Hawke’s Bay brewery Zeelandt celebrates 10 years of brewing this month with the release of two special beers, Jesse and Jane.
And no that’s not that some play on Jesse James, rather it’s an homage to Zeelandt founder Chris Barber’s great-great grandparents Jesse and Jane Prestidge who emigrated to New Zealand from the famous town of Rugby in 1863.
The couple had eight children — seven boys and a girl — and Jesse started the Hororata Brewery in 1880. He was also a carpenter bridge builder, farmer, hotelier and undertaker, making the coffins himself. And probably fuelling wakes with his beer.
“He was able to run his businesses fairly cheaply because he had seven sons to do all the labour,” Barber says with a laugh.
Barber has already made one tribute to his ancestors, a beer brewed for a family reunion in 2013 to celebrate 150 years since the family came to New Zealand. With that beer, he replicated the original labels which featured a picture of a rugby player in the red and black stripes of Canterbury. After Jesse’s death in 1904, his sons Jesse Junior and Joseph ran the brewery until it closed in 1920.
The two birthday beers Barber has brewed for Zeelandt represent the family’s connections to both England and New Zealand — one is an English-style IPA and the other is a New Zealand-style IPA. It’s a similar concept to what Barber has done in the past with paired IPAs: Finder’s Keepers (an American IPA) and End Of Empire (an English IPA).
It’s in keeping with Zeelandt’s style that two other special birthday beers are an Altbier and a Kolsch while he also has a bottled-conditioned hefeweizen ready to go.
It’s a tribute to Barber’s skills that the brewery has made it to 10 years while staying almost exclusively a “classic” beer producer. It’s a niche they’ve owned and while it hasn’t been easy, Barber has stuck to his lane and relied on the heritage of Europe for most of what he makes, and it’s also a reflection of his early brewing career at St Austell in Cornwall and to an extent his family history as the great-great-grandson of a brewer from England and the son of a winemaker.
“When I started out it was all double IPAs and then it was hazy IPAs — so it has been hard sticking to my guns when there’s all this noise around you,” he says.
“Sometimes it’s hard to create traction around the styles that we do but we are slowly forming a reputation for these types of beers.”
This year Brunhilde’s Fate, a Rauchbier, picked up gold at the New Zealand Beer Awards and they produce one of the best Schwarzbiers in New Zealand, Black Monk.
Barber is rightly proud that the brewery’s Cone & Flower taproom which is almost a year old has a diverse variety of beer on tap: Rauchbier, Schwarzbier, Kolsch, Dunkelweizen, Hefeweizen, Pilsner. “We had a brewer in from Panhead one day and he was impressed with the range of beer we had on tap.”
The diverse range means a lot of speciality yeasts in the brewery, with Barber using two lager strains as well as speciality strains for the likes of the Saison and Hefe.
Zeelandt remains is a small family-owned business, with Barber’s wife Luciana part of the small team, and the brewery is inextricably to the Petane winery where Barber’s brother Phil is the winemaker.
Both brothers, and their wives, Luciana and Sarah, have shares in both businesses which are located on family-owned land, although the Barbers were originally from west Auckland.
Both brothers grew up working on the family vineyard in Huapai and when Phil convinced his father to invest in a property in Esk Valley in 2007 it was the start of a burgeoning business that now includes the brewery and tap room.