The Rise of the North

bout a year ago, my wee whānau and I uprooted our comfy suburban existence in East Auckland and re-planted ourselves in the sunny northern village of Warkworth. As first home buyers, it was a choice between a brand new house on a sun-drenched hill overlooking Warkworth, or a shed overlooking a six-lane highway in Pakuranga. Not really a choice at all, then.

Last summer, we made the most of our new surroundings – particularly the local beaches. One of our frequent swimming trips to Omaha Beach coincided with recycling day, and driving through the pornographically-affluent neighbourhood, I noticed a strange contrast in the contents of the bins. Amidst the Moet and 60 buck Syrah, the bins were overflowing with green bottles. Heineken, for the most part; a bit of Becks; and a smattering of Steinlager (Pure, of course; Classic is for the working-class, after all).

It struck me as a bizarre dichotomy – one that made absolutely no sense at all, given the general thirst of the Omaha crowd to pay over the odds for high-quality produce. The popularity of the oft-touted theory that ‘beer is beer, and should be cheap’ is apparently unaffected by wealth.

However, the state of the recycling bins at the swankyend of Omaha certainly does not reflect the state of the local brewing scene. As a nerdy observer who pays attention to these things, it’s abundantly clear to me that – at least in beer terms – the north is on the rise.

The most obvious example is 8 Wired – who, after what could be conservatively termed a bloody difficult first year or so at their Warkworth site, are now in full-flight. After popping in to see Søren Eriksen and his excellent team at the brewery the other day, I can comfortably report that the future of 8 Wired is an immensely bright one, with an entire wall of the brewery dedicated to their incredible barrel-ageing programme. This team remains at the cutting-edge of New Zealand’s brewing renaissance (pun absolutely intended).

Then we have the continuing ascent of Sawmill Brewery. In a similarly insightful move to the one that saw Wellington’s Fork and Brewer give Kelly Ryan the keys to the brew house, Sawmill management have made young-gun Sam Williamson their brewery manager.

Sam’s exceptional CV includes formative years at Steam Brewing, before becoming the highly-praised brewer at Galbraith’s – so there can be little doubt that Sawmill’s move was a smart one. But don’t take my word for it – if you’re anywhere near Auckland, head out to the gorgeous brewery in Matakana and grab a tasting paddle. Much like the surroundings, the beers are faultless and fabulous.

And then, about 50 minutes north of my front door, there’s McLeod’s Brewery. Nestled behind Waipu’s superb Pizza Barn – literally in a tin shed – the McLeod’s team have started pumping-out some of the best small batch beer I’ve ever had. But that’s not terribly surprising; the McLeod’s brewing team is now helmed by 8 Wired
protégé-turned-head-brewer Jason Bathgate. Since starting at the beginning of 2016, Jason has cracked the whip, tidied-up brewing processes, and already started his own barrel-ageing programme. Considering he’s only been at the helm for a year, his progress is nothing short of astonishing – so look for more great things from this plucky team.

These are just a few examples: where once there was tumbleweed, the brewing scene in Auckland’s northern outskirts is now bulging and rich. Deep Creek are doing great things out of their brewery in Silverdale, and both Liberty and Hallertau aren’t far (the backroads to the brewery through Kaipara Flats make for a particularly gorgeous drive). The likelihood that I’ve forgotten to mention some breweries is testimony to how much things have changed in such a short time.

This article has certainly been a kissy-smoochy North Auckland love-fest – I admit to spewing inside my mouth while reading the first draft – but I truly believe that the likes of 8 Wired, Sawmill and McLeod’s are just the beginning of a new frontier in our country’s continuing beer evolution. It’s my view that the next decade or two will see
immense brewing growth north of the bridge – fueled by Auckland’s population, affluence, and isthmus shape, which is driving young families (such as mine) either north or south of the city. The availability of high-quality beer that is locally produced can only be a good thing in terms of educating local palates, as well as convincing more people of the merits of spending more and drinking less.

For my part, I will always sing the praises of those breweries that pitch their tent here, and then push the evolution of the local scene.

Back to The Pursuit of Hoppiness April 2017

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