Ale's well for award-winning brewer

By Sally Webster

Brian Buckowski is a US brewer. Photo / Janna Dixon
Brian Buckowski is a US brewer. Photo / Janna Dixon

A New Zealand craft beer brewery set a new standard in collaboration last month when it flew in an award-winning US brewer to create a new range.

Boundary Road Brewery contracted Brian "Spike" Buckowski, co-owner of Terrapin Beer Co in Georgia, for a month to work on a trio of ales called Spike's Red Rye, Spike's India Pale Ale and Spike's Pilsner, due out next month.

The brewer was one of 80 applicants who saw an advertisement Boundary Road posted on North American beer blogs and sites, including Brewers Association Forum and Modern Brewery Age.

Buckowski was the standout candidate, despite a bungled Skype interview during a Las Vegas convention, said Boundary Road marketing manager Ben Shaw.

"Spike's phenomenal knowledge and experience with pushing boundaries still came through."

Buckowski brews have won Terrapin Beer Co nearly 20 awards, the first won in 2002 for an India Pale Ale, only six months into business, at The Great American Beer Festival.

Collaboration was not new to New Zealand's micro-breweries, said Shaw, but he believed the way they contracted Spike, including paying for his airfares and accommodation, was.

The Brewers Guild of New Zealand's Tim Sugden could not think of anyone else using a formal internship approach. "I think for Boundary this move was a strong marketing exercise," he said.

Shaw said it wasn't only a grand marketing gesture, it was also based on growth.

New Zealand figures showed beer fell from 81 per cent of alcohol consumption in 1996 to 63 per cent last year.

Yet Shaw's Aztec-sourced grocery figures (accounting for about 40 per cent of national beer sales) showed craft beer demand was up 12 per cent in the past year. Sugden agreed the market was growing quickly. Consumers wanted "an experience" rather than volume.

Buckowski was impressed with New Zealand hops - he had only read about their novel taste - but he said New Zealanders were beginners in a market that Americans were seasoned in.

"I think the average New Zealand beer drinker is not too familiar with big, bold craft beers," Buckowski said. "Some of the craft beers I tasted did not have a lot of flavour.

"I'm not saying that is bad, because the New Zealand market needs to cut its teeth somewhere. Think of it as Thai food. It's as if the mainstream beer was 'mild spicy'. The next step of beer flavour would be 'medium spicy'; the real craft beer scene may be 'hot spicy'; and the crazy, over-the-top craft beer would be 'Thai hot or extra spicy'."

- Herald on Sunday

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