Good cheer and thirst for 'proper beer' fuels Mic Dover's Nelson revolution

Mic Dover outside Founders Park that will host Marchfest on Saturday.

Mic Dover outside Founders Park that will host Marchfest on Saturday.

We are now into the middle of Nelson Beer Week, and with the exciting flavours of MarchFest beckoning the organisers are starting to get a little nervous as the biggest day on the Nelson beer calendar approaches.

One of them is Mic Dover, who has been at the forefront of the craft beer revolution in Nelson for the last 16 years. 

Dover, with business partner Eelco Boswijk of Dead Good Beer Events, has now stepped up the craft experience even further with the addition of Nelson Beer Week leading up to Saturday's Marchfest at Founders Park.

Mic Dover is running the first Nelson Beer Week in the lead-up to Marchfest on Saturday..

Mic Dover is running the first Nelson Beer Week in the lead-up to Marchfest on Saturday..

The pair also set up the Free House on Collingwood St, a pioneering pub selling quality craft beers not tied to any brewery. Dover sold his shares in the Free House last year to concentrate on events.

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I always like to find out how people from other countries end up in Nelson creating very cool stuff while adding to the incredible diversity that makes Nelson a great place to live, and I must say Mic Dover has done a lot in his lifetime.

He is originally from an English place called Hillingdon in a county that no longer exists – Middlesex has been subsumed into greater London which was a surprise to me.  Middlesex was so well known as a county I find it hard to believe it is now a suburb of London.

Dover says "that left me stateless and countyless living in New Zealand until I became a New Zealand citizen last year, now I have a place to call home again."

He also lived in Reading for 25 years doing lots of different things from teaching to working as a lock keeper (looking after canal locks) and even running the IT section for the Berkshire County Council in pre-internet days.

One major development in Reading made him reassess his life there. The Courage Brewery in the centre of town was knocked down and replaced with a massive shopping centre.

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"It didn't have a single locally-owned business in the whole thing and I realised Reading was in danger of turning into a soulless shopping centre so it was time to look at other options."

With his partner and their two kids he went on a holiday around the world for a year and while his partner had Australian citizenship she had made England her home so wasn't keen on moving away. But the kids loved New Zealand when they visited during their year travelling and he needed a change so they moved here in 2001 (a decision which their sons' casting votes secured!)

"Even the lack of what I call drinkable beer didn't stop us moving here and the lack of choice in beer had a lot to do with what happened in the next 15 years. Fortunately my wife loves it here too, we even got married at Rabbit Island."

They started their New Zealand life in Christchurch but didn't really like it, "I knew a Kiwi builder in England called Neville and he had told me the only place he would live in the South Island was Nelson and after visiting we agreed with him."

Dover told me when they arrived in Nelson they got to know a few expats first and he found himself going around town with a bunch of Englishmen and Scots "trying all the pubs failing to find what I would call a decent pub and a decent pint.

"Founders and The Mussel Inn were a couple of the places you could drink decent craft beer on tap but Founders was closed in the evening and The Mussel Inn was a long way to go for a pint."

Their wedding reception in Appleby was a fateful day in many ways. He got chatting to Martin Townshend, who was thinking about starting a brewery "while I was desperate for what I call a proper beer.

"Rather than just moaning about beer we decided to organise a beer tasting at The Boat House, get some beers brought in and encourage others to try craft beers, these tastings were hugely successful with people queuing 50 metres down the road.

"Martin decided to be a brewer and I met Eelco at one of these nights, he expressed interest in doing beer events together so we moved to a bigger venue at Founders Heritage Park and formed the company called Dead Good Beer Events to run quarterly beer fetes."

They served craft beers from around the country at beer tasting nights that again proved highway successful.

Dover says they had both had bad experiences at beer festivals but there was demand for something more than a beer fete four times a year "so we decided to create a beer festival that was family-friendly supporting local breweries only and we were keen for breweries to create special brews for the event."

This year's MarchFest is the 10th and attendance has grown from 500 people in 2008 to 3700 last year and is much more than just a place to drink interesting beers.

Of course beer is the reason for the event and this year's line-up features 15 regional craft breweries who have signed up to produce a new beer for the event.

There are also four collaborations between a local brewery and a brewery outside the top of the south. This year's guest brewers are Concept, Behemoth, McLeod's and Funk Estate.

"One real treat for festival goers this year is the availability of the Townshend's/McLeods collaboration 'Hey Blondie' that will be served from both kegs and casks so drinkers can taste the difference between a cask-conditioned beer (naturally-carbonated) and a kegged (artificially-carbonated) version."

Another festival highlight is incorporating the Home Brewers Conference. The winner of a home brewing competition gets their brew made commercially and served at MarchFest. This year Karl Summerfield gets to tempt the Marchfest punters with his Farmhouse Saison Ale .

At the MarchFest Brew Zone area you can learn how to make beer or, if you already are, how to make better beer. It features live brewing demonstrations from some international experts, alongside some of the local home-brewing talent.

Dover says it a great chance to look at the different ways to brew beer at home, covering simple methods right through to full all-grain brewing just like the commercial brewers.

Add music and a kids' zone, plenty of wonderful food, cider from Peckham's and wine from Blackenbrook for those unfortunate non-beer drinkers and Marchfest is a wonderful day out for the whole family where the beer focus is on interesting and unusual rather than drinking as much as you can.

In the lead-up this week there are a lot of opportunities for people and businesses in the region to engage with Nelson Beer Week "to explore beyond normal beer experience boundaries for more than just a weekend," Dover says.

"It will bring together breweries, bars, restaurants, retailers and other businesses to promote Nelson/Tasman as a cool destination for an annual week-long craft beer pilgrimage."

Dover says he is still loving Nelson and now he is semi-retired is loving it even more, "but it is a bit weird going to the Free House as a drinker. I want them to introduce a comments book so I can still have a say and a discount for gold card holders" he says with a smile.

Stuff has has two tickets to MarchFest to give away, you must be over 18 to enter, to enter, go to the Nelson Mail Facebook page, tag a friend you'd like to bring along and we'll choose a winner on Thursday.


 - Stuff


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