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Acoustic Brewery, brewing beer to their own tune

Some of this region’s coolest business are tiny, established and run by an owner/operator who has a huge amount of passion for their product and business. Most owners are smart enough to know they need to start small to both test the market and test themselves. Can they actually run their new business and if it gets really popular do they have the financial and people resource to take advantage of the growth opportunity.

Last week I found another of these cool little business with dreams to grow into a modest business and, if the stars align, grow into a significant contributor to the vibrant craft beer sector here.

Acoustic Brewery was established by Nelson born and raised Matt Rhodes, with help from his father Michael, in a small commercial space in St Vincent Street and he is producing some pretty smart brews.

Michael has a science background having worked as a health physicist in Canada and the US.  He moved to New Zealand in the mid 1980’s and the love-of-science gene runs through the family. Matt studied genetics at Otago University before working as a microbiologist and tutor briefly in Canada before moving to Taiwan where he taught science in a fully immersive English language program. He told me most of the students were going to the United States universities to study.

Matt and his wife Cindy had a young son while in Taiwan and decided to move back to New Zealand and Nelson. “I did a bit of work in IT for companies in Taiwan, until I found something I wanted to do.

“Dad has been a home brewer for many years (since 1975 says Michael) so it is in my blood, I have grown up with brewing and the science and processes around brewing require many of the disciplines you learn studying science.

“To make great beer you need to spend a lot of time cleaning to make sure the equipment isn’t contaminated by things that grow in unclean tanks. Then there’s the fermentation process and critical temperature controls at various stages of the brewing process.

“We don’t pasteurise our beers so the beers are brewed and packaged in a clean, sanitised, oxygen free environment and need to be kept chilled.”

We talked about keeping lower alcohol beers stable without pasteurisation and Matt says producing a 2.5% sessionable beer that has body, a decent head, flavour and tastes like a proper beer means making sure the alcohol content falls within the very precise 2.3% to 2.5% alcohol range, and that’s where the science background really comes into its own.

So how did Matt end up starting a boutique brewery? “I sort of fell into it, I was looking for something meaningful to do and was helping dad who set up a nano-brewery for League of Brewers in Stoke. They sell homebrew equipment and supplies and the owners wanted to set up a small commercial brewery, using brewing systems available to homebrewers, to demonstrate that quality beer could be made with this equipment.

“Dad and I experimented with different very small 60 – 120 litre batches. The owners didn’t want us to brew the same beer twice so we got to play with different styles and flavour components like hops, malts and yeasts then put together kits for home brewers to buy and make something they had tried.

“After first lockdown everyone decided it was too much work for such small production. Home brewing had also taken off during lockdown which meant the brewery was taking up valuable storage space for the growing brew supplies side of the business so the decision was made to shut down the small brewery. It had been a bit of fun and I had caught the brewing bug so started looking around for a place to start a brewery.”

There are a lot of craft breweries in the region that give people lots of options when it comes to styles and flavours but Matt says “the local industry is really happy to have another playmate in the sector, we all get on well and just want to grow the whole sector.

“I have tried to slot into a small niche in the market. Because I’m so small I can move quite quickly when the market changes or people want to try new things. For example, we recently brewed a traditional Kölsch, which is not a style you often see brewed by craft breweries in New Zealand. And tastes are changing, we are seeing people swinging away from massive 7% plus hop bombs and looking for something more balanced and sessionable.

“I want to make a great beer people can enjoy. I have to love everything we make, if I don’t love it we change it until we do love it. For our 2.5% session ale we made six or seven trial brews before we were happy, and people seem to be loving it too.”

The Acoustic branding also reflects what Matt is trying to do, bring beer back to its roots. “Many craft brewers are trying to move forward with different flavours, some wacky and some pushing the envelope. While that’s great, we think there’s a good market for really well made beers, both new and traditional styles, with a broader customer appeal. I want to keep it as close to the core idea of what the style should be as we can. I want to make them balanced and well rounded beers people can enjoy every last drop of.

“Just like an acoustic musician it has to be good, because if it’s not good it is so obvious it’s not right.”

Matt and his father are currently brewing up something special for Marchfest, rather than going down the funky road it’s a classic German Octoberfest beer but using New Zealand hops.

Acoustic Brewery beers are currently available in a number of local bars and cafes but they have an off licence that allows them to sell online and deliver to your door. The website and online store are currently being built so in the meantime you can try these super tasty beers at Cable Bay Café, Cable Bay Adventure Park, Deville, Red 16, Two Thumbs, the Free House, the Moutere Inn and at the Boathouse.

This kind of brewing business really needs to be encouraged, otherwise we end up with a bunch of quite boring beers made to sell in bulk. Small producers add colour and soul to a very traditional industry.

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Published in the Nelson Mail 20-03-2024

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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