For weeks Lincoln residents had slowed their cars to gaze at the old building under construction just behind the modern glass and metal of the library. Some stopped and got out to inspect the bricks and iron, the weathered wood. It was going to be a pub, a brewery, a meeting hall. The small model that had been sitting in the Twisted Hop Brewery in Wigram for years now was finally coming to life. Many thought it was being refurbished, asking, “So how old is it?”
Martin and Lisa Bennett had been collecting castoffs, filling a shed with bricks, trusses, furnishings for ages. A bar was salvaged post quake from a rural hotel. A staircase was acquired. It took over 2 years for the “stable plot of land” to get its new building with weathered paint and bricks, already looking like it’s been around for a century. “It’s 100% to code,” confirms Martin, “It’s not going anywhere, short of an 8.0 quake.”
The Laboratory, opened on 27 June in Lincoln 20 minutes outside Christchurch, is a modern vision of an old tavern. Walking in we almost expected sawdust on the worn wooden floors, with the weathered bricks and sparse formality in the furnishings and furniture. Historic occasionally gives way to geeky with various Lab themed features, and to quirky (adults have to go upstairs and see for yourselves). It is a conscious design to create a casual atmosphere where friends and families can hang out, sample the beers and share food and then take home a flagon. It is also intended to be an attraction- a reason to come to tiny Lincoln.
Despite every perfect detail, this isn’t the work of a professional decorator. Martin is happy to tell you the story of every piece – each map wallpapering the library nook represents a place he has lived or visited. The wine flasks were castoffs from a closed lab at Lincoln University. Other stories are included in the menu, and posted in frames around the room. Much of the building and decorating had been done by the extended Twisted Hop family, some volunteers who had been following Martin and Lisa’s journey and were keenly invested in seeing the Lab finally come to life.
We popped in with Twisted Hop brewer and local resident Jim Holly early on a wintery Thursday evening in the second week after opening. The parking lot and street alongside were already full. There was a brisk business of families and groups out after work. The Laboratory only accepts reservations for parties of 6 or more, and clearly the design to bring people together is working, as many tables were reserved. All the rest were full as well, with even the niches in the bar occupied. Still the place felt roomy, as it hadn’t hit standing room yet. People were snacking or dining, with a flow of plates of food delivered around the room.
Martin hardly had a chance to stop and say hello, with the need to check on this or that, and the constant stream of customers wishing him well and commenting on the pub. He might have looked a little tired, but who wouldn’t after all the hours of hard labour in the past few months. He did pause long enough reveal a few secrets of the sound design, though, when we commented on how calm it sounded for being nearly full house. It seems almost no feature of this “old tavern” is what it seems.
The taps contained a mix of beers, (mostly the renowned Twisted Hop staples: cask ales and bright beers with a malty, English backbone), and even two tap wines (served in those rescued 1 litre erlenmeyer flasks). The Laboratory brewery is just coming online, so the assistant brewer has been mostly behind the bar. We were amused by the two bottled beers featured: a low alcohol Harringtons Harry’s Light and the Twisted Hop Enigma barley wine. Before long, the on-site brewery will begin filling the taps and the individually numbered glass flagons (no plastic riggers allowed).
Soon enough a table nook cleared out and we were quickly ushered into it by the energetic host and manager. The Laboratory menu is based around the wood fired pizzas, with additional small plates in the evenings. We tried the Capriciosa pizza (Ham, Mushroom, Marinated Artichokes & Kalamata Olives), alongside crumbed prawns, Twisted Ankle marinated beef cheeks, and smoked lamb ribs. All the food was well presented and ample portions, suitable for a modern pub. The lamb ribs were the most flavoursome, with a spicy BBQ dipping sauce. A pint of Hopback laden with American hops went well with the food. We saw desserts being consumed heartily by others, so perhaps a stout and brownie sundae will complete our next visit.
We look forward to visiting in the summer when the landscaping is in full bloom, there is outdoor dining and even live music on a lazy afternoon, as the dream continues to develop…
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am. Be sure to check out their fun interactive website and the history of the build.