Galbraith’s Alehouse, king of craft

Keith Galbraith (Photo: Bob Campbell MW)

“I worked for 22 years in the wine industry before spending the last 20 years in beer.”

Mused Keith Galbraith as he sipped a pint of Galbraith’s Grafton Porter.

“When I opened the brewery in 1995, I was the first to bring real ale to New Zealand. It was a very risky proposition. Although we had a hardcore following of real ale enthusiasts, it was a pretty radical sell to many beer drinkers at that time. I recall a customer asking for our best beer shortly after we opened. The barman assumed he wanted a pint of ‘best bitter’ and served that. ‘If that’s your best I’d hate to try your worst’, said the customer with a look of horror on his face.”

“When we opened our philosophy was quite simple. We brewed the sort of beer that we wanted to drink ourselves and if the market bought into it, well and good.”

Keith soon learned that he also had to offer mainstream beers for financial survival.

“At first we had to have Lion products on tap to pay the bills. As the popularity for our own beer grew demand for the mainstream beers declined. Gradually we discontinued them, although we do stock interesting craft beers from other small brewers.”

“My background in wine certainly influences my approach to brewing. Beer is every bit as interesting and complex as wine. I respect the terroir for beer as much as I do for wine. For example, to make good English bitter you must use English malt. I buy hops from many countries including the US, Slovakia, Germany, the UK and New Zealand. The same species of hops tastes very different when grown in New Zealand and the UK. Flavour is influenced by climate and soil type. We even adjust the mineral content of water to that used in the targeted style.”

“With wine, you have one vintage a year but in brewing, you have 50 vintages a year allowing rapid evolution in quality and style. If you screw up a wine it’s a potential disaster but if you make a mistake in brewing, tomorrow’s another day. I have enough experience now not to bother making a pilot brew when experimenting with a new style. I can pretty well predict the outcome when I change something.”

Is the craft beer movement a seven-day wonder?

“No. It’s like the coffee culture that has emerged over the past decade or two. We are no more likely to abandon craft beer that we are to abandon good coffee and revert back to instant coffee.”

Keith did admit that bottled craft beer is a very competitive market, particularly when sold through supermarkets.

“If I was trying to survive on bottled beer sales alone I’d be out of business.”

Galbraith’s Alehouse near the heart of Auckland combines a brewery with a well-stocked bar and stylish restaurant. It’s not just a meeting place for real ale and craft beer enthusiasts, although that customer type is certainly in evidence, it’s offers a great restaurant with an impressive and carefully selected wine list. It’s no longer necessary to travel 20,000 km’s to get a decent pint of bitter – just ask for “a pint of Bob’s” at Galbraiths.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *