"We always wanted to make something – both of us did.
Something you could hold in your hand. We started buying more interesting beer when we lived in Lyttleton in 2008 – you could get Harringtons on tap from the brewery and Emersons was quite easy to find too.
We moved up to Matakana for a job Mike had in a new company. It never really got off the ground and he was made redundant. We wondered how we could stay here - there isn’t a lot of industry, most people work for themselves. Peter and Decima Freckleton ran the Sawmill Brewery, back then it was adjacent to the Leigh Sawmill Café in a shed Peter and Decima rented from the owners of the café. Mike wanted to spend a day with Peter seeing how he made beer on a commercial scale, so he went up there and came home that evening saying Peter and Decima were keen to sell it, they had another business they wanted to concentrate on. 6 weeks later we owned it. We worked like crazy, it was summer and there was so much to learn. We knew then that we wanted to make excellent beer. There was a real single mindedness to it. Not much attention paid to marketing or to what anyone else was doing. Just hours in the brewery understanding everything.
The relative isolation we had from the craft beer community (8 years ago most breweries were in Nelson or Wellington) has played a big role in shaping Sawmill. Rather than looking at what other breweries were doing, we made our own decisions, and the more you do that the more confident you become doing it. We were the first craft brewery to can beer. We don’t name our beer either which is uncommon amongst craft breweries. We have a very different approach to packaging in general. The brewery and Smoko Room have adopted a zero waste goal and started using solar energy 11 years ago. The more you think for yourself the easier it becomes. We have got a lot of motivation from the community here which is very creative and entrepreneurial.
Over the years our goals have broadened. We always want to make the best possible beer and have our customers enjoy it in the best condition. It needs to be fresh and really well made with excellent ingredients and a lot of attention. But Sawmill Brewery has evolved into more than that. We are here to build a strong business that’s good for our team, our community and our environment. There is a bigger picture that drives us now."
Mike Sutherland and Kirsty McKay