In just six years, Matt Smith turned his love of home-brewing into an award-winning craft brewery.
"I was always a keen home brewer," says Smith, founder and head brewer of Brave. In 2014 he and wife Gemma decided to take his passion for the hobby to another level, turned their backs on a decade living in Auckland and returned to their home-town of Hastings to set up the Brave Brewing Co.
"We started in the back garage and began selling at the local farmers' market and bars and restaurants. It just grew from there."
It paid off for the couple. This month their classical German-style Pilsner, The People's Pils, has been named as one of the Top 30 beers and ciders in the New World Beer & Cider Awards (NWBCA).
Brave Brewing is one of a handful of breweries and cideries from the East Coast region making the Top 30 in this year's awards. Another is Sunshine Brewing in Gisborne who have two beers in the Top 30 - their Stout and Summer Ale.
This is the sixth annual NWBCA awards, this year run throughout June with the Buy NZ campaign – to celebrate and champion local food producers, helping to kick-start a customer movement to buy NZ-made products, and supporting New Zealand's recovery post Covid-19 by promoting regional tourism.
An independent panel of 25 experts judged hundreds of beers and ciders in March (before Covid-19) and awarded the Top 30 best beers and ciders.
For Brave Brewing, inclusion in this year's Top 30 has not only solidified Brave's position as a top-notch, award-winning brewery but also helps put the East Coast region on the map as a tourist destination.
"Hawkes Bay is a laid-back place," says Smith. "It is well known for its sunshine and great food and wine. People can visit and easily spend half a day on the beach and the other half visiting wineries." Now, he says, people are also coming to the region for beer tasting, including at Brave Brewing's taproom.
Today Brave Brewing employs six fulltime staff producing about 3000 litres a week, 85 per cent of which is sold to local bars and restaurants. Smith says Brave focuses on producing beer to satisfy a wide range of tastes (two of their most popular tipples are Bottle Rocket and Tiger Milk) and prefers not to place emphasis on beers with intense flavours.
"In that way we are a bit old school," says Smith. "We aim to make really good beer and serve our region well because Hawkes Bay locals are very supportive and are quick to get behind local producers. It is great to be acknowledged (in the awards) and to see our beer being showcased."
Martin Jakicevich, director and co-owner of Sunshine Brewing says having two of its beers in the NWBCA Top 30 "is showing us we are on the right track, while being in New World stores gives us access to their customers so they can see our beer and how good it is."
Sunshine Brewing has been around for over 30 years and was started by a couple of local surfers "sitting out the back waiting for a set to roll in" who were soon producing the iconic lager, Gisborne Gold.
In 2013, following a number of lean years for the brewery, Jakicevich and Peter Thorpe teamed up with Mark Young of Vintners NZ to buy the operation with the aim of re-building it as one of New Zealand's leading independent breweries. Eighteen months ago they brought on Dave Huff, formerly of Hallertau at Riverhead in Auckland's north-west, as brewery manager.
Jakicevich says Sunshine caters for all beer personalities from those looking for unique styles to the casual drinker wanting consistent and easy-drinking: "They reflect both the working person and the outdoor lifestyle of Gisborne."
Sunshine have a taproom on Waikanae Beach (famous for one of the country's best surf breaks), a short drive from central Gisborne where all 21 of the brewery's labels are on tap.
"Local and domestic tourism is important to us," says Jakicevich. "We don't have many international visitors here, but a lot of New Zealanders have a Gisborne story. Most of them are summer stories from their youth and a lot want to come back and re-live those good times."
He says their award-winning Stout is great to drink in the winter as an accompaniment to meals like stews and casseroles while the Summer Ale is equally satisfying with meat and salads, summer or winter.
The New World beer & Cider Awards Top 30 beers & ciders from the East Coast region include:
Brave Brewing, The People's Pils: A classical German-style Pilsner, it delivers subtle herbal, floral and spice notes across a base of smooth creamy malt and fills your mouth with soft textural bready malt and finishes fresh and cleansing.
Sunshine Brewing, Stout: Smooth with a velvet texture and charming flavours of chocolate intertwined with berries and caramel. Its flavour is long and rich and finishes more sweet than bitter.
Sunshine Brewing, Summer Ale: This is Gisborne is a glass – bright, sunny and bursting with tropical fruit. The judges loved its "bouquet of hops" and the easy drinking style.
Zeelandt Brewery: A classic German-style Schwarzbier, or dark lager. An attractive chocolate aroma with a hint of cold coffee in the background and a slight acidity. The body is lager-light but rich in flavour.
Zeffer Cider Co: Sparkles like a glass of pink diamonds. Vibrant notes of raspberry, cherry and violets deliver a rich perfume of aromas. The flavour profile is reminiscent of rosé – a coherent blend of sweet berries and just-tannic cider notes.
Can't make it to the East Coast? Pick up one of these brews or ciders at your local New World and enjoy after a long day, or check out more New World Beer & Cider Award winners and discover a new drop this season at www.newworld.co.nz/top30.
Tune in next Thursday for the third installation of our New World Beer & Cider Awards regional journey. Next up? Our Craft Capital.