Raglan, famous for its idyllic surf breaks is now making waves in the beer world after Workshop Brewing was named champion microbrewery at the New Zealand Beer Awards in August.
Workshop was founded by Matt Williams, head brewer Bruno David and close friend Jake Gibbs, the inspiration for their gold medal-winning Wakey Jakey IPA.
Workshop started three years ago but its inspiration dates back a decade when Raglan born-and-bred Williams first dreamed of a brewery in his hometown.
He’d worked at Skinners Brewery in Cornwall, and it was while he was in Tofino, Canada, he decided he would go back to Raglan and build a brewery.
When the lease on a former panel-beating premises became available in the same building where his dad Pete had his business, Raglan Engineering, he jumped on the opportunity.
Ironically the building they are in was once the base for Hartstone’s, a multi-faceted Raglan business that was an agent for The Northern Steamship Company. Malt destined for the Waikato brewery used to come ashore in Raglan and was stored in the very building that now houses Workshop.
With Matt’s dad lending a hand, Workshop was cobbled together from old dairy equipment and the creation of whatever else they needed from scratch. The business was registered in 2017, but the brewery took another three years to come on tap.
And it’s worth pointing out here, that for a while there were two Workshop brewery’s in New Zealand. The other was in Nelson, but they changed their name to Test Lab and are now based in Christchurch.
Kelly Ryan, a friend of Bruno’s came in to help them put down their first two brews in their core range, which has since expanded to seven.
In their third full year, and with Matt and Bruno now both full-time (a success in itself), they entered the NZ Beer Awards to get some feedback and came away with five medals, including two gold, from six entries. Their Xpeh! — an XPA! — also won gold.
Bruno says that after three years of tweaking the beers “one variable at a time”, he wanted external feedback “just to see how we were doing”.
“You take it as far as you can take it and then get outside thoughts.”
Their brewery has a re-fillery and an off-licence where you can also buy other ‘brewery only’ small-batch bottled beers. They get some beer canned by Crafty Canners for sale in various local bottle shops and supermarkets. Some kegs find their way to Hamilton, and occasionally to Auckland if one of the pair is driving up.
And they have a real-world approach to sustainability, which includes staying micro.
“Right from the beginning I wanted a strong sustainability focus,” Bruno says. “In my previous career I worked as a freshwater scientist, and I could see the damage we were doing to our waterways, but I wasn’t able to do anything about it.
“And we can see with what’s happening to other breweries, that staying small and agile is the way to go. So being a small-town brewery is a good way to go for a lot of reasons. We can remain creative. We don’t send much out of Raglan, our distribution cost is us delivering beer mainly around town.”
Simple things like a spunding value to keep naturally-produced CO2 in the beer, and purgeable hop-rocket for dry hopping under pressure save money and maintain quality.
“We used the plasma torch next door and cut holes in our fermenter lids to add another large valve to accommodate the rocket. If I get the spunding timing correct I don’t need to add any extra CO2 to get perfect carbonation volumes for the particular beer style….sometimes maybe just a tiny touch up. Saves us quite a lot of CO2 I reckon.”
Despite the new-found attention, the pair are happy to remain small-town heroes as growth would equal “more staff, more equipment, more headaches,” says Matt.