It’s not a proven fact but there’s every chance that Finch Street, in the Auckland suburb of Morningside, has more craft beer bar owners than any other street in the country.
There you’ll find Travis Field, who owns the Fantail & Turtle at Smale’s Farm in Takapuna, Ewen Thorpe, who owns 16Tun on the Auckland waterfront, and Six60 guitarist Chris Mac, and his wife Mel, who own 605 Drinkery in Morningside.
“There’s not a lot of free houses in Auckland so having three owners in one street is quite cool,” Field says over a beer at Fantail & Turtle. “We all live within 100 metres of each other and we’re all good friends. We all love craft beer and we all like creating community as well. Each of us, within our bars, tries to do things that bring people together.”
Field started his bar ownership at No 1 Queen Street, which he sold to the developers of the Commercial Bay precinct. Thorpe is the brother of Fortune Favours founder Shannon Thorpe and came to pub ownership after a career on the water, including sailing charters in the Greek Islands and a stint with Team New Zealand as a storeman during an America’s Cup campaign.
Thorpe and Field are long-time residents in Finch Street, with Mac a more recent arrival.
They are part of a larger group that has a “sharing shed” in the street, which contains a high-end home brew kit and a couple of well-stocked fridges.
The group started home brewing many years ago and that spirit of local community sparked the annual Finch Street Party where the beer is now supplied by nearby Urbanaut.
Field also has installed a sophisticated home brew kit at Fantail & Turtle.
“Steve Plowman from Hallertau has done some test brews on it but we haven’t decided how we want to use it properly. It’s certified by customs so we can sell beer and pay excise on any we make. I’d like to use it for corporate days where groups can come in and brew together.”
The story behind Fantail & Turtle comes from Field’s army days when he was known as Fantail — “I’m overly-friendly and all over the place” — and his best mate Troy was known as Turtle.
“Sadly, Troy died in his late 30s and when I was thinking of a name for the bar, this was a way of me and him continuing to have a beer.”
Troy’s death also introduced Field to the Big Buddy charity that matches boys living without dads to an older role model. “Troy knew he was dying of a terminal illness, so he organised to have a big buddy for his sons and I thought ‘what an amazing charity’ so I was a trustee for seven years and I’ve been the chair for six years.”
Big Buddy is the charity at the heart of a new venture Field and Thorpe have dreamed up, the Auckland Pale Ale Challenge, which will be held in conjunction with Auckland Beer Week from July 29-August 6.
Nine inaugural breweries are invited to take part: Sawmill, 8 Wired, Black Sands, Hallertau, Epic, Urbanaut, Alibi, Liberty and Deep Creek. The beers will be on tap around six participating free houses — 16Tun, Lumsden, 605, Birkenhead Brewing, Fantail & Turtle, Vulture’s — over the course of the Auckland Beer Week. A panel of experts will do a blind judging to determine a champion and there will also be a people’s choice award announced during a mini-festival at Fantail & Turtle on August 5.
Field acknowledges that they’d like to have more participating breweries but their mantra is “start it simple and then grow it”.
It’s designed as a “celebration of the Auckland craft beer scene”.
“If we can create a bit of noise maybe other bars will be motivated to open up taps to craft. We have to look after this industry because there’s breweries out there just fighting to get a tap, especially in Auckland.”
And Field walks the talk at Fantail & Turtle, a hugely popular venue, but also one of the most under-rated bars in Auckland from a craft beer perspective, perhaps because it’s surrounded by office buildings at Smale’s Farm.
The tap list is always impressive and includes often hard-to-find beers such as Urbanaut’s Brixton Pale Ale on handpull (utterly delicious) and a hazy from Aotea Brewery on Great Barrier Island was on recently. The food is excellent and the fit out beautiful. Plus, there’s plenty of car-parking.
Field acknowledges the bar is slowly gaining a reputation.
“We even get people from south of bridge coming here now,” he says with a laugh, adding that he and Thorpe have plans for a hop-on, hop-off bus that runs between 605, 16Tun and Fantail & Turtle.