Not another Fork & Brewer

If you're wandering around Wellington, there's a good chance you've walked past a brewer or two.

The species seems to be attracted to the place, constantly flying in and out of the "craft beer capital" for beer launches, collaboration brews or just a quick pint.

One brewer that has made the move permanent is Taranaki boy Kelly Ryan.

Held in high esteem by both his peers and the beer community, Ryan has moved down with his family to take over the brewing responsibilities from Lester Dunn who has done a fantastic job at the Fork & Brewer.

Lester has really got to know the brew pub's tight set up well and their beers have improved markedly this year.

But he's moving on and you could hardly find a better replacement for him than Ryan.

After studying microbiology and food science at Otago, Ryan's first brewing job was at DB's Mangatainoka brewery - better known as the place Tui is made.

After that he spent several years in South Korea teaching English to pay off the hefty student loan, before heading to the UK.

There he worked at several places including Fyne Ales in Glasgow and Thornbridge, where he took over from Martin Dickie who left to found Brewdog.

After meeting Luke Nicholas from Epic, Kelly decided to take him up on the offer of a job and moved back to New Zealand.

He then fled to Hamilton to help start Good George, before moving back to Taranaki to be closer to his mum after his dad passed away.

Now he's in Wellington and raring to go at the Fork & Brewer, with plans including barrel aging and sour beers.

I'd read a lot about Ryan but never met him, so headed off to the Fork to catch up in person.

He may know beer like the back of his hand, but was immediately under the pump attempting to make me a coffee on the barista machine.

His results were...acceptable, but may have raised a few eyebrows with your typical Wellingtonian.

Gamely sipping away, I soon forgot about the brew after we began talking.

Kelly is a seriously nice chap. I mean, really, really nice. I'm a journalist and I can tell you, not many people are this pleasant to talk to. Alongside this, his willingness to talk about all aspects of the beer industry were refreshing so rather than write my own interpretation about what he said, here's his thoughts on a few choice subjects:


The first NZ craft beer he tried

Emerson's Bookbinder at Inch Bar in NZ while studying at Otago.

On moving to the "craft beer capital"

"It's a bubble, it's a massive bubble. Soren from 8 Wired was here the other day and I had a chat to him and he said this is one of the greatest beer cities in the world."

Despite being well experienced, Kelly noted that coming to such a beer-centric city like Wellington where every step was analysed and pulled apart was rather daunting.

On "faux craft" beers such as Boundary Road and Craft Beggars

Basically, let the consumer decide.

"I'm all for it. I think a wonderful thing about this industry is there are no rules or legislation to say who can brew what or you can market it this way or that way. I can guarantee you some of the things you read from our craft brewers is stretched, you know, the truth is stretched a lot so let he who cast the first stone."

The future of beer in New Zealand

"It's trying to find that sort of happy place between getting something that's drinkable and sessionable and tasty and people like it, and something that's also going to introduce them to a new flavour experience and that's the thing I love about beer.

"That's the kind of dream for me, the evolution of the beer drinker is hopefully they get to that point where it's not 'I've got to neck four pints after work because that's what I do and I like getting a buzz on for the train ride home' or whatever, versus 'far out, that beer is so tasty'".

The future of the beer industry in New Zealand

"The big guys and the little guys both have arrogance. The big guys have been doing it for so long and know the market side of it, and the brewing side of it, so well there's no way they really want to listen to the little guys to a certain degree. The little guys have got the same feeling. These guys, sure, they can make a clean beer that have no technical faults blah, blah blah, but they actually don't know enough (about marketing)...for someone who has done their marketing degrees and been with the company for twenty years and is a brand manager or whatever, there's no way they want to hear someone from some tiny little brewery whose just been a homebrewer for ten years tell them what an East India Pale Ale is."

He believes craft breweries may band together in the future to market overseas, but wonders if that would change things forever.

"The industry's probably a bit small, but if it gets bigger is it going to change completely? We're right on the cusp I guess of what's happening with the industry, are there too many craft beer bars in Wellington? I don't know."

On the politics of the beer scene

"I like the simplicity of beer in terms of you buy a beer, you drink it, you enjoy it. The politics of it all can be so frustrating and that he said, she said, which happens a lot in New Zealand, it's crazy.

"That's probably a negative part of the industry, it's always "oh, I tried one of their beers and it was shit and I'm never going to try one again". Every brewer has a good day and a bad day, every packaged product from even the greatest brewers in New Zealand or the most popular or the sort of most loved by the minorities will do a bad beer."

Why it's important that breweries start taking more responsibility for the quality of beer they release to the market.

"I think we are big enough. To protect the industry in a way those decisions have to be made going forward, even with the cost of ingredients. We're discussing it at the moment with a batch of beer and it will probably go down the drain.

"There's a little bit of complacency from the "crafterati", you know the real hard out, where they'll say bad things about one brewery but not about the other because of that perception thing. That's fine, that's life, everyone's allowed to have opinions and do what they want but at the same time I think brewers, if they can, if they know a product is not good when it goes into a bottle or a keg then they should think about that."

The first unique Kelly Ryan beer at the Fork n Brewer?

Likely to be a rather interesting beer for next month's Westcoast IPA Challenge at The Malthouse. Ryan says he plans to put his microbiology and food science degree to good use and will use sea water from the West Coast - yes, SEAWATER - in the beer. I've been asked to be part of the judging panel for the event and despite Ryan being adamant the beer won't taste like Poseidon's poison, I'll be on the look out for any hint of salt!

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