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By Luke Owen Smith


This month's Brewery of the Month is Sawmill Brewery from Matakana. We thought we'd take this opportunity to catch up co-owner Kirsty McKay, to find out more about what's been happening behind the scenes... 

sawmill brewery
MF: What inspired you to start your own brewery?

We both love beer and wanted to make something tangible and something that our community wanted. The brewery already existed, it was VERY micro when we took over, but already a community asset which I hope people feel like it remains.

MF: You're an independent brewery. What does independence mean to you?

When we started out there weren’t many craft breweries in New Zealand, maybe 25-30 (compared to 250 now), and most of them were around Wellington and Nelson so we were quite isolated in that sense. So we ended up doing everything the way we wanted without much outside influence. We made different beer styles (especially lagers and Pilsners which are more common now) but also we operated our business differently – everything from packaging (we were the first craft brewery to put beer into cans which unbelievably was quite radical at the time!) to running the business innovatively – for example we were using solar power 15 years ago.

sawmill brewery

MF: How does your location affect the work you do or the beer you make?

Location means a lot to us. We brew all our beer here in Matakana and because we are rural and the brewery is located on a farm we have systems like closed loop water recycling, rainwater collection from the roof and an onsite spring. It also means we have a taproom with plenty of native bush around.

MF: Which of your beers are you most proud of?

Well my favourite to drink is anything from the Vintage Series but the beer I am most proud of is the Bare Beer – one of the first non-alcs from an independent brewery in New Zealand, its been hugely popular and its a good thing for consumers to have that choice. It feels like an inclusive beer to have made and it takes a lot of skill to make a non-alc taste that good so I am especially proud of the brewing team for the work they put into it.

sawmill brewery

MF: What does it mean to be B Corp Certified?

We certified B Corp in 2019 and are still the only Brewery in New Zealand to achieve the certification. It would be great to see more Breweries come on board. B Corp is an across the board certification covering everything from governance to social and community initiatives. Its not just environmental impact although being a manufacturer this part of the certification is weighed heavily. B Corp certification is a great way for consumers to know they aren’t being greenwashed but to be honest we did it more for internal reasons. It provides an on going framework for improvement and means we are measuring ourselves against the best businesses in the world. 

MF: What can we expect to see from Sawmill in 2023?

We have some massive projects on next year - the installation of a carbon recapture system which will mean we wont be buying CO2 anymore – last year we bought 40 tonnes. We are putting in a wastewater system that has been developed with NIWA where the methane is captured and returned to the Brewery as process heat. We are also putting our solar power system back in which was damaged after the fire in 2019, and doubling the size of it. I think Sawmill is sort of a ‘quietly radical’ brewery. We aim to be up with the best  breweries in the world, both in the quality of beer and in innovation.  

sawmill brewery

MF: What's the best beer you tasted this year?

Everything from Craftwork in Oamaru. Especially the Saisons. Wonderful people too.

MF: What's your favourite fish?

If we broaden the question to kaimoana I’d say Pāua. If not Pāua then flounder. Buttery with plenty of lemon and a cold XPA.

sawmill brewery


Thanks so much to Kirsty for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check out Sawmill's beer in our online store. 


Photos courtesy of Sawmill Brewery.