Tell us about 8 Wired Brewing.
8 Wired Brewing was started by myself and my wife Monique in 2009. We had both recently graduated from university, but weren't entirely happy with the career path ahead of us. During the last year of my university studies I had developed a strong passion for home brewing after Monique had given me a basic homebrewing kit for Christmas 2005. So we decided to go pro on the hobby. Another hobby of mine back then was playing poker and I was fortunate enough to win the New Zealand championships in both 2009 and 2010. This gave us enough cash to establish the new business.
Today Monique and I still run the business and have recently hired our first employee, Jason Bathgate. Jason does all the brewing for us at Renaissance Brewing in Blenheim and maintains our barrel cellar. We barrel aged our first beer in early 2011 and now have a collection of more than 200 barrels. Most of them are former wine barrels from Marlborough and are slowly turning sour - on purpose.
These kind of beers take more than a year to mature and we are excited to start rolling them out in the near future.
But those beers are our 'fun beers'. Our core business still revolves around 'normal' ales such as IPA, porters, stouts. These are all what I would call New World interpretations of old styles and usually involve a generous amount of hops. We currently export to five continents - markets include the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Scandinavia, UK, Brazil and Australia - only Africa (and Antarctica) are missing from the picture.
What have been the challenges in establishing your brand?
I think we were lucky that we entered the market at the right time, with the right beers. People had really gotten a taste for hoppy ales back in 2009 and our beers pretty much sold themselves from the beginning. The main hurdle we have had so far is keeping up with demand and so far we have been brewing at three different breweries to keep up. This, of course, creates another challenge in terms of logistics. Moving stock and packaging materials around the country is not a fun job.
Why did you decide to be a 'virtual brewery' - brewing your beers using other breweries' equipment?
When we first got the idea of starting a brewery, the plan was to start a brewpub at a nice beachy place somewhere in New Zealand. It was a very romantic idea. However, after I got some commercial experience through working at Renaissance Brewing, we decided that step was too risky. First of all it would require a lot of cash and the banks were very tight back then, in the wake of the global financial crisis. We were also lacking experience. A lot of craft breweries had spare capacity as well, so there really was no need to import more stainless steel into the country.
So we went with the contract brewing idea. We weren't typical craft brewers though, as I still made all the beer myself at Renaissance, just renting their equipment. As we have grown we have had to outsource some of the beers to bigger breweries though, and Jason does the brewing that I used to do in Blenheim. The advantage is pretty clear: we could get started straight away and without major investments and mortgages.
Boutique brewing is on the rise. What are your strategies for staying ahead of the game?
We've never really paid much attention to strategy; we have just brewed the beers that we liked and hoped that other people liked them too. You could say our barrel programme will be a definite point of difference in the future. There are several breweries playing around with barrel-aged beers, but to my knowledge no one does it to nearly the same extent as us. It's pretty easy to make a good hoppy IPA, but aging beers for years in barrels and then blending them into a beverage that exceeds the sum of its parts is a lot more tricky and it's not something everyone can just do tomorrow. Hopefully the beers will be as great as we hope they will, and hopefully people will enjoy them.
What are your top tips for anyone else looking to get a foothold in the craft brewing business?
Find a point of difference and don't try to imitate other breweries' success. Also, be professional and objective about the quality of your beer. We all love our own beers, but if they are riddled with flaws, that will eventually kill even the best branding. And remember that the beer shouldn't just taste great when it leaves the brewery, it should taste great months down the track, as this is when most consumers will get to drink it. Finally, figure out how to sell the beer as this is usually harder than making it.