Garage Project pokes fun at seltzer snobbery

Garage Project has entered the seltzer market with a gluten-free, sorghum-based product that co-founder Pete Gillespie describes as a coming together of various trends in craft brewing.

They are first Kiwi craft brewery to create a packaged beer-based seltzer. Good George and Zeffer have both created cider-based seltzers in cans while Fortune Favours did a beer-based seltzer on keg last year. The rest of the beer-based supermarket-compliant seltzers come from globally-owned breweries such as DB (Heineken) and Independent (Asahi).

Gillespie understands some people see seltzer as either the domain of big breweries or product akin to RTDs and he was slightly wary of presenting the idea to his own brew team.

“When I went to everyone and said ‘we’re going to do a seltzer’ I expected them to be horrified but, surprisingly a number of my brewers have taken to it.”

He believes there’s a certain “snobbery” about seltzers – that they are not the domain of craft brewing or that “just because they’re light, refreshing and easy-to-drink … then it’s the devil’s work”.

His view is that beer-based seltzers represent a coalescing of various trends in the craft sector – from lighter styles, lower ABV, low-carb, and fruit additions.

“I think these seltzers are a coming together of lots of different strands that’s been going on in craft brewing for a while.

“People have been making clearer, lighter beers, very dry beers with little or no residual sugar, and there’s the idea of being playful with fruit and additives and using different grains – seltzers are a meeting point of all those things going on periphery of beer.

“They are a different experience to beer – but not a bad experience.”

Dirty Water – which comes in passionfruit, lemon-lime or raspberry-yuzu – touches all the market-drivers for seltzer: it’s 4.5 per cent ABV, gluten-free low-carb and low-calorie – with 90 calories per 330ml can and 1g of sugar.

Gillespie said he enjoyed creating a beverage with sorghum in it.

“Sorghum has a long heritage in brewing and it’s used loads in Africa – if you’ve ever had Nigerian Guinness, which is made with large proportion of sorghum you’ll know it’s delicious,” Gillespie said.

“What we’ve made is a genuinely fermented product with its own nuance and flavour from the sorghum – it also has hops in it – and we’re adding fruit and natural extract. It’s playful, fun and I quite like it.”

Gillespie said the seltzer was clarified by using various forms of filtration, including charcoal. “It’s quite a complex process as it involves a number of different forms of filtration which gives us a remarkably clear product. In a nutshell, it’s clarified beer, but the process still allows esters from the brewing process to carry across.

“My vision was to create something a bit different. I was aiming for a product like La Croix Sparkling Water.

“The thing that excites me most about it is its gluten-free component – we’ve always had people come to us and say ‘I’m gluten intolerant, what can I do?’. We’ve played around with enzymes to reduce gluten and toyed with idea of a gluten-free beer but we’ve ended up doing this first.”

As for the name – Gillespie says “people can take whatever they want to take from it”.

“It’s a cheeky poke at fact that it’s the cleanest product we’ve produced; gluten-free, low-carb, low-calorie but also it’s a little dig at the snobbery that does exist around seltzers.”

You can learn more about seltzers and how they’re made through this BreweryPro webinar Making Hard Seltzer.

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