My recent visit to Thief Brewing could hardly be called travel, situated practically on my doorstep amongst the hills and farmland of Tai Tapu, in rural Banks Peninsula.  But nevertheless, as I wound my way up the (perilously narrow) access road that coils up the hillside to where Thief brewery makes its roost, I felt blissfully far from the world.  

A stillness and teeming presence of place hung about the hillside expanse. The kilometres of space in every direction thrummed with a vast peace, and I felt at ease in a way that was all too foreign to me.  All of the pressure and turmoil that clutches our beleaguered brewing industry seemed suddenly far away.

It was precisely this indefinable presence that spurred owner Steve Gebbie to build here, though his family also shared a historic connection to the land.

“The first Gebbies arrived in 1843 from Scotland, with the Deans who settled in Riccarton to farm,” he explains. “Two years later the Gebbies moved to the head of the Harbour in Teddington. Gebbies Pass is just across the hill from us. When we first saw the land it felt like home, not only because of the connection with the Gebbie ancestry, but more the beauty of the place.”

Meeting a descendant of one of the founding families of Christchurch would have been quite something on its own, but I had to put that aside as one of the (many, as it would turn out) slightly impossible things about this visit.  Because after Steve showed me inside, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.  I was expecting some microbrew kit in a farm shed, but I was standing inside a more expansive brewery than some established craft brands in the city, and it was just… here.  How Thief had managed to remain so soundly under my radar became clearer as Steve explained the history of the label.

Steve Gebbie at Thief Brewing

Despite the Thief brand being registered way back in 2012, the brewery I found myself in was only six months old, and still yet to reach full production.

Prior to that, brewing happened at a much smaller scale in the nearby township of Lincoln, on a home-engineered 50L kit that was shared by students undertaking Lincoln University’s early Fermentation Education courses.  Steve’s background was (and remains) engineering design, and he’s one of the very few people for whom designing and fabricating an advanced brew system represents something you can just roll up your sleeves and set about to.  As someone who always ends up with at least one extra screw every time I take my PC apart, I can scarcely imagine.   

Thief’s output in those days found its way to the (now closed) hole-in-the-wall New Regent St craft bar The Institution, then owned by Steve’s son.  It was a place I dropped into now and then, so some long past facet of me had already sampled Thief beer, entirely oblivious of its provenance. 

Things remain very much a Gebbie family business, with Steve’s wife Shirley, son Ryan and two daughters Krystal and Laura all taking an active hand in different elements of the operation.

My first burning question was how a brewery of this scale could even function out here, with no connection to the usual municipal services.  The answer, as it would turn out, was core to Thief’s unique identity and connection to the land.  

Steve’s approach was to be as self-sufficient and environmentally reciprocal as possible. 

“We operate under the guidance of an Environmental Plan, developed by the Lincoln University Environmental Studies Department, providing direction in our care for our land, water and air.”

The brewery is fully electric, water is drawn from a local source, and all wastewater is contained and processed on site with an aerobic treatment plant.  Even the spent grist and surplus yeast don’t have to travel far, thanks to the resident alpacas.

Core to this self-sufficiency are the new unitank fermenters, the first of their kind that I’d encountered.  As Steve explained, the benefits of this uniquely centralised way of brewing were crucial.


“The brewery uses Unitank fermenters that allow for fermentation, yeast recovery, dry hopping and carbonation to all be completed within a single vessel. This process not only conserves cleaning chemicals, carbon dioxide, water and energy, but significantly reduces the risk of beer spoilage from oxygenation and contamination.”

I’m sure another professional brewer could point out ways that at a certain scale these all-in-wonder fermenters become too good to be true, but for an operation like this they seemed perfect, and tasting samples of IPA straight from the fermenter was a revelation.  The gradual, natural carbonation produced a beer with the smooth texture and superb head retention akin to the very best cask ale.  The canned beer shares this same natural carbonation, and the many Steve enthusiastically opened all poured with similarly exceptional composition.  

It was IPA like this, and other strong hoppy pale ales, that are the present focus of Thief’s early developmental output, and based on what I was tasting they were off to a magnificently strong start.  Although, after joining some dots later on I discovered that it was none other than the brewery whisperer Mike Cheer, who had consulted to set Thief on its initial course, so the quality of their beer should not have come as a surprise.  Ethan Bowmar (ex b. Effect) serves as the current brewer.

While the consent process for online sales is still underway, Thief beer is a little hard to get hold of presently.  There is some stock in circulation in New World supermarkets, and the uniquely impressionistic artwork on the cans does a good job of standing out on the shelf.  However, with council consent to (currently) produce 200,000 litres per annum, there is surely a lot more Thief beer on the way soon.  

It’s ironic that the remote location that makes this brewery so special is also the reason it’s unlikely to serve or sell beer on premises, but there are distant plans to consider a venue closer to the city once the brand has established.  For now, you’ll just have to rely on my wistful description of this Elysian vision of soulfully sustainable brewing hidden in the heart of Canterbury.