Brixton, Gastown, Williamsburg ... Kingsland

By Michael Donaldson

Worldly brewer finds the right vibe close to home, writes Michael Donaldson.
The Urbanaut team (from left) Simon Watson, Thomas Rowe and brewer Bruce Turner.  Photo / Jason Oxenham
The Urbanaut team (from left) Simon Watson, Thomas Rowe and brewer Bruce Turner. Photo / Jason Oxenham

For Bruce Turner, the driving force for his new brewery was not just the beer - it was finding a location in Auckland that reminded him of the great international suburbs of the world.

He wanted the vibe of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, Brixton in London or Vancouver's Gastown.

"For me this part of Auckland was the most like an international suburb," he says ahead of today's opening of Urbanaut, which straddles a block between New North Rd and Western Springs Rd.

The name comes from the brewery's philosophy of wanting to place itself in, and be a part of, a setting that was a part-industrial, residential, retail and entertainment.

"I've always loved being in cities and that's what we value - we see the beer sitting in an urban environment, and we like exploring urban spaces and the name just came through that," says Turner, the red-bearded 40-something who describes himself as a walking cliche of urban, hipster, brewer.

The brewery has the tag line: "Worldly beer from Kingsland, Auckland".

"We want to emphasise there are other Kingslands around the world like Brixton, Gastown, Williamsburg ... so we're creating beers based around those suburbs. We want people to think what it would be like to drink a beer in those places and have it linked to the urban culture and environment they are in."

On top of a Kingsland Pilsner they have a Williamsburg IPA, Brixton Pale Ale, Gastown Red IPA and Shimokita Lager, named for the hip Tokyo suburb famed for its fashion, food and entertainment.

Turner grew up in Marton but has worked - and snowboarded - around the world.

From a manufacturing background, he came to brewing from behind the scenes, and has a great understanding of the production processes involved.

When he came back to New Zealand to pursue his brewery dream he was open to living in the craft beer capital, Wellington, but had gradually fallen in love with Auckland over the years.

"Contemporary Auckland is really expanding - there's a lot happening and people are proud to say they're Aucklanders.

"It's a worldly city where people are doing new and exciting things - and we're proud to be in this part of Auckland, to say we're from Auckland. Over the years, when I'd come to Auckland from time to time, I realised more and more what a great city it is - and that's without looking at the geographical features, the weather, the beaches - just the actual urban side of the city itself is vibrant and fashionable.

Three men have set up a new neighbourhood brewery in Kingsland called Urbanaut. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Three men have set up a new neighbourhood brewery in Kingsland called Urbanaut. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"And Kingsland, with the great food and drink, is a really exciting area - it's a bubbling environment that reminded me of Brixton in London."

Turner's business partners are a pair of his old high school friends, Simon Watson and Thomas Rowe. They formerly ran property development company Evoke Property, which was most famous for buying the so-called $1m hovel in Grey Lynn, doing it up and selling it for more than $2.8m. They've ditched property for the brewery dream.

In the seven months it's taken to prepare the space for opening, Watson and Rowe have done a lot of the building work and the trio have also done some hard yards with their neighbours.

"We've talked to all the neighbours and appeased their fears that it might be a late night booze bar," says Turner. "Once we told them we wanted to be an inclusive day-time operation and not a place where people are going to come and get loaded - and craft beer doesn't attract that kind of person anyway - they were really supportive.

"People walk past every day and ask 'how many days until the beer's ready?'."

The brewery will initially be a retail space, where locals can buy beer in riggers, with some of the range in bottles and cans. But the plan is to have a garden bar and turn the space into a urban brewpub.

"This model is diverse - in Auckland you don't really have that retail concept where you can come in and fill your riggers and get your takeaway beers," Turner says. "Maybe that's because there aren't many breweries in a really central location or in neighbourhoods."

Urbanaut will also offer regular brewery tours. "We want to bring people into the brewery, talk about history of beer in New Zealand, the current scene, how we make our beer, offer samples - for a city this size I was surprised there was not an offering for regular brewery tours."

The brewery floor area is massive - with the stainless steel tanks seemingly tucked to one side. That's because they also want to hire the space for events.

"People think we haven't finished because there's so much space but we've created that for corporate events or pre-Eden Park, which is an eight-minute walk away.

"We see it as a space where we can hold oir own events or people can hire it - even weddings. In fact, I'm getting married here in February and it was my fiancee, Kirsten, who suggested it - so lucky me!"

Lucky Kingsland more like it, as a brewery in the heart of hipster-hood is a marriage made in heaven.

Lowdown

Urbanaut opening weekend
2B Western Springs Rd, Kingsland
Today, noon-8pm
The brewery opens with an all-day event featuring a Dixie barbecue. Music by The Stitch from at 6pm and the three Urbanauts will be on hand to discuss the beers.
Tomorrow, noon-5pm
Family day from 12-5pm with a kids play area.

- Weekend magazine

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