In the craft beer’s challenging climate — with rising costs, a slowing market and familiar names going into liquidation — if someone told you they were setting up a new brewery and taproom, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d had had one too many imperial stouts. But newcomer Batsmen Brewing enters the scene with what they hope is a point of difference that helps them stand out and also offers something a little different — they are brewers with Samoan heritage and they are bringing their culture to everything they do.
It means their beers are brewed to carry a lighter palate and a refreshing sunny disposition reminiscent of their island homeland.
Beers include the signature Samoa Pale Ale, a light-bodied pale ale at 4.7%, and the Flying Bat Hazy, which packs a surprising 6.2% into a deceptively mellow flavour with hints of grapefruit juice and a colour to match. To those two staples, Batsmen have recently added a crisp, clean and balanced pilsner at 4.1% and a light-gold and floral hazy session ale at 3.5%.
The beers are available to try at the retail side of the business, a drinking spot called the Tapping Room.
This brewery and taproom are on McDonald St in Morningside at the southeast end of what has become known as Auckland’s Beer Mile — the rich seam of watering holes that begins in Uptown and works its way down to Morningside (some might argue it begins and ends the other way around, but then your pub crawl would not be making the most of the facts of topography and gravity).
“It’s not a common thing that you see; Pacific Islanders brewing,” Batsman brewer Wayne Sao says. “We saw what we considered to be a gap in the market, and we wanted to lean on our culture to do something a bit different.
“We did the Flying Bat Hazy as something a bit different from what Islanders might normally drink,” Wayne says with a nod to Samoa’s ever-popular Vailima beer which, although known locally as “The Taste of Samoa”, is not known for being big on flavour.
“We then began working on the pilsner to add to the range and we are very pleased with it,” he adds.
The Batsmen name and logo stem from the family’s Samoan heritage and more specifically the Samoa flying fox, a fruit bat that is the source of many proverbs, stories and legends from the island nation.
Both Wayne and co-brewer Suemalo Faga carry a traditional Samoan bat tatau (tattoo) on their backs, and the distinctive image has been used to shape the brand’s identity.
While the Flying Bat Hazy is named for that element of the tatau, the Rafter Pilsner is named after another section of the tatau.
“We have blended our culture into our family business,” says Suemalo’s wife Aggie. “We even have an acronym of P.A.C.I.F.I.C that we developed to identify our core principles: Passion, Authenticity, Culture, Integrity, Family, Inspirational and Caring.
“We want people to come and experience what we’re about.
“Diversity is a huge thing for us,” she says. “Getting people in and having them taste different beers is fantastic and we wanted the experience of the Tapping Room to be like that of a kava ceremony in the way that you come in and enjoy the space, order what takes your fancy and sit and discuss the flavours and the experience and chat.”
The Morningside building where the brewery and taproom are located had originally been the home of Cowabunga Brewing, who began brewing on the site in 2021. In a tight market, they advertised for another brewing operation to come in and share the site and split the overheads.
And so Batsmen Brewing moved into the building in early 2022 and together the two breweries opened The Tapping Room.
It was a genial collaboration that saw the two teams share floor space and knowledge and a bit of hands-on expertise.
The arrangement meant Wayne and Suemalo could progress from brewing at home and had a platform from which to realise their aspirations to brew commercially.
They began by dipping their collective toe into the beer supply market with a single limited release, and were pleasantly surprised by the response.
“Initially, we canned just one beer to see what the market was like, and it kind of took off a little bit and we got some interest,” Wayne says.
For a time, Batsmen and Cowabunga were working side by side and splitting liabilities. Despite the collaboration, Cowabunga Brewing ceased trading in November and handed over full control of the site and the Tapping Room to Batsmen.
“We learnt a lot from Cowabunga and now we’re excited to see where it takes us,” Suemalo says. “We wouldn’t be here without them.”
For the time being, Cowabunga’s beers are still being served at The Tapping Room — including their excellent Gnarly NZ IPA with its notes of bitter orange marmalade and the roasty Primo Porter.
“Once these are gone we will have some space and will offer other smaller breweries the chance to come in on a guest tap,” Wayne says. “We know what it’s like as we have been there ourselves and we’d like to give others the opportunity we sought.”
For Batsmen, the strength of the company comes from them being a family business.
Wayne and Suemalo are brothers-in-law and the family ties run deep. Their wives, Dora and Aggie, help run the business and the front-of-house operation.
Other family members have a financial interest in the business or work for the entity, and the couples’ kids also spend time helping out.
“Wayne and Suemalo work hard to perfect the beers but everyone involved brings something to the table,” Dora says. “Everybody brings their own skills. We do it all ourselves — the brewing, the marketing, running the business … We all have full-time jobs but we work late hours on making this work and are not afraid of making things happen.”
The Tapping Room is located at 11 McDonald Street, Morningside, Auckland. Opening Hours: Friday 3pm-11pm; Saturday 1pm-11pm; Sunday 1pm-7pm