8 wired – Playing Their Cards Right

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For Søren and Monique Eriksen of 8 Wired brewery, few things go together like beer and poker.

The couple were both students when they met at a charity fundraiser in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Søren who hails from Denmark, was an intern for the Danish embassy, and supporting himself through university by playing cards online. Monique was visiting her parents in the city where she’d spent some of her teenage years. 

Two years of long distance love ensued, before they reunited in Perth, Australia. One Christmas, Monique gave Søren a home brew kit. His first beers were ‘pretty awful’, but he kept messing about and before long, his hobby had become an obsession. 

Fast forward a few years, and the couple were settled in Auckland. Monique was working as a physiotherapist, while Søren was a biochemist, but the beer kept calling. So in 2008 they moved to Blenheim, where Søren took a role as brewer with Renaissance Brewing. 

Initially they had thoughts of a brewpub by the sea, but within a few months Søren was contract brewing his own beers on Renaissance premises and they decided to found their own brewery. The only problem was funding. ‘Contract brewing was great because we didn’t have a lot of capital outlay, but we needed cash flow for ingredients and bottles,’ says Søren.

That’s where the poker comes in. All those hours playing cards as a student paid off when Søren took the New Zealand National Poker Championship title two years running, winning enough to get 8 Wired off the ground. 

8 Wired launched in 2009 with a brown ale, ‘to prove brown beer doesn’t have to be boring’. Within 12 months, the couple were exporting to three countries – and they still hadn’t quit their day jobs. 

In 2011, 8 Wired became the first contract brewery to claim the coveted Champion Brewery title at the Brewers Guild Awards. ‘By then we were selling as much beer as we could make,’ said Søren.

Their brand is both a tribute to the Kiwi number 8 wire tradition, and a nod to Søren’s ingenuity. ‘We try to push the boundaries and make interesting flavourful beers,’ he says. 

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Søren’s interest in experimentation led him to try barrel ageing, a traditional method of brewing beer currently undergoing a revival on the craft beer scene. Beer is aged in old and funky wine barrels for two to three years to produce a ‘sour beer’ infused with the flavours of the wood and whatever once occupied the barrel.  

The result is closer to wine or cider than beer-as-you-know-it. Fruits can be added to create limited edition beers like Snake Charmer, infused with blackcurrant, or the popular Wild Feijoa Sour Ale.  ‘Every vintage is different,’ says Monique.

Søren reckons 8 Wired has the largest barrel ageing operation in the Southern Hemisphere. ‘We have more beer in wood than stainless, but barrel ageing is still less than ten percent of what we produce.’

Barrel-aged beers get better with age, so they’re perfect for 8 Wired’s growing export trade. You’ll now find their beers in every continent except Africa. Yes, they even export to Antarctica (though questions regarding the identity of said importer are met with a poker face.)

In 2013, the couple, their children Mia and Finn, and 200-odd barrels moved north to establish the 8 Wired brewery in Warkworth. ‘We looked for somewhere near the beach and port, where we could be happy long term,’ says Monique. ‘We love this community, there are so many like-minded people and business owners.’

That community came to the fore in 2015, when a freak accident at 8 Wired saw two brewers badly scalded by a high pressure spout of boiling beer. Both men faced an extensive recovery.

‘That was a tough time. There was nothing anyone could have done differently, but it made me question why we are doing this,’ says Monique. ‘Everyone was really supportive, both locally and in our industry. We realised they’re not just competitors, there’s a whole beer family here and overseas.’

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As for the future? They’ve launched an internet TV show, The Barrel Programme, for ‘a bit of fun’, and are focused on strategically growing their exports, particularly in China, where there is a growing market of discerning beer drinkers.

Plans are afoot for a barrel hall and tasting room a short stroll from Matakana Village - but as for when, they’re keeping their cards close to their chests. ‘We’ll wait until we feel really passionate about making it happen.’

26 Glenmore Drive, Warkworth

www.8wired.co.nz