Leigh Hart's Wakachangi beer started out as a joke, now it sells 10,000 cases a week

Publish Date
Saturday, 11 August 2018, 3:37PM

Wakachangi started as a joke and fast forward two years, there's plenty to laugh about, selling 10,000 cases of beer a week.

The Nelson-brewed beer, founded by Kiwi comedian and Radio Hauraki host Leigh Hart, is gearing up to launch into Australian supermarkets later this month.

Since its inception in October 2016, Wakachangi has sold 4 million litres of lager.

It began as an online joke, Hart said.

"On Facebook I said, 'What would happen if I started a beer brand called Wakachangi' in a post and that got a lot of traction so I thought, 'oh hell, I better follow through'," he said.

The social media post went viral, nationally, receiving 200,000 likes.

Hart fronts the promotion and marketing of the brand, through his production company Moon Media.

"The whole vision has been to try to make a good beer at a good price for regular Kiwis," he said. "It's not a craft beer, it's just a simple beer."

From the end of the month Wakachangi will be stocked in Australian supermarket giant Woolworths.

The deal is huge, Hart said, and would see the brand sell more volumes of beer across the ditch than it does at present in New Zealand.

Hart is also working on other alcoholic beverages — likely whisky — set to launch early next year. He could not go into detail about the new beverages.

Wakachangi beer is brewed at Stoke Brewery in Nelson, owned by the McCashin family.

The beer brand has begun trickling into taps of local pubs and is not fazed by the sky-rocketing popularity of craft beer.

"We haven't paid too much attention to the craft part of the industry," Hart said.

"I have no intention of doing anything at all that's crafty. I might as well make marmalade rather than doing that. I don't understand craft beer. It's not my thing."

Close to half a million Kiwis call craft beer their preferred drink — an increase of 18 per cent on last year, according to figures from Nielsen.

Beer sales generated $379 million in the 16 weeks of summer, up six per cent or $21.3m on last summer, with $243m of that spent on premium beers, including craft beer.

Dylan Firth, executive director of the Brewers Association of New Zealand, said the country's craft beer industry would continue to grow.

"I've watched [craft] explode in the last 10 years," Firth said.

"In the last 10 years there's been more and more ability to get into the market as well, with the advent of international shipping and being able to buy big brewery kits that are made overseas. The barriers to entry have dropped a little bit and costs."

Firth said Kiwis' taste palettes had matured but there would always be a market for standard beer.

"It's [not] going to disappear, I just think people are going to focus on different areas for a little while," he said.

"It's one of those things that the more people know it and understand it the more it grows in popularity. It's got variety and flavour and choice.

"Some people like big, bold crazy flavours, some people just like a nice clean, crisp lager, and it'll always be that way."

New Zealand beer is a $2.3 billion industry, contributing $645m to GDP.

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.

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