Just like having a sore tooth and your dentist is closed I think it is fair to say the financial pain the country is currently experiencing is going to hang around for a while, annoying and distracting at the same time. However, if you enjoy a few beers there’s something you can do to help ease the financial pain – brew your own beer.
That’s where League of Brewers comes to your aid, and not just for home brewing equipment and supplies. While they have a huge range of equipment to help you make everything from cider, kombucha, yoghurt and cheese to beer and spirits at home their specialty is brewing and distilling.
Last week I dropped in to check out their warehouse and shop in Vivian Place before I had a chat with co-owner Ed Briem to learn a bit more about what they do and how the beer lover in your life can save some money by brewing and distilling at home.
Ed says “You can start with a basic brewing kit for about $80 and then add some ingredients for about $25 so you can make your first 23 litres of home brew for less than $120, after that it’s just the cost of ingredients so it makes it really cost effective compared to buying beer if you stick with the basics. Of course, when you have made a few successful brews you can always stretch yourself, invest in a bit more equipment and start experimenting with flavours you like.”
I remember the bad old days of awful home brews served to me by enthusiastic brewing beginners, but things have changed, “today you can buy a huge range of very good ingredients that are designed for the home-brewer to make fantastic beers in any style.”
I wanted to know how Ed, an IT developer and programmer, and his partner in League of Brewers, Mike Stringer who is a self-employed Business Analyst ended up owning a brewing supplies business. “Being German beer is just in my DNA, Mike is English so it’s the same for him.
“I came to New Zealand 17 years ago and was intrigued by the cans of malt and other brewing supplies, including home brew kits, at the supermarket. Home brewing is a very rare hobby in Germany so I was keen to give it a go. I bought a kit and the quality was terrible.”
Ed says it was so bad he decided that until someone gave him a decent home brew that tasted decent he wouldn’t be brewing at home anymore. “I met Mike at a party, he had brought some home brew with him that was actually quite good.
“Dick Tout used to have a home brew shop in Hardy St but when that closed there wasn’t a specialty supplier other than a guy who had a small business he ran from his home while working as a brewer. He wanted to get out of the business so we bought his stock and set up League of Brewers in 2014. We operated on a small scale from Mike’s garage as you do!
“We worked one day a week so it was very much part time. I started building the website because that’s what I do for a real job and the business grew slowly but steadily until we realised one of us had to give up our job or we had to employ someone. Dan Hagenaar was our first employee and still runs the shop and sales for us. The business kept growing so we had to move out of Mike’s home and we went looking for a commercial premises, the building that was occupied by Liquid Alchemy in Vivian Place came available so we took it on.”
Because they had the space in the much larger premises they started making a few commercial brews and sold them at places like Kirby Lane on Friday nights but when Covid hit the demand for home brew supplies grew and there wasn’t any point in trying to make and sell small volumes of craft beer.
Over the last couple of years the business has gone from strength to strength and League of Brewers has expanded the range of equipment and supplies they stock.
“Dan has outstanding knowledge to give great advice, he’s a passionate home brewer and loves to help people make better beer. He has the knowledge to help people set up brew systems that are like a mini brewery. Once people get hooked on brewing they can buy a range of boilers so they can start with the raw grain and hops and make their own mash and experiment with different things to create their own specialty brews.”
The equipment they sell obviously starts with the basic home brew and distilling kits but they can also help people set up semi-commercial operations. Ed says that they have recently had contact with a retirement village that wanted to set up a small brewery so residents can make their own beer. “Not commercial quantities but about the same amount in each batch that you can make from a small kit. For them it’s about providing the equipment for residents to use.
“It’s a great hobby for people and perfect for retirement villages to have, making beer is great for camaraderie.”
League of Brewers work with a small number of premium suppliers including Kegland from Australia and Grainfather who have an all-in-one brewing system where you brew from grain, malt and hops – just like a brewery. Ingredients for each brew start at about $25 but they have a huge range of different ingredients so you can make true craft beers at home, “take up the challenge of making a quality product at home” says Ed
The home brewing philosophy carries over to distilling, League of Brewers has equipment and supplies that will help you make everything from the cheapest sugar-based alcohol you can add flavourings to, to making handcrafted spirits. “It’s about expressing yourself, almost like cooking, but we also have the flavourings you need to make rum, whiskey, gins and many more spirit flavours.”
You can start with a basic electric start-up still kit for about $410 or if you start as a beer brewer and move to a Grainfather system you can use the boiler in that system and all you need to do is add a condenser cap and off you go on your spirit-making journey too.
If you’re looking for the perfect summer gift for the beer lover in your life, then you can start with a brewing kit and ingredients for the first brew for as little as $125 and then that person can grow as they get better at it. “It’s a great hobby, you can be at home and not out all day long, and you will find that if you make a great product then you group of mates will expand” says Ed with a laugh.
You will find League of Brewers down the driveway behind a Marine Electrical business in Vivian Place, beside the transfer station but you can also check the website www.leagueofbrewers.co.nz to see the range they have, order online, do the click and collect thing or they will freight it to you no matter where you live.
Ed says, “Our motto is to help everyone – brewers selling to brewers.”