If it feels like Kainui has been AWOL from the beer scene for a few years, you’re not wrong. But they’re back in a big way. The Far North brewery splashed on to the national stage in 2018 when their Rank & File Porter won a trophy at the New World Beer & Cider Awards. While the recognition was amazing, for Kainui brewer and founder Gary Henwood, it helped him realise what he truly wanted: to be a strong local brand rather than a national one. And he didn’t want to bottle any more beer.

“We stopped bottling after that porter,” Henwood confesses. “Our bottling machine was a nightmare and it went into the bin after that. We do bottle a few for Beer Jerk, but mostly it’s too much effort for too little reward.”

Instead, Henwood wanted to focus on creating a local outlet for the beers he brewed at the Kainui vineyard owned by his parents-in-law Helen and Alan Thompson.  That dream was realised as the Plough & Feather gastropub, set in a renovated historic building in Kerikeri.

Plough and Feather

“I’d established in my own mind, early on, that having a pub as an outlet was the avenue we had to take. It’s the only way we could go it if we wanted to survive. And I guess that’s why we went quiet because our beers were just not out there.

“That whole year in 2019 I was planning and/or renovating the place, so there’s a lot of energy that went in there. And since then, it has been all about the Plough & Feather, which is literally the only place you can get our beers at the moment.”

With the pub demanding more of his time, Henwood convinced a local mechanic and home brewer, Paul Keating, to come on as the head brewer at Kainui.

“We have a homebrew club here and Paul’s beer was always excellent when most others were a bit rubbish. And he’s got a real passion for the industry and loves the craft. He’s got amazing attention to detail so I just let get on with it.”

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Paul Keating and Gary Henwood from Kainui Brew Co. Photo / Supplied

Henwood admits he was also a bit worn out.

“I’d got a little bit fatigued by the industry, you know. I guess it happens to a lot of people. Because we were so small it was really hard work. And I’m actually looking after the vineyard again because I love working outdoors so I’ve got my hands full. We’ve also got four kids and my wife doesn’t want me down at the pub all the time, so the vineyard work suits me better as it’s during the day.”

Henwood jokes that he and Keating prefer to brew “beers that no-one wants to drink” with a preference for Saison and other European styles. They won gold medals in the Fruit & Flavoured with their Rosé Saison, which also won the trophy, and Summer Love Saison. Another saison won a silver medal as did a Blueberry Berliner Weisse. They add five bronze medals as well.

The Rosé Saison uses 10% Syrah grapes from the Kainui vineyard, which are added post-fermentation while the beer ages in oak barrels. The winning batch is more than a year old but Henwood said it was “still tasting amazing” so they decided to enter it.

“We ferment with French saison yeast and the grapes go straight in there with their microbes and we leave it in the barrel for a month and it takes on enough oak – it’s a perfect blend of beer and wine.”

So if you want the trophy winning beer, you have venture to the Far North.

One of our biggest problems is that Paul and I love brewing traditional saisons, Belgian and German styles but they are the least popular beers – lagers and hoppy beers are what everyone wants to drink. We don’t want to bew what people want to drink, he says with a laugh.

And if you want to try it? Well, you have go to the Plough & Feather for that — but it will be worth it.

Henwood is currently building another “brewery/event space at the vineyard … because at the moment it’s just a shed.”

That will add a second venue for Kainui beers, but you will still need to make it a destination.