by Helen Martin
Joseph and Christina Wood’s Mill Road company Liberty Brewing has been judged our country’s best brewery after winning 14 medals at the prestigious October industry event, The Brewers Guild of New Zealand Beer Awards. With world class international judges, the awards are regarded globally as among the most prestigious accolades a brewer can win. Gold medals were awarded for their beers Halo Pilsner, Yakima Monster, Oh Brother, Hoptical Illusion and Knife Party and for their Prohibition Porter. Liberty’s other medals included five silvers and three bronzes and the trophy for best packaging for a range rebrand. It’s an amazing achievement, especially because this tiny company with only eight staff, including the Woods, has gone from boutique homebrew supplies business to national champion in just ten years.
Joseph and Christina both came to Helensville with their families as children and both attended Kaipara College. Christina remembers working at Fay’s Takeaways on Commercial Road since she was ten, a business established by her grandmother Fay and later bought by her parents. Joseph had developed an early interest in home brewing and the couple, married and living in New Plymouth, bought the web-based Liberty Home Brew Supply Shop largely as a means of sourcing fresh ingredients for his home brew. “Joseph’s created his own recipes from Day One and, because we had the home brewing supplies first, we got to learn a lot about the properties and the taste profiles of ingredients,” says Christina. “We sold all the different hops so we got to see what they were all like, and because of that knowledge base he could create amazing recipes.”
After they’d bought a house in New Plymouth, and with two children to wrangle, in 2010 the Woods set up a certified brewery in the garage, starting with a 100-litre batch and increasing the volume to the point where, the garage outgrown, they contracted Tuatara Brewery in Paraparaumu to brew their beer. “Our first batch was 4000litres of Yakima Monster and it was utterly terrifying, because before that we’d been hand bottling and hand labelling in the garage at home.” From the first Tuatara batch they won their first gold medal at the New Zealand Beer Awards and began developing more beers they could mass produce. “That first award reassured us that we were good for a roof over our heads,” says Christina.
Offers from people wanting to capitalise on Joseph’s brewing and Christina’s management skills led to their briefly teaming up with Kumeu’s Hallertau Brewery to create The Beer Fountain, built by Joseph and responsible for brewing the Hallertau and Liberty beer brands. It was just two years before Liberty outgrew that space and, moving back to Helensville, Joseph and Christina established their brewery in the Mill Road lane they still occupy, and from where they currently turn out many litres of their sought-after beers.
As well as brewing beer for the general market and seasonal beer festivals, the Woods give locals a chance to socialise over a craft beer at their Liberty Taproom, just across the road from their plant, on Fridays (2pm – 7pm), Saturdays (12pm – 6pm) and Sundays (2pm – 6pm). As anyone who frequents the Taproom will tell you, the place is humming, and the beer is brilliant. “We set it up because we wanted to make people aware of us and we wanted a beer education room to encourage safer drinking habits. The emphasis is on drinking quality rather than quantity, about appreciating the flavour and the effort put into it. It’s also about supporting local - keeping your money onshore and in NZ,” says Christina, who’s listed on the Liberty website as ‘CEO, CFO, CIO, Chairperson, Secretariat and all-round Superwoman.’ “Our business is husband and wife owned, and I’m really stoked to have come from Fay’s Takeaways to helping create this roaring beast. Being officially NZ’s best brewery is something to be proud of.”