Seven years ago Wanaka businessman James Hay was a backyard brewer working out of his garage at night and as a building labourer by day.
Now, the b.effect founder has well and truly branched out, with atrial crop of locally grown hops nearly ready for its first harvest and brewing at the company’s new Anderson Rd factory.
The hops were planted by Nelson grower Hop Revolutions about three years ago on a 1000sq m plot on the Ruddenklau family farm in the Maungawera Valley.
Hop Revolutions wanted to test the feasibility of producing hops down south. Most New Zealand hop farms are around Nelson, where they do well in the sunny, temperate climate.
Jake Ruddenklau rang Mr Hay one day and asked if he wanted the crop for beer.
He usually imports hops from overseas or buys in from Nelson but was persuaded by b.effect builder Jackson Campbell› King to make a locally grown product.
‘‘It is a small trial of about 300 plants, in six different varieties . . .I suppose the thing about them is they are not going to be the same as the variety we buy out of Nelson because of the terroir. They are growing down here in our soil and will taste quite different,’’ Mr Hay said.
He was excited about the impending harvest.
‘‘I think we will have a hop harvest party about the end of March. We will harvest by hand for two days at the weekend and then make beer on the Monday and Tuesday, to be ready three weeks later,’’ he said.
Wanaka has five independent beer breweries and if the trial brew goes well, Mr Hay hopes to encourage Wanaka farmers to grow hops to supply independent breweries like his.
The Ruddenklaus and Hops Revolution had been very helpful with the trial and soil tests, he said.
‘‘If we can get hops down here, that would help diversify the economy,’’ he said.
But all he isworried about at the moment is finding 100 people to help with picking — no mean ask in a region crying out for seasonal workers.
Mr Hay leads a small team of four brewery workers, while about 12 people work in the hospitality side of the business.
The b.effect factory and b.social bar and cafe opened about 18 months ago, after delays caused by Covid›19.
It brews beer, ginger beer and kombucha for supply across the South Island.
The company began producing canned kombucha in September 2020 to adapt to the challenges posed by closed pubs.
Buying a canning machine made sense and gave the company freedom to market it itself.
The final part of the b.effect fit›out — an upstairs function room — was completed in September last year.
The new area is being used by staff at the moment but would become available if more hospitality staff, especially chefs, could be found, Mr Hay said.