Visiting the Sawmill Brewery and Smoko Room in Matakana, north of Auckland, it's hard to tell the popular watering hole has been shut for nearly nine months.

Well, that's not quite true after a fire gutted Mike Sutherland and Kirsty McKay's brewery in October last year, with a major rebuild under way since.

While they weren't exactly chirpy and happy when their business burned down, it wasn't the end of the world.

"You wouldn't wish it upon anyone but plenty of good things have come out of it. We have a stronger, more resilient team," Sutherland said.

Advertisement

"Rather than thinking that we wished it hadn't happened we just couldn't believe how well supported we were.

"Of course it wasn't a happy experience but neither was it tragic. It felt completely different from what you might expect."

Part of the interior of the newly rebuilt Sawmill's bar, dining and hospitality area. Photo / Supplied
Part of the interior of the newly rebuilt Sawmill's bar, dining and hospitality area. Photo / Supplied

According to Greek folklore, the phoenix is a mythical bird that burst into flame and died after living for 500 years, only to be reborn from its own ashes.

To rise from the ashes means to emerge as a better version of one's self, representing transformation, strength and renewal - it might be cliche, but there's a feeling the same thing is happening with Sawmill Brewery.

Nine fire trucks full of firefighters arrived at the brewery site on Leigh Rd, Matakana, to tackle the raging fire which came within minutes of completely destroying it.

Sutherland, McKay and their three sons were fast asleep in the family home nearby at the time, completely unaware of what was happening at the brewery.

A progress shot during the rebuild of Matakana's popular Sawmill Brewery. Photo / Supplied
A progress shot during the rebuild of Matakana's popular Sawmill Brewery. Photo / Supplied

It wasn't until someone came to the home and woke the pair that they were alerted to the heartbreaking news.

But heartbreak wasn't the first emotion they felt, it was gratitude towards the dozens of firefighters working in the middle of the night to bring the fire under control.

Advertisement

"We stood there at 2am watching them work, absolutely in awe that people volunteer to do such difficult and dangerous work," Sutherland said.

"The next morning when our staff came in it was incredibly emotional.

"When we took over the brewery in 2010 it was just the two of us. After the fire, we were buoyed by the people we work with and that we didn't have to rebuild on our own."

Not only has the local Matakana community been of huge support to the Sawmill Brewery team, but other competitors in the brewing market too.

Subscribe to Premium

Since the blaze, Sawmill has brewed at 13 other breweries in New Zealand.

Having beer made in someone else's brewery - called contact brewing - isn't a new process, Sutherland said.

Advertisement
A selection of the Sawmill's tempting brews. Photo / Supplied
A selection of the Sawmill's tempting brews. Photo / Supplied

However, it was the first time Sawmill had tried it, and having to adjust to brew offsite but having complete autonomy over the process was difficult.

"Not just the brewing but the processes around it – managing waste streams and resource use for example," Sutherland said.

"We are New Zealand's first B Corp certified brewery so our business is really orientated to having a positive impact on our community and environment. That is much easier to do when you have complete control."

B Corp certified businesses must meet high standards of verified social and environmental performance, meaning the brewery has to pass a rigorous assessment of its impact on workers, customers, community, and environment.

And while managing the business offsite was challenging, the tightness of the wider brewing team meant when the country shut down for the coronavirus pandemic in March they were already on their game.

The scene inside the Sawmill Brewery and Smoko Room in Matakana after last year's devastating fire. Photo / Supplied
The scene inside the Sawmill Brewery and Smoko Room in Matakana after last year's devastating fire. Photo / Supplied

Sutherland says without their team they wouldn't have been able to manage since the fire, and advised others who faced major setbacks in their own businesses to rally around one another.

Advertisement

"It would have been so much harder without our crew involved, taking responsibility for different parts of the rebuild and keeping momentum. It was exhausting but we really honed our adaptability," he said.

The Smoko Room opens from midday on Friday, July 31, and will be open from 12pm to 10pm Wednesday to Sunday before opening seven days a week in summer.