Joseph Wood is mad about beer. He brews it, he sells the ingredients online, he tweets about it, he chats about it on realbeer.co.nz, and he drinks it as though he were collecting the experiences. He also has a day job, but beer is more than a hobby.
Since 2002, Joseph has moved from a homebrewer to running the small scale Liberty Brewing Company in the garage of his New Plymouth home. He got interested in beer and brewing while living in Auckland. A self taught homebrewer, he would have competitions with his older brother to see who could make the best kit brews. One day his brother bested him, by adding extra hops to the kit, and a love affair had begun. He tried all the beer he could find, but there were fews craft beers available in supermarkets, and what he could find left him wanting.
Inspiration also came from a trip to Bavarian Haus, in Surfer’s Paradise. There he discovered Schneider Aventinus, a dark wheat bock. Failing to secure a suitable kit, he immediately moved to all grain brewing. “The shops said I possibly could mix a wheat with stout.” His first mash, in two buckets, was an attempt to recreate a style he couldn’t create otherwise.
He joined a brewing club in Auckland but found it was full of “old timers” perfecting their lagers and ales. He had more extreme tastes. After moving to New Plymouth, he discovered the like-minded souls on the realbeer.co.nz forums.
In 2008 he purchased a homebrewing supply business, Liberty Brewing Company, from Stu McKinlay and Brendon Mackenzie each of whom were on their way to founding their own beer labels. He kept his day job at the port, but prided himself on stocking every malt type available in New Zealand, along with most of the hop types, and providing personalized service to existing customers, along with a growing number he had met online.
The supply shop funded his brewing hobby, which eventually became a garage brewery. Most of his initial 140L system was random equipment he had made or scavenged. In his first year Joseph brewed 35 batches, distributed by Dominic Kelly of Hashigo Zake in Wellington.
From the beginning Liberty has specialized in big beers, full of alcohol and flavour. Joseph figured these types of beers were more stable, and might even improve with age. “I wasn’t sure anyone else would like them, but at least the bottles could sit on the shelf.”
The imperial stouts and barleywines and a double IPA came on to the market just as New Zealand craft beer drinkers were falling in love with flavour, and hops in particular. From the start Liberty has had trouble keeping up with demand.
Joseph is partial to American hops. His most renowned beer, C!tra, is a 9.5% double IPA featuring the citrus punch of Citra hops. He has also featured Summit, Amarillo and Simcoe hops in his brews. Even the name of his brewery, Liberty, is an American hop varietal. He isn’t against New Zealand hops and has made a Riwaka version of his West Coast Blonde, a golden ale he uses to showcase different hop varieties.
You won’t find flowery descriptions on his bottles. Says Joseph: “I don’t describe my beers. Why should I tell you what you are drinking? I don’t have your tongue in my mouth.”
Collaboration is all the rage at the moment in the brewing industry, and Joseph has worked with Hallertau and Epic in Auckland, and Mike’s in Taranaki. He and Stu McKinlay of Yeastie Boys brewed two “monster beers” in 2011, exploring the differences between US and NZ hops. Yakima Monster used US varieties, while Motueka Monster, rating slightly higher on ratebeer.com, used a blend of local product in otherwise identical beers.
For Joseph, New Zealand punches well above its weight in the craft brewing world. “ We are definitely in the top five, Denmark, Norway, the States, and New Zealand… So many brewers here are pushing boundaries.”
An upcoming secret project is his Belgian IPA. “It is all about the hops, but not spicy, a very fruity traditional American Belgian.” He is also working on a sour beer, using Epic Brewing’s old barrels. At 300L per batch in his upgraded system, Liberty Brewing will continue to be a small producer of big beers.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Nelson Mail