Flights of fancy when beer meets coffee in Wellington

Mark Davey, Nick Clark, Steve Hall, Tom Baker.

Waitoa co-founder Mark Davey, Flight Coffee founder Nick Clark, production manager Steve Hall and Waitoa brewer Tommy Baker outside Waitoa’s Victoria Street brewery.

Two iconic Wellington brands have joined forces to produce a beverage that mixes two favourite local drinks — flat whites and craft beer. The Earlybird Flat White Stout (6% alcohol) is the result of a meeting of minds between Waitoa Brewery and Flight Coffee. 

It all began with an idea on Waitoa’s staff brainstorming board to create a product that mixes beer with coffee. “We wanted to make the most ‘Wellington’ beer possible. There’s nothing more Wellington than walking through our compact city centre and getting a flat white. It’s a rite of passage” says Waitoa co-founder Mark Davey. 

A testament to Wellington’s compact nature, Flight Coffee’s flagship café The Hangar and its central city roastery are both just a block away from Waitoa’s bar. Mark says it made sense to approach their neighbours to bring the idea to life. “Wellington is both the craft beer capital and coffee capital. We wanted to fuse those two things together with our two very Wellington brands.” 

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Flight Coffee’s production manager Steve Hall jumped at the chance to collaborate. “We’ve always been passionate about creating unique coffee experiences, and when Waitoa approached us with this idea, it felt like a perfect match,” he says. Combining his team’s roasting knowledge with Waitoa’s craft and history of stout brewing was an experience he described as thrilling. “We were eager to see how our coffee could complement a beer, and the result has exceeded our expectations.” 

After 16 weeks of trial and error, a 5000-litre batch of Earlybird Flat White Stout hit the shelves. It was pre-ordered by 200 bottle stores nationwide and 20 craft beer destinations around Wellington. 

Brewing such a high volume of stout was a new experience for the local brewers. Adding another beverage made the venture even more exciting. “There’s a lot that goes into the product. This particular beer was extra special because of that collaborative nature, and the nature of the beer itself,” says Mark. 

Waitoa’s brewer Tommy Baker settled on Flight’s Bomber coffee blend after tasting a variety of blends and beans. “The orange peel taste of the Bomber blend appeals with dark beers,” says Mark. Bomber is also an espresso style, making the stout similar to an espresso martini. 

A tall can of Waitoa's 'Earlybird' stout being poured into a glass.

Science and calculations came into play when creating the perfect brew. Getting the ratio of coffee to beer right took some tweaking. “We didn’t want to make something freaky that’s not palatable. We wanted a high-quality product that best represents our two brands.” 

The method of infusing the two drinks was not as straightforward as you would think. The team deliberated whether to steep the beer with a ʻteabag’ full of beans, or use espresso coffee during production. In the end, Tommy added 200 litres of espresso extract and 30kgs of coffee submerged in a cloth bag to the hops, yeast, lactose, grain, water, and “secret ingredients”. 

Despite this, Mark insists there’s no mystery with the stout. “It’s exactly what it says on the can. We’ve used Flight’s Bomber blend and lactose to give the beer milky sweet smoothness, and the caffeine bump that one expects of any flat white made in the capital.” 

While collaborations aren’t new to Waitoa, he says the Flight Coffee partnership is extra special. “For years I’ve recommended The Hangar to friends and visitors so they can enjoy some of Wellington’s best coffee.” Working together feels like a natural partnership for both brands. According to Mark, “birds of a feather collab together.” 

Steve agrees. “This collaboration is something we’re really proud of. This project represents the spirit of Wellington – innovative, collaborative, and always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.”