Hopscotch has Trusts on the hop

On New Lynn’s lightly-industrial Wolverton Rd, arguably New Zealand’s smallest commercial brewery is cranking out the grand total of 50 litres of a beer a fortnight.  But in terms of breaking the Trusts stranglehold on west Auckland’s liquor supply it’s achieving far greater things.

Owner-brewer Hugh Grierson brews roughly once a fortnight on his Dunedin-designed Farra system – there are home brewers who have more elaborate and larger systems – but the fact he brews beer inside a Customs Controlled Zone and pays excise tax allows him to have a taproom and therefore exploit a loophole in the legislation. By having a Customs Controlled Zone, Grierson is also allowed an off-licence and he uses that to sell beer from around the country – giving West Aucklanders a wider choice than they get through the Trusts virtual monopoly in the area.

The Trusts is, depending on your a view, a community-owned organisation that runs liquor retail outlets and hospitality venues in West Auckland, returning profits to the local community; or, an evil empire that denies the people of West Auckland choice. There’s currently a group trying to overthrow them … but more on that another day.

While defying the Trusts is a bonus for Grierson, he’s adamant he’s a brewer first, beer-seller second.

“People come in and say `Is this legal, do you have a licence, can I try these beers? Then they go `oh, you’re brewing … nudge nudge wink wink’ and I go, ‘No, I’m brewing’. They think it’s a trickster move to get around the Trusts.”

Grierson has brewing history. He made a beer called Brown Teal in 2007 – it was brewed under contract at Hallertau in Huapai. He’s also produced a large commercial batch of his much-praised Bru-Ju under contract at Tuatara in Paraparaumu.

“I was brewing since I was a teenage boarding at St Paul’s in Hamilton – all the foreign kids had massive suitcases so we put the fermenters in the suitcases. It was terrible beer because we couldn’t control the fermentation temperature. We brewed in the ablutions block and stored it in the suitcase room because no-one went there from the start to the end of term.”

That rebellious nature has stayed with Grierson – at his former premises in Eden Terrace he was in the craft beer advance guard, selling fill-your-own bottles well before it became mainstream.

He was forced to move when the city rail loop came to his street, threatening disruption to his business. As a west Auckland resident – he lives in Glen Eden – he knew the west was ready for good beer and knew he could get around the Trusts’ control by getting a Customs-approved brewery at his new site.

But it wasn’t so much a middle finger at the Trusts which inspired him – more a desire to see the maturing western suburbs get services they deserved.

“I live out west and I was aware of the gentrification – if that’s the word – it’s people with higher expectations. That’s one of the reasons the Trusts are getting grief because people expect decent bars, decent coffee. There’s a shortage of all sorts of things out west – if you dropped a Farro Fresh out here it would go off.

“People come in here bitching about the Trusts – I hear it all. I reckon If they wanted to maintain their existence  they should top opposing anyone who wants a bar licence but still maintain control of off-licences – if they did that it would suck the wind out of a lot of people’s dissatisfaction. It’s people who complain to me that when they have friends come over there’s nowhere to take them because all the bars are either Jake The Muss venues or boring  cookie-cutter franchise venues – there’s nothing with a bit of character and that’s personable.”

On that note, Grierson has a small hope that others might follow his lead in west Auckland, setting up a brewery and taproom. “West  Auckland could turn into a mecca for craft beer because you could have little tap rooms popping up all over the place that are not controlled by the Trusts.”

And as for the customers coming into his place?

“There’s no hipsters,” he says with a smile, “just a real cross section of humans. Tradies, corporates – and I’m seeing more women, especially women buying sour beers.”