Brixton, Gastown, Williamsburg … Kingsland.
For Bruce Turner, the driving force for his new brewery was not just the beer – it was finding a location in Auckland that reminded him of the great international suburbs of the world.
He wanted the vibe of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, Brixton in London or Vancouver’s Gastown.
“For me this part of Auckland was the most like an international suburb,” says Turner, who learned his beer craft at Fuller’s and Meantime in London.
The name, Urbanaut, comes from the brewery’s philosophy of wanting to place itself in, and be a part of, a setting that was part industrial, residential, retail and entertainment.
“I’ve always loved being in cities and that’s what we value – we see the beer sitting in an urban environment, and we like exploring urban spaces and the name just came through that,” says Turner, the red-bearded 40-something who describes himself as a walking cliché of an urban, hipster, brewer.
The brewery has the tag line: “Worldly beer from Kingsland, Auckland”.
“We want to emphasise there are other Kingslands around the world like Brixton, Gastown, Williamsburg … so we’re creating beers based around those suburbs. We want people to think what it would be like to drink a beer in those places and have it linked to the urban culture and environment they are in.”
On top of a Kingsland Pilsner, they have a Williamsburg IPA, Brixton Pale Ale, Gastown Red IPA and Shimokita Lager, named for the hip Tokyo suburb famed for its fashion, food and entertainment.
Turner grew up in Marton but has worked – and snowboarded – around the world. With an engineering degree he came to brewing from a manufacturing background – working in a fibreglass factory and then making snowboards. About 10 years ago his OE took him to London and a job at Fuller’s.
“I started on packaging lines improving their quality and efficiency. It was a fantastic grounding.” He then moved to Meantime in Greenwich. “They were the first hop-driven craft brewer in London and I could see they were going to go somewhere. I wanted to be there for the ride.”
As packaging manager and then working on production planning – Turner was part of a brewery that “went gangbusters”, growing from 2 million litres year to 12 million.
That experience in rapid growth has resulted in Urbanaut being future-proofed from the get-go with the 2500-litre brewery way more than they need right now.
“But we can turn it on instantly if need be and there will no lag and missed opportunities.”
He also hopes to lure in contract customers.
While Turner’s background is on the packaging and production he’s also got qualifications in brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.
Turner’s business partners are a pair of his old high school friends, Simon Watson and Thomas Rowe. They formerly ran property development company, Evoke Property, which was most famous for buying the so-called `million-dollar hovel’ in Grey Lynn, doing it up and selling it for over $2.8m. They’ve ditched property to follow their brewery dream.
Watson and Rowe have done the hard yakka on the building work and the trio have also done some hard yards with their neighbours.
“We’ve talked to all the neighbours and appeased their fears that it might be a late night booze bar,” says Turner. “Once we told them we wanted to be an inclusive day-time operation and not a place where people are going to come and get loaded – and craft beer doesn’t attract that kind of person anyway – they were really supportive.”
A huge building in an expensive part of Auckland does have some risks attached to it for a start-up brewery, Turner admits.
“We spent a long time looking and we’re definitely at the higher end of the lease pricing but the landlord is very supportive because he can see the benefit of having a brewery here. It’s my dream – I want to do this until I retire – so it was important to get the right building.”
But what about the beer scene in New Zealand? Is there room for new players?
“We haven’t come into this lightly – I’ve been watching the industry for years. We realised there would be a point, not a saturation point as such, but a point where it’s not easy to start up and go to a bar and sell some beer. But our business model is diverse.”
The brewery will initially be a retail space, where locals can buy beer in riggers, with some of the range in bottles and cans. But the plan is to have a garden bar and turn the space into an urban brewpub.
“In Auckland, you don’t really have that retail concept where you can come in and fill your riggers and get your takeaway beers,” Turner says. “Maybe that’s because there aren’t many breweries in a really central location or in neighbourhoods.”
Urbanaut will also offer regular brewery tours. “We want to bring people into the brewery, talk about the history of beer in New Zealand, the current scene, how we make our beer, offer samples – for a city this size I was surprised there was not an offering for regular brewery tours.”
The brewery floor area is massive – with the stainless steel tanks seemingly tucked to one side. That’s because they also want to rent the space for events such as corporate functions before big matches at Eden Park, an eightminute walk away. Turner will road-test the venue for weddings when he gets married there in February.
Urbanaut are also hoping to help promote their area as part of an `uptown beer quarter’ where punters can happily walk between Galbraith’s, Brothers Beer in Mt Eden, Funk Estate in Grey Lynn and Urbanaut in Kingsland.