Richard Emerson was 27 when he set out on a journey of self fulfilment. He had no idea his desire to change the way Kiwis consumed alcohol would shape New Zealand's craft beer industry at the same time.
Before craft was a buzzword, Richard Emerson was brewing up unusually flavoured beers in his mother's kitchen.
He started at 27, but his fascination with beermaking began much earlier. As an 18-year-old, the craft beer pioneer and his parents had taken a year-long sabbatical to the UK, and in Edinburgh he was fascinated by the pub culture and the different beers available.
Today, Emerson jokes that he got a head start because he was able to discover beers ahead of his friends back in New Zealand, where the legal drinking age was 20.
In Edinburgh, Emerson got together recipes. Back in Dunedin in the early 1990s with a new perspective on the world, he began experimenting with home brewing. He started with a porter-style beer, which eventually became the first brew he sold.
After making his brews in his mother Ingrid's kitchen, he moved production into a friend's garage, where he was making around 400 litres of beer a week.
The people who knew him loved the beer, and wanted to invest in a brewery. In 1992 Emerson officially formed the Emerson's Brewing Company, and in 1996 opened his first commercial brewery with financial backing from family friends.
That first brewery opened on Grange St in the heart of Dunedin, using second-hand dairy equipment and able to brew about 50,000 litres a week. The beer was bottled in plastic, as he couldn't afford glass at the time.
The Dunedin born and bred Emerson did all the brewing, labelling, bottling and delivering himself for his first four-and-a-half years in business.
In 2000 he moved to his second brewery - just five doors up from the first at 9 Grange St - where he made 100,000 litres a week. Three years later he again reached capacity, so moved into a facility with the capacity to brew up to 1 million litres.
Emerson's Brewery remained in the Wickliffe St location until it attracted the attention of brewing giant Lion, which bought the company for $8 million in 2012, after it had been in business for about 16 years.
The sale was controversial, as locals were concerned the small craft brewery would be moved out of Dunedin, but Emerson negotiated terms stipulating that it would continue to operate independently, and all beer with the Emerson's name on it would be made in Dunedin.
Lion, which also owns beer brands Speight's, Steinlager, Mac's and Panhead, among others, spent another $26m on empty land and to build a custom brewery and taproom for Emerson's, which it opened in 2016.
That custom taproom and brewery was Emerson's dream - he'd written a postcard to his grandmother close to 30 years earlier saying he wanted to do exactly that.
Today, Emerson's has a team of over 80 people, seven of them dedicated to brewing. The brewer produces about 2.5 million litres a year and has a capacity of up to 9 million.
The site is riddled with nods to Emerson and his love of trains, including railway tracks throughout the restaurant and a steam whistle on the roof.
When Emerson was growing up, his mother was adamant that her son would be part of society and not ostracised because he had a hearing impediment.
He attended regular schools and, rather than teaching him sign language, Ingrid dedicated her life to teaching her son how to lip read. She began by teaching him single words, but soon realised that was not getting through and she needed to teach him full sentences.
"My mother put in a lot of effort to bring me up in a normal world," Emerson tells the Herald , sitting inside his busy taproom restaurant on Anzac Avenue.
He still finds it hard to comprehend just how far both he and the brewery have come after 26 years in the business. "To have a chance to have a home for Emerson's is a dream.
"The first night when I sat here having a meal, I had to punch myself that it wasn't a dream because I was like 'Wow'," says Emerson. "I'm pleased that we've done something for Dunedin, and put Dunedin on the beer map."
Being seen as the godfather of craft brewing is not something Emerson is entirely comfortable with.
"I suppose I'll have to put up with this title", he says, laughing, adding that he has not faced any setbacks in his career; at least none that other brewers would not be familiar with.
Emerson's Brewery began with 12 original shareholders, says Emerson. He added himself and took on other shareholders when the business moved into its second premises on Grange St. Seventeen was the most shareholders it had.
"They were all friends of the family, and, with the exception of four of us, the rest were in their 70s and getting quite old, so when Lion purchased us, it was really gratifying for me to reward those shareholders for their patience and holding out for so long. They loved being part of the business, and proud to be a shareholder of the brewery."
Emerson banked about $1m from the sale to Lion, and the rest went to shareholders.
Back when he began brewing, he says, "it felt like an extension of cooking; something I felt comfortable with and was good at. I used my tastebuds to create what I wanted and I liked the idea of working for myself as well. Something I really enjoyed was the challenge of making the beer and tasting it, and looking at the response from people."
The reaction to his beer was what he enjoyed most.
"When I first started, the craft beer market was relatively bland so it was quite easy for me to stand out above that. It would be different if we started brewing now - you've got all these other brewers, you have to be very smart or creative to differentiate yourself from the crowd."
Today, pilsner is the brewer's best-selling beer by far. It has two production runs a week to produce more than 10,000 litres.
It is a classic-style Czech beer that Emerson modified using New Zealand hops. His antipodean twist is said to have pushed many brewers worldwide to buy New Zealand hops in order to recreate his take, often described as "a lager with all the flavours".
But the first beer Emerson made was his London porter, which went on the market in March 1993. At the time, he says, there were not many dark beers on the market.
"I wanted to make a craft dark beer to undercut Guinness on the price but still more expensive than Speight's Old Dark," he says.
"A dark beer was a useful beer to do on a budget because with dark beer you're not looking for clarity. Therefore, I could get away without filtering the beer; I'd let the beer settle down then rake it off carefully."
Emmerson's Bookbinder beer was the brewer's first export - up the South Island and across the sea to Wellington, that was. For a short time the company's beer was sold in Melbourne, but otherwise it is yet to export internationally, although it was offered on Air New Zealand flights.
Back when he went to Edinburgh, Emerson was unsure whether to pursue a career in arts or sciences, but the question was soon settled. "Discovering what British pubs were all about; they were not booze barns, they were social experiences - little but often, not like what the Kiwis do at 6 o'clock.
"It was a bit of an eye-opener for me," he says. "I realised I wanted to change the way we drink in New Zealand - to be more sociable and enjoy the flavours rather than downing it."
Before he launched his brewery he spent two years coming up with a business plan. His parents were his first investors, putting in about $90,000 in the early days.
Today he says it was hard to sell the business, but he is happy he did, as it has allowed it to grow and "open a fantastic building for Dunedin".
"The brewery was my children - I spent a lot of time looking after it, I didn't have time for children," he says.
Looking back at how far the Emerson's brand has come, he says: "It's not bad progress". The proudest moment in his career? In 2009, he says, when the brewery won the Champion Brewery award.
He would like to see more Emerson's taprooms around the country; an Auckland location is due to open in the next 12 months, and Christchurch or Wellington are also options.
Emerson's is also working on a branded train platform outside its brewery and taproom, which is on the main line out of Dunedin.
He would also like to see Emerson's expand to Australia. Longer term, Japan is on the wish list.
Emerson, who refers to himself as "Ginger Puss", is passionate about Dunedin. He lives in Middlemarch, about an hour's drive from the city centre. Last year he opened his own restaurant, Tap and Dough, in Middlemarch, but says beer is still his main love.
While the craft beer market has grown sharply, Emerson sees it facing a shakeup in the next few years, with some brewers failing.
Being a successful craft brewer in today's market is harder than it was in his time, he says. As a result, many breweries minimise risk by getting their beers made for them, rather than having a physical brewery. "The craft beer market has grown quite a bit ... I can see there could be a shakeup where some [brewers] may not make it through."
Though his other senses are heightened, Emerson does not believe his business has been successful because of his deafness. However, he does believe his disability has helped people remember the brand.
He uses his deafness for a lot of the humour on the beer labels.
Today, Emerson's official title is "founder", and he is no longer involved in the day-to-day business. Instead, he is employed by Lion and receives a salary. He does an office day once a week and pops into the brewery about four days a week to throw around his ideas.
On Tuesday, Emerson and publisher Penguin released Richard Emerson: The Hopfather written by Michael Donaldson. In the book, he is described as the first modern craft brewer in New Zealand.
In true brewer fashion, Emerson's marked the occasion by releasing a limited edition beer called Fall On Deaf Ears.
Emerson's sales and marketing manager Greg Menzies says Emerson is considered the "godfather of New Zealand brewing", as his beers changed New Zealand's attitude to craft beer.
"Who starts a brewery on a porter? It's not a high selling beer, and then follow that up with a European-style beer that no one could ever pronounce. He took risks, and that's why he is seen as the godfather."
Brewing in the South
Wellington is home to the most breweries in New Zealand, but the South Island is considered to be where the industry began.
This country has 218 breweries - more per capita than anywhere else in the world, with approximately 4.6 breweries for every 100,000 people.
There are about 65 physical breweries in the South Island, compared with 96 in the North Island. Wellington boasts 32 breweries, followed by Otago with 27 and Auckland with 25.
Collectively, New Zealand's brewing industry is worth $2.3 billion. It contributed $646m to GDP in the year to March 2018 and employs about 22,000 people, according to a report by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER).
South Islanders consider Dunedin as the birthplace of New Zealand beer, as Speight's opened in 1876 and has been operating in the same premises for well over 100 years.
The craft segment of the market has been growing rapidly since 2008, and last year represented about 10 per cent of all beer sales. Growth in craft beer has almost trebled in the past five years, with sales rising by about 13 per cent each year since 2016.
The craft beer model largely revolves around beer sold on site, direct to the customer, often through a taproom. Those taprooms are a new addition to the industry in New Zealand, though they are commonplace in the United States, which is roughly eight to 10 years ahead in trends.
Brewers Association of New Zealand executive director Dylan Firth says the South Island is positioned to see more breweries pop up over the next few years.
"The industry has a number of well-known breweries with long and proud histories. Having two of those in such a small area really stands out ... Speights has been around for a very long time and is loved by a huge number of New Zealanders. Whereas Emerson's came in with some of the first craft breweries in New Zealand and has been instrumental in part of the craft revival," he says.
Many smaller towns such as Dunedin are well-visited by tourists because of their beer culture, says Firth.
Visitors to New Zealand spent $242m on beer last year, and tourists are increasingly visiting the country specifically for beer-related tourism, the NZIER report found.
"With some of these figures around per capita breweries showing we are near the top of the breweries per person list internationally, there is always a question of what the market can handle in terms of saturation - especially in a declining consumption environment."
Menzies says New Zealand's beer market is saturated, and to stay on top brewers are increasingly moving to sell direct to consumers.
But he believes there is still growth in the craft segment.
For Emerson's, 65 per cent of its staff are employed in its hospitality division. "Considering [the taproom] didn't exist three-and-a-half years ago, we really underestimated how big [hospitality] was going to be," says CJ Janssen, hospitality manager at Emerson's Brewery.
Each day, the taproom gets about 300 people through its door for a full meal.
"Life beyond the pint", with taprooms for craft brewers, is becoming common, Menzies tells the Herald . "With how craft has got with a saturated market now, if you don't have your own vehicle to sell the beer, then you're not going to be in business very long.
"Breweries are opening up little restaurants and taprooms to be able to move the beer. There's three or four big players in the market with Lion, DB, Independent Liquor and Constellation, and getting shelf space is difficult for small breweries, so more are now opening taprooms and cellar doors to get people to try their beer."
Beer and food matching is the next wave of growth within the industry, he says.
"Wineries have been doing it for donkeys' years so it makes sense that beers, similar to wine in that aspect, goes well with food, and you need to be able to promote your beer somehow and with food is great - there's more and more [taprooms] coming on."
Lion says food-led venues are enjoying growth. Its Little Creatures brewing and dining precinct in Auckland is an example of this, says a company spokeswoman.
John Christie, director of Enterprise Dunedin, says Dunedin, and the wider South Island, has a history of brewing beer - which is why many visitors come to the city for beer-related tourism.
"Dunedin has the oldest brewery with Speight's brewery, started off by James Speight back in the late 1800s, back when Dunedin was the centre of New Zealand, at the start of the gold rush.
"During that time beer was important to those living here and we've had a strong tradition of that ever since," Christie says, adding he believes consumers associated New Zealand beer - particularly craft - with this part of the country.
"Richard Emerson, he is a legend here. He's well-known for brewing craft beer and really being one of the pioneers for that. Speight's were the same way when they started off.
"Now you see there are more and more craft breweries throughout the country, but it started here 26 years ago with Richard."
The annual Dunedin Beer Festival, scheduled for November, sells out in seconds each year - mostly to people living outside the city, says Christie. About 70 operators from both islands will attend this year.
Christie believes Dunedin has the potential to become the brewing capital of New Zealand - despite its population of just over 130,000 - if three or four brewers continue to start up each year in the area as they had over the past couple of years.
Dunedin is increasingly becoming home for people moving from the bigger cities to run or start their own businesses, and for a lifestyle. This is the case with the founders of the city's Arc Brewery, he says.
Students studying for the certificate or diploma in brewing make beer as part of the course which is sold under the Rough Rock Brewing Co brand.
Export priority different in the South
South Island brewers seem to have the mentality that they are brewing for local consumption as opposed to exporting.
"A lot the breweries now, what's happening is they'll brew in the country they are going to," says Menzies.
Panhead and Yeastie Boys are examples of this, brewing in Australia and Scotland. Emerson's is looking into doing similar.
"Craft is such a hard thing to send overseas; you'd need chilled freight, which is expensive. If you leave it in ambient temperatures it deteriorates a lot faster."
There are many barriers to export. Firth says difficulties for any brewery that is located away from large population centres is getting product to market. "Distribution is a huge cost of business and for South Island brewers who want to access more customers, say in Auckland, they are faced with getting their product across Cook Strait, which adds significant cost."
Speight's started 140 years ago, founded by James Speight, a businessman, Charles Greenslade, a maltster, and William Dawson, a brewer.
Lion came onboard in 1923 when the risk of prohibition was still strong. As a way of ensuring the brewery survived, nine breweries in the region amalgamated and called themselves Lion Breweries. The only one that remains is Speight's.
Speight's brews approximately 7 million litres of beer each year. It only brews fresh beer in Dunedin, for kegs. Bottling and canning is done in Lion's facility in Auckland.
The facility also makes a home brew kit Black Rock, which is experiencing growth.
Arron Goodwin, operations manager of Speight's Brewery in Dunedin, says there is still room for growth in New Zealand's beer industry, but it will get tough to operate in the next 12 months as the industry experiences shortages.
"The challenge for anyone is the malt. It has been hit quite hard over the past couple of years," says Goodwin. "Australia's yield has been very low due to weather changes. There has been a couple of hot summers in Europe … so we're expecting a lot of pressure on barley to be converted to malt.
"Input costs are increasing, there's a lot of demand for hop so that also puts a squeeze on price."
Prices are flat and margins are squeezed for big brewers, he says. He expects those challenges to intensify over the next couple of years as more brewers start up. "The fragmentation in the market and a lot more people coming in; I don't think it's an easy thing to open up a craft brewery and make money - it's quite challenging. We might see some consolidation and a few drop out, the ones that survive will do really well."