Once upon a time, a few decades back, there was a brewery in Hawke's Bay.

A brewery — just the one — and it was called Leopard and sat on the edge of central Hastings.

It was closed, however, in the early '90s but it did not spell the end of the art of brewing in Hawke's Bay. This was the time of the initial spark which slowly grew into what has become known as microbreweries, or craft breweries.

Many within the industry refer to that time as the "craft beer revolution" and, in terms of what the smaller but passionately devoted breweries began turning out, it was indeed a revolution.

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One which left smiles on the faces of folk who were taken to new and unique taste levels.

People began getting familiar with things called IPA and pilsners and brown porters and English reds and pale ales.

Among the first on the scene was Roosters Brew House in Hastings, which began brewing and pouring in 1994 and is still fizzing.

A year later the Hawke's Bay Independent Brewery (Hawke's Bay Brewing Company) based in Napier (which kicked off with the Mates line) hopped aboard and the now closed Limburg Brewery also emerged before the decade was over.

Craft beers had begun appearing from one end of the land to the other, and while Hawke's Bay may have initially been behind the growing "revolution" it has very certainly now caught up.

According to the New Zealand Craft Beer Industry, total of sales of craft beers were up by 35 per cent over the past year, and it is estimated craft beers now account for around 15 per cent of domestic sales and consumption.

The last five years have been particularly explosive in terms of the emergence of new labels on the shelves, and the taps.

Based on sales, and the amount of people it would have likely taken to consume the beers, Luke Nicholas of Epic reckoned five years ago there would have been around 10,000 devoted craft beer imbibers.

Today he reckons it is about 100,000.

In the wake of the surge of unique and interesting varieties emerging onto the scene, Havelock North-based Giant Brewery brewer Chris Ormond summed it up pretty well saying "if you are a beer lover, you have a lot to choose from".

So while once upon a time, just a quarter of a century ago, there was one brewery in the Bay and today the list is hovering around a dozen.

Small bar, inhouse-only breweries, medium on-site sale and commercial sale breweries and relatively large scale outfits like Zeelandt and the Hawke's Bay Brewing Company.

And across the whole country there are 95 craft breweries on the Brewers Guild of New Zealand register, although there are scores of others which aren't with the guild.

Some estimates notch the total number up to around 200.

In the five-year period between 2010 and 2015 brewing had "exploded" was how the guild's chairman Bob King put it.

In that relatively short time, the number of professional brewing operations across the country had trebled.

It has continued to grow and Hawke's Bay is strongly on the map in terms of creating fine ales and hauling in the accolades for them.

'We were on the back foot just trying to keep up'

Matt Smith, who steers Brave Brewing alongside wife Gemma, started brewing in his garage in 2014 and just three years later was being called forward to receive a total of seven medals and the trophy for the Best in Class in the US Ale category at the guild's annual awards.

"Yeah, it started out as a hobby business in the garage and it took about a year to phase out the day job — at the end of year two we'd moved into our site in Warren St."

And things took off, to the point where the demand for the popular lines he started out with meant it was difficult to to put new beers out.

"We were on the back foot a bit just trying to keep up," he said, adding that yes, that was a good thing.

The 300-litre vat was accordingly replaced with a 1200-litre job.

Smith said over the past decade people had begun to realise how fine and diverse, and tasty, beers could be.

It was more than just something that came in a green or brown bottle.

People stopping by for a tasting would try something like a fruity pale ale and be astonished.

"Because it is something new.

"We've also had people come in and say they weren't really beer drinkers but they would take to it."

He said people's palates were getting more discerning, and that was a good thing as it raised the bar in creating a unique and fine beer.

There was also a desire to try something fresh and new, and know how it was being made and where.

"Provenance comes into it — it's local and people like that."

With the development of craft brewing he had seen the growing emphasis on quality and consistency.

And Hawke's Bay was fortunate in having good water.

"We filter it of course but it is low in mineral content and that means we can play around with different mineral profiles."

The region was also a good location in terms of the growing tourism industry — "so we can piggy back on the established wine tours".

Local pride in having their own breweries was also a strong factor.

One of the first locals to pursue the spreading of the word, in terms of putting craft beers on the bar menu, was Jeremy Bayliss who has been in the local hospitality industry for more than 30 years and runs the Westshore Beach Inn ... which now has a craft brewery on site.

It was back then "in the Cri' days" that he became interested in the concept of creating a brew pub.

"But it was prohibitively costly," he said, adding that the market was not quite ready for that scene back then.

The big duopoly of breweries pretty well ruled the roost.

But through the years be began selling the newly appearing craft beers, and said helping to lead what was effectively a culture change in the province from the usual standard big-brewery lines was challenging, but "needed to be done".

He took over the Westshore about 12 years ago and the thirst for developing his own brewery remained strong, so it was no real surprise that in 2016 he added some new offerings to the colourful range of craft beers he had on the cool shelves.

They were brewed on site, and come under the banner of the Napier Brewing Company.

"I was playing with the thought of brewing my own beer on site for a while," he said.

Those thoughts resulted in bringing in a 200-litre microbrewery from Germany and taking aboard well-respected brewer Matt Searle whose skills quickly became evident, and like other craft breweries across the region the awards began to pop up.

After Searle moved on last October he took on another much-lauded brewer, John Bradbury.

Bayliss said he wanted to offer his guests the freshest ales possible, and being able to tell them the beer they were embarking upon had been made only a room away insured that.

Put it this way, they can watch Bradbury at work on the next batch.

And there are plenty of batches — there are 30 beers on the taps and 10 are mainstream varieties with the rest made up of the remarkable craft brews being produced.

Bayliss said the growth of the wine and food hospitality industry across the Bay meant the arrival and growth of craft beers was quite simply a natural progression here.

"Society and people have changed and pubs are interesting and desirable places today — the great beer ranges and great food to go with it."

In terms of what the future holds, Smith said as long as brewers kept the standards high to satisfy a market keen to try something new and often startling, there was "in general quite a lot of room" for prospective brewers to get aboard the industry. Bayliss agreed.

It was hard work and would not turn anyone into an instant millionaire but the core members of the craft brewing landscape said it was not about that.

It was simply passion — to brew "their" style of beer and share it.

Craft beers tick the boxes at the Common Room

Gerard Barron says he made a conscious decision to stock mainly craft beers when he started the Common Room five years ago, driven by a desire to offer people a choice and support independent operators.

The eclectic bar on Heretaunga St East in Hastings has garnered a loyal following since he opened and as much as he benefits from that local support, he pays it back to the local and national craft beer suppliers that have been mushrooming around the country.

"For decades we have been drinking brown swill - that was part of the Kiwi drinking culture because we didn't have any options.

"At the start I had people come in who were Tui drinkers but it's changing and now they wouldn't drink anything else except craft beers."

It didn't take long to confirm he was on the right track with his decision, he said.

"I was the first person to buy beer from Brave Brewing - I met Matt on a Wednesday and really liked what he was doing and bought a case off him.

"I tried it out on the locals and within about four days I had bought five to six cases off him - he has gone from strength to strength."

When he opened he said Lion and DB tried to sign him up to their beer lines.

"They want your soul - you get all the beer lines and sweeteners like fridges, but you get tied up in a five-year contract and can only stock their beers - I always wanted to give customers a choice and support local businesses."

Those customers now had a choice of about 35 to 40 beers that were on offer at any one time at The Common Room, from Hawke's Bay and beyond, which he rotated regularly.

He also had Heineken and Corona in the fridge and a range of international bottled beer.

With drink driving laws, and people returning to the region and the country from overseas bringing new ideas, people were changing the way they drank, he said.

"People are more likely to have two to three good beers with different flavours rather than have 10 brown, soupy, nothing beers."

Women who may not have drunk beer before were also cottoning onto the craft craze as new flavours emerged, but he acknowledged it was not for everyone.

"While it might work in bars in Wellington or Auckland or for a niche bar like this, where you have a market for it, it might not work if you are running a country pub - in that case you may only stock one or two craft beers."

As for his personal favourite at the moment - he said he was partial to the Brave EPA or Brave Tiger Milk.

Craft beer explosion evidence of market maturing

Hospitality New Zealand regional manager Hawke's Bay Chris Hince is a self-confessed "hop head" and says the craft beer market has exploded around the country over the last five to 10 years.

"It started in Wellington, and Hawke's Bay were early adopters - it's quite remarkable and is a sign of more mature drinking patterns, people choosing quantity over quality."

As well as offering a choice for consumers, he said it also expanded options for bar operators who could choose to only stock craft beers, main line suppliers or a combination of both.

"It's a maturation of the industry - all three of the major breweries are introducing craft offerings.

"Not everybody has to move in this space though - some people like the beer they grew up with and there's nothing wrong with that.

"It's not a case of us and them, the market is bigger now so let's all play."

As well as the market maturing, he said people's drinking habits were getting more sophisticated, which the craft beer market was capitalising on.

"It's providing competition for the wine industry - it's not all macho and manly."

While the wine industry had been matching wine with food for decades, this was another avenue the craft beer industry was also exploring, again adding to the sophistication of the market.

"There's different strands of hops and people are really getting into analysing the flavours and this is great for the hospitality industry to offer more scope and interest.

"There are some really massive, hoppy bitter beers but also very lightweight interesting ones you can edge your way into as a start."

While the amount of beer being drunk had not necessarily grown, this broadening of options was a real positive, he said.

Last year's ANZ New Zealand craft beer industry insight estimated that in retail about $1 of every $5 spent on beer in New Zealand went towards a beer marketed as craft.

Small breweries' share of total beer production for local consumption boomed from 2.6 per cent in 2011 to 6.8 per cent in 2016.

Beer goes from good to B.A.D.

The region's burgeoning craft beer industry, lead enthusiast Jim Poppelwell to fill a gap in the market seven years ago, with the Beer Appreciation Day - and since then it has taken off.

This is no more evident than earlier this month when about 750 beer and cider enthusiasts flocked to Havelock North's Duart House for Beer Appreciation Day VIII.

Organiser, Jim Poppelwell started "B.A.D" with a friend in 2011, when the beer landscape was vastly different to what it is now, noting that "back then things were pretty basic in the Bay and there wasn't much craft available, either in bars or bottle stores".

"I was a nascent craft beer enthusiast and wanted to spread the gospel, so to speak. Hawke's Bay, apart from being my home province, was well known for an appreciation of fine food and wine, so I thought it was surely just a matter of time before craft beer and cider took off here.

He believes it is pretty much the only event in Hawke's Bay where you can taste not only most beers and ciders from the region but also a great selection of medal-winning brews from outside the region.

The range of beers coming out of Hawke's Bay is growing all the time.

"Breweries tend to have their core range, which will include big sellers such as pale ales and IPAs, and then get more experimental with one-offs or seasonal."

"Godfrey Quemeneur at GodsOwn is doing some interesting things, as is Matt Smith at Brave and Dermot Haworth at Abbey. Chris Barber covers a wide range of German styles at Zeelandt while Chris Ormond at Giant will expand his repertoire once the new brewery in Donnelly Street has bedded in. Napier Brewing has a new brewer on board so new brews are also starting to come on tap at the Westshore Beach Inn."

Poppelwell doesn't think the industry in Hawke's Bay has its own style, but rather has a "collection of individual brewers expressing themselves in their own way".

"Perhaps the common theme is the freedom to follow one's own path with the support of a close-knit brewing community."

Seeing people having fun trying new and sometimes challenging styles while supporting an increasingly vibrant local and national brewing scene is what draws him to host the event each year.

Poppelwell wants to encourage people to get out and experience what Hawke's Bay has to offer, from the Esk Valley to Maraekakaho, there are so many cool spots to go and taste some truly excellent beers, and of course ciders too.

Next year's Beer Appreciation Day IX will be held on March 9.

For more information visit: www.beerappreciationday.co.nz