Altitude Brewing’s heart is in the mountains.
Queenstown’s Eliott Menzies started Altitude in 2013, with Mischievous Kea IPA (5.5%) – named after a parrot living in the surrounding mountains. A long-term home brewer, Eliott worked at Peregrine winery and wanted to go commercial with the recipes he’d been working on.
Eliott was soon joined by English expat Eddie Gapper. “I love business strategy management and marketing, and Eliott hates all of those things, so we have a clear division of labour and we’ve been on a ridiculous growth curve ever since,” says Eddie. “We’re twice the size we were last year.”
The Queenstown community is unique in New Zealand – snow sports all winter, adventure sports all summer, tourists and partying all year – and that shapes Altitude’s brewing philosophy.
“Unlike any of the cities, people in Queenstown by and large have actually done something to deserve a beer – climbing, paragliding, whatever it is. So having a beer is going to cap off quite a significant day.
“As a consequence, people want an interesting flavour experience but they don’t want to sit there cogitating about some double imperial barley wine. It’s going to have to satisfy and be refreshing. The test is: ‘Why would we brew this beer?’ Because it will be good enough that someone will order another.”
Altitude made another important philosophical decision early on. “From the very beginning Eliott set the business up to be a contract brewer. We took a very unromantic decision that being day-to-day brewers was much less important than growing distribution, and we would do distribution first, manage the risk, and look to own our own production facility when it made sense.”
So for now Altitude’s beers are all made at Three Boys Brewery in Christchurch. Eddie says the two businesses share a common approach to making a good beer.
“Their beer philosophy was very similar to ours, their range of beers is excellent, and they tend towards the well-made classic rather than the exotic. Christchurch has a very traditional British beer culture. Eliott discovered beer in Scotland so he’s another one of these Kiwis who’s gone abroad, fallen in love with British beer culture, and brought that thinking back.
“From a logistical point of view it makes no sense to have a heavy product made five and a half hours drive away, but we were more than willing to accept that cost in exchange for the quality we knew they could help us deliver.”
Altitude’s range is currently available at Atlas Beer Café, bottle stores and restaurants around Queenstown, and at a few bars, bottle stores and supermarkets in the South Island.