Tuatara Brewing

An eye on the future

We take a look at the Tuatara pilot brewery, six months after it returned to its Wellington roots. Words and photography by Nicola Edmonds

The Third Eye has metaphoric concepts of a heightened level of understanding and insight into another realm.” There is a far-off look in Scott Boswell’s own eyes as he speaks. 

Beyond the metaphysical, when it came to naming the brand new pilot brewery in Wellington earlier this year, the Tuatara Brewery team looked to their mascot for inspiration. New Zealand’s native lizard is born with a special third eye (visible only for the first few months of life), thought to be involved in setting the reptile’s rhythms for day and night. 

“I guess we’re riffing on that idea of beer being a bit of a gateway to broadening people’s horizons, welcoming them not only into a world of quality craft beer but also a range of styles,” explains Scott.

As General Manager of The Third Eye and self-proclaimed ‘Beer Evangelist’, Scott is a popular fixture on the Wellington craft beer scene, having worked at both The Malthouse and The Hop Garden. “That was probably where my love of good beer and craft beer came from,” Scott says. “I remember the first Tuatara kegs piled up in the corner at work and thinking ‘I’m not sure that’ll ever take off!’” 

Carl Vasta is the man behind Tuatara and the pilot brewery and bar is the latest addition to this successful craft beer company’s stable. When Carl first began his own brewing business though, he was forging new horizons. 

“We were labelled ‘home brewers’ by a lot of drinkers 20 years ago. People thought it was an odd thing, to be making beer for a living.” 

That first brewery was out the back of the Petone Working Men’s Club, supplying local clubs with craft brews. “We could produce a much greater range of styles on our own but started to get squashed out by the big guys.”

Carl decided to relocate and moved up the line to establish the Tuatara brewery in Paraparaumu along with business partners Sean Murrie and Fraser McInnes, respective owners of The Malthouse and Bar Bodega in Wellington, the only bars at that time to have ‘free-tap’ systems (independent of the larger commercial breweries).

In the beginning

“Along with Emerson’s, we built the market from ground zero. It’s been hard work,” says Carl, but the company has gone on to see the market for craft beer “go mad” in the last five years.

The decision to set up shop in Wellington was one Carl had been mulling over for some time. “We were based in Kapiti but always felt we were a Wellington brewery. Given that we have two shareholders in Wellington bars and more recently with other craft breweries opening up, we wanted to show our presence was still in Wellington too.”

They’d already bought a smaller 500-litre brewery kit for the tasting room at the original plant. “We thought it’d be good to have a small place to do specialty runs and trial batches for the bigger plant.” It was therefore decided to install the kit in Wellington. 

“It was a matter of finding the right location and also the cost involved. Coming into Wellington, we wanted to do it right – not just half done,” Carl explains. “We wanted to bring that ‘small brewery’ feel back.”

Once home to the Boy’s Institute, the building on Arthur Street had been empty for 15 years before coming to Tuatara’s attention.

Since opening in February, The Third Eye brewery is producing one batch per fortnight. Carl says they’re still loosely following traditional lines in their beer styles with big hopped pale ales and Belgian yeast-driven beers, including sours. The new space also means they can collaborate with and support up-and-coming smaller breweries from around New Zealand.

The Goose Shack is alongside and chef Hayden Turner serves up his famous ‘slammer’ sandwiches from the back of his Morris Minor ute. Smoky aromas waft in on the breeze, mingling with the scents of biscuity malt that envelop the bar on brew days.

Mixing it up

“Going forward we want to start pushing the envelope with some beers here. There are still about 150 beer styles – we haven’t gone from A to Z yet!” Carl says, laughing. “We will be trying some innovative products.”

It’s easy to see that the brewer is relishing the opportunity to experiment. “We’re on a bit of a rye kick at the moment. There’s a red rye that should be out shortly and we’re doing a black rye IPA – very hoppy, stronger and with a nice spicy roundness from the rye.”

“We’re looking to guide people, rather than dictate,” Scott explains. “We have a big range that keeps them interested and wanting to come back.”

Feedback from the punters has been overwhelmingly positive and Scott says many people in the brewing community have been excited to see Tuatara back in Wellington central.

“We aren’t just making beer for the established connoisseurs,” says Carl. “We want to encourage people to step in and test the waters – we want them to think ‘I like this beer’ and in a few months they’re ready to try something else in the range. But we’ll still have the ultimate goal of having beautiful, well-crafted beer that will really excite people.”  

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