“I didn’t start Brave because I felt that I’m the best brewer in the country, or that it could make me wealthy, I just wanted to do something different, something scary, and something fun.”
Matt Smith’s Brave Brewing is another garage project. It’s in a double garage in residential Hastings, where Matt lives with wife Gemma and their enthusiastic four-pawed brewing assistant.
The home-based premises are a fitting extension of Matt’s home brewing background. Matt won the Champion Brewer at the 2013 SOBA Home Brewing Competition, and a year later launched his first commercial beer at local bar The Common Room.
“I’d been daydreaming about going commercial for years and that was good motivation to give it a crack. It was validation from reputable palates judging the beer – your friends are always going to tell you it’s awesome.
“I’d initially planned to have a brew pub but, given I have no experience in hospitality, I soon realised that was way over my head. So I put together a business plan to start something in my garage and put together funding from the bank and from friends and family to get this little kit from China.”
Brave runs off a 300L kit with a 600L tank, and Matt treats this small scale as a strength: “ensuring quicker turnover and fresher beer”. Brave pitches itself as ‘Fresh & Local’, and a big chunk of its production is destined for local restaurants.
“Being in Hawke’s Bay there’s a big focus on food and wine, and we’ve got a lot of winery restaurants. So naturally I popped around and shared my beer with them, and had a really good reception. For better or worse I got on to a lot of restaurant drinks menus, so I had to commit to those beers because you can’t really run out when you’ve got nice restaurants relying on you. So I wasn’t able to play around with other styles as much as I’d have liked.”
Another unforeseen consequence of this local restaurant market was a strong demand for bottled beer. “I do the bottling very, very manually with a Williams Warne counter-pressure bottle filler. I’ve got two of them ganged together, and it takes probably one and a half days to package a 300L batch.” The unfiltered and unpasteurised beer is kept chilled in kegs and bottled on demand.
Brave currently has a core range of four – an American pale, American brown, Pacific wheat and a Saison. It also produces occasional Black Label brewer’s reserves.
Matt hopes to increase his range soon, and is planning to move to new premises with a larger kit. “I’m planning on going up to a 1200L kit where I can get some efficiency gains and stop working like a dog for 80 hours a week! I’ve always wanted to have a cellar door and Hastings is good place to do that. It would be good to sell more on site and, with the larger production, sell more out of the area too. I’d like to be more experimental. When I was home brewing I was experimenting with sours and barrel-aging, and this tiny garage doesn’t really lend itself to barrels.”
Matt is currently looking for new premises and plans to move in by spring to be ready for Hawke’s Bay’s summer visitor peak.