As COVID-19 spread across the globe early last year and borders slammed shut, a brutal choice faced many who had been building their lives in new countries.
Stay in the place you're in or make the move back home?
For Charlotte Feehan, she chose to stick it out in Melbourne, a place she'd called home since 2018. But, after six months that included redundancies, lockdowns and a broken ankle, she made the decision to move home to New Zealand in August 2020.
Having started her brewing career at Garage Project, Charlotte's time in Australia saw her work in a range of roles across Melbourne's beer industry. The passionate Pink Boots Australia member worked at both Stomping Ground and Deeds as a brewer, as well as a stint in between the two at Carwyn Cellars where the Certified Cicerone put her knowledge to good use as the Thornbury haunt's resident beer educator.
After finding a job she loved working as a removalist for Queer Move, she suffered a broken ankle which led Charlotte to start seriously considering if it was time to head home.
It might have been a difficult decision, but the move has seen Charlotte's career in beer continue to develop. Today, she's head brewer at Abandoned Brewery, in Lower Hutt in the North Island, after being headhunted by the brewery's founder on her return to New Zealand. She's now rocking an impressive mohawk too, which seems fitting for the person behind the beers inside Abandoned's graffitied tins and the brewery's punk ethos.
Having recently enjoyed Wellington's Beervana only to be plunged back into a state of lockdown (a feeling anyone in our own beer industry who attended Good Beer Week will understand only too well), we caught up with Charlotte to see how life back home is treating her.
And , while she might not technically be an Aussie, given her love for Melbourne, its beer community and the many friends she had to leave behind, we can't help but feel she's an honorary Melburnian, and thus a perfect fit for the return of our long-running Aussie Exports series.
Why did you make the move from New Zealand to Australia?
For the same reasons that many Kiwis end up in Aussie: I was ready for a change and I wanted to live outside of New Zealand. I wanted to experience life in a bigger city and Australia is cheaper than London. Plus, I had been to Melbourne on holiday a few times and loved it, plus a great beer scene. The move just made sense.
When did you head back to New Zealand? And what was behind the move?
I moved back almost exactly a year ago actually: August 27, 2020. It was six months into Melbourne's multiple lockdowns and I'd faced multiple redundancies. I had finally found work as a furniture removalist, which was solid and steady, until I broke my ankle stepping off the truck onto uneven concrete. That was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Each redundancy had taken its toll emotionally and financially, and the broken ankle made me really start thinking about why I was fighting so hard to stay in Melbourne. Thousands of people would kill for the opportunity to be in NZ during COVID – why was I killing myself to stay away? It was time to go home.
How did you end up working as head brewer at Abandoned Brewery?
I was headhunted, hahaha, something that'd never happened to me before. Tim [Ward, Abandoned's founder] had offered me this job right before I moved to Melbourne, but I already had flights booked. When he heard from a mutual friend I was back in the country, he hit me up.
I'd just moved down to Marlborough to do the 2021 vintage and told him I wouldn't be free until April. He told me that he would wait. So here I am.
Can you tell us more about Abandoned?
I'm pretty lucky in that Abandoned has established a name for brewing not only great contemporary styles but also some old classics as well. For me, it's a perfect fit. I started my beer journey at Garage Project, I've put almost anything you can think of in beer and really pushed the boundaries of what "beer" is. But I am also a Certified Cicerone® and have a love of traditional and classic beer styles. Here I have the freedom to brew both.
My kit is only 500 litres which is great; you can have more freedom when you only have to shift ten kegs. We are poured in some of the best bars and restaurants around Wellington and also contract out our larger volume for tinnies too. Keeping everyone happy.
We run a cellar door out of our brewery on Fridays and Saturdays and we are currently running a rigger delivery service during lockdown.
But we have a new production facility in the works, which will come along with an awesome hospo space! Tim is old school Wellington hospo, I have no doubt it'll be rad.
What would you say has changed most in the New Zealand beer industry during your time in Australia?
Just the sheer size. When I left there were a few new breweries popping up, but just like Melbourne the craft beer industry has boomed here in the last few years. There are so many Kiwi breweries I'd never even heard of that are producing some really cool stuff. It's awesome to see.
What are some of the major differences between the Australian and New Zealand beer industry?
I think as a general statement breweries are bigger in Australia. What's considered small there is quite different from what is considered small here. Though perhaps that is just my perception based on the places that I've worked. Other than that the differences aren't that marked.
I miss calling cans "tinnies" – Kiwis would never call them that.
Are there parts of the Melbourne beer industry that you particularly miss? What about just the city in general?
I miss the Melbourne beer industry something fierce. It's full of deeply passionate, fun-loving people who are always up for a beer and a yarn. Even writing this makes me sad.
My friends there have been through hell in the last 18 months. The fact that they are still there, plugging away, making amazing beer, just goes to show how much they love beer and the Melbourne beer industry itself. It's a community that looks out for each other; almost all of the work I got during lockdown was through industry people putting my name forward. Pink Boots Australia in particular is just a great group of people!
I honestly miss Melbourne. Every. Single. Day. When I first got back I had dreams – actual dreams – of walking down Johnston Street surrounded by noise. Or running across High Street to catch the tram outside Carwyn. I felt like I'd been dumped by a city. It was rough.
When the Trans-Tasman bubble opens back up, what are some of the beer experiences in your neighbourhood you don't think anyone should miss?
Well, anyone from Melbourne should stop in and see me first, obviously! I'm here every day haha. But in the Hutt Valley, Brewtown in Upper Hutt is the place to be. It's awesome up there, there are five breweries and a distillery plus bowling, go-karting etc. What's not to love?
The team at Boneface are good friends of mine and their beer is excellent!