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Kirsten Taylor - The Fermentist's head brewer

Kirsten Taylor is the head brewer at Christchurch’s newest microbrewery The Fermentist, a place she describes as having “beer at its roots and sustainability in its heart”.

Kirsten Taylor has an impressive CV when it comes to the brewing industry but her latest project is the one closest to her heart.

Kirsten started working with Lion in the lab at Canterbury Brewery in 1990 and soon became the first woman to work in the brewhouse. She went on to become a trainee brewer with Speight’s and a fully-fledged brewer back at Canterbury Brewery. She then worked on various projects for Lion, including developing home brew kits and setting up a helpline for home brewers.

Last year, Kirsten was approached by an old colleague, Simon Taylor, now General Manager of Microbreweries at Lion, who had a vision to build a presence back in Canterbury, following the destruction of Canterbury Brewery building in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

Simon proposed a microbrewery and “from there the idea grew into so much more”, Kirsten says. The pair decided on a microbrewery, taproom and café with a strong focus on environmentally-conscious processes. They wanted to make “the invisible visible” when it came to brewing and sustainable practices.

“Running a brewery can require a lot of natural resources such as energy and water,” Kirsten says. “[We wanted to experiment] with the way the brewery operates and put the community at the heart of all activities.”

Following the green light from Lion, the pair had just over a year to bring their concept to life. The Fermentist opened in June and, so far, initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint include solar panels for a proportion of electricity usage and hot water heating.

There’s also composting initiatives, rainwater collection and recycling to reduce and limit waste going to landfill. “We’ve also installed an electric boiler in the brewhouse which is the first of its kind at any of [Lion’s] sites,” Kirsten says. “We know that a large part of the carbon footprint from brewing occurs during the heating process, so we wanted to avoid using gas fired boilers.”

Other green practices include encouraging customers to bring their own glass vessel for use at the fillery and the brewery has an electric hybrid car for deliveries. The menu is focused on plant-based, locally-sourced fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt and fermented pickles.

“Our philosophy around creating nutritious food which supports wellbeing means we are steering away from fried foods too, but we have come up with some delish alternatives – it might not be what you’d expect but people will soon come to love our quinoa and chickpea fries to compliment the beer selection.”

The team is also working with Conservation Volunteers New Zealand on a project focused on Addington Brook, a spring-fed tributary for Ōtākaro/Avon River – over the road from where Canterbury Brewery used to be.

As for brewing, The Fermentist offers its own signature beers and cider. Non-alcoholic fermented beverages are coming down the track. Kirsten says they’re going for flavour and accessibility – rather than highly-hopped products with a high alcohol percentage as dry hopping can lead to large wastages of beer.

“We have a philosophy of staying local wherever we can. Our beers are brewed using Gladfield Malt from Dunsandel and hops from Motueka. From the food perspective our bread is from Bellbird Baked Goods and tea from local company Noble & Savage. We are using Kaikoura cheeses and sheep’s labneh from Canterbury. It’s about localising our supply chain and showcasing the great produce right on our door step.”

Kirsten and Simon wanted The Fermentist to have a positive legacy – not just for Lion, but for the wider community. “Our intention is that any learnings will influence the wider business. Something as simple as using an ethical clothing company such as Little Yellow Bird for staff uniforms might make a small difference at the local scale, but if we were to scale that up across our entire business we could make a positive impact in people’s lives,” she says. “Over time we plan on installing digital screens in the brewery which will show our energy use including solar power generation to provide visibility to customers about our environmental impacts.”

Kirsten says it’s rewarding to be head brewer of a place she put so much effort into setting up. “Being involved from the start means I feel like a custodian of the brand. It is exciting to think about how we will evolve. We’ll keep innovating and trying new ways to bring sustainability to life through the brewing experience. [We’ll keep] challenging the status quo.”

Q & A:

Where do you live in Christchurch and what do you like about living in your part of the city?
I live in Westmorland, close to the Port Hills. I love living in that area because of the access to great walkways and biking tracks and the beautiful vistas of Banks Peninsula at my back door. I love the fact that I am close to the city as well.

What do you like about the part of town where The Fermentist is based?
We’re loving getting to know our neighbours in Sydenham – working alongside like-minded businesses and community initiatives to come together and support each other to promote and strengthen the area. Sydenham is an area that is being regenerated so there are some great spaces being developed from retail to residential. It's like the gateway in and out of town and it has a really nice community feel.

What do you think are our city/region’s best attributes?
Christchurch is a small city that has been through tough times. We have proved that we are a resilient community that can come together in hard times. As with many parts of New Zealand, we have great access to the outdoors – from Banks Peninsula to the Southern Alps – so getting out into nature is very much part of our lifestyle. We are an innovative city with lots of exciting things being developed and launched.

What are your favourite things to do here in your spare time?
Going to arthouse movies and documentaries at Deluxe Cinemas at The Tannery and Alice Cinema, helping out with voluntary clean up days like tree planting on the Port Hills after the fires in February 2017 and the Lyttleton Harbour clean up, walking and cycling in the port hills, yoga in North Brighton and going to exhibitions at the museum and the Christchurch Art Gallery.

Is our city different now to what you remember growing up?
The Christchurch earthquake brought our community together and since then I’ve seen a shift in the way people see the future of our city. The appetite for innovation and doing things different is growing. It is a less conservative and more dynamic city.