Pro Features

Worshipping craft beer at the Abbey

When you pitch up at Abbey Cellars, in the Bridge Pa Triangle wine district west of Hastings, the first difficult decision to make is whether you’re there for a beer or a wine.

The Haworth family established the Abbey Cellars wine brand in 2002 and a decade later, son Dermot started getting serious about beer. He began selling small-batch brews through the cellar door, leading to the creation of the Fat Monk label.

“We’re still predominantly a winery, which means we focus much of our energy on wine,” Dermot says.

“But we do now have 10 different styles of beer out in the market – probably the largest number for a Hawke’s Bay brewery.”

The Fat Monk brand was retired last year, with the beer now sold under the Abbey Brewery label. Dermot says the change reflects a maturing of the beer side of the business and aligns it with the wine brand. The distinctive monk imagery associated with the previous name has been retained, however.

Dermot describes Abbey’s beer business model as “half brew-pub, half-brewery” because it involves a combination of selling packaged product nationally while also having the cellar as a destination where visitors can enjoy a beer with food and music.

While Abbey Cellars does well attracting patrons – including cruise ship visitors and cyclists taking advantage of the local cycle trails – Dermot says that trade is limited to the summer months.

So in a bid to extend the cellar door’s appeal as a destination from spring right through to autumn, plans are underway to build a 12-metre covered beer garden on site.

The addition of a bottling and labelling line to the on-site brewery in late 2016 – making the brand “self-sufficient” in terms of beer production–had been a significant investment but one that was quickly paying off, he says. Away from the cellar door, like all the region’s craft beers, Abbey Brewery has faced the challenges of growing its brand recognition with local drinkers in a market where almost all Hawke’s Bay bars are tied into supply contracts with the two major brewing companies, Lion and DB.

On the other hand, a number of pubs have recently added ‘independent’ taps for craft beer and interest in Hawke’s Bay-brewed beers has also been enhanced by New World’s supermarkets in Hastings and Havelock North, which both stock local labels among a fairly extensive range of beers.

“Their range is as good as in larger centres such as Wellington, and this has encouraged people to sample different styles of beers,” Dermot says

“And it’s great to see the bars that have started putting some independent taps in over the last couple of years and are noticeably busier and doing well because of their new offering. It meets the current market demand that we haveinNewZealand.”