and Ian – would come in for coffee (long blacks, if you’re interested). They had good banter and eventually roped Hannah into helping them out. She worked Beervana and at the cellar door from time to time. And then, when she quit her job at the café to take a trip home to Scotland, she returned to work for them full-time. This was the time where she really “fell in love with the scene”. She’s got gorgeous stories of locals coming in to play guitar and serenade her in the evenings while she was busy with after work, cellar door sales.

The move from cellar door into her sales rep role came about when Hannah noticed an ever-increasing number of restaurant and bar managers from Wellington coming in, asking what was new. Garage was going through massive growth, and everyone was looking to get them on tap or in (at the time) the bottle. That was five or so years ago. She identified a need to establish some sales support for the small brewery and cellar door team – there was only about seven of them at the time. They were all crazy busy (and remain so even though there’s a staff of around 70 these days).

Wellington restaurant and bar sales might have been easy then – with all the walk ups - but the supermarket and bottle shop sales were, and remain, a challenge. Hannah reflects on how little space there is for beer on the shelves (especially chilled space) and how much competition there is. Not that she sees it as a bad thing. Like most people that we’ve spoken to, she’s not convinced that we’ve reached saturation point yet – or that there’s any issues with the expanding contract brand market. She also reflects on some of the challenges she initially had breaking down that old barrier of “women in beer”.

While things have mostly changed for the better, in the early days some customers were hesitant to engage as they were not used to a women sales rep in beer (one assumes this might have been different in wine – who knows). I asked about how Hannah overcame this, and if her approach was different or considered as she was representing her employer. She comments that she’s not a very confrontational person – even with her Scottish roots – which must help, both professionally and personally. She simply remained persistent and polite in her engagements. And, she used the challenges as opportunities to educate, and to demonstrate her beer knowledge. Hannah tells me of working through the, “no such thing as a man’s beer and a girl’s beer” with more than one customer to help break down the stereotypes. Alongside this, she helped break them by being herself.

Hannah’s beer knowledge is something she should be proud of – even if she might not frame it this way herself! When we met, she’s just finished an in-house tasting and evaluation afternoon – a regular Friday occurrence. And, it’s more than just a way to kick off beer o’clock. It’s one of the mechanisms used by Garage Project to undertake quality analysis of the beer. Hannah comments that the team take notes to feed back to the brewery team, so there’s a focus on constant improvement - it’s definitely harder that it sounds. You have to know beer and the beers you’re tasting. For this reason, the tasting and evaluation sessions are also a way of Garage Project ensuring that that their staff constantly build their skills and know what they’re selling. This is necessary, as they’re so regularly pushing the boundaries.

Hannah is also one of a handful of Certified Cicerones® having studied and sat the exam with a group of her Garage Project colleagues last year. She didn’t pass the first time – the exam is much harder that most people think - but got through the second time around. She enjoyed the discipline of study and one of the things she’s looking forward to is continuing to expand her knowledge of beer. She’s also looking forward to the opportunities that might come from Hāpi Hop Research Centre– something that’s been mentioned by quite a few people we’ve chatted to recently. She sees it as providing the potential to expand the growing region for hops in New Zealand. She’s also excited about the improvements in the quality of beer she’s seen across New Zealand and comments that “she’s riding the wave”…let’s hope it’s a tidal wave!

NB: Steph will be running the Cicerone® exam in New Zealand this year - Full disclosure of an interest.


Tuesday, 26 March 2019 16:43

It's Choice Bro

Like many of our brewers, Kerry Gray, Head Brewer of Choice Bros Brewery, found his true love of beer while travelling in the United Kingdom and Europe. He drank English cask ales, refined German lagers and an amazing range of Belgian beers. And, like many, when he came home, the local selection of New Zealand draughts and lagers no longer satisfied his tastes.

Kerry’s return to New Zealand coincided with the craft beer scene really starting to kick off. Tuatara Brewing had established itself in Wellington – their spicy, dry Ardennes was one of his favourite beers. Hashigo Zake had not long opened and was shipping in fresh American imports and hosting the Garage Project 24/24.

When he got home, Kerry didn’t have a job, or a lot of money, but he did have a $100 voucher from Work and Income as part of his job starter allowance. While he could not buy alcohol with the voucher, he could buy a Coopers Homebrew kit for $99.99 at Pak and Save! So, Kerry started making his own and hanging out with the Homebrew Club at Hashigo. It has quite the pedigree. Kerry now part-owns and brews at Choice Bros, Sam Whitney is part owner and Head Brewer at Heyday, Shiggy Takagi part owns and brews at Funk Estate, Brayden Rawlinson is Head Brewer at Tuatara and Reuben Moore, is Head Brewer at Gorgeous Brewery in the United Kingdom. And, that’s just a few of the group’s alumni!

Kerry met the Homebrew Club when he decided to enter the Wellington In A Pint competition run by Clemenger BBDO. Competitors had to design and homebrew a beer that was then judged by a group of industry people and semi-celebrities. He got through to the finals and was hanging out with the other competitors who asked about his beer. He explained it was a mixture of light and dark extract, with some coffee, and they reacted with some surprise.

His competitors were all-grain brewers – something Kerry admits he knew nothing about at the time – but moved on to for his very next brew. He pulled together a new brewing kit from some trusty components of the Coopers kit he still has at home and other bits and pieces bought for $400. That second kit remains the test kit at the new Choice Bros brewing tucked down the back – but lit up in disco lights - at Husk on Ghunzee St.

Kerry didn’t win the BBDO competition, but Choice Bros, and then Husk, came into existence as his work colleague at the time, and now business partner, Mike Pullin was convinced he could commercially make and sell beer.

Kerry would take homebrew to work and swap it for some of Mike’s Karamu Coffee. He’d also take beer into to Rogue and Vagabond, where owner Gwil would make him wait at the bar while he poured out glasses for the locals to provide feedback. They’re still mates, and the sharing of beer and giving of feedback is one of the things that Kerry credits for the quality of Wellington’s brewers and beers. Everyone’s happy to provide feedback and advice, and to explore ideas. He’s spent lots of time with the team at Garage Project as they share his interest in pushing boundaries – both with adjuncts and techniques. Kerry used to be a self-described “fan-boy” but he now considers them colleagues and friends.

Kerry and Mike stayed in touch when he moved from his furniture sales job (before brewing, Kerry had a retail management and sales background) and started work at Te Aro Brewing. The new job gave him the opportunity to brew commercially and to extend his networks. And, he started looking to contract brew under the Choice Bros moniker. The name came about from people’s reaction to his beer. They’d say, “choice bro” as a thanks for the free beer, or “choice bro” when asked if they liked it. While he might not choose the name again it does reflect the fun he was having at the time.

Kerry chuckles as he remembers asking Mike Neilson from Panhead Custom Ales if he would do a brew for him. Kerry admired Mike’s Jonny Octane and wanted him as the brewer for a Red IPA he had conceived. Mike told him to F-Off but came around when Kerry threatened to ask Jo Wood from Liberty Brewing to brew it instead! The rivalry and friendship is strong between those two! Choice Bros was also brewed at Townshend, Kereru and North End before Husk opened and that beer which went on to win a Trophy at the New Zealand Brewer’s Guild Awards in 2016 as Reet Petite.

Reet Petite is a six percent red IPA with a deep burnished hue and a slight “hot” spiced aroma. The mouthfeel is rounded with a touch of tickle from the ginger on the back of the palate. But, it’s not always overt in flavour. It seems to reflect the changing seasons and the strength of the product that goes into it. There’s sometimes a big ginger hit. Other times, it is more subtle – but the strength of the base beer carries it through regardless – it’s a delicious drop.

Kerry is very relaxed about contract brewing. He’s in discussions about doing some more this year, to get some of his beers canned and out of the “keg only” market. Owning a brewery only came about when Mike made him a serious offer. Mike had always owned cafes but wanted a bar as well. He wanted to combine a café and coffee, and a bar and beer. He found the space that became Husk about 18 months before the roastery and brewery eventually opened. And, both of them worked hard to pull it together. Kerry was, in effect, the second builder on-site.

“Husk” is inspired by the husk around a coffee bean and a grain of barley. Kerry reflects that it is a complex business – and the only one like it in the southern hemisphere that he knows of. They open early at 8am for the breakfast and brunch crowd, closing late in the evening post dinner drinks. Luckily, he reckons that while Mike and him are very different, they complement each other and are “both very chill”! They’re soon to have Nick Van Harlem, ex-Malthouse, Goldings Free Dive and Shepherd, come join them as General Manager. Kerry’s got some ideas he’s keen they work to implement which he reflects is all part of “still figuring shit out”. He notes that this year was only their second, and there’s always adjustments and improvements to be made.

Another project Kerry is keen to continue work on is Echoes. It is, in effect, his second brand. It’s a name that he’s more thoughtfully considered – with multiple meanings linked together to reflect what he is trying to do. It’s a slow burn producing barrel-aged beers and wines.

The first Echoes was the Lines Begin to Blur Rose, made in the Pet-Nat or Pétillant Naturel style. It might be a “new” thing in the New Zealand market but it’s a way of making fizz that has long existed – essentially by bottle finishing and fermenting to create carbon dioxide. When fresh, there was a shed tonne of strawberries. Over time, they seem to be slowly being transformed to leave lingering red fruit character in the glass which is otherwise spritzy and dry. It’s well worth trying but you’ll need to get in quick. It was a limited batch, as all offerings will be under the Echoes label.

Kerry’s got a Tripel that he’s looking to bottle under Echoes shortly. It’s been aged for three years in barrel. And, there’s a Barley Wine aged in Whisky barrels he hopes to have ready for when the weather turns for autumn. All-in-all, there are about 7,500 litres in the barrels that line the entry to Husk. Including red Saisons and a lager inoculated with wild yeasts. What Kerry hasn’t quite figured out yet is how to get the beer from barrel to bottle. It might simply happen in the alleyway overnight. It’s something the beer community can look forward to along with Kerry.

Although often commenting about how busy he is, Kerry doesn’t seem to be able to slow down or stop! He’s spent some time helping with a hemp harvest and at Dog Point Vineyard during their harvest in recent weeks. They’ve not quite trusted him with the grapes, but he’s been doing cellar work and dabbling about with their wine-makers. Ever the experimentalist, Kerry’s excited about the opportunities that hemp has to offering brewing and beer. He thinks it will provide a way to make a rounded, hazy IPA without the concern of the yeast turning or the need to use other alternatives like pectin which is being explored in the US.

Kerry’s also excited about the opportunities that the Hāpi Hop Research Centre venture can bring to New Zealand hops along with the breweries that have been invited to the Hāpi Beer Festival and Symposium. Here’s hoping there’s enough excitement to keep Kerry in Wellington, and in beer in the near future! The wine industry may be bec

I am often being asked to, “tell me about that new Whistling Sisters place”. So, here you go. I spent some time chatting with Bede Roe (part-owner and sales person) and Dale Gould (head brewer) for this piece. It was great fun. Bede has an infectious energy when talking about the brewery and its background, and the vision for the future.

It is also great fun visiting Whistling Sisters on our Craft Beer College tours. We go “behind the scenes” and into the brewery for a look-around. And, a nice brewery it is indeed. It was designed and engineered in Nelson, making it one of the few, if not the only, New Zealand made breweries in Central Wellington. Despite Nelson being close to home, it took a long time to build.

The 2016 Kaikoura earthquake had an impact. The brewery and restaurant building was in the design and construction phase. When the quake struck, the consulting engineers were called away to prioritise the assessment and remediation of existing, occupied buildings. It was a bit of a set back, along with the imposition (by the local council) of the $16,000 extractor on the brewing kettle. Steam is now collected and condensed to go down the drain rather than being vented outside. But, on the bright side (!), they’re looking at ways it can be recycled and re-used.

The mention of looking on the bright side is a nice little segue into the title of this piece, and the background to the brewery and its restaurant – The Fermentery. It might surprise some people. Even though the story is on their website, there’s been criticism of the name due to it being owned and run, primarily, by two men; Bede and his business colleague Russel Scott. Russel has shares in the brewery and owns the restaurant. People might not see the commitment, and time, put in by Bede’s wife, Angie, when they say this.

The Whistling Sisters name is painfully close to Russel and the Scott family’s hearts. This is one of the reasons none of the team make a big deal about it (even though, arguably, they should). Russel and his wife Elwyn, sadly lost a beloved daughter – Karen Louisa – to secondary breast cancer in 2015.

As her cancer progressed Karen Louisa took a passionate interest in work to find a cure and to support women with the deadly disease. The family wanted to honour her legacy, setting up the Karen Louisa Foundation with a focus on generating funding to provide direct assistance in supporting patients with secondary breast cancer. The Scott family used their networks, and businesses, to run events and raise money – quiz nights and auctions – and soon realised that they were being supported by the same set of friends and customers. For the Foundation to continue, it needed a more sustainable income.

On New Year’s Eve 2016, Russel sent Bede a text, asking him if he still wanted to start a brewery. “I thought he was pissed”, Bede chuckles. But, a brewery was a dream that he’d talked about over the years with wife Angie. He spent 15 years at Lion Nathan including as their sales representative for Steinlager in the United Kingdom. During that time, he watched the beer scene develop in New Zealand, noticing some of Lion’s traditional products being swapped out by the likes of Gisborne Gold.

The beer scene was something Bede and Angie wanted to be a part of but never really had the start-up capital needed, especially after a few failed hospitality ventures in Hamilton. Russel could provide that capital, if Bede and Angie could provide future support to the Karen Louisa Foundation; through the profits from the brewery. It was a risk for them – as they thought there were tracking towards retirement – but the lure of the dream was too strong. So, a deal was struck.

The name Whistling Sisters was chosen to reflect the brewery and restaurant’s charitable goal, and the Scott family’s focus on finding the good from a sad situation.

When you're chewing life's gristle,
Don't grumble,
Give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best.
And...Always look on the bright side of life.

Those of you old enough to know the song, know the chorus is accompanied by a whistle.

Bede comments that since the start of the dream, all those years ago, the beer scene and “the market has become more discerning, it’s really, really changed”. But, his background, Angie’s support and Russel’s networks have been really helpful in establishing pathways to bring the Whistling Sisters beer to market.

As well as leveraging established networks, Bede’s focused on building new relationships. Along with sales, he does most of the deliveries himself.  He finds that the time spent dropping off and picking up kegs provides a great opportunity to talk with bar and restaurant owners.

As a newcomer to Wellington, one might have though brewer Dale would have to build new relationships as well, but he and wife Gemma have comfortably slotted in. They’ve come via Blenheim, where Dale spent some time brewing with Renaissance. Prior to that, Dale worked in a few breweries in Australia with quite the pedigree. He started at Mash Brewing in Western Australia and spent time at Stone and Wood.

Dale’s got a long history in the industry with his dad being a General Manager at Dominion Breweries (DB), and then owning the rights to supply and distribute beer – in beer tankers – at Eden Park. He remembers climbing into them to scrub them out as a skinny little tacker at the time. So, he certainly knows the old sayings about brewing being more cleaning than anything else!

Cleaning skills, qualifications in brewing from Edith Cowan University and in  engineering, and considerable creative flare has seen Dale create quite the range of beers; some of which have been missed by the beer community. This is, in part, because beer people are not the sole focus. Dale comments that it could actually limit their potential reach in an increasingly crowded market. He notes the long list of beers that compete for taps in beer bars and how long it takes to work to the top.

So, when Whistling Sisters launched, it was with a core range, all under 5%, designed at building brand loyalty in restaurants and bars, not necessarily beer bars. That said, as a beer person, I thought their original Golden Ale was a treat and it’s a shame that they’re not making it anymore. It wasn’t all that well named. Those who like a traditional Golden Ale were likely surprised by the beer’s dry, spicy finish from the Belgian Ale yeast. Those that like a Belgian Ale yeast, and who should have liked the approachable ABV over a warm Wellington summer, never would have known it was a feature of the beer.

The Golden Ale was an interesting reflection on the impact of marketing. Something the team continues to think about in the description and sale of their beer. Bede’s really keen on using “balanced” and “structured”. When questioned to clarify what he means by this, his point is beer without rough edges and without a particular focus on a single ingredient.

Bede doesn’t want Whistling Sisters to be making big, bitter hop bombs, seeing that there’s enough of these in the market. He’s got nothing against them – neither does Dale – but they don’t want to try to compete with the likes of Epic and Garage Project. (They have, however, succumbed to producing an IPA as so many people ask for the style over the bar. We’re still IPA obsessed in Wellington, and New Zealand generally).

As a brewer, Dale has a real bent for brewing with herbs and spices; often with a South East Asian or East Asian flare. His Rooty Toot Toot has ginger, galangal and turmeric, and this year carrot thrown into the mix. It’s a gose, with a gorgeous hue and just a subtle saltiness. For me, the real surprise with this beer is not the flavours – they work and they do what they say on the label – but, the mouthfeel. It is rounded and slightly oily, and gives the beer more oomph than you might expect at 3.8%. It is delicious.

The inspiration for all the spiced beer comes from Dale’s love of Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra – a stout brewed with Madras Curry, Cumin, Cayenne, Coconut, and Kaffir Lime Leaf – once available at Hashigo Zake but now no longer in production. Dale’s treasuring his last few bottles.

Herbal notes also come through in the Whistling Sister’s Italian Pilsner – Prima Dana – but are purely driven out of the use of the Dana hop. A strain of Styrian Goldings, the notes about Dana talk of citrus characters. But, I didn’t find them in this beer. It had an aroma and flavour profile I’d not experienced before. It was beguiling. I find it fascinating and think it well worth trying next time it comes on tap. I can totally see it match with some of the cured meats served up in the restaurant; the carbonation will cut through some of the fat, and the herbal, bitter characters of the beer should balance the meat’s sweetness and compliment the spices they’ve been cured in.

We finished our chat talking about what the team is looking forward to in the new year - year two. Dale jokes about brewing a million litres, but on a serious note reflects on the great opportunities for growth into the future.

Bede is keen on the brand getting out into the market and to beer events, and both talk about constantly refining techniques in the brewery. So many brewers talk about each and every brew being an opportunity for improvement, and Dale’s no different here. They’re keen on setting up a little lab, to do more detailed testing and grow a more detailed understanding of their beers.

They’re also looking forward to bottling. A new bottling machine has been purchased, along with 1,200 unique bottes that they’ll be looking to fill in coming months. At two bottles at a time, it’s going to be a labour intensive, labour of love. But, if there’s one thing that really stands out in this interview, it’s that Bede does love it! Just look at his recommendations for the beers you must try before you die. They’re all Whistling Sisters’ own! It’s clear he’s ever the salesperson.

The final questions, for a bit of fun

What’s in the fridge and what are you drinking at home?


Bede has been drinking a lot of their Riveting Rose. I know this as he’s commented on having the odd sore head over summer thanks to it. It’s a dry, blackberry wheat beer and super easy to drink.


Dale’s got some Sassy Red from Mac’s in the fridge for a visiting friend. He says it’s not as good as it used to be, but is still pretty good! He’s got his last bottles of Indra Kunindra, and some Rhyme and Reason Pale Ale for summer drinking. The rest are big, wintery type drops like vintages of the Garage Project Mutiny on the Bounty.

What are your “beers you must try before you die”?


Ever the salesperson, Bede chose exclusively Whistling Sisters’ beers to answer this question – Riveting Rose, the Coconut Milk Stout and the Rooty Toot Toot. He’s very brand loyal, and will always choose Lion Nathan over DB! And, I know he likes a Steinlager.


No surprises here – Dale’s first pick is the Indra Kunindra, and then, what must be a polar opposite – the Mahr’s Kellerbier drunk fresh from the source in Germany. Another favourite for the same reason was the San Gabriel La Rossa Di Verona, or Red Beer of Verona drunk by the Colosseum.

The team from Fork and Brewer might have been the only ones in Wellington surprised about being awarded Champion Small New Zealand Brewery at the 2018 Brewers’ Guild Awards. Head Brewer Kelly Ryan is known and loved in the brewing community and has 18 years’ worth of experience under his belt. The brew pub was a top pick by many. It’s one of the great places we visit on our Craft Beer College beer tours.

We spoke with Kelly and part-owner Colin Mallon about the background to Fork and Brewer / Fork Brewing / Fork Brew Corp; winning their champion brewery award; their new branding; and the things they were most looking forward to into the future. Where do I begin? Both Kelly and Colin are always up for chat…

When asked about the background to Fork and Brewer, Colin reflected on the changes to the Wellington (and New Zealand beer scene) since he arrived in town in 2004. In the early days, the old Malthouse on Willis St, Bar Bodega and Bar Edward in Newtown were about the only places you could buy a beer that wasn’t a premium lager or New Zealand draft. Colin spent his beer time at the Malthouse. Convenient, as he worked there. He didn’t frequent Bodega as he was often propositioned to buy or sell drugs. And, he wasn’t all that keen on Newtown at the time! (As a long-term resident, I can assure you that I upsold its general excellence).

When the Malthouse moved to Courtney Place in 2008, it established itself as a destination beer bar. It made the move at a time when the craft and independent beer scene in Wellington and New Zealand started growing. Colin and his business partners – all with interests in Tuatara Brewing at the time - saw an opportunity to further invest in Tuatara’s growth and in the growth of the beer scene. They started planning to build a new brew bar and brewery.

At the time planning started on the Fork and Brewer, there were no breweries in Wellington. Mac’s Brewery on the waterfront had been shipped out by Lion Nathan. This happened long before Lion changed the signage. Little did Colin and the team know how long it would take to turn their plans into a reality and how much would change over that time.

Fork and Brewer opened for the Rugby World Cup 2011 but didn’t start brewing until a year later. The location, considered perfect due to its proximity to the old Malthouse, proved a challenge in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes. No one wanted to sign-off on the engineering specifications for a brewery built upstairs.

Colin laughs, “if I have one piece of advice for anybody starting a brewery – don’t do it upstairs - ever”. There are stories abound about the team’s sizable and strong mates helping haul the brew kit up over the balcony and wheel it through the bar on skateboards! One consequence of the building challenges is that Fork and Brewer is one of the safest (and best) places to be in an earthquake. Let this be a point of note to all in Wellington during our next big series of quakes.

From the first brew in 2012 until now, a goal has been to have a broad range of beers on offer – to cater for a diverse clientele and a range of tastes. In response to a question about the number of “suits” often seen in the brew pub (and ok, I also said “sausages”), Colin comments that with their new banking partner, they get detailed statistics about who’s buying their beer. The gender balance is pretty much equal. Forty-five percent of the payments over the bar are made by women. That’s something they should be happy with as there is a real need for beer and the beer scene to become more inclusive (not just because of women’s purchasing power).

Kelly comments that he “wants everyone to be able to walk into the bar and find something they like to drink”. He’s asked around – both here and overseas - and has yet to find a fellow brewer or a brewery with as many of their own beers on tap. When I visited, there were 39 Fork Brewing beers being poured, from a peak of 43 beers a few weeks earlier. It’s an impressive effort from a 1,000 litre brew kit and a 50 litre test kit in a tiny space. Kelly is brewing like he’s in a big production brewery.

The pressure on Kelly, and on the kit, seems only likely to increase in light of the decision to establish the new “Fork Brewcorp” brand and as a result of winning the champion’s award. I asked about both, starting with Fork Brewcorp. Colin reflected that when Fork and Brewer first began, it was hard to market their beers; one reason was the small size of their batches which could sell out over their own bar. This led some around town to question the need for buying a Fork and Brewer beer that could just as well be drunk at the Fork and Brewer itself.

The small batch size is being addressed by the Fork Brewcorp contract brewing their core range (of four beers). They are working with different brewers and breweries that they admire and that have particular expertise and experience in the style they are looking to brew. Their Tainted Love – a passionfruit and juniper kettle sour – is brewed at Hallertau, long known for being one of the first to deliberately brew and condition sour beers in New Zealand. The Hallertau Funkonnay is legendary and the Tainted Love is also capturing hearts. It won a bronze at this year’s awards and was in the Capital Times Beer Necessities six pack being described as elegant by the judges.

Tainted Love was first brewed in collaboration with Ben from Gigantic Brewing in Portland, Oregon. Collaborative brewing and great collaborative kettle sours seem to be a core skill of Kelly’s. While we’re talking, I drink more than one Barbed Wire. It is a rhubarb kettle sour brewed with 8 Wired’s Søren Erkison. It is on my “beers of the year” list. Pouring a rose pink in colour, and with spritz, Barbed Wired has an earthy and slightly funky character referencing both the rhubarb and the bacteria used in the kettle. It. Is. Delicious.

The team have chosen Liberty Brewing Company to make their Golden Handshake Pilsner. Another bronze medal winner. Liberty also brewed the first few batches of the Hyperlocal and Alpha Geek. These last two beers have since moved production to BoneFace Brewing in Upper Hutt’s Brewtown. This gives Kelly the advantage of easily being able to join the brew day and brew with the Fork house yeast.

The Hyperlocal is a must-try from the newly branded range. It won a gold medal as Godzone Beat in 2015 and was the Champion New Zealand Pale Ale that year. This year it took another gold so can truly be regarded as a representative example of the NZ Pale Ale style (although I’d note the hop profile has changed over that time). The beer is well-balanced, making it highly drinkable. It showcases both the citrus and mineral character of Riwaka hops and fruity punch of Nelson Sauvin.

The four Fork Brewcorp beers are just the start of what Colin hopes is a cohesive brand to take to the market. When I asked about the brand’s inspiration, the 70s style, Colin chuckles and compliments their designers who have quite the background in beer, having worked with Tuatara and Panhead Custom Ales. The designers pitched an American muscle car theme which Colin thought would be too macho for the brand (and I’d say would also have been too Panhead) along with the brown, orange and beige retro theme.

Colin comments, that he “grew up in the 70s and in hand-me downs”. He wore them “through the 70s and far too far into the 80s, having three older brothers”. He comments that he can “play the brand as straight or as serious as we want…without detracting from the quality beer”. At this point, Kelly pipes in and notes that his Fork Brewcorp suit is tailor made from his days playing rugby in Korea! He might be modern-day modelling for the brand, but the rest of the images are originals.

The idea behind the new branding is to appeal to the youngsters, who find the brand fun, as well as the crowd who lived through the 70s and can reminisce. During this bit of the conversation, Kelly notes that when he “got into brewing, brand was the number one thing, and we’re now in a place again where brand is the number one thing”. He comments that “you can put an average beer into a glass and if it’s got a great brand people will buy it. That’s something I don’t agree with”.

For Kelly, it is all about the beers. He wants to give them some personality and sees the Brewcorp beers as the start of small family. It is all about “putting a quality beer in your glass”. Colin thinks there’s only so long you can get away with an average brand but agrees that the quality of the beer is important. Happily, Kelly has never had to dump a batch of poor quality beer of his own (touch wood) but would be happy to do so. Colin agreed – he doesn’t want anyone to have a pint of their beer and say, “that’s terrible”. Both agree it would damage the reputation they’ve built.

Continuing to build that reputation and to leverage from their championship win is something Colin is looking forward to in the new year. They’ve just hired a new General Manger for Fork and Brewer and the Malthouse which will give Colin some much needed time to focus.

As the sole brewer at Fork, Kelly doesn’t have time but he is keen to get some basic lab equipment into the brewery (and put some of his brewing, and microbiology and food science skills to the test). This is part of his constant focus on improving his beers and will support his creative desire to try new things.

So, it sounds like we can expect to see more Fork Brewcorp popping up in good bottle stores and bars around the country, and possibly beyond...And, we can expect Fork Brewing to continue to produce a huge range of beers. Get in there and try some. Ask the staff what’s new and what’s tasting great to help narrow down the decision making. And, never shy away from a tasting tray.

The final questions, for a bit of fun

Colin: What’s in the fridge and what are you drinking at home?

Colin has a range of tonic in the fridge. I failed to ask why, but presume it is to go with gin! There’s definitely an emerging scene in New Zealand (and a great collection at the Malthouse). He also had a case of Epic Rhonda delivered as wife, Lou, is a fan. Along with that, there’s some Quartz Reef Pinot Gris from Central Otago.

Kelly: What’s in the fridge and what are you drinking at home?

Kelly had the great luck of a fine wine and dining experience the weekend before our chat where the Delinquente 2018 Pink Pet Nat. He bought a case which is lucky as it has now sold out.

Colin: What are your “beers you must try before you die”?

This is a seriously challenging question for just about everyone! Colin starts with two classics – the Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus and Rodenbach Grand Cru. Epic Lager is also favourite and a must try that Colin puts on the list.

Kelly: What are your “beers you must try before you die”?

Kelly is a fan of the gloriously sour (in the true sense) of 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze. His story of the creation of the Les Amis Du Brassage Saison also puts it on the “must try” list. There’re just a few bottles left at the bar so get in quick. Kelly also rates the wonderful Timothy Taylor’s Landlord which has been a gateway beer for more than one fan.

Friday, 07 December 2018 17:20

Kegs for Christmas - Charity Beer Tour

Join us on our annual Kegs for Christmas - Charity Beer Tour.

Each year Garage Project donates kegs to great bars around town. The profits from the sales go to Kaibosh Food Rescue, an amazing charity in Wellington's beer community. Check them out on their website.

On this tour, we work for free. You pay, but your $$ goes to charity. Yay.

We start at the Garage Project Tap Room and work our way around the central city bars, drinking beer with all the proceeds going to Kaibosh. Included in the tour is: 
- your Craft Beer College host 
- a 330ml beer at six great bars 
- snacks at two stops.

Let us tour you around, telling tales about beer, water you and feed you, so you can help feed others. 

Tickets available on Eventfinda at:

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