New Zealand’s Garage Project began life in a rundown petrol station in Wellington’s Aro Valley. They started brewing on a 50 litre kit in 2011, pumping out 40 beers in their first year alone, demonstrating a penchant for experimentation and producing beers with flair.
Things have shifted gears considerably since 2011 for Jos Ruffell and brothers Pete and Ian Gillespie, seeing their capacity grow and spread over several sites. Across the street from the brewery is their taproom, a bustling hub for local drinkers, and their Marion Street site, the Wild Workshop – where they are delving into the realm of spontaneous fermentation – is a short stroll away. Outside of Wellington, they operate their B-Studio in Hawke’s Bay, a production brewery with state of the art equipment and canning and bottling lines.
Their Wild Workshop is located in a former print factory, lending ample space for row upon row of wine barrels of their wild, spontaneous and mixed fermentation beers, all relying on native New Zealand cultures. In the attic, there will soon be a coolship, a tray-like open vessel that efficiently cools wort while exposing it to wild bacteria and yeasts. These are traditionally associated with Belgian lambic producers, such as the hallowed Cantillon in Brussels.
The coolship is an exciting prospect, primarily because if there’s one thing that New Zealand can offer in spades, it’s a thriving unique ecosystem bursting with distinctive native plants and flora. The island country’s physical isolation has resulted in a biological segregation, which means that native yeasts can impart some truly distinct flavour characteristics to beer (as it does to their world-renowned wines).
Yeast aside, New Zealand is already respected for their hop varietals, which includes a number of hops including Motueka, Nelson Sauvin and Wai-iti, all of which are coveted for their richly juicy, tropical notes ranging from lychee to pineapple. These impart aromas and flavours like honeyed apricots, peaches and melon to beers like Garage Project's own Pernicious Weed IIPA.
In their Wild Workshop, the brewery is also dabbling in natural wines. Their Crushed series is still in its infancy, but they intend to offer drinkers an alternative to the traditional wine styles of New Zealand. In both the aroma and flavour spectrum, these so-called 'wild' wines have a lot in common with wild fermented beers. To ensure that they get the most out of the project, the brewery has produced the 100% brett-fermented wines with the help of Alex Craighead, a stalwart figure in the country’s wine scene.
The focus on wild beers and wines points towards exciting times ahead for Garage Project. Not ones to play it safe, it also lends them further scope for experimentation. In their Wild Workshop, the hunkering foeders and fermenting beers and wines mark the brewery’s innovative spirit and lofty future ambitions.
As for the beer, the product that started this fruitful journey, they’re still brewing some of the best in the country and although the volume of wild wines produced remains conservative, there's thankfully plenty of beer to go around.
Thank you to Jack Dougherty for some of the stunning photography featured in this post.