BREWPUB FOR SALE: John Duncan is selling the brewery he built at Founders Heritage Park twenty years ago. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Last drinks for Founders brewery


When John Duncan first eyed the spot at Founders Heritage Park there was nothing there but bare grass.

Twenty years on he has built a fully functioning, award-winning brewery that has built on the legacy of six generations and 160 years of beer brewing in his family.

“I sort of feel I have done what I set out to achieve,” John says.

“It was always the dream to own our own brewery and we have done that.”

But now that brewery, formally known as Founders, now as Park Life, is on the market.

“It’s not what I had planned. I reached retirement age, but my wife hasn’t been well so that tipped the scales.”

He says after all that time working seven days a week it is time to take stock.

“It has been great. We have employed all our kids over the years and had hundreds of staff who have all become family. It’s certainly been a family business and family comes first.”

The brewery has twice won the best small brewery in the world, along with a slew of other titles. They exported beer to Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Denmark, Germany – and were in some ways ahead of their time in terms of craft breweries.

“It feels like the journey has finished and it’s time to let someone else carry on,” John says.

“There is a lot of potential here. I want to let somebody else have a go.”

John is selling the building, the brewery and café along with everything in it, but not the business itself. The land is leased from Nelson City Council.

He says that the industry has changed in many ways since he first set up his own brand, after years working in wine and then as a brewer for Macs.

However, he also sees history repeating itself.

Between 1840 and the early 1900s Nelson had about 30 breweries. Then it went to having one and now there are about 14 different breweries operating in the region.

“So that’s encouraging.”

He has also managed to pass on the family trade. His son Callum is a brewer for Spring & Fern.

“We are a family of brewers. Every generation we have had one. It’s a long history.”

John says they have had huge support from locals – even from the first days, when they encouraged people to bring their own food, to hosting everything from weddings, christenings, funerals and hens’ nights.

They sold the Founders brand to Independent Liquor and rebranded to Park Life – just selling their own beer on site.

“It’s become a focal point for the park and a destination,” John says.

“It’s a very unique setting and has really set the tone for the entire place.

The brewery is surrounded by heritage buildings, a playground and a Bristol Freighter airplane.

“There’s an opportunity for somebody to come in and create their own brand, a new look or carrying on as is.”

John’s recipes are also open for negotiation.

His retirement project is to write the family history, which spans the entire history of Nelson, and fix the roof at the family bach at Lake Rotoiti.

“All those things that have been on the backburner,” he says.

“It’s bittersweet for me, I’ve had to make some tough decisions. But it would be nice to see this place go to a good home. I’ll miss it.”

For more information contact Debbie Cade at Colliers on (03) 5456920.