The list of possible criteria — most of which would be subjective anyway — is unlimited. Every year, the Brewers Guild of New Zealand accepts that challenge in their annual awards. They even extended the diversity by awarding the four best breweries awards depending on the brewery size (micro, small, medium and large, based on litres brewed per year).
Criteria and size aside, with several hundred breweries competing for the ‘best’ title, winning the prestigious award is unachievable for most. However, some breweries stand out in a completely different way.
GodsOwn Brewery for example is simply bonkers! Bonkers in a positive way.
Established in 2010, GodsOwn is the brainchild of brewer Godfrey Quemeneur and his ‘runs-the-rest-of-the-show’ partner and wife, Rachel Downes.
Quemeneur grew up in South Africa and gained his brewing skills while traveling the world — including stops in England, Nigeria, and Australia.
“We first met in a pub in Reading, England,” Downes explains. “I was working in a bar and Godfrey enjoyed his drinks there and loved having a chat while doing so. While talking, we discovered that we both had the vision of one time in the future owning a place that brings people together — just like the pubs in England are a meeting place bringing together all sorts of individuals. We just had the vision of this meeting place not being confined to the walls of a bar — we wanted to be surrounded by nature. A rural brewery was the obvious goal.”
After joining Quemeneur on his travels and with their first child added to the globetrotting couple, Downes convinced Godfrey to move to her native New Zealand. “We were tiki-touring through New Zealand and finally found the perfect piece of land to raise our family in Maraekakaho.”
GodsOwn Brewery (a play on words: ‘Godfrey’ having found ‘Godzone’) is on a 6.5 hectare site 15 minutes drive from Hastings on State Highway 50.
“This was exactly what we were after. Plenty of space with large sections of flat land. The old villa that was part of the package was an extra bonus. Admittedly, it was a bit small for the three of us, but it was a start — a very good start,” Quemeneur says.
After getting the shed built that now houses the 800-litre brew house, Quemeneur added an old 1970s caravan on the flat section and started selling his beers with an off-license. “This was a very basic set up,” Quemeneur explains. “Other than selling the odd keg to the local bars and contract brewing for some other smaller scale breweries, the off-license sales to the locals was our only beer-generated income.”
And those locals are a key to GodsOwn’s success.
“I do not know what it was, but I think the unconventional set up appealed to a lot of customers right from the start. The people of Hawke’s Bay like embracing everything ‘local’ and we felt very welcomed in the community,” Downes says.
Unconventional is an understatement. Over the past decade, Downes and Quemeneur have continuously developed their site and GodsOwn Brewery is now one of the quirkiest brewery and tap room set-ups in the country.
Once an on-license was granted, many customers expected the old 1970s caravan to disappear to make way for a more permanent bar — but that was never part of the plan.
“The caravan was, and still is, part of our history and until the wind, weather and the Hawke’s Bay sun have got the better of it, it will stay,” Downes says. Not only that, but they have added another caravan to the tap room.
“With an on-license we needed to provide food options and the obvious choice for our outdoor taproom was a pizza oven. We built an extension to the old caravan to house the oven and prep space, and then bought another caravan that is now our food safe kitchen.” explains Downes.
“The covered seating for our customers was a bit trickier,” says Quemenuer. “When looking at options, a gazebo or a more permanent wooden or stainless-steel solution did not appeal to us.”
Quemenuer’s upbringing in South Africa was the reason for what happened next.“Yes, we bought a safari tent.”
Before then, the customers’ only option was to sit at the eclectic mix of tables, chairs and cable drums, or to relax under the hop bines providing shelter from the Hawke’s Bay sun and the odd drop of rain. Yes, GodsOwn Brewery also features its own little hop farm. It’s nothing like what you might have seen in the Nelson/Tasman region, but it’s big enough to provide the hops for Quemeneur’s yearly fresh hop beer release.
Hop harvest has turned into an annual community event. The bines are cut using a mobile scaffold and then dozens of local beer lovers, families, and outdoor fans volunteer to pluck the hop cones by hand while enjoying one of GodsOwn’s refreshing beers.
Quemeneur’s brewing has a strong focus on what is sometimes referred to as old world beer styles. Depending on the time of the year, the seasonal tap list will likely include styles such as Bitter, Pilsner, Kölsch, Märzen and Biére de Garde, alongside IPA and Stout. True to the ‘godly’ play on words, beers are named Prophesy Pils, Resurrection Bitter, Holy Hop Green IPA — just to name a few.
GodsOwn is probably not to everyone’s taste but it sure is like no other place. It might not officially be the best brewery in New Zealand, but it certainly stands out from the crowd.