Upper Hutt Leader
Boutique beers brewed in Upper Hutt will be officially launched this week by their local maker.
Chris Mills, known to many locals through his involvement with the farmers' market which operated in Upper Hutt for a time, has turned his home brewing hobby into commercial boutique beer production.
Named for New Zealand's tradition of beers associated with birds and Upper Hutt's adoption of the kereru, the Kereru Brewing Company is making two pale ales, a stout, a strong Belgian-style ale and a gluten-free golden ale.
Mr Mills and his wife Natasha Dahlberg moved from the United States to New Zealand in 2002 after a downturn in work for their computer graphics business.
They wanted to get into the film industry and Mr Mills worked for Weta, Park Road Post and some freelance work for Australian and American customers.
The couple still run their business but do not have enough customers to make a living.
Mr Mills has been a home brewer for nearly 20 years and decided set up a commercial operation.
They have installed in a commercial kitchen and small brewing plant with official registration as a food premises.
A Customs licence to make alcohol has been obtained and Mr Mills has applied for a general manager's certificate and off licence.
Central to the project is making beers the way Mr Mills likes them.
Two pale ales and a stout typify his favourite beers.
The most unusual is called Auro, a gluten-free golden ale made from syrup extracted from sorghum, which he imports from the United States. Upper Hutt's Ancient Grains bakery uses Auro in its gluten-free steak and ale pies.
But most of his ingredients are sourced locally.
Hops and malts are grown in New Zealand, citrus for the Velvet Boot beer by a neighbour and he grows the coriander seeds himself.
Some specialty roasted grains are imported.
The couple produce their own labels and can design them for customers wanting a special beer for a wedding or other function.
Mr Mills produces the beers by hand and without automation in a small pilot brew plant which can make no more than 50 litres at a time.
The brewery uses a three-tier gravity system with hot "liquor" (water) up high, below that is the "mash tun" vessel where grains are steeped to make the sugars for fermenting, and lower down is the kettle for boiling the "wort" (fermentable sugars from the mash tun) with hops.
Hops provide bitterness and act as a preservative.
From there it is strained to keep back the hops, chilled to 18 degrees Celsius from boiling and put into a fermentation vessel with yeast to convert the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.
After a few days the fermentation vessel is capped and kept under a constant pressure as fermentation completes to condition the beer until it is ready to be racked under pressure into kegs.
From there it can be packed into bottles or be put on tap.
Water used to cool the beer goes into tanks for use on the garden.
Most home brewing leaves sediment in the bottom of the bottles but the system Mr Mills uses does not.
It makes beer more slowly than a large commercial brewery but quicker than home brewing.
For many years around New Zealand local breweries supplied their nearby markets and Mr Mills is keen to see it again here.
Mr Mills has done food matching for the nibbles to be served with the beers at the invitation-only launch. Beers can be matched with foods the same way wine is, he says.
He hopes to grow the business carefully as the maximum production is 100 litres a week.
He says contracting out some styles is a possibility but then they would not be made in Upper Hutt which is part of the attraction.
He says Upper Hutt has a high number of boutique beer enthusiasts.
Kereru Brewing Company's five beers are Silverstream Pale Ale, Hop to It, Moonless Stout, Auro and Velvet Boot (a strong Belgian ale). Prices for a 330 millilitre bottle range from $5 to $7, depending on the style.
Mr Mills can sell only wholesale to licensed venues.
The only outlet is the Mayfair Cafe for onsite consumption. Mr Mills is also seeking a licence to sell from his brewery by appointment or delivery and online.
- Upper Hutt Leader