Hannah Blackwood of Heyday

Hannah Blackwood of Heyday. Photo: Johnny Hendrikus

We’re often told if we want something, make it happen. That’s almost always easier said than done, but it’s advice that Heyday co-owner and designer, Hannah Blackwood, decided she would take seriously.

“I just really wanted to design beer,” Blackwood says. “That was basically it, but I sort of went to the extreme and built a brewery instead of finding a job in the beer industry.”

Before beer, there has always been design for Blackwood. “I find art and design in everything,” she says. On leaving school, she completed a Bachelor of Design with first class honours at Massey University in Wellington. Despite the excellent grades, she found it difficult to find a job in such a competitive industry. But she managed to find an administration role at a design studio to get her foot in the door.

From there, doors began to open, and after several years she became the in-house designer for the not-for-profit, Clubs New Zealand. “That actually gave me a little bit of background into some of the council workings and liquor licensing and all that sort of stuff – [though] I didn’t know at that stage I was going to open a brewery.”

Blackwood was already working in the design industry when she discovered she liked beer. “I never thought I liked beer when I was a teenager and a uni student, because my dad drank Lion Red and that was the only beer I had tried.” But she says the growth of craft beer at supermarkets with their good-looking labels meant she started trying them out. “I think the 500ml bottle of Liberty’s Yakima Monster was probably what got me hooked on beer.”

She says another thing which cemented her passion for beer — and designing the artwork for it — was having a go at brewing herself at Wellington’s Occasional Brewer. “When they were on Victoria Street, we went there and brewed a couple of beers, and I designed some bottles for that as Christmas presents.”

A three-month trip to the US with her then-partner Hamish Sail followed, and it was their time there which inspired Blackwood to go all-in and open a brewpub. “We went to a lot of breweries, and I decided that I wanted to do something similar, but also do it quite differently. There was a lot of dark mahogany and really dim lighting and lots of TV screens with sports playing — I just wanted to try something quite light and airy and colourful, which I didn’t see a lot of.”

The pair partnered with a friend, Andy Collins, to realise their dream. The trio, being a designer, builder and electrical engineer, were able to do a huge chunk of the work in establishing Heyday themselves — and it gave Blackwood the chance to extend her skills into designing a space for the first time.

“Other than the bright and colourful brand, inclusivity was the main thing we wanted to bring into the place. We wanted all walks of life to feel comfortable here,” she says. “Another priority was to have the brewery as spacious and as functional as possible, to be able to make the best beer – and also to be big and shiny for you to be able to see from everywhere, so you feel like you’re in a brewing space, to feel part of that journey.”

Heyday opened in November 2017, and it has been all-go for the brewpub over those four years. Initially focusing on producing kegs for the brewpub and other bars across the country, Heyday has pumped out dozens of beers each year. While fewer than 10 of those have made it into cans on shelves so far, every single one of those beers needs a unique design — and that keeps Blackwood incredibly busy.

“It’s relatively fast-paced, because we’re brewing at least 50 new beers a year. So I’m not, for example, designing three concepts and then developing one, it’s sort of just going with your gut and picking one.”

Blackwood says there’s a lot to consider when designing the artwork for each beer. “Firstly, I think about the brand — that it is bright and colourful and fun. And I still consider ourselves quite a new brand, so having the Heyday logo prominent is something that is quite important — for the cans in particular. So, the logo pretty much goes on there first, and I then work everything around it.”

The designer has had great success in her can artwork work too; Blackwood took out second place in the inaugural GABS New Zealand Label Design Awards in 2020 with her West Coast IPA design. She then repeated the feat in the 2021 competition, claiming silver for her Magic Portal American Pale Ale label.

She says designing can be quite a collaborative process. “Sometimes if I’m struggling with a design, or if I’ve got a couple of ideas or beer names, I’ll take them to the other staff members for their opinions because sometimes I need to bounce ideas off other people, and they can look at it from a completely different point of view.”

Blackwood says that camaraderie extends throughout New Zealand’s beer industry, “Although it’s a competitive market, I think it’s a friendly market as well. There’s been times where we’ve had to go down the road to Choice Bros or to Garage Project to borrow some ingredients. Double Vision (brewpub in Miramar) helped us out during the first Covid lockdown when they canned our Fresh Hop beer, because it was just sitting in a tank doing nothing.”

Like for many of New Zealand’s beer and hospitality businesses, the Covid pandemic has impacted Heyday. Blackwood says her ideas and hopes for the brewpub have had to adjust as a result. “I was hoping by our fifth birthday that we would have a refreshed fit out. I’m all about the environment and the aesthetics and the feeling that people get in here, but then I realistically have got to remember that we’re going through a pandemic, and it’s hard.”

“We do little things all the time, so we might get a bit more art up on the wall, now that we’ve released about six cans. We’ve also got to look at things like extra storage for getting more grain and more kegs and, in the future, if we wanted to get a canning line, where does that fit? But I don’t think I’m quite going to get my ‘let’s close for a week and redo the entire space.’

Some of those “little things” Heyday is doing are actually quite important things. Blackwood says with the #MeToo revelations in the beer industry internationally, and also stories shared locally, she has actively been trying to educate herself more about harassment in the industry and what Heyday can do to prevent it.

“Our brewer Ashley and I signed up for the Brave Noise beer [which aims to raise awareness and funds for a safe and discrimination-free beer industry]. We looked at lots and lots of different templates of code of conducts, put a document together and reached out to RespectEd to help us with fine tuning that – and read it through with our staff as well for their feedback. It was eye opening to see that our original code of conduct wasn’t thorough enough.” She has also completed RespectEd’s webinar on sexual harm in the hospitality industry, and attended the Pink Boots Road to Beervana panel discussion, Acknowledge.

While Blackwood has recognised the best thing Heyday can do in the current climate of uncertainty is to make small changes

As for the future, as Heyday makes small changes to keep fresh and agile in this climate of uncertainty, Blackwood does have some personal goals too. Like many business owners, she can find it difficult to switch off from the day-to-day at Heyday, but is striving to soon find a better work-life balance, “One of the reasons I wanted to work for myself was because I do have some health issues, so I wanted to be able to be my own boss, to be able to work from home, or sometimes I work better at night — so just to have a little bit more flexibility. I’m yet to quite find the 40-hour week, so that’s always a work in progress.”

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