Mount Brewing made a dream debut in The Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge winning the Golden Gumboot. As Carla Bragagnini discovers, there’s plenty of good things happening under the brewery’s second generation leadership.

Briar Meikle first set foot in a brewery before she could walk. At just six weeks old, her parents Glenn and Virginia started a U-brew business, the predecessor of Mount Brewing Co., in Mount Maunganui.

“I grew up here,” Briar says, speaks fondly of the brewery that doubled as her playground. “We had this out the back area and me and my brother used to throw a ball against it because we weren’t allowed in the bar,” she recalls.

Searching for a quiet interview spot among the buzz of a busy brewhouse, we circumvent the brewery, traverse The Rising Tide (the brewery’s taproom), up through the Super Liquor store to the office, the expansive territory opening before us, in a Lion King-esque “everything the light touches is our kingdom,” kind of way. Soaking in the immensity and span of BOP Brewing’s multi-business headquarters, and the grit and determination it took two generations to get here, Briar tells me of her humble beginnings hot gluing boxes as a kid – a past that, no doubt, makes her the company’s longest-serving employee. “Work has always just been part of our lives… I was always having to do something, packing something,” she laughs.

At 16, she was promoted to a summer job at the Super Liquor, before working the floor at The Rising Tide, and taking on an in-house creative role at Mount Brewing Co. after university. Recently, 27 years (and her entire lifetime) in the making, Briar became the company’s director, alongside her partner, Niall Harley. The move officially makes BOP Brewing a second-generation brewery – a rarity in New Zealand, but fitting, considering Briar has been there since day one – even if she was too young to remember.

First meeting Briar while bartending at The Rising Tide on his OE (a script-worthy meet-cute), Niall, a converted-craft-beer drinking transplant from South Africa via Ireland, has also worked through the ranks. “I think we can do most jobs here and we’re proud to say that. We wouldn’t expect anyone to do anything if we couldn’t do it,” says Briar. “We are not afraid to jump in anywhere,” Niall adds. With an attitude as fresh as new hops in March, the duo brings a hands-on approach to their newfound director roles, with Niall overseeing staff management, sales and operations and Briar undertaking the marketing side.

Mount Brewing
Mount Brewing’s flagship beer, Mermaid’s Mirth APA

In 2017, Briar embarked on a short-lived Melbourne-based marketing internship (her only foray outside the family business — “I hated not knowing who I was working for,” she says). The pair then travelled in Australia, UK, Europe and South Africa. “My family was quite busy with events and The Rising Tide, and the brewery was almost just left alone,” Briar says. The untapped, so-to-speak, opportunities at the brewery drew them home — a full circle moment that became their greatest adventure yet.

They hit the ground running in 2019, making waves at Mount Brewing Co., naming Pavel Lewandowski the head brewer and structuring the team. “We came in and there wasn’t much of a culture, so we really tried to get the team together,” Briar says. With new leadership in place, they built confidence. “[The brewers] actually had someone in the brewery they could give ideas to and ultimately, we backed them — I think that’s what changed it.”

The team’s superpower is its diversity — Kiwi, Irish, Polish, German, English and Canadian — there are as many nationalities as there are members. “We have all these different taste buds within the brewery… and [each brewer] plays to their strengths,” says Niall. A recent canning machine acquisition added mechanical power to their people power, optimising labour and operations, and doing so without investors or crowdfunding (“We’re young anyways so we’re happy to grow slowly,” Niall says).

“We haven’t been back [from our travels] long but I think what we’ve done in the brewery is massive,” Briar says. “I love seeing our beer in people’s hands.”

Before their involvement, Mount Brewing Co. existed mostly to sustain The Rising Tide, but Briar and Niall envisioned nationwide distribution, consistent quality, optimal freshness, award recognition, a reliable in-store core range and experimental seasonals — goals they are hurtling towards.

Last year, the accolades included their Golden Hour Hazy XPA making the New World Beer & Cider Awards Top 30, seven medals in the Australian International Beer Awards and 11 in the NZ Awards. This year is even better — their Tart Rhubarb Cider was in the New World Beer & Cider Awards Top 30, they won 11 medals at the AIBA, including a gold for their flagship Mermaid’s Mirth APA, and then they stunned the beer world by winning The Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge with their first entry, having never previously been invited.

Briar says one of the goals this year was just to be part of the Malthouse event.

“We sat together as a team at the start of the year and discussed all our goals and a big one for us was to be at the challenges such as Smith’s NZ IPA Challenge and The Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge, so for us just to be there with all the top breweries was a massive accomplishment, and then to win it was honestly crazy! We could not believe it! The brewer behind the beer is our newest team member Trevor, and this beer was his first ever seasonal so it’s a massive win for him.”

Mount Brewing

Spreading their brew-skills a little wider, there is a barrel-aged imperial porter, The Argo, being bottled soon, as well as a low-carb beer, Highline Hazy, launching in November, just in time for summer. Add to all of that, the day-to-day operations at Super Liquor, the future expansion of The Rising Tide beyond the Mount location and their marketing and sales roles, respectively – needless to say, Briar and Niall’s beer glasses are filled to the brim.

Their proven track record over the years paved the way to their directorial debut. And while the ink is still drying (the paperwork was signed just a few weeks ago), the beer baton was not passed overnight. “It wasn’t a day when [Glenn and Virginia] were like, ‘We’re done now.’ It was over a long period of time,” Niall says. While the founders are no longer fully present, they do pop in a couple of times a week and are readily available for support, as sort of on-call beer mentors – their 27 years of experience serving as an encyclopedia of entrepreneurial know-how. “We’ve learned so much from Glenn and Virginia over the last years and we’re always still learning from them,” Niall says. “They’ve stepped back but they’re still right there.”

BOP Brewing, it seems, is still very much a family affair.