After all the months of hard work and preparation that have gone into moving to their new premises, the owners of Oamaru’s Craftwork Brewery will be needing a beer.
Co-owners Michael O’Brien and Lee-ann Scotti decided this year to move their barrel room and tasting facility from 17 Harbour St, to bigger premises across the road at No10, formerly Oasis Oamaru.
The pair had opened their barrel room and tasting facility in 2019, after brewing their Belgian-style beers in the basement of Ms Scotti’s Tyne St house for five years.
“When we went over there, we thought we’d use it as an experiment, to see if we could do it, or if it would work,” Mr O’Brien said.
“We had to have a place. We needed to store beer, and you can’t just put it in a mate’s garage, because it’s custom-controlled … So we had to have a place, and that was basically the only place.”
They decided to move again earlier this year after considering the future direction they wanted for their business, Mr O’Brien said.
“Option one was stop; option two was stay, run out of room, whinge about the rent and never ever make any money; and option three was expand.
“So logically, it seems like a good option.
“I think it will work, but it’s just going through the process, which has been months and months and months and months.”
Mr O’Brien’s traditional book-binding business would also be at the new premises.
The refit of the new spot had been helped along enormously with the installation of the entire interior of Belgian Beer Cafe Torenhof, in Christchurch, which had been forced to close during the Covid-19 lockdown, Ms Scotti said.
“We knew that there was this wonderful map of Belgium there, so we went to ask if we could purchase that, and then we were asked do we want the interior, so we thought
“We’ve got all of the oak panelling and the bar. It’s really in keeping and we are really delighted.”
There was the equivalent of two container-loads of gear, which also included light fittings, glassware and furniture, she said.
“We ended up with a heck of a lot of stuff.”
It was hoped the new premises would be ready to open in time for the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations, in November.
“It will just depend on how quickly we can gather up people. It doesn’t mean that the brewery floor will be done, and it doesn’t mean that the bindery will be shifted, but we will focus on getting the tasting room open.”
As well as the main tasting room, there would be a Belgian-style bar menu available, and also a snug for private tastings, and the occasional live act.
The main purpose for the new premises was to allow Craftwork to increase its beer production tenfold.
A new 500-litre brewing machine had arrived from Germany, to replace the 50-litre Braumeister they had been using, Mr O’Brien said.
While the move has been taking place, the brewing has had to continue.
They were concentrating on their lambic last week, Ms Scotti said.
“We do this in wintertime, so we leave the beer out in a tray outside, and the natural yeast forms on the surface.
“We brew this for about 12 weeks a year. It can only really be done in the wintertime.”
Some of the Craftwork beers were brewed at Rhyme and Reason Brewery in Wanaka, which is owned by their friends Simon Ross and Jess Wolfgang.
However, others required a step-mash process, especially those containing raw wheat, spelt or oats, which was more the Belgian style, Mr O’Brien said.
This involved increasing the mashing temperatures step by step, rather than mashing at just one constant temperature, which was more usual for New Zealand breweries.
“So we do brew some of our beer over there, that doesn’t have those ingredients in it, and it’s OK, fine, but we still think if we brewed it on our step-mash system it would be a bit better.”
Craftwork sold its beer to bars on a small scale all around the country, and demand often exceeded supply.
“We have people asking us for beer kegs a lot … but we have to say no, because we need it for ourselves, and we have to come first.
“Supplying other people is great, it’s fantastic, but it’s also a challenge, because we’re frequently disappointing people.”
All the plans were in place for the new venue, Ms Scotti said.
“We’re sort of gathering up our team. We’ve got our menu sorted, we’ve pretty much done a lot of the thinking, so that when we open it’s just boom.”
Alongside beer, the bar will serve cider, a range of natural “lo-fi” wines and a small selection of food.
“We’re doing crepes and toasted sandwiches, and the cheese that we do – small-batch cheese – which we love. Predominantly South Island small-batch, and some Whitestone Cheese.
“Really exciting, gorgeous, kind of not the norm.
“It just suits how we do things. The slow-food movement, slow beer and slow wine.”
With the larger brewing capacity, the pair are hoping their days will not be so long, and they will find more of that elusive work/life balance.
Finding tradesmen to help with the fit-out was proving to be a challenge, but they were employing the help of “handy friends”, Ms Scotti said.
“And we’re doing things ourselves.
“It will be worth it. Because we think we’ve probably got another 10 years in us, doing Craftwork, and we wouldn’t want to move again.”