As you arrive at Gisborne’s Sunshine Brewery, entering through their covered front deck, you’re greeted by a busy, but friendly atmosphere.
There are several dogs hanging out at the feet of their owners, occasionally venturing out to greet new arrivals or to collect pats from those at nearby tables. Large groups of friends catch up over a few pints and a pizza – while others run into one another by chance and exchange a friendly word or share a laugh. Bartenders dash between serving pints at the bar, delivering pizzas and clearing tables.
It’s a bustling brewpub, and as you enter the main, open doors into the building which houses the bar, kitchen and brewery, you realise just how popular it is; free seats and leaners are quickly taken, with those in the know popping their bags on empty spaces first, before heading up to the bar to buy a drink.
The bar is long, and next to it sits a group of glass-front fridges filled with cans and riggers for those wanting to grab a few takeaways. There’s a steady stream of people coming in to buy Sunshine’s wares for their homes and travels – and with a six pack of the cult classic Gisborne Gold lager going for $13, it’s not hard to see why.
There’s a large selection of Sunshine beers on tap – more than 20 available to drink on-site, the majority of which are special releases. Thankfully, they offer three different tasting trays of five beers, which is an easy way to taste a range of their brews and decide what sort of styles you want to try more of. Their beers range from classic lagers, pilsners and pale ales, to the popular IPAs, hazies and sours. Sunshine also loves to do a bit of experimentation, with a Chilli Mexican Lager, Red Hazy IPA and a Gruit, among others, on tap when I visited,
The pizzas are made on site and are delivered to your table with the cheese still sizzling on top. They are a good size to snack on among a group of friends, though are small enough to consume all on one’s own if you’re feeling hungry.
On the right hand side of the bar, there are glass windows and wall leaners where you can view the brewery and the brew staff at work. Sunshine is one of the oldest continuously operating craft breweries in the country, and it is constantly busy, with many workers on the floor moving beer among tanks, testing the beer, packaging it, and collating orders.
My partner and I were lucky enough to be given a tour of the brewery by director Martin Jakicevich, and got a close-up look at the brew kit and operation on the floor.
The brewhouse is a modern steam-powered kit and produces 2500 litre batches – which at the height of summer seemed like barely enough. The wet floor has several large fermentation tanks nearby, with plenty of room for more. The bottling and canning lines take up the far corner of the floor space, situated up against the wall of the large cool store – which was almost empty when we visited due to the sheer volume of beer going out to thirsty locals and beer drinkers across the country.
Pallets of bottles, cans and other packaging are situated in the corner opposite the machines for which they’re used, hidden from the view of the bar.
There are barrels lined up alongside the fermentation tanks and pallets filled with Flanders Red and Saison du Brut – both of which are aging away nicely. A little lab room near the door back to the bar held brewery manager, Dave Huff, and several other members of the team working away hard, with various pieces of equipment and samples of beers along the workbenches.
The size of Sunshine’s brewery is surprisingly impressive, with plenty of room to grow. The brand has long had a strong following, particularly in Wellington – the country’s craft beer capital – with Gisborne Gold receiving a dedicated tap at The Malthouse for years in the 2000s. That popularity fell away a bit as the craft beer boom really took hold across the country, but in 2018 the brewery went through an upgrade, a brand refresh, and they coaxed brewer Dave Huff* down to the sunny East Coast city from Hallertau in Auckland; Sunshine’s beers are now among the best in the country. Sunshine now have the tough task of replacing Huff after he took a job back in Auckland, at Urbanaut.
The space that the Sunshine crew have created in Awapuni Road, just two streets back from the Waikanae beachfront, is truly special. The taproom is a hive of activity, popular with locals and welcoming of visitors, with an ever-changing selection of good beer available to drink on-site or to takeaway. Sunshine is, all on its own, a great reason to visit Gisborne and experience what the local hospitality is all about.
* Since this story was published in the print version of Pursuit of Hoppiness, Dave Huff has taken a job at Urbanaut in Auckland.
Sunshine’s new head brewer is Jesse James Folly (and yes, let’s just stop and appreciate that name for a moment.)
Folly came to Sunshine from equally sunny San Diego, California. When his Australian visa got declined he made a snap decision to jump the ditch. Basing himself in Queenstown first, it wasn’t long before the ocean was calling and he landed in surf-centric Gisborne.
As Jakicevich says “When a man of his talent lands on our doorstep we don’t ask questions we just accept it.”
Folly has experience in the wine industry and degree in brewing. When he’s not brewing, he’s playing basketball, surfing or snowboarding.
“Jesse is the genius behind the recipe for ‘Stockies’, part of our tasty East Coast Surf range,” Jakicevich says. “Thick and juicy, this 4.2% sessionable Hazy IPA goes down like a nose dive on a solid day at its namesake surf break.”