New Zealand’s top female brewer celebrates 30 years
Ronald Reagan was president, Michael Jackson dominated the charts and Microsoft Word had just gone on the market – it was 1983 when Tracy Banner landed her first job as a laboratory technician with brewing giants Greenall’s in northern England.
Three decades later, Tracy is the Head Brewer and co-owner of the Sprig & Fern Brewery and a nationwide chain of Taverns. This month she celebrates her 30 years of success as a female brewer in an industry still largely dominated by men.
Tracy’s brewing prowess was recognised recently at the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Beer Awards held in August, where the Sprig & Fern Brewery was awarded 11 medals and named (jointly) as New Zealand’s most awarded brewery. In addition, the tavern Tracy runs with her husband Ken, the Milton Street Sprig & Fern, currently holds the title of ‘Best Bar in New Zealand’ awarded at the 2012 Hospitality NZ Awards for Excellence.
The Banners immigrated to New Zealand in 1994, and Tracy carried on her brewing career, becoming the Head Brewer at Nelson’s Mac’s Brewery, and then moving up to run the whole of the brewery’s operations.
With her technical background and her knowledge of beer styles from the UK, Tracy introduced beers with a lot more flavour and style than the mainstream beers on offer at the time in New Zealand.
“I’m very proud that in the mid to late ‘90s I was one of a number of brewers who were instrumental in bringing craft beer to New Zealand,” she says. “We really changed the face of brewing, and the way people think about beer in this country.”
The next step on the career ladder took Tracy south to Dunedin where she was the first female in history to take on the dual role of Brewery Manager and Head Brewer for the Speight’s Brewery.
“I was still in my thirties when I took over a team of men with an average service of 26 years and an average age of 52,” she recalls. “Being at the helm of such an iconic brewery and in Southern Man territory was initially daunting but I had confidence in my extensive experience and knowledge of the industry.”
After two years in Dunedin the Nelson lifestyle beckoned again, and in 2007 Tracy moved back to Nelson to become co-owner and head brewer at the Sprig & Fern Brewery in Richmond.
Since then, the number of Sprig & Fern taverns has grown to nine (six in the Nelson region, two in Wellington and one in Auckland) and the brewery has racked up multiple medal hauls at the New Zealand and Australian Beer Awards. In addition to maintaining production of 20 beers and ciders, Tracy has continued to innovate, with a programme of three or four special limited releases every year, many of them award winners.
After 30 years Tracy says she still gets a reaction to being a female brewer: “Men don’t struggle with it any more – they find it interesting and they want to talk about beer.”
She still finds every day interesting at the Sprig & Fern Brewery, and enjoys applying her scientific knowledge and her instinct for the art of brewing to developing new and innovative beers.