Tim Newman takes a look at the revitalised Raindogs Brewery
In the current climate where there seems to be a new craft brewery on the block every month, it’s heartening to see that the newest to be built in Christchurch is not a new label, but an old one.
Sean Harris’s Raindogs was one of the first wave of new craft beers to spring up in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake (quite literally) shook up the old scene.
As the brewer for The Twisted Hop brewpub, Sean was left with plenty of leeway to experiment with new beers, but always had designs for his own range. The impetus for that endeavour eventually came in dramatic fashion.
“The earthquakes in 2011 and closure of The Twisted Hop site was the kick in the pants I needed to move ahead with plans for Raindogs”.
After a period of contract brewing Sean teamed up with Dave Gaughan and started the shared-space Eagle vs Dog brewery in 2013, and Raindogs became a ubiquitous label on the craft beer market.
But with Eagle Brewing undergoing its own expansion, space eventually grew tight in the central Riccarton premises. In 2015 the last of Raindogs was brewed at the Eagle vs Dog as Sean moved out, planning to start a brewery of his own. In the interim, he returned to contract brewing at Stainless, but the cramped schedule of the busy brewery and Sean’s unease with being unable to get hands-on with his brews saw the availability of Raindogs beer dwindle to the point where it was extremely difficult to find.
Since November of last year, the new Raindogs brewery has been coming on-line, but with funds tight and Sean currently in sole charge of the operation, the process hasn’t been without its trials. Acquiring the brewing gear itself was not a problem; ordered from China, it arrived without a hitch, where it promptly sat in storage for many excruciating months as the tribulations of n
avigating the post-quake Christchurch property market became apparent.
“The biggest hurdle I struck was securing a premises of a size and price I needed. There’s a lot of new industrial property available which looks good but is pretty pricey,” he says.
“Size was difficult with older affordable sites, to a large extent they were too small (like the old Riccarton site) or way too big.”
Even when a suitable building was found, the landlord pulled out at the last moment, not wanting drains installed in the building, even though that had been the plan Sean had presented from the beginning. Two months of planning and negotiations sent all too literally down the drain. Eventually an appropriate site was found, but even that wasn’t without its complications.
“The previous tenants of the building we moved into had pretty much moved out in the middle of the night one step ahead of the debt collectors. That left a few legal issues the owner had to have sorted before I was allowed in the door. It also left a lot of building damage and mess to deal with, but we got there in the end!”
Sean was finally able to move his new gear into the building and get to work.
Today the tanks are full, Raindogs beer is flowing once again and there are already contract brewers taking advantage of this new place to brew in Christchurch.
Sean’s present task is brewing back stocks of the core range, while rebuilding sales contracts to get the beer back on shelves. Expansion plans for the brewery this year are a much needed walk-in chiller, and an off licence for door sales and rigger fills.
Special releases to look out for in the coming months are a new batch of the 2015 Brewers Guild Trophy winning Singularity Imperial Stout, 17 Seconds fresh hopped ESB, and a collaboration with Valkyrie Brewing to produce what to my knowledge will be New Zealand’s first commercially produced Eisbock (a German style of freeze-concentrated beer).
Raindogs is being distributed by the proximately located BeerNZ, and should become more widely available in Christchurch and beyond over the rest of the year. Oh, and anyone who was wondering (as I was) where the name Raindogs actually originates, it’s from the Tom Waits album. That being from somewhat before my time, I always thought it was actual dogs.