Melbourne beer writer turns Westport craft brewer

04 July 2023
Development West Coast
Just over a year into its operation, Shortjaw Brewing in Westport is making waves in the craft beer scene, with an emphasis on local ingredients, sustainable practices, and community involvement.

Owner Luke Robertson was no stranger to the beer world, having spent 17 years in Melbourne mostly working as a beer writer, podcaster and industry educator. When the opportunity arose to buy a twice-liquidated brewery in his hometown of Westport, he took the plunge. Despite never having run a brewery before, he has revitalised the business, carving out a niche in New Zealand's burgeoning craft beer scene.

“We thought it was really worthwhile to take the task on and see if we can kind of put all the things that I talked about over the years into practice,” Robertson said.

The name Shortjaw is from the Shortjaw kōkopu. “A native species found in these waters.”

Luke Roberston - Shortjaw
Luke Robertson

Robertson has teamed up with brewer Marc Gardiner to create three core beers using exclusively New Zealand ingredients.

“We're less than 400 kilometres away from some of the best hops in the world, some of the best malt in the world, and some of the best yeasts now in the world as well.”

"It's about championing what we do here in New Zealand and giving people something unique when they come here," Robertson explained. "Something that is meaningful to this part of the world."

The brewery's staple offerings include a dark lager with a 30-year lineage, a European-style pilsner, and a breezy pale ale, “with lots more New Zealand hops and pineapple, grapefruit, stone fruit flavours.”

The brews are increasingly available in South Island supermarkets and are making their way into select pubs, restaurants, and bars.

Shortjaw cans
Shortjaw Brewery

Shortjaw Brewing is not only committed to sustainability through sourcing local ingredients, but also innovative practices such as serving wine on tap from keg, significantly reducing waste from unsold bottled wine. In partnership with Still Life Wines, Shortjaw offers quality wine on tap, a practice more common in Australia but relatively new in New Zealand. Robertson believes they are the only establishment doing so in the South Island.

“We're not opening bottles and then tipping them out when we don't sell that whole bottle. We're not wasting glass. It means the wine stays fresher because it's under pressure and people really like it.”

Building strong community ties is also central to Shortjaw's mission. The brewery runs various initiatives in support of local community groups. These include creating limited run cans for community projects, such as the Kawatiri Coastal Trail. They brewed a pilsner called Trail Hopper with a bespoke label featuring a QR code linking to information about the trail. Collaborations with local sports teams, charity groups, and offering their space for events further cements their role as a community hub.

Despite the challenges of taking on a brewery that has been liquidated twice in the past decade, the local community has rallied around Shortjaw.

Trail Hopper
Trail Hopper Pilsner

"Locals immediately got behind us when we launched and told them our story," said Robertson. With this local support and the brewery's sustainable and community-focused approach, Shortjaw has firmly established itself as a positive force in Westport.

Moving back to Westport has been a delightful change of pace for Robertson. With the beach only a 90-second walk from his home, he's fully embraced the coastal lifestyle that Westport offers. The mountains are never more than an hour's drive away, providing a stunning backdrop to their everyday lives and an easily accessible opportunity for adventure.

His partner, Emma Bemrose, is still working remotely for her job in Melbourne. They recently went back to Melbourne for a couple of days with Emma going back into her old office. “She was on a tram and it was crowded and stuffy and it took an hour to get, you know, 20 minutes up the road.”

In contrast their commute in Westport consists of a pleasant ride along the local cycleway, flanked by lush bush and the breath-taking coastline.

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