Gary Henwood in the Kainui brewhouse at Kerikeri. Photo/Lindy Laird
Many people make good home brew but it takes real, well, craft, to turn it into gold medal winning beer.
Kainui Brew Co, a small brewery near Kerikeri, won three medals from four entries in the 2018 New World Beer and Cider Awards — a gold medal for its Rank and File porter, silver for its Postman Pilsner and bronze for its Summer Love Saison.
Self-taught — "I learned a lot off Google" — brewer Gary Henwood couldn't be happier. He entered the competition "to get our beers out there" and now they're being distributed through the national supermarket chain. In fact, the chain has placed another order since that win earlier this month.
"They're drinking our beer in Invercargill," Henwood grinned.
He had been making home brew for five years when, with encouragement from family and other fans of his product, three years ago he decided to go commercial — commercial in a craft beer sense.
At full tilt, Kainui Brew Co can bottle about 1200 litres a day from the brewhouse in a paddock at the family's rural home.
The wins validate Henwood's commitment to brewing and gives him even more incentive to continue the sorcery that turns plant matter and fungus into gold.
Kainui beers' "freshness - the most important thing as far as beer goes" probably sealed the gold, especially with an old fashioned style such as porter, he said.
The name Rank and File and the blurb on the label refers to porter's history: no-nonsense, not overly sophisticated, straight up, "the flavour of the working class".
"The history of beer is amazing. Brewing these traditional styles is like time travelling."
Already Kainui turns out 12 beers.
"That'll grow all the time, there's not much brand loyalty," Henwood said.
That is plenty of excuse to keep developing styles, walking the tight rope between staying true to brewing tradition and experimenting.
"A lot of the market want good beer. It doesn't have to be super hoppy, super flavoured, it needs smoothness of character.
"I'm about to brew a bitter that will be called Northland Bitter. Bitter has certainly piqued my interest."
He'd also like to play around more with other methods, such as leaving a brew outside now there have been some light frosts in the area.
"That's a Belgium beer method, they call it koelschip, or cool ship. It gets inoculated with microflora."
The rise of craft beer has changed the culture of beer drinking, Henwood said.
The change is largely due to a higher alcohol level but also because beer tasting now borrows from the wine industry's cellar door.
Kainui Brew Co sells at markets and other events but the cellar door is at Henwood's parents-in-law Helen and Alan Thompson's nearby Kainui Road Winery where music concerts and day visitors to the cafe boost the beer sales.
"We mainly brew small batches. It's flying out the door."
Much as he'd like to be a fulltime brewer playing around with hops and yeast and grain, Henwood and other family members help out with the Thompson's kiwifruit growing and packhouse at busy times like this autumn's bumper crop.
But the former landscaper and lawnmowing contractor is also studying for a degree in wine science. There are acres of grape vines for him to start experimenting with next.