Sunshine Brewery in Gisborne was a recklessly brave craft beer adventure.
When it started in 1989 there was little demand for craft beer and no independent distribution networks. Sure, you could make a better beer, but who could buy it? Fortunately Sunshine met fellow pioneers at Regional Wines, Bar Bodega and The Malthouse in Wellington. Brewers, retailers and bars combined like fuel, heat and oxygen, and our craft beer scene started to smoulder.
Geoff Logan and Gerry Maude started brewing in September 1989 and eventually sold the business in 2013. Two years ago, in October 2014, Sunshine moved to a large new site two blocks inland from Waikanae Beach.
The new brewery is a combination of old and new. The ancient brew kit came along, joined by new fermenters and a new brewer, Chris Scott.
Sunshine built its business on a small core range, dominated by Gisborne Gold lager. This was a simple 4% beer, brewed with Saaz and Green Bullet hops. It had big chunk of the craft beer market during the 1990s, but that market moved on and left Sunshine behind.
But now the favourites of the old range have been tweaked and relabelled, and new beers, ranging from pilsners to a rocking imperial stout have joined the range. Sunshine is releasing a new beer nearly every week, and its broadened range is impressing beer drinkers again. Beer writer Geoff Griggs raved about Sunshine’s Grand Cru: “My favourite beer of the [Beervana] festival”.
Brewer Chris Scott joined Sunshine two years ago. “Before this I was at Steam Brewing in Auckland. I was there for a couple of years, and before that, I was in the malting industry for nine years, working in the Malteurop lab making wort for analysis. I got into home brewing from there. While I was at Malteurop they sent me to Massey to do the residential brewing course, and I sat my general certificate from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling while I was at Steam.”
Since arriving at Sunshine Chris has overseen two innovations – the small but growing barrel-aging programme, and conjuring up a new release each Thursday.
That Flanders Grand Cru spent 15 months in barrels. Sunshine has about 13 barrels, with more on the way. Beers aging away now include more Grand Cru, a feijoa sour, some Black Magic stout with black currents, and my favourite, Czar Bomb imperial stout.
The Thursday release programme is where Chris and his assistant, Richard Mulligan, have some fun and test new ideas. “You name it, we’re doing it, from schwarzbiers to Belgian ales, IPA. It’s all a part of recipe development,” Chris says. “We try a 50L brew through our taproom, and if the public receive it well, we will upscale it, which has happened to a few of our brews now. They go on at midday on a Thursday and some will be gone that night.”
Sunshine’s taproom includes a small bar and a bottle filling station. When Beertown.NZ called on a Saturday afternoon, the taproom was doing solid business as locals of all descriptions called in to fill a rigger or two.
Sunshine claimed four medals at this year’s Brewers Guild Awards – one silver for Robust Porter, and bronzes for Grand Cru, Black Magic and the Barrel-Aged Pumpkin Ale.