“Punks in the Gym” may bring to mind images of gym rats lifting dumbbells and doing squats. But this IPA by Ground Up Brewing in Wanaka, New Zealand, is actually named for a famously challenging sport climbing route in Australia.
“It was the world’s hardest climb in 1984 so the beer needed to be strong — it’s 6.8 percent,” Ground Up co-owner and brewer Oli Boyes said. “That’s strong in New Zealand. It needed to be because it’s a hard climb.”
Famously New Zealander Mayan Smith-Gobat was the first woman to conquer the grade 32 Punks In The Gym climb at Mt Arapiles in 2012.
Deadwood Lagoon, a barrel-aged imperial stout by Ground Up, is named after a location on the west coast of New Zealand. It’s remote, boggy, and surrounded by deadwood. Like its namesake, the beer needed to be elusive, so it became a barrel-aged stout full of New Zealand ingredients.
Crux Pilsner named after one of the hardest climbing maneuvers, because pilsners have a reputation in the brewing industry as being one of the most challenging styles to pull off; it’s all but impossible to hide your mistakes in a clean lager, after all.
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And two years ago, Industry of Cool, named after a boulder in Norway, was born as the trendy hazy IPA style was beginning to catch on in New Zealand.
Most of Ground Up’s beers are named after some aspect of climbing. In fact, when brainstorming a new beer, the very first thing the team decides is the name. From there, they’ll break down what that beer would represent in the world of rock climbing.
“It gives us a reason to brew as well; we’re not just poking wildly and going ‘what should we brew next?’ We’ve got a theme, we know the name, and it’s just working backward,” Boyes said.
It all makes sense: Boyes and co-owner Julian Webster, more a mountaineer than a rock climber, both worked in the climbing industry before beginning the Wanaka brewery.
Both industries seem to go hand-in-hand when it comes to the dedication needed to succeed in either.
“When I was climbing I was obsessed,” Boyes said. “I would dream about each individual move and couldn’t wait for the next weekend I could go out and try to nail that climb. For me, the [beer] recipe aspect was the same as the moves. I knew what I wanted out of a recipe and you’re never going to nail it on your first go, and if you do, awesome.”
Boyes often mentions that passion coupled with obsession is a must in this industry; he and his co-owner still aren’t paying themselves much even though they’ve seen immense growth since they’ve opened in 2015. In the past two years, Boyes said they’ve seen 100 percent growth each year.
They’ve come a long way since their days of homebrewing.
“If it was raining at the weekend we would just get together and brew in the garage,” Boyes said. “Until one day we’d had enough of the work that we were doing; because it’s hard work and you’re not making much money. We were like, ‘screw it, let’s open a brewery’.”
Wanaka has around 9,000 residents and a healthy summer tourism season. And while Boyes wonders about the health of the brewing scene as a whole, with stiff competition in big corporations, the local support is strong for the area’s four breweries.
“Between all of us [Wanaka breweries] we probably sell half a million litres into Wanaka,” Boyes said. “We have a lot of local support here. And you still get the odd Heineken drinker who just doesn’t want to know anything about it. But that’s fine.”
One show of faith from locals was when Ground Up was finally able to realize a dream and open a taproom in 2020. Before that, the location only had a tasting room where you could sample beers and purchase some to take some home with you.
The taproom opened to much fanfare.
“We opened the door and straight away we had a really good night — how did people know?
“I think the brew bar idea is the future of New Zealand,” Boyes continued. “If you don’t have a salesperson on the road knocking on the door, being in people’s faces, you’re not going to get anywhere. The bar has changed the game for us.”
In addition to being able to sell beer straight to customers, Ground Up made the change to 440ml cans instead of bottles. A mobile canning business visits from Queenstown and cans for the brewery. Ground Up are slowly growing a footprint outside Wanaka but to keep products from sitting for too long, and to keep releases a little bit rare and exciting, Ground Up are particular about where they distribute their products.
Though Covid-19 wasn’t hard on the brewery thanks to the New Zealand government’s support of local businesses, Boyes said the pandemic has given them time to think about stopping their cycle of continued growth and finding a good place for the business to exist.
Ground Up Brewing’s name couldn’t be more appropriate for what Boyes and Webster have built. In the world of climbing, the term “ground up” refers to a climber taking a cliff or route they’ve never climbed.
“Ground up climbing is the boldest,” Boyes said. “And that kind of was our business plan as well, and you hear about ground up businesses. It made sense to call ourselves Ground Up Brewing.”