Emerson's: Pride of the South since 1992
Emerson’s has reaffirmed its status as Dunedin’s premier brewery after ten of its finest brews were honoured at the Sutton Group Brewers’ Guild of NZ Awards 2012.
The Regional Best Bitter won the trophy and a gold medal in the British Ale Styles category, with silver medals going to Emerson’s JP 2012 Belgian beer, as well as two limited release Brewer’s Reserve beers, Grace Jones and Brownville Brown, in their respective categories.
Emerson’s Brewery was started by Richard Emerson himself in 1992, at a small property at the south end of Grange Street. Three years later he moved across the road to a larger site, carrying his two 1,250L tanks by hand. In 2005, his beers had become so popular that he once again had to move to bigger premises, so he took his beloved original tanks to the current Wickliffe Street brewery, east of the railway line.
Now, 20 years since Emerson’s was founded, the brewery has four 10,000L tanks and numerous smaller tanks, and brews between 10,000-20,000L of beer each week. Two more 10,000L tanks will be added if Emerson can find room in his already packed brewery.
New Zealand’s craft brewery scene has taken off over the past five years, but it was a different story back in 1992. Emerson was warned that 90% of microbreweries shut down within five years of starting: “So when I got to the five-year mark, I didn’t really have a plan for what to do next. I just kept on brewing.”
Nowadays, people looking to enter the craft beer market face different challenges – Emerson notes the difficulty for microbrewers in terms of marketing and growing their brand when they only have the capacity to produce 20,000L per year. “Some of them will struggle. But it’s still possible for small breweries to expand and prosper.”
Emerson says the Dunedin craft beer market “is much less crowded than Christchurch”, although there are several local brands. He shares some interesting local beer trivia: “The McDuff’s brewery was paid by Fox to change its name because it sounded similar to Duff”.
Emerson poured a couple of pints of Brownville Brown to allow Critic’s expert beer panel to assess whether it deserved its silver medal. It did. Rich brown in colour, packed full of hops, striking the perfect balance between light and dark, sweet and tart, this is the sort of beer you could drink all day.
Two brand new Emerson’s beers will be released over the next few weeks. Bird Dog India Ale is the cousin of the highly popular 1812 Pale Ale, but even stronger and hoppier. Emerson explains that the new brew is based on the beers transported on ships sailing between England and India – only strong, hoppy beers could survive the trip unspoiled. The name, as with many of Emerson’s brews, comes from a Dunedin band. Bird Dog is a “malty” beer in every sense of the word.
In October, Emerson’s is releasing a limited edition batch of Bull’s Head Troopers Stout, which was inspired by a beer that was popular with soldiers who were about to ship overseas to fight in WWI. The patriotic beverage will be sold at Otago and Southland RSAs, as well as at the brewery shop.
As with every summer, a new batch of Weissbeer will be unleashed, with a slight twist – this will be the first year the delicious cloudy, sweet wheat beer will be available on tap.
Emerson’s is still expanding, with Wellington and Auckland proving particularly lucrative markets. But there are no plans to expand across the Tasman any time soon. Richard’s policy is to avoid overreaching too quickly: “We always look to keep our existing customers and clients happy first.” He already has a large waiting list of bars that want to stock Emerson’s beer, but his number one priority is to ensure enough beer is available to supply his current customers, as well as keeping consistency of taste year by year.