This afternoon Harrington’s Breweries officially celebrates 25 years in independent brewing with a cake and a party.
However, the real work has happened behind the scenes. A regrouping and investment programme has seen the family-owned business go from a sprawling empire with breweries, bars, restaurants, bottle stores and warehouses, to a modern operation on a single site.
Two years ago, Harrington’s took over the Matson’s Brewery in Christchurch’s industrial Wigram. Owner Carl Harrington describes the plant as being “past its use-by date”. The 1200m2 building has since been expanded with a new loading bay, and the old tanks have been replaced.
The site now has 100,000L of fermentation capacity, with shiny new 10,000L tanks built in Blenheim at Stainless Solutions.
The big investment, though, is the new bottling/pasteurising/packaging line. The full system runs for 125 metres through the building – beer goes in one end, and packed and wrapped pallets come off the other. “It’s bigger than Emerson’s new bottling line,” Carl points out emphatically.
The system was built in Italy and bought through Viniquip International. Italian technicians came to New Zealand over winter to install the line, as well as other new bottling lines at other breweries. “Ours was the biggest one,” Carl adds.
The packaging system itself is amazing to see. It assembles six-pack holders from flat packs, fills them with bottles, assembles cartons and fills them with the six-packs, then arranges the cartons on pallets before wrapping the complete pallets with cling wrap. The only thing it can’t do is drink the beer for you.
Carl says Harrington’s has struggled over the past 18 months with the ancient bottling line at its old Ferry Road site. “The old bottling line was breaking down every couple of weeks and sucking money. We could have bought a house with what we spent on it, and the dissolved oxygen count was higher than we were happy with.
“Now our dissolved oxygen is down to 40 parts per billion and we can bottle more than 3000L per hour. Last Thursday we bottled 13,000L, that’s 26,000 bottles, and there were only 24 rejects. It gives you a lot of confidence and all the guys on the bottling team really appreciate the equipment we’ve got now because of what they had to put up with in the past.”
The regrouping has seen Harrington’s concentrate all its business on one site. Its old breweries in Ferry Road and Ferrymead, its bars, restaurants and bottles stores, and its warehouse, have all been replaced.
“Before the 2010 earthquakes we had nine bottles stores across Christchurch. Some were closed by the quakes, and we sold the remaining five six weeks ago to members of the Super Liquor group. We got out of the stores and got a good national supply agreement with Super Liquor which gets us into about 150 stores.”
The warehousing duties have been taken over by Toll. Now a truck delivers empty bottles in the morning, and returns in the evening to load up with full pallets. For the first time Harrington’s has stock warehoused in Auckland, to support the new Auckland sales rep. “He’s a Westie,” says Carl, “so he slots in really well with the Harringtons. It’s definitely an advantage having a local.”
The restructuring has also led to job cuts. Carl says Harrington’s was employing 70 people and is now employing 21 – the bar and retail staff are now working for the new owners.
Today’s official 25th Anniversary celebrations will include a ribbon-cutting on the bottling line. It is also founder John Harrington’s 75th birthday today. John was the star of this year’s Brewers Guild Awards, collecting both the Morton Coutts Trophy for innovation, and an Honorary Membership of the Guild.
Carl says the Anniversary marks a new stage for the family-owned business. “This year Dad (John) received that recognition, we settled our earthquake insurance after years of work, we’ve combined all our operations on to the one site and spent a fortune on new equipment. Now we’re able to concentrate on making good beer and delivering it to the shops in good condition.
“We’ve got a lot to do over the next 25 years and it’ll be fun.”