Wine region welcomes craft brewery

TRACEY CHATTERTON
Last updated 05:00 14/07/2014
Chris Barber
EVA BRADLEY/ Fairfax NZ

BREWER: Chris Barber believes brewing in Hawke's Bay complements the strong wine market.

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Chris Barber is crafting beer in wine country to complement the full-bodied Hawke's Bay reds on offer.

Brewing is in the Barber blood with his great great grandfather starting a brewery in Canterbury after sailing out from England in the 1880s.

But it wasn't until he had a university degree under his belt and was thinking about business options that Barber considered brewing himself.

The "food movement" was taking off with coffee and wine growing in popularity and it got him thinking about local beers - but back in 2000 there wasn't a lot on the market.

He decided against going down the home-brew path.

"I thought I could make some pretty rubbish beer at home or I could try and drink the best beer I could find."

So he got some experience working in breweries here and overseas before completing a brewing diploma in Sunderland in the United Kingdom.

He returned home to Auckland in 2009 with a plan to start his own brewery but difficulties finding the right location brought him to Hawke's Bay where his family owned land, north of Napier at Eskdale.

He was able to draw upon a family trust to help finance the brewery. The start up costs were steep, with equipment alone costing $100,000.

Barber started producing on a small 100 litre pilot while the 1000 litre brewery was being installed.

Capacity is limited to the three 1000 litre fermenters giving the brewery a maximum of 3.5 brews a months.

"It's pretty low and not enough to keep the brewery going, so the business needs to grow to make a profit."

To make that happen, Barber is bringing on an assistant brewer next month and is planning to invest in some 2000 litre fermenters in the next 18 months which would almost double production.

Once brewing got under way in August 2012, Barber's focus shifted to finding and keeping customers.

Some local bars, restaurants and wineries were only too happy to take on a craft beer made in their backyard.

"Hawke's Bay is a very proud region and they like to support local. I think that certainly helped the brewery get started."

Barber believes brewing in Hawke's Bay complements the strong wine market.

"It's a natural progression, if you care about the wine you drink, you'll care about the beer you drink."

But it was harder getting Zeelandt Brewery's name out there than he expected.

"I thought that with a brewery opening up, news would travel on its own but it doesn't, it requires a lot of effort."

He has recently brought a marketer on board to continue pushing the brand forward with a big focus on social media.

The craft beer market had grown but so, too, had local competition.

While there was increasing competition for shelf space, the bigger market was putting pressure on retailers to give up more space to the smaller brands, Barber said.

"We do compete but we are all trying to chip away at that mainstream market."

He was focusing on and had secured a number of local retailers. However Zeelandt beer had also made it into Wellington's Hangar Bar and Thorndon New World as well as a few Auckland retailers and bars.

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Barber brews true to the style of European beers but using New Zealand ingredients, with hops grown in Nelson.

"It's how I interpret the beer," he said.

Zeelandt brew a Pale Ale, Helles, Dunkelweizen, London Porter, ESB or Extra Special Bitter, Weissbier and Pilsner.

Customers can buy a 500ml bottle from retailers such as Moore Wilsons for $7 to $8.50 a bottle.

On average Barber sells 2000 litres a month.

- The Dominion Post

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