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A Hardworking Beer - The Story of Harrington's


Carl - John  - Mason - Harrington

New Zealand was a tough place for beer drinkers in the 1980s. The big breweries essentially had a duopoly and overpriced brown ales dominated the market. Choice? That was just something Kiwis said to one another, a universal term for ‘something good’. Kiwi beer in the 80s? It was not "choice".

In 1991 John Harrington said “enough”. Near the heart of Christchurch he set up his own brewery with a simple aim to provide real flavourful beer at a price agreeable to the hard working folk of New Zealand.

Other beer on the market at this time followed the ‘Accountant purity law’. This nefarious and complicated maxim stated all beer should be the same to ensure good profit margins.

As John suspected, there was plenty of good Kiwi men and women who preferred purity to accountancy when it came to their beer. And so the Harrington’s reputation began to grow.

From there John and his brewer began experimenting with traditional styles of beer that were less available in New Zealand back in the day.

Working with this ‘it may be broke, we should try and fix it’ approach to craft brewing, they focused on delivering a quantity-and-quality commercial alternative to the big two.

No matter what, the taste of a Harrington’s beer needed to be reliable day in, day out. This attention to detail and exacting standards ensured consistency no matter the style of beer being brewed.

Since then they’ve grown the Harrington’s selection to over 30 beers, a range that wins awards up and down the country and all around the world.

Working with this ‘it may be broke, we should try and fix it’ approach to craft brewing, they focused on delivering a quantity-and-quality commercial alternative to the big two.

BGNZ - New Zealand Champion Brewery 2012

One of their proudest moments was in 2012, when the company was named winner of the Brewer's Guild Grand Champion New Zealand Brewery award.

The award was certainly a pick-me-up during a tough few years negotiating the Christchurch earthquakes. Daily life had been turned upside down, and one of their buildings was destroyed.

By then Harrington’s was regarded as a heritage Christchurch brewery and, for many, one of the spiritual origins of New Zealand craft beer. It was unthinkable that the company would close or move away. And some good certainly rose out of the rubble.

For one thing, it gave John and his resilient brewing team the chance to bring all the parts of the business together in one centralised operation. A new brewery in Wigram more than doubled capacity and allowed the company to plan well into the future.

For another, it helped refocus the company on what mattered most. The resilience of the local community during this time showed what Kiwis were made of, what was important to our way of life. It’s about putting in the hard yards and getting shit done. Then sitting around with your mates, decent beer at hand, problems solved and stories told.

It’s why John started everything in the first place. It’s why the Harrington family continues to work each day making bloody good beer.


After winning awards it would’ve been easy for Harrington’s to rest on their laurels. First however, there’s no room for laurels – it’s taken up by hops, yeast, brewing facilities and the bottling plant. Second, who wants to sit on a bloody laurel anyway? You look like an idiot. And if you’re a Harrington someone at the dinner table will fast cut you down to size.

Recent years have been more ‘shut up and work’ than ‘stand up and shout’ at the brewery. And the focus on growth without compromise has provided new technology, a bigger team and more quality brews than you can shake a bierstick at.

In 2016 the company celebrated 25 years brewing, and such an occasion demanded a toast or two. Luckily the team had a few beers up their sleeve. A remixed Rogue Hop Deluxe was released for the birthday celebrations, the new version enticing beer lovers alongside with the Galactic Empire (an Imperial Pilsner that took home a gold medal at the 2016 Australian International Beer Awards).

With new beers came new people to sell it. The team grew to cover Auckland, Wellington and the South Island. The aim, as always, was to ensure every Kiwi had the opportunity to purchase a quality beer at a reasonable price.

It’s a long process from brew to bottle, and a huge range of factors can affect the final taste. Nothing can be done half-arsed – every beer needs to be as good as the last. That’s why the anniversary was also cause for celebration with the introduction of a new Italian-made bottling line, one that increased capacity from 2,500 to 7,000 litres an hour.

This automated bottling and packing was another big step up, the investment here ensuring speed, efficiency and precision. The jump in quantity and assurance of quality then provided international shipping opportunities.

Our cousins from across the Tasman were a natural destination – for a big, hot country they sure seem to lack quality beer choices in their small town pubs. The team worked hard to resolve this terrible predicament.

“…when a Harrington retires it surely won’t be because ‘they want to spend more time with the family.’”

Becoming one of the largest independently owned breweries in New Zealand hasn’t meant a change in business culture however. There’s no need for a fancy boardroom table. Important decisions are still made over a quiet beer. When some large craft breweries are selling up to multinationals, Harrington’s remain answerable only to family, friends and the people drinking their beer.

The familial ties are strong here – when a Harrington retires it surely won’t be because ‘they want to spend more time with the family’. John and his wife Val are still there and their son Carl has taken the reins of the general running of the company. Carl’s wife Trudy runs H.R and sons Mason and Bo are on the brewery floor. Pop down to the brewery and you’ll find one of them keeping a close eye on things.

Despite 25 years passing the attitude that started the brewery remains exactly the same. No-nonsense? Yes. Hard-headed? Probably. Obsessed with delivering the highest quality, batch-brewed goodness? Have a beer. Find out for yourself.

John Harrington Celebrating 25 Massive Years

Carl Harrington and Matt Thomson