Pro Features

Roosters: 2 decades of brewing at the red shed

From a business perspective, craft beer and coffee have a lot in common, says Chris Jarvis.

As the long-time owner of Hawke’s Bay’s Bay Espresso cafés and now also the proprietor of landmark Hastings brewpub Roosters, he should know.

Chris and his wife Jonelle bought the Roosters business – on the industrial fringes of Omahu Road, where it’s been brewing its own beer since 1994 – from founders Chris and Jill Harrison in early 2017.

“It’s an iconic place, it has history, it just needed some TLC,” he says.

And as he set about administering some of that TLC, he discovered the connection between running cafés and pubs.

“The brewpub business is very similar to the coffee business. You’re trying to create an environment where anybody can just come in and find a space for themselves. That’s how we’ve always tried to operate. That starts with how the place looks and feels when you walk in – your staff, how they meet and greet; your food offerings; your pricing. Like coffee, beer is a liquid, it’s an environment and you’ve got customer service, so there are a lot of synergies.”

He also sees the recent rise of craft beer as being similar to the growth of the coffee culture a decade ago.

“When we took over Karamu Rd [the original Bay Espresso café] there was one other coffee roaster in Hawke’s Bay – Hawthorne’s. No one else was roasting coffee to any degree, nor was the café scene even remotely what it is now. The pubs have gone through the same thing.”

Roosters’ beer production figures over the pub’s 24-year life tell a story about the evolution of the industry, Chris says.

“You can see a dip in production when the first change in drink-drive law occurred;

then you see the next dip when the global financial crisis came along; and then you can see another dip when the next drink-drive change was introduced. So as beer producers with a brewpub, you have to change your model because you just couldn’t survive on selling beer alone. Even excise tax 24 years ago was nothing compared to what it is now – it’s like having three extra staff members from a cost perspective.”

Since taking over, Chris has worked on making the Roosters environment more appealing to a wider base of customers and focused on introducing quality food.

“Hawke’s Bay is not big enough to say, right, I’m only going to focus on this particular market. You need a multi-functional kind of a place,” he says.

On the beer side, Chris says Roosters’ offering has always been about providing an approachable range of pure beers “made the Bavarian way – just water, malts, hops and yeast, that’s it, no additives or preservatives and nothing silly”.

Initially the range comprised a lager, a draft and a dark beer, later expanding to include Weissbier (wheat beer) and then an IPA, along with a seasonal beer (a dark one in winter and a light one in summer).

Roosters’ popular naturally brewed, ‘old school’, ginger beer has also always been a big part of the brand.

Since taking over, Chris has introduced a pilot brewing kit “giving us 100 litres to play around with”. This allows long-serving head brewer Darryl Tong, who has been with Roosters for 12 years, to experiment with new brews “which may or may not lead to becoming larger volume beers on our main taps”.

While Roosters beer has been available off- site in a limited way – the lager is on tap at Shed 2 in Ahuriri and the Common Room in Hastings generally pours the lager and IPA – Chris says he plans to start selling 330 ml bottles into local retail outlets.

As his plans to boost the Roosters brand take shape, Chris says Hawke’s Bay is well served by what he describes as an eclectic bunch of independent brewers.

“The region’s got an abundance of offerings, not just beer but also wine, food and coffee. I just think it’s awesome, considering how small the population is, it’s over-hosted; but that level of competition is exciting because you have to get your offering right and therefore customers get a really good choice of places to go, things to drink and experience.”