Putting excellent beer into cans is one thing, but for Shining Peak founder Jesse Sigurdsson the real enjoyment comes from digging into Taranaki history for the entertaining stories that grace the outside of those cans.

From Fanny Fantham lager, celebrating the first woman to climb Mt Taranaki, to the slightly obscure story behind their Octopus Clamp Schwarzbier, right through to their New World Beer & Cider Awards Top 30 winner Petite Pegasus, Sigurdsson and his sales manager Brendan Amos happily spend time at New Plymouth’s Puke Ariki Museum looking through archives for images and stories that reflect local history.

The idea of creating beers to tell local stories was part of the brand design work Shining Peak did with Double Fish, the agency behind Panhead’s branding, along with designer Anton Hart.

“There’s such a rich history here and all these amazing stories and when they suggested it, we were `yes, 100 per cent let’s do this’,” Sigurdsson says.

“Double Fish helped us initially and now it’s a mixture of everyone involved. I write all the stories and Brendan loves looking through the archives. Puke Ariki is an amazing museum. They have a great online database so when we’re thinking about elements that go into a beer, we can throw in a few search terms and it’ll pump out some stories.”

Petite Pegasus popped on to the national stage with its success in the New World awards and it’s one of the cuter stories in the Shining Peak range.

At the end of the World War Two, Urenui fighter pilot Harold Newton returned to England to find his sweetheart … only to discover that in his absence, she had married someone else.

Deterred by a long and lonely boat journey home, Newton bought a small plane from a trade show in Belgium and named it Petite Pegasus. It took him 18 days to fly home, setting distance records along the way.

Petite Pegasus is a great name for a 4.2% hazy that packs some horsepower when it comes to flavour.

Other local legends include Merv Hicks, who invented the rotary milking platform, and the beer named in his honour is, of course, a milk stout.

Jack Underwood’s Mild Ale is named for the man who started Fun Ho! toys in Inglewood, while Gung Ho! (no relation to Fun Ho!) Is their annual fresh hop beer, a name tangentially linked to political activist and writer Rewi Alley, who according to the Shining Peak blurb “cut his teeth on hard-scrabble farming in Taranaki before moving to China in the 1920s. He fell in with the Communists, seeing the revolution through and founding the ‘together in harmony’ movement, better known by the name Gung Ho!”

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In terms of imagery, Sigurdsson’s favourite is Octopus Clamp.

“I love the imagery on that can and the story behind it, even though it’s a bit obscure. But it means something to me because my ex-art teacher at Hawera High School, Tim Chadwick, was one of the people who drove the protests against destroying Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s house, which was eventually bowled over for a KFC.”

Morrieson (Came a Hot Friday, The Scarecrow) was a big wrestling fan and his idol was Lofty Blomfield, whose trademark move was the Octopus Clamp. Morrieson and his mates used to drink a beer from the Hawera Brewery called “O.C.” which Morrieson dubbed Octopus Clamp. 

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Shining Peak’s effort to laud local heroes haven’t always worked, with their entry into last year’s Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge, Sticky Filth, getting pulled after a “misunderstanding” with the New Plymouth punk band they were trying to honour.

The problem was not necessarily the beer itself, but t-shirts that Shining Peak were selling. “I said ‘this is what we were going to do’ but I don’t think they realised the extent of what we were doing. The t-shirt sales were not trying to rip off band, but I can see how it was it was taking from them.”

There have been other stories that haven’t reached labels because relatives of a person have objected, or there were cultural issues.

“We do have to be careful, and we are as much as possible, as not everyone wants their name aligned with an alcohol brand. We always speak to people to make sure it’s OK and there have been some cultural stories where we’ve talked to people who have said ‘maybe not’, so we’ve parked that.”

The flipside is that plenty of people are rapt to see their relatives on a beer can. “That’s the really cool part — we have people who are direct descendants coming along and saying `this is awesome’.”

Some names are also Taranaki adjacent, such as Skunk Juice, for their huge Double IPA.  “That’s a nod to the oil and gas industry in the area. Skunk juice is nickname given to compound they add to natural gas so you can smell it. It’s pungent.”

Sigurdsson also updates the stories into a modern context, such as The Highwayman, which has 19th century imagery in contrast to the blurb about highway robber Robert Wallath. “He never took money from the working poor, just property developers and dotcom billionaires…”

Thanks to the New World Awards and a new distribution deal with Hop’n’Vine, you will be hearing more Shining Peak stories in the future.

Shining Peak