Even though we haven’t done much bike and brew specific things in the past few months, the twig is still with us. During one of our trips into Blenheim with our WWOOFing hosts at the blueberry farm, we found ourselves wandering around town trying to find one of the local breweries that we’d heard about – Renaissance Brewing Company . (In New Zealand, that’s pronounced “re-NAY-sonce”.) Our somewhat random visit turned out to be perfect timing. We arrived late in the day and asked if we could get a tour of the brewery. The only person who was still there just happened to be Brian Thiel, co-owner and operations manager at the brewery. He not only gave us a great tour of the place, he also mentioned that he could use a few extra hands at the Blues, Brews and BBQs festival happening the following weekend – the exact festival that we’d been planning to attend and had been trying to find a way to volunteer at. The serendipity was astounding.
After a bit of chit chat, we found out that Brian’s usual “keg monkey” – the guy who does things like clean kegs, clean out kettles, help bottle and prepare shipments, pretty much anything they tell him to do, most of it manual labor – was leaving soon to go to university. We told him that it was pretty much our dream job to be keg monkeys for the next week. I don’t know if he totally believed us, but he told us if we wanted to come in on Tuesday at 11am, we were welcome.
We had 2 weeks left in New Zealand, we had already seen a great deal of the country and we were running low on cash. Helping out at a brewery sounded like the perfect way to finish up our trip before heading to Melbourne. So we signed up to be keg monkeys.
It was AWESOME. Brian and the brewery co-owner and head brewer Andy Deuchars thought we were a bit nuts, getting excited about cleaning the beer filter and climbing in the kettle to shovel out spent grain, but it really was cool. After going on around 60 brewery tours in the last few months, it was exciting to actually be making beer. And bottling. And cleaning. Lots and lots of cleaning. Andy says there are 5 rules of beer making. Pretty much all of them use some combination of the words cleaning, sanitizing, or sterilizing. We followed Andy’s rules a T though, because he knows a thing or two about making tasty brews. While at the farm, we’d tasted as many different New Zealand beers as possible (doing penance for all the Speights and Tui’s we’d imbibed on the backpacker bus) and Renaissance was definitely one of the best. They make 7 different beers and we liked all of them. Not surprisingly, we are especially fond of their Discovery American Pale Ale, but we definitely wouldn’t turn down one of their award-winning Stonecutter Scotch Ales or the beer currently voted best beer in New Zealand (on ratebeer.com), their Elemental Porter.
Also, we DID end up helping out at Blues, Brews and BBQs. We poured beer, chatted up the locals and were given the power of the stamp – they let us give free beer to anyone we thought was cute that would let us stamp them with the Renaissance “R”. On their nipple. It was good times.
After a few days, we got the hang of many brewery tasks. We got to the point where we could operate the bottling line MOSTLY by ourselves and we were able to learn a bit about New Zealand geography while helping with their new website. Though there is still so much to learn, the world of professional brewing now feels like a world we can be a part of. It breaks our hearts to leave New Zealand just when we are really getting involved in things, but hopefully something serendipitous will happen in Australia. And hopefully we can use Brian and Andy as references! Cheers guys!