Happy Birthday Heyday

On 24 November, Heyday Beer Co on Upper Cuba St turns one. We took some time to chat with founding owners, Hannah Blackwood, and brewer, Sam Whitney, about opening the brew pub and all things beer.

A few years ago, Hannah and her business partner Hamish spent three months in United States. They were soul searching about “where to next” in life. They wanted to do something different but just weren’t sure what. Visiting around 80 breweries and brewpubs during that time became market research. They loved the beer and the communities that were built around it.

That US trip lead Hannah and Hamish to decide to build a brew pub in Wellington. And, build it they did...it was a two-year project that included an intense three-month build. Hannah’s background is in design, Hamish is a project manager and actual builder (yup, actual) and their friend Andy, who came on board as a business partner, is an electrical engineer.

The ownership team met brewer Sam early on, in a typical Wellington way. Hannah and Hamish were chatting to Martin, the editor of Beertown, who they met at the pub. They mentioned they were looking for a brewer and a chef. Martin responded, “I know someone who’s both!”

Sam has a background as a chef, both in the US and in Wellington (having once worked at the institution that is Logan Brown). He was working as a production brewer at Panhead Custom Ales where he’d brewed over 750 batches of Supercharger – The Orange One – so was definitely looking for a change.

Sam always had a vision of himself in a brew pub. He admired (and still does) what Kelly Ryan was doing at Fork and Brewer (another place we visit on our beer tours). So, he met up with Hamish for a chat/interview at The Hop Garden and it went from there.

The skill set of the Heyday crew saved them tens of thousands of dollars in that design and build phase, and it gave them all a personal connection to the space and the business. As friends of Sam’s, we can tell you his enthusiasm might shift and re-shape itself but it hasn’t diminished since Heyday’s inception. But now, both Hannah and Sam are starting to work on their long days. Both comment on how challenging it is to separate work and life when you’re immersed in the success of a business. Hannah’s trying to learn to balance the challenges of being a new business owner with enjoying being new business owner! Sam is trying to better separate work and home life. Both talk about needing to put their phones down in the evening and not stress over that work email that pops up after hours.

Hannah’s vision for Heyday was that it was light, airy and colourful, and that the brewery not “shoved in a corner”. She wanted people to see the brewery (and Sam) working. What this means is that Sam is often seen by visitors - resplendent in his brewing overalls – and he has to keep the brewery sparkling clean. Heyday has the cleanest “on-display” brewery in Wellington and given that, in brewing, cleanliness is next to godliness (of whatever denomination), that is a good thing!

Hannah’s vision has been achieved. The brewpub space has lots of natural light, something that is often missing in Wellington, and lots of colour. It was strange to her and the Heyday team that a local magazine photoshopped out the royal blue patterned wallpaper behind the bar for a feature photograph – they replaced it with a beige background!

Everyone can enjoy the Heyday look and fabulous (and very on-trend) flamingo wallpaper in the toilet foyer. Patrons have enjoyed the flamingo salt and pepper shakers well enough for many of them to be pinched since the doors opened! The place is best described as welcoming and fun; there’s corn hole out the front and ping pong at the back of the bar space, with lots of other games in between.

Being a welcoming space was another part of the vision Heyday was going for, and brought on Lewis Culshaw as the Marketing and Events Manager. Both Hannah and Sam reflect on how they are keen to have a range of different events happening – and, their love for dogs. Yup, it’s probably no real surprise to Wellingtonians, but you can bring your woofers down to the bar. They’ll be shouted a treat or two and get lots of pats from staff and patrons alike.

Having an appealing range of beer is also high on the agenda, although Sam isn’t keen on a “core range”. Nor does he want to be rushed into packaging; his view is that it results in selling beer to the big supermarkets with next-to-no profit. All of that means the brew pub is one of the few places you can buy their fresh off tap, making a visit to Heyday high on the agenda (as if you haven’t already been convinced!).

Sam wants, and loves, to be creative and brew lots of things. He comments, “it’s what I’ve always done”. For Hannah, this “lined up perfectly with what we wanted to do”. He’s brewed over 57 different beers since Heyday opened about 12 months ago, and has only brewed a couple of those twice.

The Heyday range has been fault-free from the start, but Sam does not want to get overconfident. He sees each brew through both a chef and brewer’s eyes; as an opportunity to refine his brewing technique and to constantly improve. He’s hyper-critical about all of his beers which, to be fair, is not a bad thing for a brewer.

Sam’s approach makes a tasting tray a great way to start your Heyday experience. Even as regulars, we often find it the best way to try the new beers on tap. Sam comments that the experience starts with your eyes, and the tasting tray comes served with well-designed information cards that tell you a bit about each beer and its background. It’s one of the little details that Hannah can bring with her design background. Sam appreciates that there’s always a neat design to match a new beer.

The tasting tray also sits with Sam’s approach to brewing in series. He’s often thinking about his recipes and beers in flights. Sometimes they come one after the other, like the amaretto inspired Saronno Stout, followed by the Octopus’ Garden – a Gold Medal winning Salted Caramel Espresso Stout – collaboration with Emporio Coffee. Next up was the S’Mores Stout. These are “pastry beers” which draw their inspirations from, surprise, pastries and other tasty treats you don’t necessary associate with beer (and might create some debate).

Other beers in Sam’s series hit the bar at the same time, like the line-up for their Oktoberfest. It included Otto, a Helles, and Wolfgang, a Vienna Lager. These German styles aren’t seen much around Wellington, or indeed, the New Zealand beer scene. He’s also brewed Doxie, an Altbier. There’s a bonus to Sam’s ongoing experimentation – we get to try some lesser-seen styles.

The Heyday Otto is an approachable drop. It’s an easy starter beer – a slightly sweeter-style German lager that’s not too high in ABV but still manages an excellent mouthfeel. The flavour is light with a subtle maltiness. The Horizon APA is a classic that will hopefully be brewed again; it seems necessary for the obsessed Pale Ale drinkers. It got a thumbs ups in the Capital Times, described as a “well-constructed and balanced beer, with some fruity sweet malt balancing out a light, herbal hop aroma”.

We also need to make mention of the Gnome’s Grove Belgian IPA. It was a collaboration with North End Brewing up in Waikanae and is probably one of our favourites of the Heyday beers to date. It used a Belgian abbey yeast and American hops. Happily, the yeast won. It was a pale and spicy ale with lemony notes and incredibly moreish. It was another award-winner. And, we’re excited to hear Sam’s going to explore more Belgian styles. He’s also looking at a barrel programme.

We asked Hannah and Sam what they were excited about in the beer scene and in the upcoming year. Hannah’s looking forward to the birthday celebrations and getting things more organised, taking a breath and getting ahead. And, to extending the outside area.

The distillery is also something that she’s looking forward to. Watch the brewery space in late January or early February for its arrival. That barrel programme Sam was talking about might see a vodka or rum-barrel beer. Sam’s already got a gin-barrel inspired Saison recipe forming. And, there’s potential for whisky in the future…

They’re both excited about beer festivals happening outside of Wellington as a way to get some brand reach further afield. That means they might actually need to brew some beers more than once! And, Sam’s keen to continue the collaborations.

When asked for any final thoughts, neither Hannah or Sam had a tagline in mind. Sam proposed, “drink my beer, it’s delicious!” That seems a suitable endpoint. Get in there. Drink Sam’s beer. It’s delicious.

The final questions, for a bit of fun

What’s in the fridge and what are you drinking at home?

This was a fail as a question, as both Hannah and Sam laughed. Both confessed to taking flagons home from Heyday. One advantage of owning and working in a brewery!

Hannah: “I’ve only just started drinking red wine, Pinot Noir. Home’s gin and now red, pinot”, Hannah comments. She’s working her way through the range of great New Zealand gins that are on offer, seeing a link between their New Zealand made philosophy and that of Heyday.

Sam: Sam said, “I drink a lot of ParrotDog Susan – I’ve bought more than one can which is saying a lot”. He doesn’t drink a huge amount at home, but likes to get out and try the beers on offer from his mates in the Wellington brew pub scene (and from others).

What are your “beers you must try before you die”?

Hannah: Tropic Thunder, by Back Pedal Brewing in Portland, Oregon.

Sam: Anything from Cantillon – Rose de Gambrinus, Saison Dupont and Bear Republic Racer 5