Twice the time and double the budget - how to start your brewery

By BeertownNZ Fri, 28 Aug 2015 Wellington

North End Brewing commissioned its new brewery last week. Head brewer Kieran Haslett-Moore tells us what it took to get to Batch No. 1.

North End is in Waikanae, the extreme northeast outpost of the craft beer capital, 60km from downtown Wellington. For the past couple of years it has been contract brewing, chiefly at Panhead. Brewing in-house was always in the North End plan, and the brew kit itself was ordered in mid 2014.

“It arrived in New Zealand this June, which was seven months late. If you want to look at what I’d do differently, I wouldn’t deal with that company I did deal with. I would have taken on an agent in China right from the start, to act on my behalf, and I certainly wouldn’t have made the final payment without having an agent inspect the plant to see if was to specs. There were some pretty big lessons learnt dealing with China.”

Because, when the plant finally arrived, there were some surprises.

“We found a bigger brewery than we had ordered, so that was good. The mill was bigger than we ordered, and that was good. The heat exchanger was half the size of what we ordered, that was bad. The electrics were all configured for US electricity, so that needed a lot of work. We expected to have to deal with that sort of stuff, but we didn’t budget for the seven month delay.”

“We ended up with a 2800L brewery instead of a 2400L brewery. Some people think it was a brewery made for someone else that they slipped to us when we started causing trouble over the delays. I actually think it was a confusion between hectolitres and American barrels – we paid for a 24 hectolitre brewery and received a 24 barrel brewery.” Score!

Kieran’s advice is to plan – and budget – for the unexpected.

“Every single phase takes longer than you expect. If I knew what I know now, I’d start with a local agent in China. Be prepared for it to take twice as long and cost twice as much as you expect. I suppose it would be feasibly possible to do it in a year, but at least two years is more realistic. Be prepared for it to change your emotional life and relationships immensely. But still do it!”

The unexpected delay had an unexpected benefit – Panhead’s popular Canhead range.

“We ordered a canning line from Canada. Canada came in on time and China came in very late, so we had a canning line just sitting there. That didn’t make any sense, so we installed it at Panhead – and by 'we’ I mean Panhead. That gave us an opportunity to start putting our beer into cans and it gave Panhead an opportunity to start putting beer in cans. It gave my crew a chance to train and get used to operating the canning line, in an environment where we had mechanically competent people around us.”

Kieran doesn’t know which end of a screwdriver is the handle, so he’s been pleased to benefit from Panhead’s Mike Nielson’s mechanical skills. “Mike’s been instrumental in us getting where we are. He’s spent hours and hours answering all my questions.”

Kieran also thanks other brewers for their support. The Twisted Hop’s Jim Holly “took leave, stayed in a motel in Waikanae for 2 and half days just helping getting everything going. To us it was worth so much.” Tuatara’sCarl Vasta “lent us all sorts of things in the first few days of brewing”. Richard Emerson, “for my introduction into commercial brewing and also for making London Porter which got me interested in craft beer in the first instance”.

Now North End is in production, the next step is to build and open a brewpub on the premises. Watch the website for progress details.

“We always knew it was going to be tough. At the end of the day we have got there. The time taken has probably been nearing on five years and that time has been the real cost to us. I think all us investors got in at a low price and now we have something that really is worth a good amount of money more than we invested, now that we’re an active brewery.”

For sordid details and graphic pics, check out Kieran Haslett-Moore on Facebook and @Northendbrewing on Twitter.

By BeertownNZ Fri, 28 Aug 2015 Wellington