Dave Huff is obsessed with brewing beer. He wants to know everything there is to know. He wants to totally comprehend every detail from the growth cycle and growing conditions of the ingredients through to the exact process of oxygen extraction whereby beer is bottled in a small room behind the Hallertau brewing floor in Riverhead, just outside of Auckland.

Dave Huff is obsessed with brewing beer. He wants to know everything there is to know. He wants to totally comprehend every detail from the growth cycle and growing conditions of the ingredients through to the exact process of oxygen extraction whereby beer is bottled in a small room behind the Hallertau brewing floor in Riverhead, just outside of Auckland.

Huff, an English expat from the Yorkshire Dales, is head brewer at the Hallertau brewery and biergarten. In less than half a decade his dedication to a good brew has driven him from a jaded barman to a master brewer. When Huff describes the production of a certain style of beer, be it a red ipa, a sour beer, a dark chocolate malt, he looks off to the side, reciting a chain of facts like a kid at a spelling bee.

“I really, really love my job,” he says with utter conviction. Huff often visits the brewery on the Saturday and Sunday, casting a hawkish eye over every step of the brew. Outside of lifting weights, brewing is his sole passion.

Right now he’s working on the Cheeky 23, a memorial beer for a good mate who passed away earlier this year; “He was a cheeky bugger, and he lived at number 23” Huff explains. “I lost a bit of product working on it in front of my friend’s family,” says Huff. “It means a lot and I was pretty nervous eh.”

The Cheeky 23 is brewed using recycled yeast, salvaged from an earlier project. It’s a sour beer, and it tastes strong, almost formidable.

“It’s just over 5 per cent,” says Huff. “The key with these big IPA’s, and beer in general, is to make the strong ones taste weak and the weak ones taste strong.”

Walking through the brewery we sample vat after vat of fruity, hoppy, beautiful beer. It’s downright decadent, and creates something of a buffer against the cloudless and freezing night.

One morning four years back, Huff woke from another night behind the bar with something of an epiphany. After a business creating bespoke art went under, he had been travelling the world for years working behind bars from Prague to Melbourne. He wanted something permanent, something that would give him the chance to utilise his uniquely disparate skillset.

“One day I woke up and I just knew, all of a sudden, that I wanted to be a brewer,” he says. “I was absolutely certain.”

Huff cold-called every brewery in the region, asking to meet with the head brewers to pick their brains on the craft. Steve Plowman from Hallertau gave Huff an old fridge in which to ferment his brew and sent him on his way. He spent a short stint at Auckland microbrewery Galbraith’s, but with little opportunity for career advancement, Huff was back at Hallertau to ask for a job.

“It was a bit of a right place, right time situation,” he says.

Hallertau brewery is equal parts form and function. Just under half an hour from central Auckland, the parched can refresh themselves in the brewery itself or outside in the newly constructed biergarten. They produce six flagship beers as well as an increasing range of custom brews, one-off’s and even contract beers for nano-brewers.

ANZ estimates craft beer sales grew 35 per cent in the year 2015/2016, now gulping down at least 15 per cent of the market. There were almost 300 million litres of beer consumed in New Zealand during that time. But some, such as Epic brewer-owner Luke Nicholas, have predicted an industry slowdown as previously explosive market expansion grinds to a halt and consumers settle on one or two different beers. Innovation and perfection look to become increasingly important to the crowded market.

A multidisciplinary fine arts graduate, Huff is an intensely driven perfectionist and innovator. But there’s no end to brewing knowledge. “It’s impossible to learn all there is to know,” he says. “But I’m always trying to better myself and push myself forward, and I think that’s a big part of why I like it.”

That perfectionism extends into every step of the process. Huff quips that brewing is 90 per cent cleaning, but every step requires obsessive monitoring for a beer to reach its full potential. Problem solving and assertive action are as important as botanical knowledge and chemistry know-how. When the shit hits the fan, decisive action is the difference between saving the brew and quite literally pouring thousands down the drain.

For Huff, the process is about nurturing, and he’s as proud as a parent. Leaving, we’re presented with three of his favourite, swaddled in a purpose-built carry case.

“Each beer is like a child and that’s why I do things like coming in on the weekend. They require dedication and I’m down for the cause.”

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