The recent headlines around craft brewing of late have not been particularly hopeful; with the industry under immense financial pressure and facing a contracting market, the cracks have well and truly started to show.  But it isn’t all doom and gloom.  ChinChiller Brewing, in defiance of the economic headwinds, are expanding from contract brewing into in-house production with their purchase of the former Five Peaks brewery, just outside Christchurch in the riverside township of Kaiapoi.

ChinChiller kicked off in 2021, as a partnership between husband-and-wife Granville and Nadine Denton and brewer Jared Stewart (Moa, Hemingways, Rock Brewing).  Contract brewing around the South Island, they’ve carefully nurtured the brand and have doubled their volume every year since.  Their colourfully named beers like Touch My Wenis Pilsner(It’s a Covid reference, don’t worry about it), have become a mainstay of local craft beer in the city.

But a brewery of their own was always the plan, and when Five Peaks came onto the market earlier this year, they seized on the opportunity.

Five Peaks, formally The Port & Eagle, isn’t likely to be a familiar name to many people (even those as proximate as Christchurch).  But as it happens, it was one of my early assignments when I started writing for Pursuit of Hoppiness, so I followed its original development in some detail.

Regrettably, anyone further afield of Kaiapoi who does recognise the name probably does so due to the fiasco created when former majority owner and head brewer Dave Gaughan, who, in a radical absence of foresight, cast himself into the social media volcano by posting a racially charged comment on Facebook. 

Jared Stewart and Granville Denton from ChinChiller
Jared Stewart and Granville Denton from ChinChiller

Under normal circumstances the brewery might have rallied and continued on under new ownership, with Gaughan’s former wife Marilyn Yosores taking over, but the timing couldn’t have been worse, as the ephemeral threat of a social media-driven boycott was quickly joined by the far more material one of Covid lockdowns. Though the restaurant and bar persisted, the brewery itself was left largely fallow after barely two years of production. 

Knowing that the premises’ troubled history would inevitably enter any surrounding conversation, I asked Granville if he had any trepidation in taking on a brewery with this shadow looming over its past. 

“Initially a little nervous, however we are a different brand, very different people with different goals and style of beers that we brew. We feel that the market has moved on. It would be great to put this production space to good use & continue to grow the craft beer following in North Canterbury.”

Cheekily, I wondered in hindsight whether I should have asked if that in any way favourably affected the price… But Granville is quite right, any sane craft beer citizens (Kaiapoi locals and Cantabrians alike) have long since moved on from the Gaughan controversy and will be heartened to see such a magnificent brewery brought back to life.  It really is a tremendous facility too, one of the few purpose-built from scratch rather than shoehorned into a pre-existing building. 

“It’s a wonderful brewing space. It has been empty for a while, but it won’t take much to get it back up and running.  Great gear, well-designed with the option to increase the tank size for future growth.  We plan on adding a canning machine, grain auger and a few other bits to help semi-automate.

“Full control of our production/ brewing process will give us the ability to be creative, take risks that contract breweries may not entertain.  We have some crazy new flavour ideas and we know that Jared is looking forward to stepping up our quality standards.”

While contract brewing may have offered some degree of a safety net, head brewer Jared is ready to get amongst the challenges that come with command of his own space. 

There is still some ancillary gear on the way, but the logistics are months ahead of schedule (in all my years covering brewing I think this is a first) and all things going to plan we should see the first ChinChiller beer brewed in-house early to mid-October.  From that point on all accolades won and criticisms laid will be theirs alone; a daunting and thrilling prospect in equal measure I’m certain.

An expansion like this is a bold move, and in the current climate it could be seen as a risky one, especially with the news of Epic’s liquidation and sale and Brothers falling into voluntary administration.  But looking forward to the future, being in control of their own production mitigates significant risk by not just allowing ChinChiller to go large with their production, but conversely, giving them the option of operating conservatively if they need to, the importance of which the Epic scenario demonstrated with contract breweries often locked into minimum production sizes.

How this venture fairs will be something of a litmus test for the health of the market too.  If ChinChiller is successful with this expansion then it’ll be a hopeful sign that there is a way forward for the industry. 

There’ll be a lot of eyes on this one, and more than a few fingers crossed, but if there’s one thing I can say about Granville is that he’s a man who always backs himself, and that’s been the spirit of the ChinChiller brand too.  So, whether the road ahead for our nation’s newest (old) brewery turns out to be easy or hard, I expect the team meet it with their best foot forward. 

I didn’t have time to catch up with them properly, but Gareth & Lynette Mackenzie will be taking over the restaurant and bar, making it the new home of their premises The Platform, which is presently operating just down the road in the rural settlement of Ohoka.  They’ll be pouring an (initial) six taps of ChinChiller beer, which will see the site properly restored to a brewpub once more.