Venture past the big smoke to the Northland town of Warkworth and you’ll find a microbrewery producing a taste bud-popping array of hoppy IPAs, Saisons, Porters, Stouts and barrel aged beer.
This is the award winning ‘8 Wired’ brewery – described as “new world interpretations of old world styles” – owned and operated by Soren and Monique Eriksen (nee Aves, Harington 1999-2000).
What began as dabbling with a home brew kit, purchased by Monique for Soren as a Christmas gift in 2005, led the couple to start up their brewery business in September 2009.
They currently export to around 15 countries worldwide and are widely available at many New Zealand stockists of beer.
“Ten years ago there weren’t many people focused on the craft beer world, it was the beginning of the boom of the industry, so we entered at a really good time,” says Monique.
“To stay ahead of the game, we’re always thinking of new innovative products. This is becoming more challenging as the industry continues to grow – so we’re constantly kept on our toes.”
And in such a demanding market, they have certainly made their mark.
In 2011, 8 Wired received the highest brewing honour in New Zealand when crowned champion brewery at the Brewers Guild awards. For the past four years, they have featured in the prestigious ratebeer.com list of ‘100 best brewers in the world’ as the only Southern Hemisphere brewery.
Last year, their ‘Cucumber Hippy Berlina’ – produced by pushing beer through cucumbers – won both the New World Award and New Zealand Food Award for ‘best in its class’ and their collaboration drop with Sacred Hill wines – the ‘Lokomotiv Merlot’ – was a winning brew at the Brewers Guild awards.
So what is it that makes this Northland brewery stand out?
“We barrel age our beer. We have around 200 ex-Marlborough pinot noir wine barrels (225 litre) that we age the beer in – it’s just a different style of fermentation. The beer can be sitting in the barrels for anything from two to three years before we release it.”
“Barrel age beers are predominantly sour beers. The wild yeasts acting within the barrel impart a variety of, sometimes very funky, flavours. Then we add in fruits such as cherries, blackcurrants, fejoas, etc.”
Operating the biggest barrel-aging programme in the Southern Hemisphere, they’ve also acquired seven ‘foedres’, which are essentially large barrels, ranging from 1500 to 4000 litres each. “It takes a long time to make beers like these, but they are worth the commitment.”
Brewing beer wasn’t always something Monique thought she would end up doing.
Although born in Te Aroha, Monique grew up living abroad in Indonesia and Bangladesh, due to her father’s career as a civil engineer. The family would return every few years to New Zealand, including for her and brother Logan Aves (Hamilton 1998) to complete their secondary school education at St Paul’s. “St Paul’s was a fantastic school; it instilled in me a lot of independence, self-drive and motivation.”
With a growing interest in health, Monique went on to pursue physiotherapy, completing a Bachelor of Health Science in physiotherapy at Auckland’s AUT. She met husband Soren – who was working for the Danish embassy in Bangladesh – during one of her university holiday trips to visit her parents.
“Once I finished studying, to be closer to one another, Soren relocated to Perth to study a masters in biochemistry and I took up my first job as a qualified physio at Perth’s Fremantle Hospital.”
The pair often made social visits to Fremantle’s ‘Little Creatures’ brewery. That, combined with Soren’s interest in beer, led to the purchase of a home brew kit that “would bubble away in the shower of our one bedroom apartment” and a dream of one day owning their own brewing business.
After a year in Perth, the couple relocated back to New Zealand and while Monique continued her physio practice, Soren offered his skills – for free – to work in a brewery.
“We didn’t have the experience yet to brew on a commercial scale. Soren took up work with ‘Renaissance’ brewery in Blenheim, to be able to get some base knowledge in commercial brewing.”
It was while working for Renaissance that ‘8 Wired’ was born – named in the spirit of the ‘number 8 wire’ kiwi ingenuity mentality.
Initially 8 Wired operated as a contract brewery, with Soren, as brewer, using Renaissance’s equipment and facilities. After five years of contract brewing at four different breweries across the country, the time came to find their own location.
“By then, we were exporting about 50% of our product, so we needed to be close to a port for logistical reasons. Wellington was already quite saturated with the beer market and we weren’t too keen to live in Auckland, so we chose to buy a home in Matakana and have our brewery in Warkworth.”
With the brewery dream now a reality, Monique put her physio work on hold to focus on the business. “I loved my time as a physio and having a background in health crosses into many areas of our business and day-to-day lives. I might return one day, once I get out of the day-to-day running of 8 Wired, but for now that’s the priority.”
With the business continuing to grow, as well as raising two young children – Mia, 9, and Finn, 7 – Monique and Soren certainly have their hands full.
They recently purchased a canning line to be able to focus on regular seasonal release brews in cans for their contracted company Foodstuffs, and they have plans in the coming months to open a barrel hall pub in Matakana.
“It’s becoming more important to have a physical home where people can come in and see the brewing process taking place and taste the beers, rather than just seeing them on the shelves in the supermarket or liquor store.”
They are also looking into making their own spirits such as gin and whiskey. “We are always looking to push boundaries, take a risk and give something new a go – because if you don’t try, you’ll never know!”
Keen to try an 8 Wired brew? Visit your local New World or Liquorland – or check out their website 8wired.co.nz. Cheers!
Written by Rebecca Robinson