Boutique brewer a 'shining light'

Liberty Brewing Company owners Joseph and Christina Wood sample some of the beer they have been pumping out of their home garage brewery since 2009
Liberty Brewing Company owners Joseph and Christina Wood sample some of the beer they have been pumping out of their home garage brewery since 2009

It's only a matter of time until New Plymouth man Joseph Wood is crowned New Zealand's top brewer, says the Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA).

Wood, who has been brewing beer since the ripe age of 14, is the man responsible for producing some of the country's most respected and progressive craft beers. He has also been providing beer enthusiasts with the ingredients and equipment needed to home brew beer since he and his wife, Christina Wood, purchased Liberty Brewing in 2009.

Originally from West Auckland, the couple moved to New Plymouth five years ago, when Joseph Wood's passion for beer was little more than a hobby. Now, the Woods have three 300-litre tanks in a garage brewery where Joseph crafts Liberty beer and distributes it throughout New Zealand.

SOBA press secretary Martin Bulmer said Wood was a "shining light" in New Zealand's beer industry.

"His brews are extremely well regarded," Bulmer said, adding that Wood had been an active and influential member of New Zealand's craft beer and home brewing industry for some time. "He's done a helluva lot to support the craft beer brewing in this country."

Bulmer said it was only a matter of time before Wood was crowned New Zealand brewer of the year.

The growing popularity of craft beers in New Zealand had spurred a new generation of home brewers, Bulmer said.

"In the past couple of years it has been blossoming. People are finding out that beer isn't something that you just knock back, it's something you enjoy."

Liberty Brewing was both leading the way in craft beer brewing and helping unleash hidden home brew talent in garages throughout New Zealand, he said.

"This country has burgeoning talent under the blanket."

Although Liberty Brewing prides itself on selling top-class beers, its core business is selling home-brew ingredients. Each month, about five new customers join Liberty's existing base of 1800 clients, Christina Wood said.

She takes care of customer service, distribution and finances, while Joseph looks after the brewing, packaging, cleaning and networking. He spends between 20 and 30 hours a week brewing beer in his "ultimate man cave". On top of this, he works 40 or 50 hours a week as the manager of a shipping terminal at Port Taranaki.

The Woods have recently returned from visiting friends in Nelson. Conveniently, their visit coincided with Marchfest, the annual hop harvest festival, where Wood went head-to-head with a West Coast Breweries brewer, Dave Kurth, in a debate about the merits of "high-gravity" brewing versus "low-gravity" brewing.

"Gravity" refers to the alcohol content of beer and Liberty brews were renowned for having a solid kick with a high alcohol percentage and plenty of hops, he said.

"They wanted me to talk about high gravity because all of our beers are fairly grunty," Wood said.

He has brewed about 20 beers, ranging in strength from 5.3 per cent to 11 per cent, he said.

Five Liberty beers are available in bottles and are occasionally stocked at Fitzroy Liquorland, but the majority of the brews goes into kegs and is shipped to Wellington or Auckland.

The most popular brew at the moment is C!tra, an Indian pale ale with a zesty finish and heaps of hops.

"People scream for it. It's been flying off the shelves," Christina said.

At the 2011 Pacific Beer Expo, which attracts brewers from the United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, Liberty beers were voted the people's choice on both days of the event.

"We didn't just win, we cleaned it out by a substantial margin," Joseph Wood said.

For the past three years, Liberty Breweries has run a competition where home brewers send in their best beers and the best beer wins all the ingredients needed to make the brew.

This year Wood received 15 entries and the winning brewer has been invited to use the Liberty brewery to make 300 litres of their winning drop.

Wood oversees the brewing process, packages the final product and distributes it to Liberty Brewery stockists.

"It's not a profit thing for us. They just get a kick out of it and it generates interest in our brand too."

So where to from here, for the boutique brewery?

"We're definitely working our way towards a bigger brewery," Christina Wood said.

Taranaki Daily News