Aidan Styles and Steve Young are living the beer aficionado's dream:turning a home brew hobby into a business. Aidan shares the story of how he chucked in his day job in IT, transformed his garage into a brewery and is now looking at exporting Baylands Brewery beer to the UK.
Baylands Brewery co-founder Aidan Styles is happy to admit he is obsessed with beer. “It’s 24/7,” he says. “There’s not a lot of time in the day when I’m not thinking or talking about beer.”
But Aidan doesn’t just love drinking the stuff: he has turned his passion for beer into a thriving business. When increasing numbers of his mates started dropping round to his home in Newlands, Wellington, to drink his homebrew, Aidan and co-founder Steve Young decided to convert his garage into a commercial brewery.
Aidan met business partner Steve through work. “I was working in IT, and I used to take a 20-litre keg into the office in a wheelie bin for Friday drinks,” he says. “I got chatting to Steve, who said he wanted to get into homebrew.When he tasted my beer, he thought it was so good that he’d rather help sell mine rather than make his own.”
Their beer quickly gained a following,giving Aidan and Steve the confidence to take a leap of faith and move Baylands Brewery out of Aidan’s double garage and into a Petone warehouse. Production size ramped up from 300 to 1200 litres per batch, and they also launched an online homebrew store.
Aidan works full-time on the business, assisted by an apprentice brewer, while Steve has kept his day job and works in the brewery on evenings and weekends.
Cheers for charity
Aidan and Steve’s own tastes tend towards aromatic, hoppy beers, but they brew many other styles. Baylands produces 12 types of beer, plus seasonal specials. Their only rule is that they’d never design a beer they wouldn’t drink themselves.
When creating a new beer, breweries in New Zealand have more than 100 types of malt to choose from. Most of Baylands’ brews contain four or five different malts, although one made to celebrate a bar’s birthday celebrations featured 21 different varieties. Their beers are designed for drinkability rather than novelty value and tend to include lots of rye.
“Quality is the big thing for us. Early on we dumped lots of beer because it wasn’t up to our standards."
"It’s a very busy marketplace now, so you have to have confidence in your own products,” Aidan says.
Giving back to the community is an important part of Aidan and Steve’s business philosophy. Under their Karma Keg scheme, one local community group each week is given the chance to invite its supporters along to a local bar. Baylands gives the group a free keg, and the supporters donate money for each drink. Last year alone, the scheme raised $45,000 for kindies, Scouts,sports teams and other local groups.
While Aidan loves the independence of being his own boss, there have been many challenges along the way. Managing cash flow can be tough in the brewing industry because costs tend to be front-loaded. Raw ingredients have to be paid for upfront, yet there’s a three-month lead-in window before the beer is being paid for by customers.
In the early days of the business, Aidan and Steve were under-capitalised and made the mistake of buying cheap equipment that was prone to failing. Now they only buy high-quality equipment and make sure each new phase of growth is properly funded.
Gearing up for growth
Aidan has valued the strong relationship he and Steve have with Kiwibank. “We get a more personalised level of service from Kiwibank, and I think they’re especially good at working with SMEs [small to medium-sized businesses]. We’ve been to them a few times to fund different stages of our expansion, and they’ve been very supportive. They’ve also had some of our beers at their functions.
“To me, banking with a Kiwi-owned bank is a no-brainer.”
Baylands is now gearing up for the next phase of expansion. New tanks are on the way, which will boost beer volumes by a whopping 250%, and Aidan and Steve are investigating opportunities to sell their beer in the UK through their Auckland-based distributor.
“We’ve slogged our guts out and now we’re seeing the rewards coming through,” says Aidan.
“Starting a brewery hasn’t been easy, but we’ve tried to learn from the difficult times. We’re never wanted to give up because we’re so passionate about what we do.”
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