Good George Brewing
A group of friends begin a craft brewery in Hamilton
The Good George brewery started off life as an idea of a group of friends to create their own beer brand. It got underway in 2012 and has expanded rapidly – growing close to 100% year on year.
Brewing Director Brian Watson is a nationally recognized brewmaster and beer judge. He has won international medals and set up breweries in North America, China, the UK, Ireland and Australasia. He was formerly the Chief Judge of the New Zealand International beer awards, and judges at the Australian Beer Awards, the World Beer Cup in the United States and is a regular judge at the New World Beer and Cider Awards.
After 20 years of brewing around the world and across New Zealand, Brian wanted to come back home to open a brewery in Hamilton. His business partners Jason Macklow and Darrel Hadley had experience in hospitality and were also keen to blend their experience with Brian’s to create a brewpub - a brewery and a hospitality outlet.
Brian says he didn’t know much about the local craft beer market in Hamilton. There was one other local brewery. In those early days they had simple goals. “We wanted to make good quality beer, have fun and be part of the community.”
The idea gathered momentum when they found a site in the Frankton, in the industrial area of Hamilton. It was the former St George’s Church – which gave the brewery its name. Brian says he felt reasonably confident that after a 20 year history as a brewer, he could come up with beers that people would like – but the former church was in need of much love and attention and he was initially concerned that it might be hard to attract people to come to a brewery and eatery in the industrial part of the city
Brian says concerns about attracting people to the venue have been the least of his worries. In fact one of the biggest challenges has been managing the growth. “We need more space, we need more people and we need more capital.” Although those have been good problems to have – Brian says none of the founders of the business had any idea how well it would do – so the success caught them unawares.
He says the secret to success is go out of your way to deliver quality beer all the time. “One of our core values is that we’ll never give you a shit beer. Our customers know that we’ll never put a poor quality product in front of them.”
The craft beer market is growing rapidly. Brian says there are around 200 craft breweries in NZ – from the 30 or so brewers that were producing beer when Good George opened its doors. Small breweries are estimated to hold a roughly 6% share of total beer consumption by volume, but by value they account for close to 10%.
Industry commentators point out that the market has got very crowded with “me-too” wannabe brewers. It is estimated that to 40% of craft breweries operating in New Zealand have been in the sector for less than 3 years. The other challenge is that there are limits to expansion, notably competition for space in the beer aisle of the supermarket.
Brian says the future challenge is standing out from the crowd. “We’ve been able to stand out from the crowd by the quality of our beer, our local-ness and by our bottles”. Good George is sold in supermarkets and from retail outlets in a distinct bottle, known as a “squealer”. A squealer by volume(containing 32 fluid OZ or 946ml) is half the capacity of a growler, a common craft beer vessel used in the United States.
The growlers are a refillable option in Good George’s own bars but not generally available outside of their venues. The bottle size, a screwcap and darkened glass – are said to extend the shelf life and freshness of the brew. Initially the company was importing the bottles from the USA and selling the squealer as a litre, until it was pointed out they were 54 millilitres short.
Brian says as a judge he’s a big fan of beer industry awards. He says they validate the quality of the beer and gives consumers the opinion of independent experts on the array of products on offer. He says Good George has won lots of golds, silvers and trophies for the beers they make. He adds one of the surprising successes for them are the awards won for their ciders.
Brian says another of the challenges in the early days was to make beer that was good quality but was not at the “pointy-headed” end of the craft beer industry. The idea was to brew something that could be attractive to locals used to mainstream beer labels – and then having enticed them to try the beer - introduce them to some of the other beer styles.
Reinforcing the sense of “local”, the beer uses local water and a large percentage of homegrown ingredients including New Zealand bred hops and malt from Gladfield Malts in Canterbury.
To further strengthen the sustainability of the product, spent grain is picked up or delivered to local farmers to feed to their animals. A local baker also incorporates some of the grain in their bread that is then served at the Good George pub.
Good George started out making 20 kegs or 1,000 litres of craft beer a week to supply the new Good George Dining Hall and Brewpub.
Five and a half years on, there are around 30 brewery staff and a number of awards on the shelf. The brewery has also expanded outdoors from the original premise – with new tanks and extra capacity being added. All bottling, packaging is still done on the original site.
Aside from the Good George original pub in Frankton there are five hospitality outlets in Hamilton, Cambridge and Pyes Pa in the Bay of Plenty.
The squealer & growler bottles, along with kegs and mostly recently cans are sold at more than 700 retailers in New Zealand, including supermarkets. Quite a chunk of the marketing has been around the bottles and their custom shape and size difference - “the humble 330 ml wasn’t designed for sharing”. The 946ml squealer is promoted as “small enough to drink yourself (you probably will), big enough to share around (you probably won’t)”.
The Good George brand is also building a reputation in the events sector. It was the official beer at the World Masters Games in Auckland last year, and was the official beer of the annual National Fieldays at Mystery Creek.