NWBCA Top 30 – Panhead Custom Ales

Panhead Custom Ales

Panhead Custom Ales was started by Mike and his wife Anna Neilson in the old Dunlop factory in Upper Hutt with the first beer rolling out of the brewery in August 2013. The name Panhead is slang for an old 1940s motorbike engine and is fitting for the customer lifestyle that the brand embrace.

As with the name Panhead Custom Ales, the team and customers embrace its custom lifestyle.

“Custom, well-made beer, it’s kind of how Kiwis are tinkerers, we love taking things and improving on them in our garages, and it’s what we do with our beer,” said Rik Valentine, head brewer.

“We take certain styles, tinker with them to give customers something different in a glass that is well-made, and can be challenging yet enjoyable.”

The team at Panhead rallied together to keep beer rolling out of the brewery during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. The adaptability they showed along with the determination to keep everyone safe is something that the team are very proud of. “Throughout the business, the team had to adapt to unique working conditions and a move away from any keg production to all pack formats. For a portfolio the size of Panhead, that’s no easy feat.”

As with a lot of other businesses, Panhead had to adapt to the way the market was buying beers during lockdown.

“We built an online platform in a week which offered distribution of our pack products and merchandise nationally. We were also able to offer the supply of riggers of our limited release batch beers that we produce in our 600L pilot brewery.

Although Panhead Custom Ales was sold to Lion in July 2016, founder Mike Neilson still works in the business.”

Click and collect service was also set up for beer sales and tasting room meals. The online platform has given the brand a wider reach nationally which they will continue to offer.

The team were excited again this year to produce a unique Fresh Hop beer, Far from Dead IPA. The beer was a blend of Kettle sour and Hazy IPA. “Year on year we like to test the educated and refined palates of the New Zealand market with our fresh hop beers. We are in the process of developing a new range to be released towards the end of this year that is exciting for Panhead Custom Ales as a brand.

“We are lucky in New Zealand to have a premium craft market of drinkers that are happy to experiment with what they are drinking. It allows breweries to test the boundaries of any style with ingredients and brewing techniques. I think a majority of craft beer punters are currently looking for a couple of experimental brews and then their staple 6-pack of more sessionable craft beers.”

Moving into the colder months, Valentine believes there will be some unique styles of dark beers with unusual taste profiles just to test the drinker’s palate.