Wanaka, on New Zealand’s South Island, is one of those resort towns popular with tourists all year round. In summer, Lake Wanaka becomes a bustling hub of activity, while the nearby mountain trails and picturesque views offer the perfect invitation for those looking to escape reality. In winter, those views are no less stunning, and the area also boosts legendary views of the Southern Lights as well as easy access to some of the country's best skifields.
Many miles away, in a part of the world which also has a lot to offer both tourists and locals sits Hunter Beer Co, in the heart of the Hunter Valley. It was there that Jess Wolfgang learnt to brew with Keith Grice, who has been Hunter’s head brewer for over a decade. You can read more about Keith and his time at Hunter in this Brew & A.
Jess spent seven years honing her craft with Keith, before her and her partner Simon Ross decided to move back to the latter's homeland in New Zealand. It was there they launched their own brewery in 2016 called Rhyme and Reason.
Here’s Jess to tell her story as part of our ongoing Aussie Exports series.
WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU?
Rhyme and Reason is at 17 Gordon Road, Wanaka.
HOW DID YOU END WORKING IN A BREWERY IN NEW ZEALAND?
We had to build it. Simon is from New Zealand; he had spent the past ten years living in Newcastle, Australia, and he was keen to move home. It didn't take much arm twisting to get me to make the move thanks to there being plenty of mountains, lakes, surfing and hiking around here.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE RHYME AND REASON NAME?
There was every Rhyme and Reason for Simon and me to start a wee brewery. Mechanical engineer meets brewer.
WHO ELSE IS INVOLVED IN RHYME AND REASON?
Family and friends have played and continue to play a huge role in the brewery. Our good friends Josh Newbury and Ajanta Willert, owners of Can You Keep A Secret Bar in Brisbane, did the design of our bar/tasting room.
My dad built the bar from the sketch they left us, while my mum has been a huge mentor for me. Between both our families and lots of our friends we have been helped along the way from construction through to minding our mental health on this huge project.
Our bar manager, Sarah, is the glue around here and keeps us on track! We are really humbled by the support our customers continue to give us and, of course, the support and knowledge shared with me by a few key professional brewers.
WHAT WAS YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN BEER WORLD IN AUSTRALIA?
I had a blast being a part of the recipe development and production at the Hunter Beer Co. Working with head brewer Keith Grice (below), sharing the love of good beer.
WHAT KIND OF BEERS DO YOU LIKE TO BREW?
Everything. New ones, old ones, traditional ones, silly ones. Always with drinkability. Really my favourite though is the Christmas Pudding Beer; all that fruit and spice in the whirlpool is enough to make you want to jump in.
IS THERE MUCH OF A BEER SCENE IN WANAKA?
There’s more than five breweries in Wanaka, six if you include a contract brewer. I like to say six. We all get along really well. Ground Up Brewery have just shifted buildings and are now based in our street. It's pretty handy having a neighbour brewery; lots of stuff to borrow.
When we first opened I spent a bit of time convincing the local tradies to drink the Kolsch – now they ask for my Habanero Saison!
I'm also pretty stoked that a few of the local bars, cafés and ski fields feature the local brews.
IS CRAFT BEER IN NEW ZEALAND NOTICEABLY DIFFERENT TO AUSTRALIA’S?
I find the beers in NZ to be more hoppy then in Australia. If you're not ordering a pale ale or IPA then it's a hoppy pilsner. Australian breweries put out a lot of amazing wheat beer which I miss over here.
My new circle of brewer friends in New Zealand is very similar to those in Australia though. Super nice, passionate, helpful and creative. Craft beer is on the rise even in small towns, which is similar to Australia too; it's great to see more people taking an interest in what they are drinking and where it is coming from.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE NEW ZEALAND BREWERIES?
Craftwork from Oamaru – they are just nice people and they make the best beer in New Zealand. I have full confidence in Tuatara Brewery, everything they release is fantasti, and Choice Bros, Wellington, for Kerry Gray’s scientific approach and appreciation of experimental beers.
WHAT ABOUT IN AUSTRALIA? ARE THERE ANY BEERS OR BREWERIES YOU MISS?
I miss the Hunter Beer Co every day. Still the best Pale Ale in the world to me.
CAN PEOPLE IN AUSTRALIA HOPE TO SEE YOUR BEER HERE ANY TIME SOON?
We are not looking at exporting. Our business model is to small batch and sell direct to retail in our bar and keep our beers as local as possible. There is talk of starting a sister brewery up the coast where I grew up in Australia though…