Beer just the tip of the ginger-berg – Hakanoa Handmade, Rebekah Hay

“I believe when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade…and try to find someone whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.” – Ron White

In 2007, life did not give Rebekah Hay lemons. It gave her ginger, a great recipe for ginger beer, and impeccable business acumen. Rebekah did not make lemonade. She made ginger beer – hard ginger beer. And six years later, Rebekah now owns one of New Zealand’s leading artisan drink companies, Hakanoa Handmade.

Hakanoa Handmade is an Auckland-based company specialising in ginger-related beverages. Rebekah first debuted the unpasteurised Dry Ginger Beer and Chilli & Lime Ginger Beer in 2009, selling them out of a van on the side of the road to appreciative locals.

Disheartened at having to throw out batches of ginger beer that had fermented past their due date, Rebekah sought a method of pasteurisation that preserved the original crisp, fresh taste of the ginger beer, while allowing the brew to have a longer shelf life. After much trial and error, Rebekah perfected the pasteurisation process.

While the company has now made a name for itself nationally, if you told Rebekah she was going to be the founder of a national ginger drink chain six years ago, she probably would not have believed you.

The startup of Hakanoa Handmade began as all good stories do – with hardship. In 2007, at the foot of a global recession, Rebekah was made redundant. It was in the garden and kitchen where she found solace, and as she spent more time immersed in cooking and planting, the ginger beer idea sprouted.

“I experimented at home before renting commercial premises,” said Rebekah.

“For the first year I worked freelance, and [focused on] getting the business going on my own.

“But that had to change – Roger King came on board in 2010 and the two of us have been working full time on steady growth ever since.”

Hakanoa Handmade relies heavily on the age-old art of fermentation. Both ginger beers contain a mild 1% alcohol content, and are brewed individually in bottles. The flavour is clean, crisp and unique – perhaps that’s because they there are no preservatives or artificial flavours confusing your taste buds.


“I have always been a dedicated foodie, and a big fan of the slow food movement.

“I made sourdough bread for many years, fascinated by the way the fermentation process transformed flour into such amazing bread. Fermenting ginger beer from scratch is very satisfying and creates a ‘quenchiness’ just not found in other drinks.”

Hakanoa sold its first ginger beer four years ago, and has since released two syrups – one Ginger and one Spicy Chai – to the delight of customers and baristas around the country. That’s just the tip of the ginger-berg for Hakanoa though, as Rebekah looks at creating new products and expanding availability in our neighbouring countries.

“We have many more products in the pipeline. As with all of our drinks, the formula is to make them just as enjoyable the second and third time around. Repeat business from sheer deliciousness is our aim.

“We want to source most of our ingredients from our Pacific neighbours and export our products globally.”

Do you think 2013 was a good year to be an entrepreneur in New Zealand?

Every single year takes a heap of tenacity and sheer luck to be an entrepreneur. If you waited for a good year, you’d never start anything! We have noticed that more and more folk are keen to buy local, and the support from smaller community businesses is great to behold.

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