Tucked away across a pothole-pocked vacant lot and with little obvious signage, the Regent 58 Brewery & Ale House might hint at a sly grog shop. But, as Simon Burt discovers, it’s the real deal.
For lovers of English-style “real” ales there is a little low-key oasis in the middle of Carterton which is proving to be a popular gathering place. Run by brewing partners Brent Goble and Gary Fisher, the bar and brewery has been gradually gaining a foothold in the burgeoning craft beer market for the last eight years. But don’t expect fizzy, hoppy brews with outrageous labels and strange ingredients made by “creative directors” with check shirts and waist-length beards here. Oh no. Regent 58 ales are unfiltered, unpasteurised, naturally carbonated, named traditionally and served with casual country hospitality.
Former Clareville neighbours, Gary and Brent met across the fence and quickly recognised a mutual love of good beer. A plumber by trade, Gary had already constructed his own 50-litre system in the garage. “Right from an early stage I’d said to Gary, gosh this stuff is good enough to set up a commercial operation,” Brent recalls. “Gary offered me the use of his little brewery and I found I loved it. It’s very like cooking – you just need an idea of what the result is you’re wanting, then trying recipes and perfecting them.”
Very soon the pair started collecting or making the necessary equipment and scouting for premises, settling on the rear of the old Regent cinema where they have grown to a 600-litre capacity. Initial sales were almost entirely in and around Wellington. “We used to career all over the lower North Island delivering a keg here and a couple of cases there but it was soon apparent that wasn’t going to work long-term,” says Brent. So four years ago they started planning a small on-premise bar. “We didn’t have huge expectations, but we seem to have become a little community focal point.”
About the size of a small kitchen, a mere dozen or so patrons create a cosy atmosphere. Regulars are quick with a handshake and keen to converse. “You might come in in a total stranger but by the time you leave you’ll know everyone in the bar.”
The beer has had to travel all of ten metres from its place of manufacture and is all the better for it, with one brew available weekly on a traditional hand pump. Even with very limited opening hours, over half of Regent 58’s total output is sold across this bar; the rest rarely gets beyond the district boundary in bottle form.
That such a relatively tiny brewery can support both the owners says a lot for Gary and Brent’s “slowly, slowly” approach. Gary’s plumbing expertise has enabled them to set the brewery up using plant they’ve made and Brent’s graphics skills have been put to good use on the labelling. The bar has evolved from very humble beginnings to now having a shaded outdoor area, BBQ, brazier and regular live music. “Our issue now is we’re running out of brewing room. We could double our production but we can’t because we don’t have the space.”
Other than over the bar, sales are now mainly through Wairarapa supermarkets and bottle shops. “We’ve been on taps occasionally over the years, but the big boys tend to squeeze us out.”
Brent and Gary are quite keen to have another outlet of their own somewhere, perhaps another little bar, but the brewery and ale house will stay in Carterton, “if we can. Carterton’s got a really great vibe going now, with younger folk moving here who like to get out a bit. People want the whole experience, they love the fact that the beer is made just through the wall from where they’re drinking it.”
They’re also planning on expanding the already comprehensive range of styles. “We’ll be making our first Pilsener soon as people do occasionally come in looking for a more European taste.”
But mostly it’s those searching for local conviviality and a good hop/malt balance who frequent this most intimate of provincial watering holes. “Most of the regulars don’t have pots of money but they’re very happy to drop in here for an hour or two and buy a quality beer in a decent sized glass at non-Wellington prices,” says Brent.
And don’t expect any deer-velvet-infused Tibetan-alpine-yeasted gluten-free-barley brew to be served around here any time soon. Oh no.