Mike’s Organic Brewery – is this real life?

After our two-day holiday in Raglan it was time to go back to work. So where did we go? … A brewery of course! (Rough life, we know.)

We traveled to Mike’s Organic Brewery, a small craft brewery located on the south-central west coast of the North Island near the picturesque Mt Taranaki. There we spent 10 days working, drinking, and playing cards. Most wwoofing schemes are simple; you work 4hrs/day in exchange for food and a place to stay while potentially learning from the people who are hosting you.

Good beer, good people, good times. Mike's Brewery!
Good beer, good people, good times. Mike’s Brewery!

The Brewery, however, expected a back-breaking 6hrs/day. And why the extra hours, you ask? Well that place IS a brewery after all, and two extra hours in exchange for some pretty good beer at the end of the day isn’t too bad of a deal! Life at the brewery became a version of Groundhog Day – sometimes a good version sometimes a hungover one. It seemed like every day for 9 consecutive days I woke up with a hangover, and if I didn’t have one when I got up for breakfast (7:45am at the latest) then it hit me hard by lunch. The skill of productively working through a hangover is one that I practiced in university, and it’s a good thing because my 9am to 3pm work was completed with a queazy tummy while trying to hide from loud noises and sunlight. Lindsay, who has always been the lucky one when it comes to hangovers, rarely had the effects of the night before and never developed much sympathy for my self-inflicted morning condition. We spent the days doing simple tasks like labeling the bottles, boxing bottles, washing the spent kegs (inside and out), milling barley, preparing and serving food in the cafe, gardening, disassembling picnic tables and a multitude of other sometimes monotonous but still simple jobs.

The harder you worked the more beer you would generally get from the staff at the end of the day and despite our required work ending at 3pm we would often help out wherever we could until the end of the day – which normally resulted in a few pints of beer shared with the staff between 4pm and 5pm. The number of wwoofers working (we had up to 9 on some days and a few as 3 on others) directly correlated to the amount of beer we had in the fridge at the end fo the day. Normally we would get a 2L bottle of whatever they were bottling that day, plus 1-3 other bottles filled straight from the 1000L tanks with whatever we asked for. And then came SAIPA. One of the consequences for an organic brewery by not using preservatives is that the beer has a short shelf life, and when it comes close to the expiry date it can no longer be sent out to the distributors. One of the consequences for wwoofers at an organic brewery is that when the cases are about the expire, we get them – one case of 12x 500ml bottles per day. We were graced (or cursed…) with a case of Single American India Pale Ale (SAIPA) each day being only a month from the expiry date. To be honest, it was expiring because it really wasn’t that good and I don’t blame people for not buying it, but then again there is no such thing as BAD beer when it’s free!

The cafe that we worked in on the weekends
The cafe that we worked in on the weekends

So by the time the day ended, the employees responsible for the wwoofers filled the fridge with food, the brewery staff made sure we were well stocked up and once they closed for the day it was every university student’s dream come true: food you didn’t have to buy, (expensive, craft) beer that you didn’t pay for, music, cards and your bed within walking distance. Well by now it shouldn’t be hard to figure out how I ended up being hungover each morning… a normal night involved drinking about 2L(+) of 6% beer and playing cards until midnight, going to sleep and doing it all over again the next day!

Beautiful Mt Taranaki (sadly not our picture)
Beautiful Mt Taranaki (sadly not our picture)

And as if that wasn’t enough, I got to learn about the brewing process from actual professionals, including from an Austrian brewer with a German degree in brewing who is in New Zealand on an exchange program to further his knowledge of brewing. He would make experimental homebrew-sized (50L) batches a couple of times each week in an attempt to make better beer with the ingredients they had at the brewery. Not only did I get to watch and learn, but I asked nearly 1000 questions about the science and art of brewing which he (surprisingly) happily answered.

Once we get settled in a place and have the proper location to make homebrew, experimenting will be one of my top priorities. The fact that I had the fortune to learn from a team of knowledgable and friendly professional brewers will remain one of my highlights of the New Zealand experiment (even higher than SAIPA).

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