Behind Bars: Brew Union Brewing Co., Palmerston North

By BeertownNZ Fri, 10 Mar 2017 Central NI

Palmerston North’s first brewpub opens today.

It’s a been a long time coming. When craft breweries mushroomed in centres like Wanaka, Oamaru and Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu remained a good-beer desert. Brew Union breaks the drought.

The 700m2 bar includes a brand new 1200L brewery and a wood-fired pizza oven. It has been put together over the past year by Jules Grace and Murray Cleghorn.

The partners have worked together for years and could see Palmerston North was a big hole in the craft beer map.

“We looked at different urban centres, did a lot of research on StatisticsNZ on the demographics, average income, all that sort of thing, says Jules. “Palmy’s untapped – it’s the biggest centre in New Zealand without a craft brewery. So that opportunity is huge and somebody’s going to do it and we’re glad that no one else started one before we have.”

Jules and Murray met in 2001 when they worked together at Starbucks. Their careers have overlapped ever since, and they decided to open a brewpub together about seven years ago.

Since then they have studied with impressive commitment: “Me and Murray did a research trip to Oregon two and a half years ago – I managed to tag it on to my honeymoon. My wife loves beer too and we all spent two weeks in Portland and one week in Bend.

“Murray went and worked at Invercargill Brewery for a year as their production brewer. That’s the thing – we want to do our research so we don’t make mistakes. After that he got the offer to be the general manager for Starbucks in Indonesia, which is something you can’t turn down.”

Jules looks after the bar while Murray runs the brewery with production brewer Jason Franssen. It’s a large venue in an untested market, so the plan is to cover a broad range of good food and good beer.

“Food will be based around the wood-fired pizza oven. It came in in pieces and was built on site. We also have bigger meals – especially with the demographic here, Dad might want a steak and a Tui. We have to cater for everyone so we don’t give them a reason not to come back.”

The bar has 21 beer taps and it will pour a mix of Brew Union and other craft breweries. “We don’t plan to be selling our beer through more than half of them. We will have a core range of six to eight beers plus seasonals. That’s the great thing – we can see what we like, what the brewer likes, what the market responds to. If it was up to me I’d be making beers like Liberty's Joe Wood, big on hops and skinny on malt, but not everybody likes that sort of stuff. I do like a good stout too.”

Jules says the brewery’s big advantages are access to local engineering talent (honed in the dairy industry), and set-up advice from Invercargill Brewery’s Steve Nally. “Steve says brewing is half science and half witchcraft. Well, he understands all of the science.

“One of the things we definitely want to do is change the way Palmerston North’s drinking culture is perceived. We’re closing at ten most nights, eleven on Friday and Saturday. We’re creating an environment where it’s about quality and it’s local and it’s about connecting with the community in ways that matter to us and to our customers.”

Brew Union Brewing Co., 41 Broadway Ave & 78 King St, Palmerston North

By BeertownNZ Fri, 10 Mar 2017 Central NI