I’ve been having a little love affair with Wellington recently. A stark contrast to after i graduated from vic nine years ago and I couldn't wait to get on a plane. I came back after five years away thinking I’d probably move to Auckland... Because, you know, I’d had a taste of ‘big city life’ overseas and Wellington felt a little too dinky. i could remember walking down Cuba Street and knowing pretty much everyone and it was at a ratio of 5:3 - people you wanted to see and people you didn’t want to see. Although maybe that says more about me than it does this city!
But I came back to a city transformed. I’m not sure if it just because I had changed and the circles I now found myself in but suddenly that dinkiness meant community and collaboration. I saw us all working together to make this city an awesome place to be, probably because the weather is so terrible therefore we have to work a little harder than most. What I saw inspired Eat and Greet. Now I love the fact that in Wellington you usually have at least one Facebook friend in common any with other Wellingtonian, which makes my life easier with this website, everyone knows someone who can put me in touch. Take Jos Ruffell, one half of Garage Project for instance– we have connections completely unrelated to food or beer, he serves on the Film NZ board where my brother works and is also organising the AnimfxNZ conference, which is sponsored by my work (It is on this week by the way, check out the drool-worthy line up, a whole lot of geeky drool). So is this guy super human? Pretty much, because when he isn’t doing that he joins his 'other half' Pete Gillespie and together they are Garage Project, a brewery that in their first year produced 46 different beers! Super human indeed.
Garage Project are smack bang in the middle of that community I was talking about, working together with local artists and artisans - Cola syrups from Six Barrel Soda Co, green coffee beans from Peoples Coffee or Coco nibs from Whittaker’s and that is just for the brewing process. Garage Project are jumping on board with other exciting Wellington events like the Oyster Saloon and recently the Day of the Dead party at La Boca Loca. These guys don't need much of an excuse to come up with a themed beer - a specific event, time of year or ...a cat. But that is what makes these guys so exciting, they keep us Wellingtonians on our toes. If you aren’t down at Hashigo Zake on the night they launch then chances are you will miss it, or you will have to wait a whole year until the next El Día de los Muertos.
I visited Jos and Pete on a brew day down at their car workshop turned brewery in Aro St. With an upside down keg for a stool and being interrupted every 10 minutes for passers by to pat Jos' incredibly sweet dogs Mila and the Count of Monte Cristo (AKA Monte), I got the Garage Project boys to spill a few secrets on past lives...
How did the Garage Project get started?
Jos: Pete has known me all my life, his younger brother Ian is my best friend and I grew up down the road from him. Before Garage Project I was working in the games industry and travelling a lot to the states with my job and I became really hooked on the craft beer scene happening over there, those big hoppy IPAs. I then started seeing that scene grow back here. There were some great craft breweries popping up but they were very traditional and safe and they weren't really putting out the types of beers that get me excited. I knew that Pete was trying to get his brewery started up in Sydney but coming up against lots of bureaucracy and red tape. So I floated the idea of coming back to NZ and we could open a brewery in Wellington.
Pete: With Lion pulling Macs out of Wellington, suddenly there was no brewery in the craft beer capital. It was a vacuum too good to miss. I actually went around a lot of bars asking people why there wasn’t a brewery here, it seemed crazy to me. I thought “am I going to walk into some sort of horrible ambush?" The only reason we could see is that you are close to the government so bureaucracy is difficult, but compared to NSW it was nothing. We decided to go for it and I’m very pleased
What made you decide to be a brewer?
Pete: I had another career before brewing (see final question!) but I realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was a home brewer at the time and just talked my way into a job. I worked in England a while then moved back to Australia when I had kids and started working at the Malt Shovel, I got the job by writing my job application on a bottle of oak conditioned porter I had made. It was an interesting brewery, a bit like Macs over here, it was part of Lion Brewery. It was quite an innovative craft brand in its time and when I started there it was quite rogue. Lion left it alone, they thought of it as a slightly strange cousin that they hid in the attic, but then of course with the craft boom, craft beer was the only sector making any money so they suddenly took an interest in it and imposed a lot of constraints and ideas on it. That is when I tried to open up my own brewery in Australia.
How did you learn your craft?
Pete: At my first job, learning from Brakspear Brewery, which was a fantastic old brewery on the banks of the Thames. It was from the days when the industry was beautiful. They had huge copper kettles, everything was wood and brass, with spiral staircases and stained glass; it was so gorgeous. They made the most beautiful beer and had been doing so for the last 250 years. The tragedy of it is that's has now been sold off to make a quick buck and it was made into apartments. After that I went to a more industrial functional brewery called Hepworth and Co. It was incredibly hard work, we worked all day every day. It was contract brewing, brewing beer for little real ale breweries who had no bottling capacity. So it meant that I was constantly brewing different beers and learning a lot.
Your 24 beers in 24 weeks was a wonderful way to launch the brewery, how did that idea come about?
Jos: It wasn't something we immediately came up with, it came from a process from how we wanted to launch the brewery. We were also looking at ways that would allow us the chance to create new beers and be a little bit more playful and experimental. Pete came up with the idea of doing 24 beers in 24 weeks. Originally, it was 24 original pieces of art to go along with each beer as well....which sort of went out the window a bit. When launching the brewery we wanted the beers to stand alone, if you think about all the bottles of beer on the supermarket shelves it’s all the same label and then the beer itself is listed as a very straight description and on the label it talks up the brewery whereas I find it interesting that each beer is different and unique and it’s more interesting to talk about the beer than us and give the beer a bit more personality.
Pete: If you are working for a big brewery you are essentially a factory worker, you are producing the same beer day in day out. So the 24 were a nice antidote to that. And it set the tone for Garage Project. It was really fun, I like that experimental aspect.
What makes Garage Project special?
Jos: I think for us it is about doing things differently, doing a range of beers that people may not have tried before, brewing different styles, flavour combinations, a bit playful, taking risks. We are pretty relentless - we brewed over 40 different beers last year and the number we have done already this year is pretty staggering. Now we are getting into fun collaborations, fun launches and interesting ways of serving the beer.
Pete: The Pie vs Cake thing is a perfect example. Because up until now beer has been quite macho, that trend towards very bitter hoppy beers, almost like “how hot can I eat my curry”. It is the same idea. So I love that it felt a bit cheeky to have a cake beer night with a bake off! I think it's fun to turn things on its head. If I’m having fun then everyone else will too. For too long beer has been something cold, brown and fizzy so we want to make beer that is an experience.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced so far?
Jos: The council! We managed to get the most of what we wanted to do but it cost us a lot of time and money, it feels like it is quite unnecessary. To me it feels like it they aren’t as business friendly as they could be for start-ups. They have a real opportunity with these small producers who are showing that they are interested and popping up all over the place. They are doing everything they can to stay on top of their own financial problems to the detriment of stimulating new business activity.
We also had some trouble getting the right equipment. We wanted quality gear and had to bring a lot of that in from overseas, the used equipment is ex-dairy industry stuff so we didn’t want to touch that.
What influences each brew?
Jos: Ideas that excite Pete and myself.
Pete: Take for example the Day of the Dead. In Mexico, everyone thinks all they do are the very blonde lagers with lemon in the top, but they have a tradition of brewing black lager too. They used to also brew this drink with cocoa and chilli, it was described as frothy and bitter. So that sounded like the beer to me– that combined with the black lager, it came together perfectly.
Jos: I then challenged Pete this year to come up with a sister beer to Day of the Dead, a lighter brew.
Pete: I didn’t want it to be too soft, so put in more chilli but if it's just fiery, then that is pretty dull. I wanted to add something floral and interesting without using hops. So by adding watermelon it had that hot/cooling effect as well as that floral note I was looking for. (Did anyone get to try La Calevera Catrina? I'm not a huge lager fan, but this blew my mind– an initial hit of chilli then a wave of cooling watermelon, then after you swallow that slow building heat... amazing)
Jos: So it varies, we have a lot of beers we want to do, through time and the right moment, and the seasonality of ingredients and availability of hops. There is no one clean answer of how it works, but there is also no shortage of ideas. Sometimes we might have an idea but that needs to go on the back burner until the ingredients become available but sometimes those ingredients pop up through unexpected conversations.
What's your favourite Garage Project beer?
Pete: That's like trying to pick your favourite child! I’ve liked them all, even the ones that upset people. Like the green coffee bean Saison. A Saison is a French farmhouse beer, quite funky and earthy. Green beans have the most amazing smell and it reminded me of that Saison character. So I went about trying to put that in a brew. What we came up with was a very intense, nutty and funky beer. It was quite interesting! I mean you couldn’t drink stacks of it, but everyone that has drunk it can say they had that experience.
Jos: My favourite is Red Rocks Reserve as it was quite a violent beer to brew. I had this mad idea, we could make a Stein beer called the Red Rocks Reserve, and we could get the rocks.....from the Red Rocks Reserve, it was brilliantly poetic! But it was a very risky and challenging beer to brew. Pete fortunately backed me on that one. We had to superheat these rocks to 500-600 degrees
Pete: The rocks were so hot that we when we put them in the mash tun they were glowing!
Jos: When you introduce the beer, which is 100 degrees, there was a high chance that the rocks could explode so we could have been the idiots who blew up their new brewery! But the beer turned out this beautiful creation.
(check out Pete's blog post for more on the feisty RRR brew and a wonderful video of the whole process)
What is your favourite dish to have with beer?
Jos: A nice IPA with a curry, pretty low rent stuff, but I love it.
Pete: I love mussels with 3 Monts a Bière de Garde beer by St. Sylvestre
Where do you like to eat out for dinner?
Jos: I really like going down to The Larder. I live out in Miramar, I walk the dogs over there every morning, dropping in and sitting outside The Larder in the sun– you cannot ask for more than that in your neighbourhood cafe. I also really like Elements, they are really underrated as a restaurant.
Pete: I have been so poor setting this up I just don't!
What do you love about Wellington?
Jos: The quality of life you can have here is fantastic, its compact and there are a really interesting bunch of people doing creative things across entertainment, food and beer. It is a cool place. You can just wander around and catch up with people. I think the key is that you just need to get out a few times a year.
What do you cook for yourself on a day off?
Jos: I used to cook a lot. I’m not cooking so much at the moment because of lack of time. So the Moore Wilson’s Chook Wagon is a bit of a godsend.
My Christmas present to myself a few years ago was a professional sous-vide and vacuum chamber. I love sous-vide beef brisket or slow cooked beef cheeks. It sounds silly but you can schedule your life around food if you have one, because it’s ready when you are. Whether you leave it in there for 13 hours or 48 it just gets better.
Pete: My family are funny, there are several different food needs. My partner and daughter are vegetarian and my 5 year old is a sausagetarian...so he only eats sausages. I love cooking anything that I’ve caught, there is something really fun about collecting your own food and turning it into something. Often it is very simple and it's immensely satisfying. And then force myself to enjoy cooking sausages!
Who do you admire as a chef/in the food industry?
Jos: I’m a big fan of what David Chang and Christina Tosi are doing. I love the simplicity and homeliness of it. I don’t know how to describe it, it's almost child like. I like the fact that it is good ingredients and simple food done well. I like that it isn’t elitist and no haute cuisine snobbery about it.
In contrast I also admire Ferran Adrià who is all about technique and discovery. He will shut down the restaurant for 4 months a year to give himself and his chefs the space to come up with new recipes and new techniques. Breweries often don’t set themselves up so they can create new things, they will have a core range and they get locked into that. We wanted to have the freedom to create a new range in that El Bulli style.
Pete: We have had a lot to do with Jacob Brown at the Larder, what a talent. It is so nice to work with someone who is that passionate about food and knowing exactly what to do with food. I love and respect his nose to tail policy with eating.
I’m also enjoying the other collaborations we’ve been able to do locally with Six Barrel Soda Co, Peoples Coffee, and Wooden Spoon.
What is coming up in the future for Garage Project?
Jos: Our cellar door - We want to build a space where people can see the brewery and see what we are about and get the beers to take away. We are also going to offer a Friday service delivering to work places. And we are looking into bottling. When you are brewing so many different types of beers bottling all of them can be very challenging. We don’t want to do bottles until we can guarantee the quality. We have a system that is pretty good now and we will be hand bottling at the brewery and starting to push out a range and have that constantly going out. We will work to a point where a portion of each brew will be put aside and bottled.
Tell us something about yourselves that most people won't know...
Jos: I’m red/green colour-blind.
Pete: I have a PHD in Philosophy. I keep that pretty quiet. My thesis was Playing on the edge: young men, risk-taking and identity... catchy. I think the whole time I worked in the UK as a blue-collar brewer I never told anyone!
You may have seen that I was invited by Garage Project to be one of judges for their Pie vs Cake night along with Jacob at the Larder - an expert in food, Jeremy Taylor of The Omnivore - an expert in...eating. It was an immense amount of fun (more on that later this week). Afterward Jos thanked us with a bottle of the aforementioned Red Rocks Reserve. On my bike home, racing down the street taking advantage of my colossal sugar high, the bottle slipped from my bag, rolled down Vivian Street spraying RRR all across the street and up the side of buildings, a testament to the bottle for not breaking and a poetic ending to such a feisty beer.
The brewery isn't open to visitors but you can check out the interior in this wonderful V48hours film and make sure you follow Garage Project on Twitter and Facebook - particularly for their Friday Night Tap Round Up.