Brewer fuelled a revolution

LONG SERVICE: Jim Pollitt with the Brewers Guild Awards Morton Coutts Trophy he won for commitment and innovation.
LONG SERVICE: Jim Pollitt with the Brewers Guild Awards Morton Coutts Trophy he won for commitment and innovation.

If Jim Pollitt had never come to brew in New Zealand, the landscape of craft beer could look very different.

Mr Pollitt, who began his brewing training in Manchester in the early 1950s, helped Terry McCashin set up Mac's Brewery in Stoke in 1981.

Mr Pollitt won the Morton Coutts Trophy of Innovation at the recent Brewers Guild Awards for his contribution to the industry.

The Nelson brewing industry has experienced healthy growth in the past year, with the region now boasting 12 commercial breweries and 17 hop growers - a vastly different scene to when Mr Pollitt arrived here in the 1960s.

After serving in the British Army, Mr Pollitt, whose grandfather had owned a brewery, was taken on as a brewing pupil for two years, then an improver for another two.

"The idea of an improver is they pay you nothing and make you do all the work," he said. "It's the same across all industries, just dressed up in a different name."

After years of living in smog and coming home covered in soot, Mr Pollitt looked out the window one day and thought, "I'm not going to stay in this country", and started looking for a job elsewhere.

He became a junior brewer at South African Breweries, and spent seven years moving around that country in different roles.

He and wife Sheila moved to Mangatainoka in 1961 to work for Tui Brewery, and were there for three years before moving to New Zealand Breweries in Wellington.

Although they loved New Zealand, Mr Pollitt said the need to make some money sent them back overseas. He took a job with Carlsberg in Malawi, South Africa and then England.

In 1981, "dying to get back to New Zealand", he returned.

"We realised the rest of the world was a mess, by our standards, and what better place to come back to than Nelson?"

Mr McCashin and Mr Pollitt began brewing a "pure beer like they did in the old days", Mac's Gold lager.

Mr Pollitt said the aspect of brewing he enjoyed most was producing a new product. "When we started off, we were producing a lager, and the one I picked to make, Terry was happy with it, so we called it Gold.

"It was different. It was a beer like no other beers in the country."

It was a big risk by Mr McCashin, because at the time there were only two other breweries operating in New Zealand, industry giants Dominion Breweries and New Zealand Breweries. But the small brewery won out, as Mr Pollitt remembers.

The award nomination, by McCashin's Brewery, said the success of Mac's inspired a new generation of brewers, many of whom had trained under Mr Pollitt.

Mr Pollitt said it was a real honour to receive the award after more than 60 years in the industry.

Although he has supposedly retired, he said he had still been "hanging around" McCashin's Brewery.

"When people retire and do nothing, they drop dead. You've got to keep your brain going."

The awards ceremony was fantastic, Mr Pollitt said, with brewers clapping and cheering for all the winners. The beer wasn't bad either.

"There were some really good beers there. Some I wouldn't taste again, but no two people have the same taste."

He liked McCashin's Brewery's Stoke beer, though. "I came in and got some on Saturday night, actually. The amber ale." But if he had to pick a favourite lager at the moment, it would be Danish beer Tuborg.

The concluding statements of Mr Pollitt's nomination said that if he had not come to New Zealand, there might not have been a Mac's.

"There might not have been a craft beer revolution in New Zealand and Nelson might not be the craft brewing capital of New Zealand."

The Nelson Mail