It's Waitangi Day and the occasion of the first ever GABS Hottest 100 Kiwi Craft Beers countdown too. So it feels like as good a time as any to run our Brew & A with Greg Mace (pictured above), a Kiwi brewer who now plies his trade in Melbourne.
He secured his first job at Dux de Lux in Christchurch by trying to get out of work experience while at school and is now found at The Craft & Co in Collingwood, where he gets to work with other brewing companies using the in-house kit for gypsy or collaboration brews, and at equipment supplier FB*Propak.
Here, he tells us of his admiration for Sierra Nevada, Black Dog and Emerson's, his love of alcoholic blueberries, water and Tool, and what he wishes he'd known when he first fell into commercial brewing.
Why are you a brewer?
Because it was my first full time job out of high school that I learnt to do and because it's a job of passion with so much flexibility to create amazing flavours and taste. Plus creating something that people enjoy makes me proud and happy.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
Well, I have stepped away from full time brewing and advise and mentor our new house brewer [so he can] learn from the skills and knowledge I have. I work in technical sales of breweries and anything beer or beverage related, so get to talk beer and about making it for a job day by day.
Dream job would be a fresh water ecologist – as I have a degree in Biological Sciences – but it's a very hard field to crack.
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
This happened via a class I studied in my last year of high school – I had to do work experience and I didn’t want to do it so I put down really hard things for them to find: skate photographer, marine biologist and brewer. They found me a work experience at a brewpub, which I did for one week. I wrote the report on it and afterwards the company offered me full time employment after the summer holidays. This was at the Dux de Lux, in Christchurch – everything fell into place quite nicely indeed.
What's the best beer you've ever brewed?
This would have to be a beer called Blueberry Brown, which I made in my days as brewer at the Dux de Lux. It had 80kg of whole blueberries put into the conditioning tank. Plus this was also a nitro (carbonated) beer, which made it so much better – hands down the best beer I have brewed.
Plus taking home many of the alcoholic blueberries in containers to eat/put on ice cream was damn amazing too.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
Can’t say there is – a lot of crazy interesting beers have been discussed but, with more thought and better judgement, they never prevailed and never made it to the brewery. And I believe it that was for the best. Great ideas on some beers are best just as ideas – the beer could have tasted nothing like the idea in my head.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Water. I love all things water, from fishing to swimming and drinking it too. It is the most important ingredient in beer and I believe a lot of people overlook the chemistry of brewing liquor and that is why some beers are average compared to other beers which are amazing in taste and flavour.
Water is life and should be treated with the upmost respect when it comes to brewing beer and in general across the globe.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery in the world, which would it be and why?
For me this would have to be Sierra Nevada because I love their Pale Ale and, when I tried it in my late teens, I was blown away by it. Back in early 2000, not many American breweries were in NZ and I was in awe of it. Plus the way in which they use their brewery to be environmental friendly is very inspiring and I believe that many other breweries should be adopting their philosophy.
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
In Australia, it would have to be Black Dog Brewery in Taminick, Victoria, as I know the brewer and he is a one man band for the whole brand [as well as being the winemaker for his family's Taminick Cellars business]. The amount of hard work running the whole business himself is an inspiration to me. I think of him and then realise I can do better. Plus his beers are definitely some of the best Australia has to offer.
In New Zealand, it would be Emerson’s brewery as [Richard Emerson] makes some the most amazing beers in the world. I have never had a bad beer from Emerson's; even though he was bought out by Lion, he still has full control of his beers and they still are amazing and hopefully always will be.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
This would have to be Bridge Road Brewers' Beechworth Pale Ale. It always consistently tastes amazing and I'd be able to drink just this beer on a desert island and be quite content with my selection.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
Any Tool album – but Aenima album would be the top of the list.
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
Wine. Sauvignon Blanc out of New Zealand or a nice Pinot Noir with a steak.
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
How much it was a dusty, dirty job with soooo much cleaning. When you start at the bottom, as an assistant brewer, you get all the glamorous jobs doing all the hard work and long hours. There's a great future down the track when you grow and expand your role – but the amount of times you get covered in spent mash, hop sludge and beer... it all comes with the job.
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Formal education in brewing would be highly recommended – I am trade qualified as a brewer, but it was hard to land a job in Australia because of needing a piece of paper stating you have brewery qualifications. I got there after several months but was hard.
An internationally recognised qualification is the best too – like IBD (Institute of Brewing and Distilling) – then you have a much better chance of getting work in craft beer worldwide.
You can read other Brew & A features here.