Expanded due to popular demand, the Craftwork Tasting Room on Harbour Street, with its bench seats and long tables cries out for social imbibing over a shared cheese platter. Owners Lee-Ann Scotti and Michael O’Brien have just brought home two more medals this time from the NZ Brewers Guild awards but no time to rest on those laurels - they set very high standards for their beers, but cheers. The art of brewing the kind of Belgian beer Craftwork specialise in can be traced back hundreds of years. It's certainly pre Victorian when glass became cheaply available, from a time when your vessel was of pewter or leather (black jacks) wood or earthen ware, Craftwork's ales pre date popularised lagers that benefited from cheap availability of glass.
Literally starting as backyard brewers (“basement actually” corrects Michael) the two have been home brewing as long as they’ve been together, coming up for 12 years. “Lee Ann’s father was a chef and she’s a very good cook and that helps” says Michael, a self-proclaimed ‘trad’ ‒ an Oamaruvian thing where people live and dress Victorian, and like the Victorians make as much as they can from scratch. Which is perfect as Craftwork are all about craft, “our look, making our clothes and our beer, everything’s done by hand … it’s not a contrived name, really” says Lee-Ann.
Traditional and hand crafted in a world of synthetics, “I think everything we do is perfectly normal,” says Michael. “We’ve been invited to a weird beer fest in Auckland. We don’t think our beer is weird” and in the world of steak and kidney and jerk chicken beers, it’s certainly not. “It’s just not traditional beer for New Zealand.”
Belgian beer is slow to make. Made from the grain, water and ‘noble hops- old fashioned hops sourced from Nelson, Motueka and Europe. While New Zealand has been dominated by Pilsners, hazy IPAs and Stouts, people are getting more educated about Belgian beer, expanding the palette not to mention enjoying the health benefits.
“Any beer made naturally and bottle conditioned will be better for your gut health” and despite the high alcohol volume (ranging from 4.7 to 11% in the beer/wine hybrids like Faux German) Belgian beers give you less of a hangover. “We don’t add anything. No filtering, no pasteurisation, no forced carbonation, no chemicals” and no fish based finings either so Craftwork beer is also vegan.
Already geogastronomy defined, right from the Waitaki water (so similar to Belgian water profiles, it needs no further treatment) they use to make the beer to the fresh air they rely on for their spontaneous fermentation beers, Craftwork source local: sour cherries from Springbank Orchards and apricots from fellow eat the parker Waitaki Orchards. Served with a platter featuring Corals (from Inch Valley preserves) quince paste and some Whitestone cheese, “We’d like to source the barley, here one day too.”
For two people who love Belgian beer they have assembled the perfect lifestyle. “We’ve just got to start earning some money too, that would be great! ”
By Lisa Scott