Speight’s Brewery – as strong a brew as ever!
There is a story – really more of a legend now – within the New Zealand sporting media of the night several of their members were locked inside the Speight’s Brewery hospitality area.
It seems that about 20 years ago, after one of the famous media functions Speight’s hosted prior to each and every rugby test played in Dunedin, a number failed to make it out when the doors were closed very late in the evening. No matter, they were happy enough to wait until morning and then went on their way to Carisbrook for kick-off.
Such a thing is not likely to happen these days, but Speight’s Brewery continues to make headlines with the world-class Brewery Tour very much at the forefront.
Overseeing a double digit rise in visitor numbers in the last six months is Tour Manager Chris Snow (BTour 2003). Originally from Invercargill – Chris attended Southland Boy’s 1994-98 – he spent four years with Tourism Dunedin before taking the reins at the brewery tour in 2008.
He says the rise in numbers is a sign of the general increase in the Dunedin tourism market in recent months.
Aimed primarily at the 40+ age group, the Speight’s Brewery Tours have been boosted in recent times by the influx in visitors to the city through the 2011 Rugby World Cup (the city hosted four pool matches), greater cruise ship numbers and the return of Contiki tours.
The tour attracts folk from all over the world with a marked increase in recent times from Malaysian and Taiwanese visitors.
And while it’s the older visitors who have been the tour’s mainstay, Chris readily admits the re-emergence of Contiki, which specialise in tours for 18 to 35 year olds, and a growing back-packer market means a greater spread of visitors. Contiki alone will bring 5,000 visitors to the city each year.
The tours started unofficially in the 1980s, were officially launched in 1997 and redeveloped in 1999. Over a 90 minute stay, visitors spend an hour on the tour and 30 minutes in the tasting room.
"The feedback we get is that our tour is the best in New Zealand and we’re often told better than the Guinness Brewery in Dublin and the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam," Chris says.
"There is a ‘heritage’ feel to the brewery and the tour, we keep numbers on each tour down, our guides are terrific, and there’s the social story – the connections people have with Dunedin, friends who lived here and even with former Speight’s workers.
"There is a nice, intimate feel to the tour and the response we get is almost always positive."
The tour operates seven days a week, 363 days a year (no free beer tasting on Christmas Day or Good Friday!) and while the number of tours reduces to four or five a day in the winter, current demand can see up to a dozen tours being staged daily.
So how many have been through the brewery over the years?
"It’s probably in excess of 400,000,” Chris says. As iconic New Zealand broadcaster Peter Sellers, a regular attendee at the pre-test functions, would suggest “that’s a b****y lot of drinks".
The brewery was established in 1876 and remains on the same site in Rattray Street. A major redevelopment is set to begin by the end of this year. Once completed, the Brewery Tour will showcase the traditional gravity-fed brewing process with 21st century technology, something which has Chris excited as one of Dunedin’s oldest and most successful businesses continues its presence in and contribution to the city.