Townshend's digs deep after devastating experience

Martin Townshend is having to rebuild his business after a contract brewing experience went badly wrong.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Martin Townshend is having to rebuild his business after a contract brewing experience went badly wrong.

Nelson brewer Martin Townshend is calling for changes in the beer industry after a contract brewing agreement with Tuatara went awry.

Townshend, a one-man band based in Upper Moutere in rural Nelson, made a name for himself when Townshend's was crowned champion brewery by the Brewers Guild of New Zealand in 2014.

The award drove a huge increase in demand for his beers around the country. Faced with a choice of upgrading his existing, small, brewery or having his beer produced off-site, Townshend struck a brewing and distribution deal with Tuatara, based in Paraparaumu. The plan was to lift volume as well as move to 330ml six packs instead of the usual 500ml single bottles for his most popular beers.

The beers brewed by Tuatara included Black Arrow Pilsner, Sutton Hoo and Aotearoa Pale Ale.

It was a plan, Townshend thought, that would take his brewery to the next level. But things turned sour as bottle after bottle of beer gushed on opening. Townshend reckons he was getting 15 to 20 emails a week from unhappy drinkers. "The feedback from the public has been absolutely devastating.

"It's been so heart-breaking," Townshend added, "and this ordeal has hit my passion enormously hard but I've learned a lot about myself … I've become a much stronger and resilient person."

Outgoing Tuatara chief executive Richard Shirtcliffe, who has since joined Coffee Supreme, says the beers were laboratory tested for an infection and "all came back negative".

He believes the problem was caused by an over-estimation of demand for Townshend's beer in six packs and as a result the beer spent a long time in unchilled storage and, because some of stock was unpasteurised, refermented in the bottle.

For his part Townshend didn't realise the beer would be stored unchilled and he didn't pasteurise the beer on advice from Tuatara. He feels he put too much trust in his contract partner. "I perhaps didn't make as prudent decisions as I should have and I have to take some responsibility."

But he also believes adamantly that regulations should be introduced to show where and when a beer was a produced so everyone involved in the process can be held accountable.

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"Even though that beer has got my name on it – we didn't have a single thing to do with it. I think contract brewers should be required to show where the product is made, by whom and when."

Townshend, via an announcement on Facebook, announced the end of the arrangement in June.

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"Last year we took a big jump and decided to have some batches of beer contract brewed and distributed by our friends at Tuatara. Unfortunately it has not gone to plan, as we all wished, resulting in a drop of quality in some beer by the time it reached your fridge. Consequently we are bringing production and distribution back to Nelson to restore the level of quality that we expect you to receive," Townshend wrote.

"We now have a new focus for distribution in-house with closer monitoring through producing high quality small batch beer, with an eye towards local brewery expansion to meet the demand rather than an outsourced approach."

Shirtcliffe responded to the post saying: "The whole Tuatara team wishes you the very best, and every (thoroughly deserved) success. You're a hugely talented brewer, a helluva character, and a top class bloke. We've loved working with you, and we (TB & TB) can be jointly proud that we made it possible for Townshend to have a crack at 6 packs, and be ranged nationwide in retail."

The irony for Townshend is that his own brewery capacity is now limited by the fact he is contract brewing for others, including Choice Bros and Horse Box.

He will focus on "small batch, high turnover … that's how we're going to maintain our reputation from now on".

Longer term he will continue to concentrate on English-style beers and said customers can expect an increase bottle size and a renewed focus on bottle-conditioned beer designed to age.

Dedicated Townshend supporters can still get bottled beer by ordering direct from the brewery at townshendbrewery.co.nz where mixed dozens and subscription packs are available at very competitive prices.

 - Fairfax Contributor

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