By Gill Davis, Waikato Times
Greig McGill is sporting a broad grin, he’s knackered, yes, but elated; the building is complete, equipment operating, the off-licence has just come through. After 18 months of sweat and hard graft, Brewaucracy is finally up and running.
That’s not to say he still isn’t doing the work of several people; but it’s a labour of love driving Hamilton’s newest craft brewery.
Sited in Mahana Rd, Hamilton, the premises have been laid out for practicality and the fit-out leans towards industrial, the taproom with black leather corner seating, black metal bar stools and timber-topped tables. Behind the bar are rows of pristine taps and back-lit cabinets, all ready for action when the on-licence comes through.
In clear view at the rear of the building is the workings of the brewery and its huge gleaming stainless-steel tanks: the brew kettle, the fermenters, the keg washer and bright tank, into which the clear beer goes for carbonating before packaging.
The physical Brewaucracy might be new but Greig has been passionate about beer for a long time.
“Brewing’s in the blood: my great grandfather was a brewer in Scotland. When he emigrated to New Zealand he imported whisky. I don’t know why he changed to whisky but it’s OK because I like both.”
With a group of mates who were “crazy beer nerds” he founded Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA), a “consumer organisation aiming to increase the availability of beer. We wanted more choice.
“I’m a huge lover of pubs as well. Not just the beer, the environment too. I love the buzz, happy people in a happy place, the sense of community that exists, but I also love dive bars in the US, the seediness of them.”
He used to visit the US in his previous job in IT but these days he goes for the likes of craft brewers’ conferences and to judge at the World Beer Cup.
Greig began home brewing in 2000, then a friend encouraged him to market his product.
Its popularity grew and from 2011, Greig working in partnership with Phil Murray, the beer was contract-brewed by Peter McKenzie at Shunters Yard in Matangi while Greig and Phil still worked their day jobs.
They called the product Brewaucracy. “It started as a joke but then we thought: why not use it?”
It was sold in bars and off-licences in Hamilton and Auckland and as far south as Christchurch. “We just used to make a batch and sell it. It was easier for us to do that.
“But there was never enough beer, never enough time to brew enough.”
And this lead to Brewaucracy’s metamorphosis, the decision to brew their ale themselves on their own premises.
Greig and Phil talked about setting up in Auckland but decided there were already enough breweries there. Hamilton, they thought, was a better option.
“I was born in here. I’ve moved around a bit but always come back because this is home and I’ve got good friends here. I felt it was very much an under-serviced town that needed more variety, I also wanted to bring in more taproom variety. And right now, because it’s a little bit cool, there’s lots of little niche things popping up everywhere.
“There’s a nice little family of craft brewers in the Waikato. We help each other out rather than compete. We are all aware of competing for the same taps but at the end of the day we want to grow the market.”
They took a long break from contract brewing, went underground for two years while they found the right building, remodelled it, brought in equipment. “Neither Phil nor I had done this before. It was a huge challenge.”
They’ve emerged fully formed, as a brewery in their own right.
Phil, who lives and still works in Auckland, handles the money side “Anything to do with finances, Phil’s in charge. Anything to do with beer, I’m in charge. Anything that overlaps, we talk.
“A lot of breweries have a core range but we’ll let the market decide what our core beers will be. At the moment I’m brewing a session ale; an ESB a one-time special Devil in the Board Room; a pale ale; an American amber; and Kiwi Marmalade, a collaboration with Electric Nurse in Sweden.”
The secret to a perfect brew is science and intuition, he says. “The science is knowing what the rules are; intuition is playing those rules almost like an instrument, knowing when to push one, then another.”
His favourite? “You can’t have a favourite. I have several but I think Devil in the Board Room, going by the way it’s tasting, at least until next week. Brewing’s a fickle beast.”