Black Dog Brewery in Wellington offers a well set up development space for a variety of grassroots brewing talent to shine
Words: Jai Breitnauer
Back in 2011, when DB launched Black Dog Brewery, the move was much maligned by the craft beer elite. What was the company responsible for New Zealand mainstays like Tui doing poking around in the craft beer space? Thankfully, a good brew speaks a thousand words and Black Dog has proved itself time and again over the past six years. “We get left completely alone,” says Brewery Manager Adrian Klemp. “We can do whatever we want as long as the ingredients are available.”
DB’s vision was for a small batch brewery in the heart of craft beer country, that gave independent brewers a chance to collaborate on projects. The original three brewers invited on board were all very small-scale – one was a home brewer – and they continued to work on their own projects at the same time. The brewers at Black Dog have changed several times since, bringing fresh creativity to the brand. “My role is to tap into the individual skill sets, be that German-style beers or mixing hops in IPAs,” says Klemp. “We all work together on development, brewing once a week as a group. We have some lively debates! But ultimately we learn from each other.”
Black Dog brews in small batches, kegs those beers and sells them to local bars in Wellington to test the market. They also have their own bar at their site – currently on Blair Street but they are moving to a vibrant Cuba Street location at the end of 2017. “The recipes might change several times depending on market feedback,” says Klemp. “And some of those beers never make it beyond small batch. Other times we hit on something really good that can be up-scaled for the national market.”
One such beer is Royal Mastiff. Released in mid-October, it’s a limited-edition collaboration between Black Dog and gypsy brewer Dan Lord of Lord Almighty and, previously, Funk Estate. “I wanted to do a double IPA,” says Klemp. “Dan is really good at stronger beers, his forte is imperial stouts and IPAs, so we invited him in.” Lord’s 12% imperial stout, Ursus, has been well-received at various festivals and craft beer gatherings, and he decided to build on that. “We wanted something fairly boozy, fruity and aromatic, but to keep the body down to be quite a refined product with bite,” says Lord. “I know my way around hops fairly well and decided Mosaic from the USA and Motueka from NZ would be a good combo on a simple malt base.” The result is a well-balanced big beer, a strong, hop-forward IPA that’s 8.2% but “dangerously drinkable,” he says.
This collaboration model is certainly working for Black Dog, giving indie brewers the chance to go wild on DB’s ticket, and keeping the variety of beers produced astoundingly broad. They’ve even got some gongs to prove their mettle. “We’ve won a lot of medals recently, about 20 in the last year,” says Klemp. “Both in the New Zealand Brewers Guild awards and the Aussie International Beer Awards.” But it’s not about the silverware, it’s about good beer, and Black Dog Brewery is founded on brewing innovation. “The brief from DB when we started was, ‘have some fun, make some beers and see what comes out of it’,” says Klemp. “That’s exactly what we do, and it’s good.”