Anyone still under the impression Garage Project was all about pretty branding and savvy marketing should have those doubts dispelled after the Wellington company was judged to be the best brewery in New Zealand at the country’s Brewers Guild awards on Saturday night.
The brewery claimed four gold medals and the Best Flavoured Beer trophy for its Cabbage and Kings imperial stout with oysters and horopito, as well as medals for the majority of the staggering 42 beers it entered, and left the awards dinner at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand in Christchurch with the prized Champion Brewery title.
When collecting the trophy, co-founder and head brewer Pete Gillespie (pictured above centre with, left to right, Kieran (Kez) Burns, Carrie McLachlan, Hannah White and Ian Gillespie) used his time on stage to praise New Zealand’s brewing scene.
“There are a lot of fucking good brewers here and that makes it all the more special to get something,” he said. “[Winning awards] is just tougher every year.”
Saturday’s trophies were spread across a range of breweries, from contract brewing operations to multinational operation Lion Nathan. Tuatara Brewing, which won the Champion Brewery award in 2016, was a big winner early on, taking out the Pale Ale and European Ale trophies. Founder Carl Vasta spoke of it being a tough year for the company, which was sold to DB Breweries in January.
“There has been a bit of a reshuffle this year in the brewing team, but we’re going from strength to strength now,” he said.
Some of the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for Auckland-based Liberty Brewing, which took home the Speciality, Experimental, Aged, Barrel and Wood Aged trophy for its Prohibition Porter. It's the third award the beer has won this year, after taking home the People’s Choice awards at both the Winter Ales Festival and Beervana.
Head brewer Joseph Wood, dressed in eye-catching attire, gave the shortest acceptance speech of the night: “Fuck yes.”
Auckland and the surrounding region continued to stake its claim as the new craft beer capital of New Zealand, with four of the 11 beer trophies on offer going to breweries from the region.
While Waipu-based McLeod’s Brewery is making a name for itself with its hoppy and sour offerings, in no small part thanks to the work of former 8 Wired brewer Jason Bathgate, it was its Longboarder lager that picked up a trophy in the International Lager category.
Matakana’s Sawmill Brewery (pictured above) managed to get its best ever results at the awards, taking home the Stout & Porter and Wheat & Other Grain trophies for its Baltic Porter and Weizenbock – the latter a collaboration with Hamilton’s Good George.
While Good George has become synonymous with brewing in Hamilton, it was a much smaller company from the Waikato city which claimed a trophy: the awards’ head steward Craig Bowen accepted the Strong Pale Ale trophy on behalf of Bootleg Brewery, letting everyone know they’re a small contract brewer. Most would have put the house on Epic winning the title for the third year running with Armageddon, but the IPA only managed a silver medal this year.
Christchurch’s Eagle Brewing is best known for its dark beers but saw its Dry Hopped Pilsner win it a trophy in the New Zealand Lager category. Founder David Gaughan was obviously shocked, telling the room: “It took us six years to get one of these and I don’t know what to fucken say.” The award comes at a great time for David, who is about to start a crowdfunding push to fund a shift from Riccarton to a new retail hub in Kaiapoi, where Eagle Brewing will become a brewpub.
Two of the less surprising awards of the night saw Boston Beer Company winning top International Brewery and Steam Brewing taking home the Champion Manufacturing trophy. Steam started life as the production brewery for the Cock and Bull pub chain, but became a contract brewing operation when the chain was sold and Lion beers put on tap instead in 2012. Since then, Steam has brewed beers for the likes of 8 Wired, Bach Brewing and Croucher during its lifetime, with Epic its most famous customer. That makes it three years in a row for Steam, but they should see more competition next year with another massive contract brewery, bStudio, opening in Napier this year and taking on production for the likes of Garage Project and Behemoth.
Elsewhere, a little history was made on the night as Alice Galletly (above) became the first female winner of the Beer Writer of the Year award. She was unable to make it to the awards but celebrated the next day by posting a photo on Instagram of her and her cat while "drinking IIPA from a slightly dirty champagne glass".
Emerson’s took home the Best Packaging trophy for the redesign of its six-pack range, while the annual Morton Coutts Trophy for Innovation went to Hamish Jones of The Nuts Brewing Co. The award, named after the inventor who pioneered various brewing inventions, went to Hamish for his pioneering work in making a gluten free beer using chestnuts in place of any grains.
A nut beer taking home an innovation award summed up the night well, which began with the national anthem being played by a man dressed in a red Swanndri and hosted by someone openly swigging Rheineck (the nearest Australian equivalent might be Fosters) who swore the best food-and-thing pairing was and R’n’R – Rheineck and Rothmans cigarettes.
- Champion New Zealand Brewery - Garage Project
- Best European Ale - Tuatara Brewing Tripel Barrel
- Best British Ale - Speight's 5 Malt Old Dark
- Best Experimental/Barrel Aged/etc - Liberty Brewing Company Prohibition Porter
- Best Wheat and Other Grain Style - The Sawmill Brewery Weizenbock (a collaboration with Good George Brewing)
- Best Flavoured/Aged - Garage Project Cabbages & Kings
- Best International Lager - McLeod's Brewery Longboarder
- Best NZ Lager - Eagle Brewing NZ Dry Hopped Pilsner
- Best US Ale - Brave Brewing Co. Clifford
- Best Stout/Porter - The Sawmill Brewery Baltic Porter
- Best Pale Ale - Tuatara Brewing Aotearoa Pale Ale
- Best Strong Ale - Bootleg Brewery ApeHanger
- Best Packaging - Emerson’s Brewery six-pack range
- Morton Coutts Trophy for Innovation - Hamish Jones of The Nuts Brewing Co.
- Beer Writer of the Year - Alice Galletly
- Best Cider - Issac's Cider Original
- Best Flavoured Cider - Zeffer Cider Apple Crumble
You can check out the full list of medal-winners here.
You can read more of Jono's articles on the New Zealand beer scene here and other NZ stories on Crafty here.