Chris Ormond can see the irony – while I’m interviewing him about Giant Brewing, he’s concocting his next batch on a 50L Farra kit.
“It’s a part-time gig and we intended to start small. There’s three of us: I’m the brewer; my brother Tom, who’s got Hawthorne Coffee in Havelock North; and George Mackenzie, who works in Auckland during the week. We liked our home brewing so we put the money in and went through all the hoops, which is quite a process.”
The little Giant brewery is just outside Havelock North, surrounded by grape vines and under the northern foot of Te Mata Peak. It’s the team’s first commercial site, after starting out in a shed and then shifting into a barn.
“We discovered the barn came nowhere near meeting food/beverage production regulations. It had great views and acoustics, but we lacked coving, non-permeable walls and ceilings, adequate waste and hot water systems, a loo, etc etc.”
So they moved to their current site in 2014, and named themselves after the local maunga. “In legend, Te Mata Peak is the sleeping giant. We were going to call the brewery Sleeping Giant, but that was taken, Little Giant was taken, so we just called it Giant a left it at that.”
The brewery’s production is split between 50L batches at its new site, and 1200L batches contract brewed at Roosters Brew House on the other side of Hastings.
“I’d say our beer is flavoursome. I quite like putting the emphasis on the malt as well as the hops. I haven’t made anything commercially over 50 IBUs. Compared to some of the stuff you’ve got going on in Wellington, it’s going to be more approachable.
“It’s a Hawke’s Bay thing. I guess a lot of the Hawke’s Bay punters would turn their noses up if we gave them 70 IBUs. We’ve got to take people from drinking commercial beer to appreciating local craft beer. And that’s worked. I’ve had a lot of feedback from people who haven’t tried craft beer before and they’ve liked ours.”
Understanding local taste is important when you’re selling 90% of your production locally. “Hawke’s Bay has a buy-local vibe. The (hospo) industry understands some of the best produce is grown here and some of the best wines, so they are keen to get local beer. They understand the story behind the Giant because Te Mata Peak is an iconic local landmark.
“Hawke’s Bay is a summer destination. Some of the garden-bar-style venues are very busy over summer but it gets a lot quieter over winter and that effects beer sales. That’s one of the things you learn when you’re new.”
Giant’s core range covers four ales – NZPA, IPA, APA, and an ESB. A-OK! They’re easiest to find in Hawke’s Bay but pop up in other centres occasionally.
Bigger production and broader distribution may be on the cards: “We’ve started looking at costings for various options – stretching out contract brewing, investing in a bigger brewing setup, bottling lines. It’s all a lot of money so I think we’ll just wait 12 months and reassess it. Having a bit of fun is the goal. World domination is not on the agenda.”