Yeastie Boys is the Kiwi beer brand that’s making a name for itself in the UK, with a skeleton staff of just five and without its own brewery. I chatted to co-founder Stu McKinlay about the company, current beer topics and what’s next now BrewDog has broken ties.
In my short time in the ‘craft beer bubble’ I’ve heard Stu is one of the nicest guys around and that certainly seemed to be the case during our chat. I’d already met Stu outside the Curious Pig in St.Pancras station, which is how I set up the interview, and he had the same chilled out friendly demeanour – so it wasn’t just for the tasting session.
We met at a great new pub near my office called The Resting Hare which serves a mixture of traditional cask ales and keg beers from more recent breweries such as Beavertown. The original plan was to meet at a mutual favourite, The Harp, for a pint of Harvey’s, a beer we both love, but figured the popular watering hole would be too noisy to conduct an interview.
The Resting Hare was also fairly busy and quite noisy for the recording so I may paraphrase at times.
How was Yeastie Boys formed?
In a nutshell, Stu got to a point where he wanted to turn his homebrewing into a brewery and did just that with a friend from his teen years, Sam Possenniskie, who is the ‘Directive Creator’ while Stu is the ‘Creative Director’. They both put $5,000 in each and brewed the first beer through a friend’s brewery.
Stu says, “We had no plan other than that one single batch of beer at that stage, and probably haven’t had much of a plan since then.”
An NZ brewery so why focus on the UK?
Stu told me he’s always had a strong bond and felt at home in the UK with his family originating from Scotland. The fact that he’s a citizen made the whole process of setting up here a lot easier.
“We’d been receiving inquires [from consumers, wholesalers and importers] for quite a few years about sending beer here. It was about two and half years that people had been asking pretty regularly for us to send beer here before we started to think about brewing here,” Stu explained.
“We’d always thought that one day we’d send beer from New Zealand, and as soon as we thought we should brew the beer here, within a few seconds my whole life changed.”
Bigger isn’t always better
In terms of development Stu says he’s happy to keep things small, saying, “We want to stay niche anyway, we don’t want to be the next BrewDog or even the next Beavertown. We’re happy to be somewhere a bit smaller, a sort of Kernel-sized operation.”
“I’ve always said that if we’re going to grow much bigger than that someone else will have to take the reigns and run the company. I’m not the person who flogs a horse down the back straight.”
A Yeastie Boys brewery won’t happen any time soon, but isn’t completely out of the question as Stu tells me, “My philosophy is that I’m in this for life and we may build a brewery at some stage.”
Yes we can!
One of the current emerging trends in craft beer is a move away from traditional glass bottles. Stu explained why Yeastie Boys joined the can movement.
“We always wanted to move to cans… they’re better for the beer, for ease of use for consumers, more recyclable, they’re much easier and cheaper to ship, and they look so great from a design perspective. The only place a bottle is better, in my opinion, is for beers that you really want to age for a long time.”
“The main hold up for us was getting to the point where BrewDog was happy to contract cans and getting our own volume up the amount you need for printed cans. While I’m open to doing it [using bottles] for seasonal beers, as we grow and start brewing seasonals here as well as New Zealand, I really didn’t want labels on cans for our core range,” he added.
Cask vs keg
How to package beer goes beyond just bottles or cans – there’s also the more traditional cask (used for real ales) and the more modern keg (arguably suited to craft styles). Cloudwater is one brewery to recently stop using the former.
Here’s Stu’s thoughts on the matter: “I’m all for breweries choosing to package beer in a way that they like, that they think suits their beer, and that they can make money off. Cloudwater’s decision is just one of many who have gone down similar routes. Brewdog and Beavertown are both already cask-free breweries.”
“My favourite beer experiences, especially here in UK, are dominated by cask beer but it’s really disappointing that people pay 25% less for cask than keg beer. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on cost rather than value in the beer world, in general, but that mentality is even worse in cask beer.”
“We’ll never go down the cask route if the pricing mentality remains the same,” he proclaims.
Life after BrewDog
Back in March, prolific Scottish brewery BrewDog cancelled its contract to brew Yeastie Boys’ beers in the UK. Stu talked to me about the search for a new brewery and what’s next.
“Brewdog have been amazing for us but they want to concentrate on their own beer, more carefully, and as such have given us notice. We’ll be brewing through until the end of July and then… who knows!?”
Stu continues, “We’ve also got a long term collaborative project about to launch… Inari Biru, a Japanese rice beer made with top quality Japanese rice (more expensive than malt!), will be out in mid-July and we’re pretty excited about it. It’s been fun working with someone outside the brewing world and with an ingredient that we know so little about. We could be learning for years!”
”We had planned to launch a UK brewed seasonal program in UK this year but with all my time now re-directed to finding a new brewery, we’ll push that back until 2018.”
Stu tells me they’re on-track for triple sales this year and that he’s 99% sure of the brewery he’ll choose – but he’s holding his cards close to his chest for now. Watch this space.
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