Auckland craft beer brewer Epic Brewing opens warehouse taproom

Auckland-based craft beer brewer Epic Brewing is gearing up to open its first taproom this weekend and toast to overcoming what has been a tumultuous year.

The brewer, which makes 25 per cent of its business through offshore sales, has converted its Onehunga warehouse into a taproom and pizza kitchen, which can be packed down after the weekends and operate as a multi-use facility.

Located in an industrial park, Epic Brewing founder Luke Nicholas said he was originally apprehensive about how well a hospitality venue in such a location would be received, but it had been trial-running with “special licences” to test the viability of the concept in the location and had been impressed by the response.

Epic has spent $50,000 kitting out the taproom and sourcing various consents and licences from Auckland Council for the venue. Nicholas said the space gave its customers a place to try out its full range of beers.

“The craft beer space has become more and more competitive so it is harder and harder to get your beer on tap in other places, so to have one location where [people] can go and try it all made a lot of sense to us,” Nicholas told the Herald.

Epic contract-brews its beer at Steam Brewing Company in Otahuhu. Its beer is sold nationwide through supermarkets and in a handful of bars and restaurants.

The business originally applied for a liquor licence for its Onehunga premise almost a year ago but it faced lengthy delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At opening tomorrow, the 120sq m taproom will have five beers on taps, however, Nicholas said the plan is to grow that number and extend the size of the bar at a later date.

“I’m sure it is going to be challenging because just doing the basic stuff with the council has been such a challenge, but expanding will be something we review as we open and look at the options we have available to us to see where we can expand and what we can do.”

Navigating through Covid had been a “real challenge”, Nicholas said, and the brewer quickly had to switch its sales channels to focus on e-commerce sales through lockdowns as its on-premise orders dried up.

The family-owned business has had to rely on Nicholas, and his wife and co-owner Wendy’s, friends and family for help during the height of the pandemic last year.

“With the pressure on a lot of other places, it doesn’t seem logical [to open a new taproom] but we’re still using the premise as an active warehouse for packing so it made sense to think about how else we could use this space to generate some revenue,”Nicholas said.

“On a Friday morning we can clear it all out and put up the tables and chairs and then on Sunday night pack them all down and get it ready as a warehouse again. It’s a double-use space and means that we are able to use it a little bit smarter to sell a few more beers.”

Epic was founded by Nicholas in December 2005 and was a spinoff from Steam Brewing Company – the brewing arm of pub chain the Cock & Bull, where he was working as a head brewer.

Epic started as a package brand and after a year or so Steam Brewing decided it no longer wanted to invest in a package brand and instead was focused on pubs, so Nicholas acquired the brand with a manufacturing agreement at the brewery and a supply agreement with its pub chain.

The brewer exports to China, its largest market, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Germany.

It is currently in final talks with an undisclosed online distributor in China, which could result in a significant boost in export sale for the company.

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