A brew-bar where everyone is the brewer is about the best way to describe Christchurch’s newest bit of beer culture. 

Brew Academy is a space for people to learn brewing by getting hands on with the genuine process. Guided by experienced “Beer-Sherpas” and expedited by smart phone enabled Grainfathers, attendees take a brew all the way from mashing to finished wort in an afternoon.

Granville and Nadine Denton first opened Brew Academy in July 2019 and since then the operation has grown organically.  With an on-licensed tap room, in-house beers from their ChinChiller label and food from Smoke ‘n’ Barrel, they’re a fully functional brewbar in their own right.  But the real focus here is on the training. 

Before my visit I was a little skeptical, with my mind conjuring images of my own backyard brew-days.  Fun but highly unprofessional affairs with gear strewn about and hydrometers underfoot…  on that count I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Seeing the long plumbed-in benches and tidy array of apparatus gave me a chilling flashback to university chemistry labs (except everyone here seemed to be having a good time).

A range of core styles act as the foundation recipes, and those can be tweaked to suit.  Or if you’re confident (and brave) you can go for a recipe that’s entirely your own.  It’s like a brewing lesson and a micro-contract brew at the same time, with everyone taking home 20 litres of their own (bottled or kegged) beer once fermentation is complete.  Sessions take about four to five hours, with a break for an included meal and tasting paddle halfway through.

When I turned up there was a company Christmas function in full swing, with the staff of a building firm all mashing away at full steam.  Companies and groups can hire the academy for a more unusual (and constructive) end of year do or team-building exercise.  I’ve gone home from some end of year functions with what feels like 20 litres of beer inside me and a diminishing memory of the event.  Taking that beer away in bottles and actually accumulating some knowledge sounds like a reasonable alternative.

As someone who’s always been interested in brewing, but never particularly organised about the processes, I can see the appeal of finally doing a brew the right way.  As a strictly hobbyist brewer, the only consistency I ever achieved was an absolute guarantee that my results would be mixed.  So, I may make it one of my own resolutions for the new year to get myself over to the academy and learn the ropes.  My only fear is that I might fall in love with those lovely Grainfathers and end up with a very expensive Christmas wishlist.

At the time of writing, Brew Academy had logged 970 individual brewing sessions, and the plans for the future are all about bigger and better.  Higher capacity models of Grainfather are in the pipeline, and the ChinChiller range of beers will be finding their way into cans and hitting the wider market this year. 

You can find out more about Brew Academy or book sessions on their website at: https://brewacademy.co.nz/