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First Look: Sawmill Brewery

Jul 28, 2016 Bars

Photos and words by Kate Richards. 

If you aren’t busy this weekend, in fact, even if you are – you should make your way to Matakana, because something very exciting is happening.  It’s been eight months in the making, but tomorrow Sawmill Brewery is opening their doors to the public and it’ll be worth making the short trip north, if only to have a beer and a chat to the wonderful people who have made this happen. They really are lovely.

Kirsty McKay and Mike Sutherland have spent the past “six or seven years” brewing out of what was once a fully operational sawmill. “We’ve changed a lot in that time,” McKay tells me. “The business has outgrown the site”. In February this year they shifted down the road to a bigger venue, a space that could accommodate their needs. With the help of chef Will Michell and many Matakana locals, they’ve created a fully functional brewery with bar front and a tasting shed space known as the Smoko Room – “like you’d have at a factory”. Inside it’s all polished brass and untreated South Island Beech, and outside the courtyard centres on a wrought iron brazier, and overlooks rolling hills. There’s been a lot of pan-industrial fit-outs recently – but here, in an actual brewery, utility adds genuine charm.

There’s an honest sense of community, with the work of Auckland artisans championed throughout the interior, from hand-blown Monmouth Glass light fixtures to plates, cups and bowls made by Vicki Fanning of Frolic Ceramics. Pendant lights repurposed from old beer pipes edge the dining room. “We were stuck for how to make them,” says Rachel O’Malley, Kirsty and Mike’s friend and design connoisseur, “but we knew that Jo from accounts’ husband was a plumber, and thought he might have an idea about how to work them into the room”. Turns out he did, and it’s exactly that kind of family spirit which has really built Sawmill from the ground up.

The menu complements the beer, obviously, so it’s posh bar snacks and oysters and cheese – simple food, with a nod to New Zealand’s terroir. There’s flounder with mandarin and watercress, and an intriguing dish of miso-smoked goat. Really, though, you’re here for the beer. Everything here has been thoughtfully put together and they’re proud of the fact that this has been a collaboration of really cool people, working together to create a really cool thing. It’s resourceful; a collective space for locals and holidaymakers and I for one am very excited.


Sawmill Brewery
1004 Leigh Rd

Sawmill Brewery Officially opens midday, 29 July. The Leigh Sawmill Cafe will continue to operate at 142 Pakiri Rd, Leigh – they offer food, accommodation and live music.


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