On a Friday night at Tekapo’s Blue Lake Bar & Eatery you will find a group of women enjoying the end of the week with a few pints of hazy IPA.
At a nearby table there might be a group of dairy farmers drinking a raspberry sour.
For Burkes Brewing founder Sebastian Burke it gives credence to a tagline he’s been trying out lately: “Say perhaps to beer.”
“We’re in a rural community – you could say it’s primarily Lion, DB, Speight’s territory – but we’ve made significant inroads on the local population.
“The women next door who run art gallery and bookshop come over on Friday afternoon,” Burke. “They used to have pinot and now they have a hazy. The win there is that they are not traditional beer drinkers but we’ve got them on a beer that I hope is an introduction to trying other beers, other styles.
“I’ve got a group of dairy farmers who love our raspberry sour – they order jugs of it.
“But the sheep farmers, I’ve not quite turned them on to the hazy just yet. I’ve got most of them off their Speight’s and on to our lager – which is a start.”
Burke says it’s proof that if you give punters the opportunity, they will indeed say “perhaps” and try something new.
Burkes Brewing burst into the limelight last month when they scored a Top-30 spot at the New World Beer & Cider Awards with their #Fakenews Hazy IPA. For one of New Zealand’s most geographically remote, small-town breweries, the success was all the more enjoyable because it was the only beer they entered in the competition.
What’s in a name
It’s a natural assumption to think Tekapo-based Burkes Brewing is named for the famous pass nearby – and it’s sort of true. Founder Seb Burke admits he reluctantly applied his surname to the brewery but that the Burke’s Pass connection is not that tenuous, as the Burke lineage connects him back to Michael Burke, credited with the “European discovery” of Burke’s Pass in the 1850s. And it turns out that connects Burkes Brewing to one of the world’s most famous breweries as Michael Burke was the grandson of Guinness founder Arthur Guinness!
From helicopter to hotel
Burke started out as home brewer while working as a helicopter engineer based out of Twizel.
When he started production it was on a Sabco BrewMagic kit in his garage. That kit is still used for recipe development but he now gets his beer brewed at either Three Boys or Beer Baroness in Christchurch.
“The pilot kit is still in garage at the back of the house but its usage is dwindling because of economies of scale and the time involved – it’s quicker to drive to Christchurch and brew for a day than it is to do a 16-hour brew day doing four batches on that kit, then selling it all on Friday night and not have any left for the week ahead.”
Burke was still working on helicopters and brewing on the side when he and wife Jacinda decided to buy the Blue Lake just over two years ago.
“That’s become our default home for the brewery now – it gives us a base and a guaranteed place where we will always have beer on tap.”
They’d had the business for a year when Covid-19 hit and with the collapse of the tourism industry, Burke was out of work in the helicopter industry.
“It’s been a blessing in disguise really,” he says. “It allowed me to work on my businesses rather than someone else’s.”
Burke said he entered #Fakenews in the New World Awards primarily to get some “validation” for a beer that has captured the imagination of locals.
It’s a beer that started out a series – with changing hop combinations and varying ABVs – but has now turned into a settled formula at a solid 6 per cent.
“I felt that this beer has been good for some time now and were looking for that external validation or peer review,” Burke says. At the Blue Lake he used to stock other hazy beers from bigger independent breweries to ensure a good selection, but in the past few months he found the sales for the likes of Garage Project had slowed down and his own beer was in hot demand.
“We used to stock about five hazies in cans from other breweries but I always felt ours was as good if not better than what we were getting in. And it’s turned out that in the last month or two I’ve stopped buying in other hazies because they weren’t selling – more people wanted to try our beer.”
While the hazy IPA is hugely popular, he says it’s an outlier for the brewery as most of their beer is in the sub-5 per cent range to cater for a local market “that doesn’t do high ABV”.
All the same, the hazy is the brewery’s biggest mover by volume and after the latest success it looks set to grow further as punters around the country discover there’s more to Tekapo than a lovely lake and a big mountain.