Weldtech owner Chris Ellenden is a self-professed hop head, so when he first met Invercargill Brewery’s Steve Nally the two clicked immediately.
In his youth he did some home brewing (“Quite a bit actually.”), his attitude now is “why bother?” He lets the brewer brew, while he focuses on the equipment.
While Nally was able to educate him about beer, Ellenden was able to help tweak his home-built plant until he’d reduced the length of the brew day to 7 hours – so when it came time for a new plant, it was only logical that Weldtech take the lead.
“I suppose it’s quite an exciting industry – something which involves engineering and beer is the best of all worlds,” Chris says.
CENTRAL OTAGO BREWERY WITH A VIEW AT CLYDE
Nestled in a historic building, in a Central Otago Gold Mining town, in the middle of an iconic restaurant where diners literally walk through it on the way to the bar, it’s fair to say it’s not the average.
But then, neither are its owners – Dave and Andy Ritchie.
The couple bought an iconic Clyde B & B at the start of Central Otago Rail Trail in 2010 and set about turning it an historic idyll.
Beautifully restoring the old Olivers homestead and stables they managed to retain authenticity while adding in the creature comforts expected of the modern traveller and the rail trail rider in particular who like private bathrooms and linen thread counts.
They quickly became famous, not just for the accommodation, but for their food – delicious, fresh yet simple Central Otago fare that made the most of seasonality.
When, in 2014, they turned their mind to the old Victoria Store (once made famous by Fleur Sullivan) their plans for the 400m2 space were ambitious.
Retaining as much of the 1868 old building and bringing it up to modern building code was a mammoth task; one they decided to tackle in six months (the start and end dates being were bookmarked by 500+ person Cuisine at Clyde cooking demonstrations weekend, and Easter Sunday when 1400 customers came through the property at its opening day.)
They decided on a 95 seat restaurant, bar, café and two commercial kitchens (one for the restaurant, the other to produce their own line of delicious breads, sauces and preserves.)
They then decided to increase the degree of difficulty by adding a 1200 litre batch brewery to the plan.
Their brief was simple, the plant had to produce great beer (that was first and foremost), it had to be aesthetically appealing, it must comply with health and safety considerations – and it had to have a very small footprint, both physically and environmentally.
The answer to the space restriction was to go up; their 1200l bespoke brewery is designed by Steve Nally, and built by Invercargill-based Weldtech Engineering as a gravity fed plant, much of it built from up-cycled materials.
Designed as a single piece of equipment, it’s mounted on a robust steel platform that sits inside the shell of the historic building and where-ever barriers are required (for health and safety), they’re glass or perspex.
The brewery has been designed to ensure steam, water, noise and chaff dust won’t disturb diners who will nethertheless get the benefit of what Nally describes as “pleasant food type aromas”.
“We wanted to bring the brewery into the restaurant, literally – our kitchen is open to view so we wanted the brewery to be too,” Dave said.
They’re starting with one beer – a Bohemian style pilsner appropriately called Stone Mason – which they’re serving alongside other great Southern Craft Beers.
“We sought a lot of advice and the best of it was to make a beer you enjoy,” Dave said.
“We did a lot of taste testing, lots of different hop and malt profiles and this is the one that ticked all the boxes.”
The light malt with a hint of toast (from Gladfield Malt at Dunsandel) is balanced with citrus and tropical fruit hop flavours – at 4.5% ABV it’s a flavoursome thirst quencher perfect for the locale.
And perhaps in the best example of build it and they will come, the operation has united the Ritchie family – their son Edward and daughter Charlotte have moved to Clyde to help run the operation which almost overnight went from a cottage business run by Dave and Andy to one employing 50 staff.
“I never thought either of our children would live in a small town,” Dave said.
SAME BUILDING, TOTALLY DIFFERENT KIT
Weldtech Ltd Engineer Chris Ellenden could be forgiven for a touch of déjà vu on the Invercargill Brewery project.
It was twenty-five years after he left 72 Leet Street that he returned to the Invercargill engineering workshop to install a commercial brewery he’d built himself.
Chris’s response to tough times in the local industry in the 90s was to take to the road with his partner Nicky, joining a growing band of contract engineers who gained big scale experience by following construction projects throughout New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea.
When the couple returned to Invercargill to raise a family 15 years ago; Chris settled down to transform his one-man band into Weldtech Engineering, working extensively with Southland’s thriving dairy and meat industries, with an additional speciality in boiler installation and maintenance.
Now he’s decided to diversify the business model further – by adding craft brewery engineering to the business mix.
He created a state-of-the-art brewery by fabricating new plant only when necessary, with the rest crafted from disused dairy equipment and dairy plant – up to and including the boiler is second hand.
But it’s not just clever reuse of materials that Chris excels in, it’s also the business model.
Weldtech Ltd is leasing the majority of the kit to Invercargill Brewery.
“It works really well for us,” said Steve. “We found we invested a lot of money in stainless steel, and as soon as we outgrew the equipment it reverted to scrap value. That’s a lot of capital, a lot of depreciation and paper work.
“I remember once talking to a successful brewer who described himself as a stainless steel farmer – because that’s where all his money was spent – that got me thinking, there must be another way.
“Now, if we outgrow a piece of equipment Chris can refurbish it and lease it to another brewery that’s in an earlier growth phase, we all win.”
In the process they learned a lot which they’ve applied to the new kit.
The choice to move to a 2500 brew kit when many similar sized breweries are scaling up to 5,000 and 10,000 litres batches was based on a concept of maximum utilisation.
The new brew day will be just five hours; and the capability to brew another 2500 litres every 2.5 hours there’ll be no shortage of production.
However, not everything in the new kit is petite, with experience having taught them where the bottlenecks lie.
The 600kW steam boiler (bought from Bluff with less than 100 hours on the clock) promises endless hot water; Both the heat exchanger and hydro mill are earthquake survivors from Lion Brewery’s demolished Canterbury Brewery and represent a giddy overcapacity.
“We’ve had to slow the mash down – it’s capable of doing our existing mash in 1.4minutes,” Steve said.
There’s other savings too in the old engineering workshop – a 3 tonne gantry crane in excellent working condition has meant the planned forklift is already obsolete.