I can't think of a greater compliment than for a brewer to be invited overseas to brew his beer for sale in another country.
Late last year, Yeastie Boys' Stu McKinlay received just such an invitation from England's giant Wetherspoon pub chain and next month the Wellington-based brewer will travel to Southwold, in East Anglia, to brew Yeastie Boys' Earl Grey tea-infused Gunnamatta IPA at the famous Adnams Brewery.
Stu is well aware of Adnams' long history and reputation: "To be teamed up with Adnams Brewery, one of the few true greats of traditional brewing who have relentlessly continued to push boundaries in the modern world, makes it even more of a dream come true".
Adnams head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald was recently named UK Brewer of the Year and his team was the ideal partner to work through the technical intricacies of brewing such a left-field beer, McKinlay says.
"Gunnamatta is our biggest selling beer but we're brewing more of it in a single day there than we brew in an entire year here in New Zealand," he says with a laugh. "It's a scale of brewing beyond anything we'd dream of and, with more than a million people visiting those pubs during that fortnight, it is undoubtedly the widest exposure we've ever received on that side of the world."
Stu and Fergus will brew Gunnamatta on February 24 and 25, and the beer will then feature on tap in 850 JD Wetherspoon pubs across England during April as part of the company's annual two-week real ale festival.
Founded in 1979, Wetherspoons owns more than 900 outlets, making it one of the UK's larger and most successful pub groups.
The company name may sound quirky and very English but there's a Kiwi connection: The group's founder, Tim Martin, named it after one of his old schoolmasters, a New Zealander.
With pubs in prime locations in almost every town centre up and down the country, Wetherspoons has achieved success by running great pubs that are the focal point of the local community.
The chain has a long and impressive list of achievements. Regularly named one of Britain's top five employers, Wetherspoons is consistently awarded for the excellence of its staff training and was voted Britain's high street recycling champion in 2007.
Although the group is controlled centrally, the pubs are locally focused, sourcing products and services from local businesses and sponsoring local sports teams.
Although their generic layout and familiar design features means they can sometimes seem a little formulaic and samey, the pubs are invariably clean, spacious and friendly and they are always bustling places busy with appreciative customers.
It's not hard to see why: There's always a decent drinks list, including a good range of wines and international beers, food is made with high-quality ingredients and cooked to order, and everything's reasonably priced.
But from my point of view their biggest drawcard is their range of cask conditioned real ales. Wetherspoon pubs always offer at least six hand-pulled ales, that number increasing dramatically when they're running their biannual real ale festivals.
After brewing at Adnams, Stu aims to head up to Scotland to discuss the possibility of contract brewing Yeastie Boys' beers for Europe and the United States.
He's also aiming to present a small tasting of Yeastie Boys beers at Craft Beer Rising, a new festival of craft beer being held at the old Truman's Brewery in East London in late February. It seems fitting that 40 craft breweries will be promoting their beers on a site which once brewed 200,000 barrels of beer a year.
The festival will also feature beers from another Kiwi brewery that's on a roll. Blenheim's Renaissance Brewing, which holds the title of New Zealand's Champion Brewery as well as Champion International Small Brewery at the Australian International Beer Awards, will be making its UK debut at Craft Beer Rising (craftbeerrising.co.uk).
Renaissance, which exports to the United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong, is focusing its export development in 2014 on the growing British craft beer market.
Having recently returned from the UK, Renaissance development director Roger Kerrison is optimistic for the brewery's prospects.
"The UK craft beer scene is thriving; it was very exciting to see it first hand. Although most [English] people haven't tried craft beer from New Zealand, they are very familiar with New Zealand hops that are being used by American and British brewers," he says.
"We only use New Zealand hops in our beers, so I am sure there is going to be plenty of interest from people in regards to how a New Zealand beer tastes."
Fingers crossed for both Renaissance and Yeastie Boys. I wish I could be there to lend some support.
- The Marlborough Express
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