With six brewers operating in a town with 7500 permanent residents, Wanaka is certainly setting the national record for brewers per head.
The granddaddy of the pack is Wanaka Beerworks. Established in 1998, it’s now onto its third owners, second wet-floor and is producing 150,000L/yr.
Set up in 1998 by David Gillies (Brewski Dave), it was bought in 2011 by Susan and Dave De Vylder (Belgian Dave). Then in 2014 Ruenell and Mike Wing took over the brewery, bringing their Jabberwocky Brewing label to join the established Wanaka Beerworks range. Their first step was to invest in new tanks, and replace the old floor which was worn and cracked.
“We started in brewing by making Jabberwocky pale ale in our garage,” says Ruenell. “We took our first batch to the Alexandra Blossom Festival and it sold out very quickly.” After struggling to meet demand, the Wing’s turned to contract brewing. “It was a weekend project and we started getting interest from local cafes wanting to stock it, so we had it contract brewed in Invercargill.”
“Then this place was on the market and we decided to buy here, so Jabberwocky came to Wanaka Beerworks with us. We’ve got two or three beers under the Jabberwocky label and they are our more specialised craft beers – pale ales, amber ales, double IPAs. The Wanaka beers are more traditional.”
Taking on the Wanaka Beerworks legacy meant taking on responsibility for a local favourite, Brewski Pilsner. “The locals are very possessive of Brewski,” says assistant brewer Chip Hammond (pictured above). “We sell a lot of it here, especially at (Wanaka bar) Kai Wakapai. I go there a lot and get the feedback immediately.”
Wanaka’s ownership changes have caused some obvious fluctuations to the beers’ quality, with Brewski perhaps the most noticeable example. Ruenell says the goal now is to produce consistent quality beer. “We don’t want to do a million different beers. We just want to stick to a selection and do them exceptionally well. Our business model is sticking to our core range and doing them well. Brewski’s recipe has been adjusted over the years as the market’s changed. It now makes up about 70% of our production but Jabberwocky pale ale is growing and is about to overtake Cardrona Gold lager for our number 2 position.”
And things are getting interesting outside the core range too, with a barrel-aging programme using locally-sourced pinot noir barrels. When Beertown visited last week the 2016 vintage barrel-aged Jabberwocky brown ale had just been bottled. It will be available in a couple of months and has the potential for further aging.