Food & Wine
Next to a performing arts school in Wellington's Vivian St, in a former panelbeater's workshop, beer is being bottled and brewed. White gumboots blaze in the sunlight as the twenty-something owners of ParrotDog sweep away water, stick hoses into pipes and check their new, shiny bottling machine is still operating.
They're the next generation of brewers and if you're confused about who to ask for when you visit the trio at the Vivian St brewery, just yell for Matt. All three owners share the same name. Even their London-based designer is a Matt.
The morning Life visited, the bottling machine churned out its fourth round of bottled beer ever, producing 2000 bottles. It was an exciting step in the ParrotDog story - prior to that, the beer was only available by keg, or on tap at one of the 24 Wellington bars which serve it, along with other bars around the country.
The story behind ParrotDog is a typical Kiwi DIY one. Two flatmates, Matt Kristofski and Matt Warner, were studying at Victoria University when they made a home brew in their bathroom flat. In that Aro Valley flat there lived a parrot, Schmee, and the flatmates called each other "dog". The brew was so popular that it was on tap in the flat fridge.
ParrotDog was supposed to be a temporary name but it stuck.
The flatmates decided to release the brew commercially in time for the beer awards in 2011. But just a week out from the competition, the style was so bitter and bad, recalls the third Matt in the business, Matt Stevens, "that we nicknamed it BitterBitch. We were so disheartened. Even when we got it right, the name stuck".
BitterBitch, the flagship beer, an Indian pale ale, scooped the People's Choice Awards at Beervana last year. Initially made at mike's Brewery in Taranaki, demand outstripped supply and the Matts took over the former panelbeater's workshop last year.
Since last week they have been filling 80 cases of beer - or 2000 bottles - each time the bottle machine whirrs into action. They produce 2400 litres of beer a week, with names like Bloodhound, FlaxenFeather, and PitBull.
None of the guys had ambitions to be fulltime brewers, even though, like most Kiwi blokes, they liked a beer. Kristofski, 26, trained as an auto electrician in Nelson, before shifting to Wellington to study marketing. Warner, 24, trained as a lawyer and was heading for the bar when he became a fulltime brewer.
Stevens, 25, was working as an accountant for Deloitte last year when he quit to join his friends. "It's the ultimate fun job going to work every day with your mates," he says.
They say that Wellington is the best place to make a craft beer. "It's the craft beer capital. The majority of craft beer is consumed here. Wellingtonians seem keen to embrace the flavours and styles of craft beer," says Kristofski.
It was a gamble to begin bottling, as Stevens says many craft brewers only produce kegs. However, they're already shipping kegs to Australia (an Australian distributor found ParrotDog) and they've presold bottles there too.
The Matts are loving working for themselves and are part of the growth of gutsy and exciting craft breweries that are pushing the boundaries. As part of the quest for innovation, they're offering limited releases of beers like OrangeChocolate stout (which won an award last year). "For that we hand-zested 500 oranges and we added Whittaker's cocoa nibs," says Stevens.