Dermot Haworth is not a monk, or fat.
Dermot is a scion of Hawke’s Bay’s winemaking Haworth family, owners of Abbey Estate. Unfortunately for Dermot, but fortunately for beer drinkers, Dermot turns out to be allergic to wine.
“My family’s been doing wine for 11 vintages,” Dermot says. “I moved down here to help out the family business and about a year into it I found out I was allergic to wine. It’s a sulphites allergy. That’s where the passion for beer grew, because I can drink beer where I couldn’t drink cider or wine.”
Dermot started home brewing eight years ago, going all-grain and experimenting with ingredients.
“You could get Wyeast yeast and try all these different strains from around the world. Cryer Malt was bringing in German and English malts, so it was a good time to be a home brewer and I think a lot of people started to jump on board seven or eight years ago.”
With access to Abbey’s tasting room and distribution contacts, the next step was to form Fat Monk and go commercial with his successful pilsner recipe. That led to contract brewing through Aotearoa Breweries (aka Mata) in Kawerau. “We contracted a 1000L batch to get us through summer and it sold out in the first month, just through the tap room.”
And the growth continued. Last year Fat Monk opened its own brewery and bottling line, producing 20-barrel (2340L) batches. That taproom crowd is still the basis of Fat Monk’s sales.
“Our business is 90% tourist, which is a lot different to any other bars in New Zealand, even in Hastings or Napier. We’re lucky enough to have the cruise ship tourists come to us on winery tours. And we’re on the cycling circuit where they bike around seven wineries.
“We were one of the first wineries in Hawke’s Bay to do wine tasting trays, and now we do wine trays, beer trays or a mixture. We had 20 tasting trays made last year, and now we have 70 so that’s 280 glasses out at any one time, and a couple of times this summer we were maxing out.”
The new, Chinese-built, brewery was commissioned late last year. Dermot says it has been designed to be simple to operate, and to allow more growth.
“it’s 20 barrel with a 40bbl hot liquor tank. We didn’t want to go any smaller and we think 20bbl is about the size we can make a profit on. It’s all operated from a touch screen and it opens and closes all the valves pneumatically, so you don’t have to jump up and down the ladder every five minutes. . You can pretty much brew a 20bbl batch with one person, starting at seven and finishing at two o’clock all cleaned. We’ll have crushed the grain and heated the water the night beforehand. It’s all insulated so it keeps its temperature overnight.
“It’s the first diesel brewery in New Zealand I believe – we use diesel instead of gas, so it’s really, really efficient. A lot of people use diesel in boilers for steam, but that’s a lot less efficient than a direct diesel-fired firebox. We actually had to tame it back from 200kW to 60kW because it was too huge and was boiling off 8% of the batch instead of 3%.”
Dermot’s home brewing interest in different ingredients is reflected today in Fat Monk’s range. It’s core range – Pilsner, Pacific Pale, India Red Ale, Belgian Blonde and American IPA – use three different yeasts, and combine European base malts with New Zealand-made speciality malts. “We’re using American and Polish hops in our Belgian beers, and using American and Kiwi in our pilsners. So we’re liking that cross between New Zealand and American hops, we do that quite a bit.”
The Fat Monk will have some brothers soon, as new ranges are introduced and barrel-aged and experimental beers join the flock. “In the past six months we’ve gone back to Abbey Brewery – Fat Monk is just one brand under Abbey Brewery and we will be releasing another four or five brands under the Abbey Brewery name, more Kiwi and modern.”