Brewing up a beer buzz

By Scott Inglis

A GOOD DROP: Catherine Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick's Brewing Co. samples some of the product going to bars locally as well as Auckland and Wellington.PHOTOS/JOHN BORREN
A GOOD DROP: Catherine Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick's Brewing Co. samples some of the product going to bars locally as well as Auckland and Wellington.PHOTOS/JOHN BORREN

Holding a stemmed glass, the connoisseur takes a lingering sip of its flavoursome contents, taking note of the bouquet, the body and the finish.

Anyone listening in could easily be mistaken in thinking a wine-tasting session is in progress.

But when the terminology turns to hoppy and malty flavours it becomes apparent the drinker is not paying homage to the grape.

This is beer - the brown stuff that Kiwis have been drinking ever since Captain James Cook made his first brew in 1771 with young rimu branches to try to combat scurvy.

Every year, millions of litres of the amber ale is glugged from handles, stubbies, yard glasses and even gumboots.

But it is also being increasingly supped and savoured from fancy stemware in trendy bars.

The craft beer revolution has been gaining momentum in New Zealand over recent years and now it has well and truly reached the shores of Tauranga.

"The palate is changing as well as the culture," says Catherine Fitzpatrick, of Pyes Pa brewery Fitzpatrick's Brewing Co.

She and husband Craig have had a licence to brew for a year now but it was not until they attended the Seriously Good Food Show at Baypark in July that things really started to take off.

"We were selling to friends and family," explains Catherine.

"But in July we went into full production."

The micro-brewery now has its beer on tap at half a dozen venues in Tauranga, Auckland and Wellington.

With the capacity to have two brews on the go at any one time, it produces between two and three brews a month and offers five flavours.

It has been a lifelong dream for Craig, 43, who started home brewing when he was in his teens.

His interest was ignited after a biology lesson at school on fermentation.

"I was a bit of a keen science student ... I thought I would produce alcohol to run the home lawnmower for Dad," he laughs.

He rekindled his passion years later while working in Wellington, where a colleague shared the same interest.

"It turned into a competition to see who could do what. We would feed off each other. We got into the full process ... malted barley and hops ... and created great flavours," he says.

When he and Catherine moved to the Bay, one of the first things they did was to build a shed big enough for a brewery.

Divided in two, one half was set aside until time and money allowed.

Craig, who works full-time as a distribution manager in the agricultural sector, spends evenings and weekends brewing, while Catherine, who works in the office at Pyes Pa School two days a week, handles the business side of things - while also running a busy household with their three children, Joe, 15, Sam, 13, and Kate, 9.

Nestled on their avocado orchard, the brewery holds "Flagon Filling Fridays" where people can get their beer straight from the vat, a concept dear to Craig's heart. He likens it to buying fresh bread from a hot bread shop.

"The best is locally, freshly brewed beer," he says.

Imported beers, particularly in green and clear bottles, can lose much of their flavour through light damage, he adds.

"We like to sell ours in flagons, with a short expiry date, and keep them in the fridge."

New Zealand is, he says, slowly catching up with the United States, where craft beer makes up around 15 per cent of the market. Here it is about 5 per cent.

"There's still more growth to come. A lot of time and effort is going into developing new flavours. It's a bit like we've been through a bit of a food revolution and a wine revolution and now beer brewing is going through the same thing," he says.

"You've got the ability to create more diverse flavours with beer than wine. You've got malts, wheats, oats, corn, buckwheat and different varieties of hops. It's not about getting pissed. It's about having an experience."

Bron and Stu Marshall don't have a brewery, but that doesn't stop them brewing beer.

The Tauranga couple contract brew, having worked with Fitzpatrick's and a brewery in Kawerau to produce their "Rocky Knob" labels, which have been on the market since August.

"There are lots of people paying off shiny stainless steel. We may as well help them pay it off. It's nice to work with other micro-breweries. It's a cool industry. There is a fair bit of collaboration going on," says Bron.

Its latest brew is a New Zealand India Pale Ale, "Home Again", a tribute to the band Shihad.

The business began out of a necessity to satiate their tastebuds, says Bron.

"We moved to Tauranga from Nelson seven years ago. In Nelson, there are a whole lot of micro-breweries and plenty of craft beer to choose from," she says. "We wanted to get the beer we liked drinking. Stu started brewing in the garage but I decided I would like my garage back."

Bron describes Stu, who works full-time in the forestry industry, as "head of research and development" while she takes care of business.

A speech and language therapist, Bron will finish her job with the Ministry of Education on Thursday to concentrate on the business full-time.

"We are trying to build a strong local following. Our main drive is getting good quality products," she says. "I think the Bay of Plenty is ripe for it. People's palates are changing and the way they are drinking. They want to spend some time on it instead of quaffing a lot."

Steve Edkins, head brewer at Mount Brewing Co., says in the past five to 10 years interest in craft beers in New Zealand has been growing steadily.

"There is a lot more awareness of product and beer styles, even in wholesalers," he says. "I think people, like with the food we eat, are wanting to know where it comes from."

Mount Brewing Co. started 18 years ago as "Brewers", a brew-on premise, where people came to make their own beer, using specialty equipment imported from Canada.

The business expanded to include the sale of homebrew supplies and also opened a bar, Brewers Bar, on site.

It started making its own beer, after modifying its equipment eight years ago into a micro-brewery, and in February opened a second bar in central Mount Maunganui, Mount Brewing Co. Brew Bar.

In August this year, the brewery expanded, doubling its capacity from 500 litres to 1000 litres.

Each month, it produces between 8000 and 9000 litres of beer.

"The growth was on the back of the hard work of the team here and the popularity of craft beer. We did see a growing gap in the market," says Steve.

"You get what you pay for - bigger flavours - and you will be more satisfied with a craft beer. It's got its own culture. It's not just about tipping flavourless beer down your neck. You sit down with a pint of beer and it lasts a lot longer. It's something to talk about."

Steve and his colleague, Janine Pharo, also a brewer, started up the Western Bay Home Brewing Club three months ago.

The club has about 30 beer-loving members who meet at the brewery once a month.

"It's aimed at home brewers and anyone with a real interest in beer," says Steve.

The growing consumption of craft beers has also resulted in the return of a traditional Kiwi beer vessel - the flagon. Liquorland's Mount Maunganui and Tauranga stores now have filling stations where craft beer is available on tap. The stores sell the American version of flagons, known as "growlers", which hold 2.8 litres or 750ml swingtops.

Operations manager John Campbell says there are five different beers available on tap at any one time at the Mount Maunganui store, which is also known for its large selection of bottled craft beers.

"It's going really well. A lot of people are switching to craft beer," he says.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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