Lake Wanaka – usually renowned for its magnificent scenery, laidback lifestyle and a wide variety of summer and winter sports – is fast becoming a major centre for quality food and beverage manufacturers. Not only does the Central Otago resort boast a number of nationally respected restaurants and a top vineyard, it is also home to a vodka production company and a distillery.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that craft breweries are also flourishing in the tiny settlement. Four breweries…Wanaka Beerworks, Sidewinder Brewery, Ground Up Brewing and Maverick Craft Beer…all produce their beer varieties in Wanaka, whilst B.Effect beer is developed in a garage operation in Wanaka and then brewed in Invercargill and Christchurch.
Add to that list newcomer Rhyme and Reason brewery, and it’s fair to say Wanaka must be up there in terms of breweries per capita records. Under construction and set to become the town’s sixth brewing operation when it opens shortly, the brewery will assist Wanaka craft breweries to produce more than 300,000 litres of beer by the end of next year.
Jessica Wolfgang and Simon Ross – who spent six months searching in both Australia and New Zealand before choosing Wanaka as the perfect location for Rhyme and Reason – are helping make craft breweries around New Zealand sit up and take notice of a tiny little town in the deep South.
“We were attracted to Wanaka by the lifestyle, as well as the influx of tourists in both the winter and summer seasons,” Wolfgang – who has had considerable experience in the Australian brewing industry and will be the head brewer when Rhyme and Reason starts production in its purpose-built premises using Chinese brewing equipment – says.
About $500,000 will be spent on the brewery, which at full capacity will produce about 120,000 litres a year, she says.
It’s competition Wanaka Beerworks welcomes. Owned by Jabberwocky Brewery’s Ruenell and Mike Wing, the company was the first established craft brewery on the site of the Wanaka Airport when it opened in 1998 until about two years ago, head brewer Andrew Boulton says.
“This competition is good for the local industry and local people,” he says. More local beer is being sold in the town’s bars, restaurants and cafes, and fits in with his plan to promote Wanaka as a genuine beer destination for New Zealand. “What happens is space is made for the smaller breweries in the restaurants and bars by getting rid of the commercial beer…which means more opportunity for everyone.”
Locals want to buy ‘local products’, Boulton says, which increases demand for Wanaka Beerworks products and has spurred expansion plans. “We hope to produce about 150,000 litres next year,” he says. “At the moment, we sell most of our beer in Wanaka and Central Otago, but, hopefully, we’ll start to get into markets outside our local area.”
This growth in demand is being felt by other craft breweries as well. Ground Up Brewery is owned by Oliver Boyes and Julian Webster, who also brew their own product. Both enthusiastic home brewers, their craft brewery grew out of the hobby and they have created a strong demand requiring long hours to keep up supply.
B.Effect craft brewery is a major supplier in Wanaka under the direction of founder James Hay. “Small changes can cause big effects, and we make distinct modern beers for adventurous people,” Hay says. “We’re crafting beers to suit Wanaka’s outdoor-orientated lifestyle, relaxed way of life and outgoing social atmosphere. We promote craft beer culture, responsible enjoyment of beer in New Zealand, and have a positive effect on Wanaka’s community.”
However, B.Effect does not brew in the town just yet. Hay is planning to open a brewery in Wanaka in around six months, and will brew all his beer there.
Sidewinder is a joint enterprise between Luc Waite and Dave Telfer. After attending Beervarna, both men noticed a large number of successful craft brewers were friends who decided to enter the craft brewery industry together. They decided to do likewise and learned on the job, but had expert assistance with technical matters.
As an aside, Sidewinder is not a reference to a North American snake as in the old song, nor a particularly devastating missile, but to a ski run favoured by the two men.
Waite and Telfer have a conservative approach to their craft brewing. “It is still a hobby, although there is continuing strong demand,” they say. A brew is run about every four weeks and, with 400 litres at present, produces just enough beer to satisfy demand. They are not planning on extending their operation.
Duncan Miles is the founder and head brewer for Maverick Craft Beer, which was incorporated shortly after it began production three years ago. At present it is operating out of temporary premises, specialises in draft beer and currently does not bottle nor can any of its product.
While Maverick brews a modest amount every week, Miles says the company’s new premises will be completed before Christmas, and he expects to produce and sell about 12,000 litres of his craft beer every week.
In a recent review of the brewing industry in New Zealand, the ANZ Bank Economic Unit says an increasing number of domestic and international tourists are “taking the pilgrimage to their favourite breweries. Not only does this provide valuable sales opportunities to breweries, as many are based in provincial New Zealand, the spin-offs for regional economic growth are significant.”