HAMISH WARD DEEP CREEK HEAD BREWERBrewing beer is one of the oldest and most noble of trades. From the deeply spiritual processes mastered in European monasteries, through to the bloke in his garage just desperate to make something drinkable, the desire to create beer is a not so secret passion of most males on this planet. Hamish Ward is another on the list of legends who take brewing seriously, and it didn’t take long for him to become one of NZ’s best.I’m lucky enough to live five minutes away from the Deep Creek Brewery (DC) in Silverdale, North Auckland, which also happens to be where Hamish is the head brewer, so I headed down there one overcast Tuesday to see where my favourite beer – DC’s Hazy IPA – is made. Hamish met me in DC’s on-site taproom – not a bad place to stop in at if you’re up this way – and wasted no time giving me the tour. The first stop was his office, and I couldn’t help but notice the half-full cup of beer on his desk. Having to taste all the beers is a bad perk of the job. “Why does Hamish need an office as a brewer?” was the first and extremely naïve question that went thought my head. The answer: brewing is, first and foremost, a science, and Hamish, funnily enough, is a thoroughbred scientist. Owners Scott (left to right), Paul and Jarred in Deep Creek’s Silverdale brewery.After completing his Master of Science at Auckland University (specialising in molecular biology), he spent the first ten years of his career at Fonterra working as a dairy geneticist – yes, he’s probably smarter than both you and me. Brewing beer, Hamish tells me, “is the perfect mix of art and science.” The scientific knowledge he gained at university and working in a lab provided the perfect foundation for brewing beer, and his natural desire to create meant this was a match made in heaven.
With a hunch that brewing was what he needed to be doing, his beer-journey began with typing “how to brew beer” into Google – there’s hope for all of us, apparently. His first goal was to brew green-bottle lager, but he quickly found there was a lot more to brewing – and a lot more to get excited about. What started as a bit of fun on the side, quickly became a full-blown project.
Over the next 10 years, Hamish honed his craft, a process which culminated in him having a 150L brewery setup in his garage, including a 100L conical fermenter, three tap kegerator and glass door fridges. It’s fair to say that Hamish was taking his home brewing pretty seriously. The now infamous DC Dusty Gringo beer was, in fact, based off one of his original home brew recipes.
At this stage, Hamish started thinking about brewing beer full time, so he and a mate started their own brand called Isthmus. Having already home brewed with Jarred and Paul, the founders of DC (who also were home brewers originally), he asked them whether he could brew out of their facilities. At this stage, DC brewed and served beer out of their bar in Browns Bay, and the guys often stayed up all night just to brew the beer they sold in the bar the next day. In need of another brewer, Jarred and Paul said yes to Hamish, but also asked if he’d like to brew DC’s beer as well. Hamish agreed and the rest, as they say, is history.
Nearly ten years on, he is still DC’s head brewer, and with no small contribution from Hamish, they’ve become one of NZ’s most reputable beer brands – something that became immediately evident once Hamish lead me from his office into the brewery itself.
The place was buzzing. With 14 staff and 19 tanks, they are now pumping out 16-20,000L of beer a week, and it’s not like they are compromising on quality. DC won Champion Beer at the Brewers Guild NZ Awards 2019, Best International Lager at the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA) 2019 and were also the Champion Medium International Brewery at AIBA 2019 (AIBA, Hamish tells me, is the largest annual beer competition in the world).
While Hamish was too humble to take credit for these achievements, Scott Taylor, their operations manager, told it to me straight.
“Without Hamish, we wouldn’t have the awards we have. He’s a huge part of the family.”
What I did get Hamish to admit is that he does have the final word on every drop, but he was quick to put the emphasis back on the team.
“Everyone in the company has input into the beers we are making, and I turn the ideas into beer,” he says. “It’s not a top down organisation. The whole company has a say and can have good ideas.”
Seeing the vibrant factory and just generally being around all this beer got me wondering what kind of career path is available to those interested in brewing. On the career front, however, NZ appears a little behind. Johan Canning concentrating hard on the production line.
Below: Hamish doing what he does best.The team behind the beer!“There are qualifications for brewing, but NZ hasn’t had the industry to train people,” Hamish informs me.
“There hasn’t been much in the way of formal education in NZ for brewers, but that’s changing. We’ve been approached by Otago Polytechnic about a brewery course and we are planning to bring on a student.”
If Hamish is anything to go by, then the brewing trade is not to be ignored lightly as a career path. Besides being around beer all day, it also a fantastic way to become popular in NZ.
“I used to tell people I was a scientist and their eyes glazed over, but now I’m a brewer, there are plenty of follow up questions!” he laughed.
Having learnt about Hamish’s story, I was now ready to learn a little more about the beer itself. I’m no stranger to a beer or two, but realised I knew next to nothing about what makes a good beer a good beer.
“The majority of quality comes from day to day processes and the gear you have in the brewery,” Hamish patiently explained. “We’ve been fortunate enough to be supported enough to get the right gear.”
The second important aspect, Hamish continued to inform me, is the quality and type of ingredients. The main difference between standard lagers and craft beer is simply more ingredients, and particularly the use of hops. For example, Hamish uses 15g of hops per litre for the Hazy IPA – which I’m told is a lot of hops. It’s here that art meets science; it’s not easy to get the balance right between the various flavours the different hops and brewing processes create.
“Anyone can make beer, but it’s hard to make good beer,” is Hamish’s word on the matter.
While Hamish was unfalteringly humble throughout the interview, it became clear that more and more people are realising Hamish is one of the people making “good beer.”
Beyond their current success in NZ, DC is now established in a few overseas markets, including Australia, China, Malaysia, Norway, Thailand, Canada, Singapore and the UK. What also got my attention was their brand itself – which has a certain affinity with off-Site’s.
Scott tells me that their original tagline was “flavour fuelled” but they changed it earlier this year to “for the adventure” – “for the adventure of life, for the adventure of flavour, for the adventure of anything you can imagine,” Scott explained.
Another recent change wastheir move away from bottles to cans as they’re easier to carry in the outdoors and can be squished down and carried back. Cans are recycled at a far higher rate than bottles, which is something DC takes seriously.
So what’s next for Hamish and Deep Creek? Hamish has no plans to stop brewing, and with him at the helm, I’d say Deep Creek isn’t slowing down either! “ANYONE CAN MAKE BEER, BUT IT’S HARD TO MAKE GOOD BEER”
The Deep Creek team with their prestigious AIBAs (Australian International Beer Awards).FOR THE ADVENTURE