Mike Neilson founded Upper Hutt’s craft brewery Panhead in 2013. He has since engineered many an ale, scooped many a medal and grown a much-loved and wanted brand. Loved by passionate beer drinkers and most recently wanted by big brewer Lion. While Panhead has sold to Lion Group, Mike is certain that when he turns up to work as an employee (from 1 July 2016) it will be just like any other great day at the brewery.

“I’m really looking forward to the luxury of spending more time brewing and less time thinking about HR, logistics, procurement, finance and forecasting,” says Mike.

From day one, balancing supply and demand has been a challenge for the craft brewery that prides itself on quality over quantity. Panhead currently produces 150,000 litres per month but even that’s not enough to keep its loyal fans happy.

“Lion has the resources we need to expand including an extensive distribution network. We’d like to double our sales by the end of 2017,” explains Mike. “But not at all costs. We’re passionate about brewing top quality beer. And our customers wouldn’t support a well-marketed product that tastes average.”

Panhead’s staff of 20 which includes many of Mike’s family (his wife Anna, her mother and Mike’s father) is committed to Upper Hutt. “We were born and bred here. It’s our home. Our new owner might be based in Auckland but we’re not going anywhere!” says Mike proudly.

“The Upper Hutt City Council has bent over backwards to make it easy for us to be here,” he adds. “We’re really grateful to our landlord at South Pacific Industrial Park who took a gamble on us when we started out. It’s easy to find the right staff locally and there is plenty of space for us to expand. And there’s the water. Upper Hutt’s water is soft (without any hard minerals) which is exactly what we need.”

Panhead, named after an old Harley Davidson engine, has the capacity to engineer seven different beers at any one time. A new canning line has complemented its range of single bottles, six packs and kegs. Every beer is named in honour of Mike’s family’s interest in all things automotive, for example Quick Change, Super Charger and Grease Monkey.

Mike attributes many factors to Panhead’s growth but especially the ‘premiumisation’ of beer. “Craft beer is certainly having its time in the sun and we are rapt to be a part of it.”

“Scoring a trophy, four golds, four silvers and a bronze, and being runner-up to Lion as the Champion Brewery at the 2015 Brewer’s Guild Awards was hugely validating,” Mike says. “But we get most excited when our customers vote for us to win.” In 2015, Panhead’s Super Charger APA was voted as the country’s best beer by the Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA).

Panhead’s custom ales are available nationwide with some being exported to Australia, Singapore and England. “We can’t wait to get our tasting room up and running at the brewery. It will give more beer lovers the chance to meet us, try something new and explore Upper Hutt.”

Visit the Panhead website: http://panheadcustomales.com

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Last updated on 21 May 2018