On December 6, 2019, my wife and I made it to 8 Wired on the day they opened their new taproom for the very first time. We had been in New Zealand for nearly a month at that point, drinking plenty of 8 Wired’s hazy IPAs, the Wild Feijoa sour (the feijoa is an amazing fruit that is exquisite by itself and in both beer and liquor), and some stouts like the aptly named Flat White coffee milk stout.
The taproom in Matakana is used for barrel storage and serving up beers brewed at another location. It will house a distillery. We were lucky enough to sit down with owner and head brewer Søren Eriksen to talk about finally opening a taproom, what the New Zealand brewery scene is like, and much more. After travelling about 6,000 kilometers at this point, it was nice to visit a taproom during its opening, sip on some beer, and enjoy a local food truck’s French fries.
8 Wired sours and barrel-aged stouts are on the level of many popular American breweries like Rochester, Minnesota’s, Forager Brewing Co. and Decorah, Iowa’s, Toppling Goliath. Eriksen has been brewing since 2009, so he has a wealth of experience. The Dane has been living in New Zealand for 14 years, making the North Island his home. Read on to learn about what makes him and 8 Wired stand out.
Wismin: What was the journey like to finally open this big, beautiful taproom?
Eriksen: We started out as a contract brewery back in a 2009. We didn’t have our own brewery, but I still made the beer myself. I was working as a brewer for a brewery down in the South Island. So, when they weren’t using that tank, they let me make beer. We did that for the first four or five years. And then about five or six years ago, we moved up to this area. We set up a production brewery in Warkworth where we are still brewing all the beer. And yeah, simultaneously we were always looking for a place like this because we’ve always had a lot of barrels. This is only about a fifth of the barrels that we have at the brewery [8 Wired had about 251 wine barrels at the time, 20 bourbon barrels, and 10 foeders]. The rest are still to come out here. The plan was always to have like a barrel hall slash taproom to house the barrels. It was very hard to find. It’s taken us this long before this place came up.
Did you start off wanting to do barrel-aged beers and using wild yeast?
It was pretty quick. We barrel-aged our first beer a year after we started brewing. That was an imperial stout, so it wasn’t funky.
Back when we started the brewery, the beer scene in New Zealand was very limited. More or less all the beers we made in the first two or three years were beers that we couldn’t otherwise get in New Zealand. Sour beer was one of those; I’ve always liked sour beer. But you just couldn’t get it here. You get a little bit of Belgian stuff. But it was very sporadic.
Being from Denmark, have you brought any of your country’s beer traditions here?
Probably not really. I’ve never brewed in Denmark. I’ve lived outside of Denmark now for almost 20 years. I was never a beer geek in Denmark, per se. We drank a lot of beer! Not really, you know. I didn’t really start until maybe, yeah, about 15 years ago.
Did you get into craft beer like everyone else by just kind of exploring new beers and discovering new flavors outside of big box lager?
Pretty much. I mean, me and my wife were living in Perth next to the Little Creatures brewery, which is sort of one of the original–it’s definitely one of the original Australian proper, you can say kind of like the Sierra Nevada of Australia. If you had to put a label on it. Back then they were very small. They were just starting up, but we lived pretty close to them. We hung out there a lot. They more or less only made one beer, a pale ale. Very similar to the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. But that’s certainly a beer that sort of opened my eyes that there was more than just, I mean, I’ve always traveled a lot and always drunk the local beer. And we enjoyed that. But in hindsight, that was all the same lager. And then shortly after that, we did a road trip in the United States. Saw all the breweries that were popping up over there in the early 2000s.
I see you do a lot of hazy stuff now, too. Are you a fan of hazies? Is that a new trend in New Zealand?
It’s probably been two or three years now. I do enjoy them.
In America, the drinking public has a love them or hate them kind of thing going on because people kind of fight about the legitimacy of hazy IPA compared to lager. What is the reaction from the public here in New Zealand? People generally seem to like them.
Yeah, they love them. I mean, the general sort of beer geek, they definitely love them. [He said the love of hazies in New Zealand is probably the same as what it is in America, and from what I gathered sipping on them over the month over there, and chatting to brewers and beer fans, I would have to agree. New Zealand makes hazy IPAs that would stand along some of the best in the US–Monkish, Tree House, Hop Butcher, Phase Three, BlackStack, etc.]
How does it feel to finally have this place?
Oh, it’s great. Finally having this, this is a big step. I mean, it’s obviously very important for a brewery to have sort of your own outlet, get feedback directly from the public, and try other stuff. Just having a physical home. Most breweries in New Zealand are like that, though, unless they specifically start out as a brewpub.
Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of people here start with contract brewing, and that they kind of build up to taprooms or bigger spaces.
What are your thoughts on the craft beer industry in general in New Zealand?
The industry is good. It’s very fun to be part of, but it’s certainly getting quite crowded in New Zealand. I think per capita we have more than twice as many breweries as you do in the States. Which is obviously a lot because there’s a lot of breweries in the States. But a lot of them are small. A lot of them are contract breweries. And a lot of them are like, really small. Just the guy out in the garage. It’s very easy to start a brewery in New Zealand. All you have to do pretty much is just call up customs and say that you want to pay excise tax and customs will say, ‘yeah, we’ll take your money.’ There’s not much for a very, very small producer, that it’s not much in terms of like food safety and things like that. Because beer is considered as being a safe product. It’s very hard to mess up beer to a degree where you actually get sick from it. And the New Zealand government is very pro small business. Starting a business is generally quite easy.
I hear distribution is tricky in New Zealand.
Absolutely. It’s tricky. Because, I mean, broad terms, New Zealand is larger than the UK. But there’s less than a tenth of the people. You can imagine that the distances between people is a lot more than it is in a more populated country. Shipping beer around the country is quite expensive, specifically shipping to the South Island. It’s almost to the point where it’s cheaper for us to send beer to Australia than the South Island. And the reason for that is it has to go on a truck and the whole truck has to go on the boat. Whereas when you send stuff to Australia it is just in a container.
And it takes a while as well. Especially in summertime when everybody is shipping, it takes a while to get to the South Island.
Do you have a favorite beer or something you find really interesting that you make?
For someone like you who comes from overseas, I definitely recommend the Wild Feijoa sour. Have you ever tried a feijoa fruit?
Sarah Livingston-Garcia: Yes, we love feijoa!
Editor’s note: We had a bottle of the 2018 Wild Feijoa sour, and some of the drops left behind from other vintages opened at the taproom opening. Each vintage was quite different in ABV, tartness, and fruit flavor. We enjoyed an entire bottle of the 2018 vintage. It contained an aroma of grape must. The flavor was grape, oak, a bit of acidity, and an underlying feijoa fruit we came to love while on the trip. What does feijoa taste like? Well, like a lot of fruits, and like its very own thing. But if you like pineapple and guava, you need to try it and this beer. It is an incredible fruit.