Entrepreneur with freshness, fizz

BOTTLED GOODNESS: Rebecca Hardie Boys reckons her fresh ginger beer is a flu fighter, stomach settler and great hangover cure.
SIMON EDWARDS/Hutt News
BOTTLED GOODNESS: Rebecca Hardie Boys reckons her fresh ginger beer is a flu fighter, stomach settler and great hangover cure.

What started off as making a former bus driver's bid to make a healthy drink for her children has grown into a full-time occupation making and supplying ginger beer to more than 70 restaurants and cafes.

Rebecca Hardie Boys has transformed an old concrete mixing building on the outskirts of Wainuiomata into a pristine workspace for her one-woman-band fermenting and bottling operation.

She was suprised as anyone at this change of direction in her working life. Hardie Boys has been a bus driver, public servant, coffee deliverer, reading and maths tutor, full-time mother - and somewhere in there fitted in gaining a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and anthropology.

But in one of those random events that end up bringing significant change, she was visiting her mum 18 years ago when she was trying out making ginger beer. Unlike the ginger beer that a neighbour used to make when Hardie Boys was growing up in Nelson ("disgusting!"), her mum's recipe was tasty. Hardie Boys started making it for her own kids, making certain adaptations along the way as she experimented.

One day in 1997 her friend Matt Hanna, who at the time owned Armadillo Restaurant, visited with a terrible cold. Hardie Boys served him up a couple of glasses of her ginger beer. Matt felt much better, and before she knew it Hardie Boys was supply four Wellington cafes.

Hardie Boys Ginger Beer has been fizzing ever since.

The main difference from competitors' products is its freshness.

BUG

While Hardie Boys' "bug" (yeast) is fed on ginger powder, the drink flavouring is fresh ginger, "grated then juiced.

"Some purists and real brewers look at my ginger beer and think it's terrible - cloudy and so on."

There are no preservatives, it's not pasteurised (heating it to a high temperature would destroy some of the flavour and nutritional value) and it's non-carbonated. Her drink's fizziness is from natural fermentation. The yeast turns the sugar into CO2.

"A little bit of alcohol is a by-product, which helps the sterilisation of the drink, but it's very low - 0.7 per cent."

Because it's so fresh, it has a short shelf life. Hardie Boys not only makes, bottles and labels her drinks, she delivers them herself. That means she puts them in the cafes' fridges, rotating the stock and giving the owners feedback if their fridge isn't cold enough.

If someone leaves a Hardie Boys Ginger Beer sitting on a warm counter, it will pop its top. Warmer temperatures kick start the natural fermentation again.

As well as her classic and dry ginger beers, Hardie Boys has added fermented lemonade and fermented lime drinks, the lemonade using a fermentation process she learned from a Picton-based champagne maker.

Summer is the busy season for the Hardie Boys business. "It's like ice blocks. Temperatures reach a certain point and everyone thinks 'mmm, I just feel like an ice block'." Same with her drinks.

That's a bit of a problem for the Hardie Boys fresh lime drink because the picking season is right now through to October. Hardie Boys is just back from picking 130kg of limes from some trees in Levin.

She insists on New Zealand produce. Only the fresh ginger is an import because it doesn't grow successfully here.

On the other hand, winter is the time for flus and colds. Hot or cold lemon, lime or ginger drinks are a great tonic and Hardie Boys pushes that aspect of her product.

"Ginger beer is very good for settling stomachs. It's also a great for a hangover cure and for morning sickness."

Cafes and restaurants get quite inventive with Hardie Boys' drinks. Monsoon Poon makes delicious ginger beer cocktails. Another cafe was making a Hardie Boys ginger beer fruit cake and Cafe L'affare was making ginger beer battered fish. It would be great in a 'spider' drink too.

Hardie Boys has relied on word of mouth for advertising, but she's also had great results from running ginger beer and lemonade stalls at the Hutt News Petone Village Fair. If it's a hot day, her fizzy drinks on ice are tasted by thousands.

INNOVATING

This year she plans to try freezing lime juice to extend her production season. She's also considering drinks using other seasonal fruit, such as feijoa and blackberry.

"I might even try making a real cola."

The Hardie Boys operation was originally in a commercial kitchen in Wellington, and then the old Pizza Hutt building in Manners St. But city rents were getting out of hand and a couple of years ago Hardie Boys shifted out to Wainuiomata.

At first sight the old building out of Homedale, where the concrete was mixed for Wainuiomata's housing boom decades ago, seemed too run down. But thanks to the DIY skills of Hardie Boys' partner George, it has been transformed.

Hardie Boys says she loves the tranquility of the site. It's bathed in sunlight in summer and she has established a garden out the back for when she feels like a break from bottling. The move out this way also introduced her to a whole lot of Hutt Valley clients.

And the drive back home around the harbour "is just lovely".