Garage Project’s just-released Treehugger Pilsner is a project close to founder Pete Gillespie’s heart and one he’s been wanting to do for a long time.

The short version is that Garage Project are raising money to plant native trees in Canterbury — an area that has lost a lot of native flora over the centuries. Each six-pack of Treehugger sold will result in $1 going to Trees For Canterbury.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for such a long time,” Gillespie says. “I grew up in Christchurch and I’ve long been aware there’s so little of the original native bush left in Canterbury.

“And I also wanted to make do a beer where there was a specific dollar amount donated from each six-pack. You see a lot of businesses talking about donating percentages of profits but I wanted to be really explicit about what we were doing so people could understand what they were getting for their money.”

The idea of beers for trees was helped by the fact that one of Gillespie’s friends, Richard Earl, works for Trees For Canterbury, which cultivates native trees for community plantings and is halfway to a goal of planting 2 million trees in the province.

But what grew out of that simple aim was a much larger project about what was possible around walking the sustainability talk.

“This project also became an interesting internal exercise of looking at every process — from our suppliers of malt and hops and packaging to our own processes — and looking at anything we could do to improve those processes. It seemed hollow to make beer about sustainability and not do anything to improve our own practices.”

Gillespie said the things that worked will be incorporated into the broader production process and the things that didn’t work … “well at least can say we gave it a lash”.

The first thing they looked at was transporting grain — from Gladfield in Canterbury to b Studio in Hawkes Bay — by train rather than road, which brought an environmental tick and a cost saving.

They used recycled cardboard for the packaging, ink remnants for the printing and opted for a lighter sleeve than a box.

Gillespie admits it might not be what everyone expects from a Garage Project “look” but that there’s “enough whimsy there” to sit comfortably within the brewery’s eclectic range.

Garage Project Experiment in Restraint

In terms of production, they did a high-gravity boil to save energy and introduced spunding valves to the fermenters to allow natural carbonation to be locked in the tank rather than blown off, therefore avoiding extra CO2 usage for forced carbonation.

Gillespie thinks the spunding valves improved the beer quality, saying he thought they got better head retention from the natural carbonation.

The late hop additions of Riwaka and Nelson Sauvin were also “restrained” by Garage Project standards and Gillespie thought the beer was better from using a lower hopping rate.

“I’ve not been known for restraint in the past but I think when you restrain yourself, you actually get more out of them. There’s lots of tropical fruit but not that New Zealand-hop diesel tang. It was a cool exercise in restraint.”

The beer, a 4 per cent NZ-style Pilsner, retails for $22.99 per 6-pack.