Like it’s neighbour Mt Eden prison, Galbraith’s brewpub is an Auckland institution.
The neo-Classical building opened in 1913 as Grafton Library. I first visited when I worked on Khyber Pass Road in 1988. Unfortunately for me, Keith Galbraith’s eponymous joint didn’t open until 1995.
Today Galbraith’s straddles two stages in New Zealand beer history. It’s English-influenced cask ales were a true alternative to mainstream draughts when it opened, and now it’s including new-world-influenced craft beers in its range.
Sam Hitchcock joined the Galbraith’s team in 2011 and has been the general manager since 2013.
“In 1995 it was a very different world. There were probably three of four major beers in New Zealand then, made by two different breweries,” says Sam. “Keith Galbraith exited the wine industry after about 20 years. He went over to the UK and was trained in brewing by a man called Bob Hudson. Keith learnt about cask ale and old-world brewing and brought that back here. This was dodgy nightclub at the time – line dancing or something like that.”
Galbraith’s was a pioneer brewpub, but it wasn’t alone. The Shakespeare Hotel, down the hill in Auckland’s CBD, had been brewing its own English-style ales since 1986. Unlike the Shakespeare, Galbraith’s has been brewing ever since. And while lots of us were fed up with the local crap, there was no particular interest in mimicking drinking traditions from the opposite end of the Earth. Galbraith’s first fans sought nostalgia rather than innovation, attracted by its respectfully traditional English-style cask ales brewed on site.
“A lot of English punters came out here and found a slice of home, but it took three or four years to get that following. Before that it was a real struggle. Craft beer has taken a big swing in the past three or four years and it’s really just hitting its straps – I mean Auckland’s still playing catch up with Wellington and Wellington’s still playing catch up with the West Coast of the States. So it’s very much a different drinkership these days. It’s gone from old men, basically, sitting in the same chair drinking the same pint, to a new audience who are after the latest and greatest weird and wonderful beer, and that’s how we balance our business.
“We are bridging that gap between ‘cold-wacky-weird’ beer and ‘warm-flat-English’ beer. We’re trying to get people across that bridge, to realise that with our cask beer there’s a whole corner of the market that’s not typically marketed as craft beer but it’s still hand-made, balanced, creative.”
Bar manager and assistant brewer Dave O’Leary: “We’ve done cask-vs-keg series where we put the same beer on both ways and it will often be a surprise which one people will prefer. We’ve done IPAs and I thought people would prefer the keg on that one, but a lot of people went for the cask. There’s definitely a lot more flavour than when it’s a bit colder.”
Galbraith’s has seven handpulls, nine core keg taps and five guest taps. Dave says Auckland importer/distributor Beertique is helping Galbraith’s connect with changing trends in UK brewing. “At the minute they’re the best distributor out there for getting new stuff on the market. I’ve friends big into craft beer in Dublin and each week I’m getting messages, ‘Have you heard of this new one from Thornbridge?’ and I’m saying ‘Yeah it's on tap here!’”
Galbraith’s in-house brewery is now being supplemented with bigger batches produced at Steam Brewing, freeing up the smaller brewhouse to produce one-off brews available only at the bar, says Sam. “We’re a brewpub on a small site that we can’t make modifications to, so we can’t fit a bottling line and or bigger tanks. So 1400L batches are brewed here for the pub and 10,000L batches are brewed for us at Steam.”
One thing you did not know about Galbraith’s Alehouse: “When it first started, Keith Galbraith put so much money and time into this place that he ended up living here for a bit and Fermenter 2 became his bath. A kettle make a good bath filler apparently,” Sam says.