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Meet the head brewer behind a Christchurch microbrewery that's pushing the boundaries of fermentation in both beer and food – and making one heck of a difference at the same time

When the words 'exploration' and 'discovery' feature heavily in a brewery's ethos, it instantly becomes clear that you, the drinker, have discovered something special. Christchurch microbrewery The Fermentist is just that – special. With a focus on sustainability, the international award-winning restaurant and brewery uses predominantly seasonal, locally sourced ingredients and is all about challenging itself to offer more to the punter – and the environment – than your average brewer.

Head brewer Kirsten Taylor talks to Liquorland Toast about how The Fermentist is raising the bar for breweries around the world.

How did the idea for The Fermentist come about?

It all began as a way of getting a brewing presence back into Christchurch after the earthquake, but quickly morphed into so much more. Simon Taylor and myself were involved from the conceptual stage, building a new brand from scratch. Sustainability has always been a driving force for me personally so, with the inspiration and backing from our MD Rory Glass, we were able to create this amazing microbrewery, taproom and café, which is fully underpinned with sustainable practises. We are about producing flavoursome beers, which aren’t overhopped or really high in alcohol, as well as delicious fermented foods.

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What do you ferment? How is this developing in the brewery and the restaurant?

Fermentation is currently ‘on trend’, as a lot of people are putting more emphasis on their health. We make our own sauerkraut, kimchi and coconut yoghurt, amongst other fermented foods in the kitchen. The chefs are constantly innovating with on-going experimentation of fermented food. Tempeh is next. In the brewery this year, we are looking at producing a non-alcoholic beverage.

In terms of experimentation, what works and what doesn’t? Are you ever surprised by what you produce? 

Recently, we have been experimenting with 20-litre micro brews of beers and putting them on tap for our customers at The Fermentist, to get their feedback. We will look at scaling up some of these brews. We haven’t attempted anything that hasn’t worked to date!

One interesting beer that Nathan – the other brewer at the Fermentist – created, which was very popular, was A Red Raw Ale. All modern beer is made with a period of boiling, which is a very energy-intensive process, so Nathan decided to explore the possibilities of creating a beer without boiling. Not only does it conserve energy, but it allows flavours from malt, that would otherwise have been driven off by boiling, to express themselves in the beer. This was a very successful beer on tap.

I am surprised at times by what we produce, however always pleasantly! It might sound a bit arrogant, but we both have a pretty good idea in our heads of what a beer will taste like and whether it will work or not.

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What are your favourite brews?

The new IPA , The American Brown Ale, which won a silver medal at the Australian International Beer Awards (note: there were 2600 entries from more than 400 breweries across 26 countries) and the raspberry wheat beer (a seasonal, which is coming back later this year and also won a silver medal at AIBA).

What is your focus around sustainability? 

At The Fermentist, we:

- Use locally sourced malt (from Gladfields in Dunsandel), 98% of our hops come from Motueka
- Use locally sourced ingredients wherever possible for our café
- Offer a predominantly plant-based menu, which pleasantly surprises and challenges the traditional craft beer and taproom model
- Offer kegged beer, wine and kombucha, thereby minimising plastic and glass
- Compost the spent grain from the brewing process
- Align ourselves with like-minded people in our community of Sydenham. This includes a special relationship with Conservation Volunteers NZ, where we have an ongoing  project running which is creating a wild future for the endangered long-finned eel
- Use an electric boiler for steam generation in our brewery. Most breweries use natural gas-fired boilers
- Supply an edible garden for use in the kitchen and rainwater harvesting from the roof for watering that garden
- Use an electric/petrol hybrid car for doing some of our local deliveries
- Use upcycled materials like church pews and an old bank vault for the décor at the brewery
- Use ethically sourced suppliers like  ‘Little Yellow Bird’ for our staff uniforms
- Upcycle our used malt bags into shopping bags

We are in the age that sustainability is no longer an add-on and needs to be an integral part of our businesses. Going forward we want to be a big influence on other businesses acting responsibly and incorporating sustainability into their mantra. We have some big plans on the sustainability front that will be revealed later this year, so watch this space!

What are your plans for The Fermentist? What do you hope to achieve in the future? 

To continue growing awareness and passion with our customers, both new and established. To build on the experiences already in place, so that people realise we aren’t just a place to merely come and enjoy a beer and good food. We also want to educate other businesses by observing what steps we have taken, and will continue to take, in regard to sustainability.

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