Interview with Greig McGill of Brewaucracy
1. Why did you start brewing?
A growing fascination with beer, and a desire to learn all the bits and pieces which went into the creation of my favourite beverage led me to jump into brewing. I think it was around 2000, and probably after a night drinking with my beery partner in crime, James "JK/Kempicus" Kemp - now world famous in the UK. I do remember buying all the bits I needed but having them sit there for at least six months while I over analysed the process, delaying just diving in. In hindsight, this was incredibly silly, and I recommend to anyone in a similar position to "just do it". Sure, it won't be perfect first time, but you'll have fun and learn lots trying and failing. Just make sure you have someone around with a critical palate who will tell you everything wrong with your creations, rather than just say "yeah, that's good"! I was lucky in that I've never been short of people who'd tell me when my beer was crap! I think they knew it'd lead to more samples...
2. How did you move in to all grain?
I always knew I'd be brewing with grain, as I wanted to develop my knowledge of the process as fully as possible. While I'd never criticise extract brewers (the aforementioned Kempicus managed to take out the SOBA NHC with an extract + steeped grains brewing method), I wanted to have control over as much of the process as I could in order to learn and more importantly to me, develop my own style of brewing, unique to me. I quickly moved to a bucket-in-bucket system as a combined mash/lauter tun, and got some good results, though it was a devil for stuck sparges. I tried an abortive chillybin conversion, wasting a lot of plastic and copper, and finally settled on a (new less broken) chillybin with a braided hose as a grist screen. This served me well until about three years ago when I moved to 50L kegs for HLT and MLT. I've still never got around to finishing my kettle...
3. Why do you like beer?
I love anything with depth to explore. My favourite movies are inconclusive, my favourite games are free-roam, and my favourite foods and drinks are those with infinite variety. Beer, and the endless intricacy of the culture around it, fits this fascination nicely. As well as nearly 20 years of amazing flavour exploration, beer has given me: reasons to travel - taking me to the UK, USA, Belgium, and Germany, some of the best friends in my life, a great number of people to talk bollocks with down the pub, an appreciation of pubs and bars in their own right, something to share with family, workmates, and new friends, and the joy of watching people enter the world I've already discovered.
4. What positive unintended consequences have come about from brewing?
I think I might have answered that above. Possibly the biggest was travel. I am, or rather was, an atypical Kiwi, in that I'd never really had much of a desire to travel. Beer gave me a motivation to do so, and now travelling is one of my favourite things. Well, not travelling itself, that's bloody painful. Is there anything more awful than a transit lounge after 12 hours on a plane, and knowing you have another 12 hours to go before more customs, more security, and a train or taxi? But beer provides the motivation to suck that up and think about which beer you'll drink first at your destination, where you'll drink it, and with which random friend-for-a-pint-or-two.
5. Hardest step starting commercial brewing?
Psychological, totally. I had to decide if I really had anything to bring to the market that it didn't already have. The NZ beer market is getting crowded, and I feel there are too many people doing it "because they can". I didn't want to be one of those. I wanted my beers to provide a different, and often more subtle approach to the "just turn everything up to 11! More hops!" I was seeing. I drew inspiration from Stu McKinlay, whose tastes in beer I've often found myself agreeing with, and Graeme Mahy, who instilled strong lessons about drinkability, and blended that with my own love of session drinking, interspersed with the odd "wow" beer moment. I wanted every beer we brought out to be something you'd either want to drink all night as an aid to great conversation, or drink one of per session but never stop thinking about. I'm not entirely sure I'm succeeding with that, but I am making beers I'm proud of.
Since you've been asking very interesting but very personally focused questions, I've not really been able to do justice to the heroes in my beer life. I think my first hero has to be my business partner and friend Phil Murray. I certainly wouldn't be doing this commercially without his encouragement, advice, support, and bloody hard work. He does everything about Brewaucracy that doesn't involve beer, and it's a LOT of work. Then there's Luke Nicholas, Steve Plowman, and Joe Wood. Luke and Steve have been endlessly encouraging in various ways since loing before I even thought about brewing commercially, and Joe (who was only just getting started himself) gave me the push by brewing our first beer for us. Graeme Mahy and Pete McKenzie next. We wouldn't be making beer if it wasn't for Pete at Shunters Yard and the MASSIVE amount of work he does at the brewery so we can put out our little bottles and glasses of goodness. Graeme has been a great source of advice, even though I never bloody listen to him, eh Graeme? I actually listen more than he knows, and have taken on board a lot of his wisdom over the years. Except for mash hopping. That shit is voodoo and he knows it. ;) Finally, Martin Townshend. $DEITY knows why, but he thinks I can brew, and I've really enjoyed collaborating with him on a couple of beers, as well as never missing an opportunity to mock him for his love of lager and lime.