Treasures from afar
Richard Croasdale meets the beer collective bringing fresh brews from faraway shores
Monday 20 January 2020
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As the great US president Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “nothing worth having comes easy”. Perhaps these immortal words hung in the air when the New Zealand Beer Collective (NZBC) decided it was going to dedicate itself to bringing the best craft brews of its home country to literally the most far-flung country on Earth: the UK. Despite our best efforts to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, Kiwi beers are flourishing here – thanks in no small part to the NZBC’s efforts – and the love affair is showing no sign of waning.
“It's a bit of a logistical nightmare bringing beer 12,000 miles from breweries spread across a country as sparse as NZ,” says NZBC's director of Beer Todd Nicholson. “If it was easy though, everyone would do it, so I guess we have a bit of a USP there!”
The NZBC was formed early in 2015 with five member breweries (Yeastie Boys, Tuatara, 8 Wired, Renaissance and Three Boys), that felt sharing ideas, knowledge and resources was the best way to get their beer to thirsty UK punters. With a group of breweries, NZBC reasoned, it could address the lack of scale, capital and resources that New Zealand exporters often face compared to their international rivals.
While the original plan was to base NZBC in New Zealand and work with a local UK partner, this didn’t provide the kind of resources or passionate advocacy the group was looking for, so it decided in early 2016 to set up on the ground in the UK. As the market has continued to evolve since NZBC’s inception, so its regular members have changed. It now works with original member 8 Wired, as well as Deep Creek, Funk Estate, North End, Yeastie Boys UK, and hot new breweries Urbanaut and Sawmill. It also works with a Kiwi cider producer, Three Wise Birds.
Todd continues: “We’ve worked to establish a strong brand and created space in the market for New Zealand craft beer, and hopefully most people in the UK beer world now know some of the breweries we represent. We run a pretty lean operation and rely on good partners for logistics etc so we can focus on our core purpose: foster parenting the beer during its formative journey to the UK. We buy it, move it and present it to drinkers as the closest representation to drinking it at source.
“A big focus for us this year is ensuring our supply chain looks after the beer as we would want it. Storing and shipping cold within the UK is still a rarity. But we are making some good progress there. Nothing changes the beer or causes it to lose flavour like the warm summer months. So we pay four times the amount to ship cold than it costs for ambient, but that is not negotiable.”
Todd acknowledges that the “surprise” decision to leave Europe and, in particular, the resulting drop in the value of the pound have already caused uncertainty in the whole venture. Currency fluctuations have resulted in the GBP cost of imported New Zealand beer increasing by as much as a 46% at times, making it nearly impossible to compete with domestic breweries. Despite the challenge, NZBC managed to successfully trade through this uncertainty with the support of the brewery partners.
From its base in the UK, NZBC has also started opening doors for New Zealand craft beer across Europe, where we have a few trusted regional distributors supply select customers in Netherlands, Poland, Malta, Norway, Italy, Denmark and Finland.
“We don’t have the big sales team and have to rely on building recognisable brands both for the breweries themselves and the NZBC. We work to engage both trade and consumers, help them to understand a bit more about the provenance of the beer and personality of the brewers and their brands. We want the same buzz about kiwi craft beer as there was when NZ wine first hit these shores in a big way. That way the people buying, selling and drinking our beer become our sales team.”
One highlight of 2019 was February’s inaugural New Zealand Beer Month, during which NZBC worked with bars and bottleshops across the UK to celebrate and promote Kiwi beers. The series of events is set to return in 2020, with an even more ambitious agenda, as Todd explains.
“With a lot of help from our beery friends we are going even bigger this year,” he says. “As we grow the event, we want it to be more than a showcase of the beer, but a celebration of wonderful kiwi ingredients, our history, our culture and the way the UK beer and brewing scene has welcomed us. We’ll be stepping things up a gear, with a focus on the ingredients, ideas and kiwi attitude.”
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