How a beer brand is living up to their name and story with every new product they create...


If you’ve never heard of Garage Project it’s probably a safe assumption that you aren’t super into beer. Even so, you’ve almost definitely noticed their bold and diverse art covered cans on shelves. Their anti-brand rejection of a ‘matching curtains’ approach to label design is a brand in itself.

People seem to be inherently curious about a company that doesn’t follow the rulebook. When that company keeps banking successes, we become even more curious.

Garage Project is a story about risk and rebellion, and the pay off that comes with a bold strategy.

Let’s introduce the band of brothers.

There’s Pete Gillespie, ideas man, and strategist behind the Wellington-based brewery. Pete’s brother Ian Gillespie, solid all-rounder, master of the jack-of-all-trades gig, and supporter/backer of all things The Garage Project.

Finally, Jos Ruffell: Ian’s best mate and the most adventurous brewer in all the land.

It began, as good things often do, with someone (Jos) quitting their day job to pursue a dream.

That particular dream was to start his own brewery, and it was Pete who convinced him that Wellington was the only place to do such a thing.

At first, the ‘brewery’ was quite literally, a tiny 50l setup in Ian’s garage. The Garage Project was the working name they gave to their experimentation while they were trying to think of the perfect moniker. The draft name stuck.

Garage Project Founders Jos Ruffell, Pete Gillespie, and Ian Gillespie.

Garage Project Founders Jos Ruffell, Pete Gillespie, and Ian Gillespie.

Before too long, they found another (bigger) literal garage, this time a derelict petrol station and car garage which took some solid love and elbow grease to turn into the next stage of their brewery.

To launch their project, they decided it was best to go large or go home. So they vowed to create 24 beers in 24 weeks, doing a launch a week and focusing on delivering something completely different every time.

When you’re throwing out a new beer each week adventure becomes the norm, and the new baby-stage Garage Project brand become synonymous with raw, unpolished experimentation right off the bat. To understand how their creations were being received, they made feedback coasters to go out with each beer served, and collected them all back.

A clear favourite of the 24 was the chilli chocolate black lager, Day of the Dead. Other weird and wonderful outputs included Razor Sharp Orange & Cardamom Wit, Home Bake Roast Kumara Ale and The Pacific Rim of Fire.

Garage Project’s Day of the Dead label - on every one of the brand’s labels they tell the story of the brand and the beer.

Garage Project’s Day of the Dead label - on every one of the brand’s labels they tell the story of the brand and the beer.

Today, Garage Project has grown considerably, however the original brave and experimental character remains strong. As well as the original garage on Aro Street, they have their Wild Workshop on Marian Street, where a vibrant collection of fresh new flavours reside in the form of barrels of fermenting native New Zealand yeast and wild cultures, and are part of a collective who brew and bottle out of the B-Studio in Hawkes Bay.

To this day, they have no plans to settle on a fixed range of The Garage Project beers, something that is both their biggest risk, and their biggest reward.

They say it best here:

“Why Garage Project? Garage because it started in a garage, but it’s more than that. It’s also about approaching things with a garage mentality. It’s about playing around, making do and thinking outside the box. The surroundings might be basic but this is no barrier to creativity. This is bière de garage – beer from the garage.  

And why Project – because it’s ongoing, it’s a work in progress and we plan to keep it that way. For example, we don’t plan to come out with a fixed portfolio of beers – this is about experimenting, pushing boundaries, blurring the boundaries between styles - seeing what works. We love beer styles, but we want to take them somewhere, to reinterpret, not just reproduce them.”

James HurmanComment