MarchFest view through brewer's glass(es)
Simon Nicholas moved south last year when he bought Riwaka's Monkey Wizard brewery.
The former assistant brewer for Auckland's Hallertau, along with his wife Nikki who handles front of house and marketing, has transformed it into Hop Federation and set about crafting a range of beers that are cropping up all over the region, in bars as well as in 500ml bottles at retail outlets.
His Red IPA, a malty, hoppy blockbuster has quickly become a hit, and Simon said his future dreams included experimenting with sour and barrel-aged beers.
Part of the reason for their move was the search for a better lifestyle, especially because the couple has a two-year-old, Lily.
"When Lily was born Simon was working long hours, battling the traffic, getting home just before Lily went to bed," Nikki said.
Since Simon is a newcomer to the region's beer scene, which boasts more craft breweries per head of population than anywhere else in the country, we thought it would be fun to get his insider-outsider perspective on MarchFest, last weekend's beer and music juggernaut that seems to get bigger every year.
What was your overall impression of MarchFest?
I attended last year as a visitor so this was my first time as a participant and it was good fun. I was really pleased with the beer and it appears that people who attended also enjoyed it. The whole festival was great - lots of good beer, food and music.
Is there anything similar in Auckland? If so, what is unique about MarchFest?
There is and it was the weekend before MarchFest. It's only been running a few years so it's still in its infancy, but it's quite different to MarchFest in lots of ways.
Founders Park is a unique venue and the organisers had everything right this year.
It's a really relaxed day, ideal for the whole family. Yeah, there's beer, but there's also fun stuff for the kids to do, there's wine and cider and of course the entertainment was outstanding.
Did you get a buzz out of seeing people drink your freshly brewed Rakau beer? Can you describe it, using no more than five beer boffin words? What kind of feedback did you get from the punters?
You cheeky bugger. Yeah, I did get a buzz from people enjoying the beer. I met a lot of people who just said:"It's a bloody good beer mate, its easy to drink and I'm gonna have another."
Of the other brewers' beers, what were your favourites?
That's easy, Sprig & Fern who made a Pilsner, 8Wired who made CrossedWired IPA/Pale Ale and Golden Bear's Pale Ale. All really good single hopped beers that I would happily drink again.
Did you get to catch any of the music? What was your favourite?
Unfortunately I didn't. Lily was with us all afternoon so we called it a day at 7pm, but I heard the last two bands of the night were awesome.
How about the food? What was good?
Great food, lots of choice and all really good. I must admit I did sample of a few of them including the pulled pork sandwich which was bloody tasty. There was also pizza, kebabs, Asian food. In fact there was a lot of damn good food.
You gave a beer talk with Moa head brewer Dave Nicholls. What's the difference between a Nicholls and a Nicholas?
Years of experience!
What did you talk about?
We pretty much just chewed the fat with Geoff Griggs, how the beers were made, how's Hop Federation going, nothing too serious.
What was the most beer-geek question you got asked? Can you translate it into layman's English?
I didn't really get asked any beer geek questions. Dave answered a few about yeast.
If you had to choose between giving up beer or meat for life, which would it be? How about beer or wife?!
Tough call on both questions, but I would definitely give up beer for one of these two questions . . .
What has been the best thing about your move from Auckland to Motueka?
A more relaxed life, more time with my family, really easy-going people, and the beautiful weather. Oh, and the smell of the hops being harvested.
What is your favourite pudding?
My mum's lemon meringue pie.