Brew Hui Meets – Luke Nicholas

I thought I would re-produce below the cool post from Jason Gurney, from an interview he did with me recently. I did post this on FB and Twitter but figured it would get a few more reads here if I published it again. If you have made it this far please click thorough now and check out the Brew Hui Blog. It is great to have a unique and passionate perspective of beer and brewing in New Zealand from someone like Jason.



Young Cock & Bull Brewer Luke NicholasIn my day-job, polarising personalities are a dime-a-dozen.

Academia seems to attract people who have a thirst for jousting with others over matters of interpretation – with little thought given to the face behind their opponent’s mask. And that’s fine, if not expected – since ability to separate the personal from theprofessional are hallmarks of any academic worth their salt. The example that proves this theory is the fact that I’m rubbish at it.

Luke Nicholas – founder of Epic Brewing Company – would be the first to cop to being a polarising personality; in fact, he was the one who brought it up.

Not long into our hui, he reeled-off some of the brewer’s names who just won’t talk to him anymore because of what he’s said about their produce. And one glance at his blog – which has taken social media by storm since starting at the beginning of the year – gives you some insight into why he might occasionally rub people up the wrong way. He’s certainly not afraid to chuck grenades; but rather than hiff-and-hide – or parry, to return to our jousting metaphor – Luke prefers to stand in No-Mans-Land and wait for return-fire.

And I’ve got a lot of time for someone with that sort of courage of their convictions.

Like many (if not most) polarising personalities, the quality of Luke’s work shines with rare incandescence. His success is not the result of magic; rather, it’s the natural product of toil, commitment and risk. Case in point: within 48 hours of returning to New Zealand after living in California for several years, he arrived on the doorstep of a newly-formed brewpub called the Cock and Bull – head brewer: one Ben Middlemiss. He offered up his services, and worked unpaid for a year before demand for Ben’s fledgling beers created an assistant brewer role. Over the course of that year he cleaned tanks, painted floors, whatever – all the while learning his trade from one of New Zealand’s greats.

Here’s a wee taste of our discussion around this topic – which begins with me trying to gleam homebrewing tips, but eventually leads to a discussion about the birth of Epic Pale Ale, the rise-and-fall of the Cock and Bull and the awesomeness of Ben Middlemiss:


[You will have to go to the original post to listen to a 5 minute audio file of the interview between myself and Jason]


First Batch LukeWe sampled some tasty treats as our hui drew on – I even took along a bottle of the inaugural Brew Hui pale ale for a taste. (Luke’s first words were “F**king awesome” – I kid you not. There may have been some additional words in the sentence, such as “for a first effort”, but I’d stopped listening by then.) I also took along a bottle of Leigh Sawmill’s The Doctor – a biscuity doppelbock that won high praise from Luke (and me too, of course – but that’s like shooting a big fish in a small barrel with a bazooka.) But the tastiest treats of all were the ones that Luke pulled from the Epic fridge – some of which only exist in said fridge, and so I had to cross my heart to not talk about them. (Wives that aren’t really listening anyway don’t count, right?)

In true Brew Hui style, the Just One Hour that I’d promised him quickly turned to Three; but he didn’t seem to mind. I even jumped in my car with some tasty parting koha – which I had gratefully accepted, as long as Luke understood that I was going to say nice things anyway. But that’s not just because my writing style only comes in positive; it’s also because – polarising personality or not – Luke is an important piece of New Zealand’s craft beer furniture.

He’s seen bubbles burst and businesses fold – but rather than hope for the demise of his competitors with blood-thirsty glee, he’d rather wave flags and warn of rocky times ahead. He thinks no-one should have to drink diacetyl, or DMS, or oxidation; and when he tastes those things in a competitor’s beer, he tells them so. That kind of frankness might occasionally ruffle feathers; but if doing so creates an expectation of excellence from brewers, retailers and everyone in-between, then Luke: ruffle-away.

I’m sure there are other sides to the They Won’t Talk To Me Anymore stories – there always are – but I can’t help but wonder how much of that is clash of personality rather than objective dissonance. Sure, he’s a relentless spade-caller; but from what I can gather, he rarely does so without backing it up with possible solutions. Perhaps such a personality is more easily camouflaged in the world of academia than it is in brewing.

Twitter: @jasegurney | Facebook:

APRIL 2014 – Judging 500+ Beers In 68 Hours + 30,000km Travel

As I did last month, rather thank looking back I am looking forward.

So here we go for April, and I’m keeping it brief as I should really be packing my suitcase right now.

2 & 3 April – San Francisco
4 April – Santa Rosa, Russian River Brewing Company
5 April – SFO to DEN
6 April – Brewery tour in Fort Collins, CO with International Judges (I’m guessing it will be New Belgium and O’Dell Brewing, TBC)
7-9 April – Judging World Beer Cup
10-11 April – Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America Trade Show
12 April – DEN-LAX-AKL
14 April – arrive in AKL
18-21 April – Easter (hopefully catch up on some sleep)
24 April – #freshhopnz14 beer launch at The Lumsden Freehouse
26 April – 2 May – Judging AIBA (Australian International Beer Awards)

Beer JudgingAs you can see this month is a lot of international travel and a lot of judging beer. I will have a total of 8.5 days x 8 hours of judging beer this month, which is 68 hours of sitting with some of the worlds best beer in front of me, where I have to write comments about them, and decide if they are worthy of an award.

I am potentially going to taste 500+ different beers in that time. WOW!

And I will have travelled 30,000km in this time.

That is 1000km per day.

[THIS DAY IN 1999] Supreme Champion Beer of New Zealand – 21 March 1999

15 years ago today, Monk’s Habit won Supreme Champion Beer of New Zealand at the inaugural (first) New Zealand International Beer Awards.

It wasn’t long from returning from  a year in California in 1996 as an obsessed homebrewer, to starting as assistant brewer at the Cock & Bull brewpub in January 1997, then head brewer in September 1997, a bunch of awards at the Australian International Beer Awards in 1998 to this in March 1999. (more about awards)

My first appearance on national TV.

Supreme AcceptThe awards ceremony was held at the Rutherford Hotel in Nelson.

A younger me receiving the award from Tom Inglis, who was the head of NZ Hops at the time




990322 - Luke SupremeNewspaper article about the Beer Awards and the winners. This is still one of the longest articles ever printed in a newspaper in New Zealand relating to any Beer Awards.

How come the Pie Awards or Sausage Awards get bigger write ups?










NEW BEER – Return of Hopocalypse

Thursday evening saw a quiet little beer launch at a place with no name on the door. Three of the Horsemen gathered for the 2014 release at Golden Dawn in Ponsonby.  A handful of the craft beer purists turned up to taste the new batch

horseman logo The 2014 return of the Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse

Hallertau Brew Day The Four gathered again about a month ago to brew this rather large beer

hopocalypse On tap

2014-02-27 19.15.36 the beer turned out pretty nice from the new brewhouse. We only netted 900 litres from the 2400 litres in the kettle, guess a little too much late kettle and dry hopping.

2014-02-27 19.16.12 always a bit dark during the day

2014-02-27 18.24.26 I brought a bottle of the XXX version of Culley’s Carolina Reaper hot sauce

 Joe really wanted to try it, as did Steve. They agree its hot. Yes I poured some into Steve’s hand as we didn’t have any corn chips or delivery mechanism.

2014-02-27 18.37.49 It was really cool to finally meet Hiro in person

2014-02-27 19.53.41

2014-02-27 19.53.51

2014-02-27 19.53.53

Was a bummer the other horsemen could make it up from the Naki. We missed you Kelly. See you next time.

[THIS DAY IN 1997] Michael Jackson (beer writer) in New Zealand

13 February 1997

This was the first really significant event in my brewing career, meeting Michael Jackson (beer writer).

I had been working at Steam Brewing Company (brewing arm of the Cock & Bull pub, when it was just a brewpub) for only 6 weeks when the world’s leading expert on beer came and visited. His very first, of only two visits to New Zealand.

Looking back to this time I’m really grateful to Kieran Meyer, Ben Middlemiss and Steve Kermode who all took a risk to employ an overly keen and brewing obsessed kid who had bugged them for a job for a year.

It was a real privilege to meet Michael, considering most of my beer style knowledge had come from reading a number of his books from cover to cover, multiple times.

It can be said that he was the single most influential person in history to document beer, and reignite the passion and excitement into beer styles, their flavours and diversity.

[BEER JUDGE] The Tasting Tuesday Challenge

Here is some background information on me which will hopefully make my “Tasting Tuesday” posts more relevant and credible.

There have been many people who have become craft beer drinkers since I have started my career as a brewer in 1997. Many people won’t be aware of my experiences in judging beer, managing beer systems and educating bar staff.


My beers were first entered into competition in 1998 in Australia, all of them won awards that year.

In 1999 I won Supreme Champion Beer at the inaugural New Zealand International Beer Awards.

2000 I was invited to judge in the New Zealand International Beer Awards, (there was no conflict of interest as I wasn’t brewing at that stage, I was working from

2001 the industry got frustrated with the organisers of the NZIBA as there were changes the brewers wanted to make, to make the competition even better, but it seemed the organizers (event managers but not involved in the brewing industry) were more interested in sponsors and making a dollar from this event. So the brewing industry formalised a group, and an event called BrewNZ. No judging for me this year.

2002 the first BrewNZ, I was the head steward and organised the entries, and managed all logistics behind the scenes. No judging, just making it all happen for the judges.

(I need to make some time to look back to confirm the years I have judged the BrewNZ vs when I was running the judging, but I think this is right)

2003 – BrewNZ head steward
2004 – BrewNZ
2005 – BrewNZ
2006 – BrewNZ
2007 – BrewNZ

2005 – I was nominated and then invited to be a judge at the World Beer Cup (as they call it the “Olympics of Beer”). I was the first New Zealander to join the panel of international judges. World Beer Cup is held every second year.

2006 – World Beer Cup – Judge – Seattle
2008 – World Beer Cup – Judge – San Diego
2010 – World Beer Cup – Judge – Chicago
2012 – World Beer Cup – Judge – San Diego, (my first year as a table captain)
2013 – Australian International Beer Awards – Judge – Melbourne (first time invited to judge)

This year I have been invited to judge
2014 – WBC Denver
2014 – AIBA – Melbourne

I started my brewing career in 1997 at the original Cock & Bull brewpub in East Tamaki. So being the brewer in a brewpub you have to learn alot about the beer systems that dispense your beer. Getting your beer from the tanks and pouring through the taps at the right temperature, with the right speed, with the right level of gas, so it looks great, takes a bit of skill and experience. Plus regular cleaning of the beer lines is important for the quality of the beer too. 1997-1999

After a few years away from brewing doing website stuff, I returned to the C&B, initially on a contract basis, not only to manage quality assurance of the beer (I didn’t initially return as a brewer), but also look after staff training, monitor beer systems and ultimately find ways to reduce beer wastage at the tap. 2002-2005

I’ve had many years as a brewer, an international beer judge, working with beer dispensing systems, training staff on pouring beers, educating staff on beers, beer styles and the brewing process.

Therefore I think I can add value to bars and bar staff by visiting on “Tasting Tuesday”, discussing the beers on tap, talking about their beer systems, practices, discussing the beers on tap, the beer styles, the aromas and flavours we experience, including off flavours. Then sharing the experience online through this blog as a review of the beers and the bars. Highlighting the points of difference and the reasons why you might want to visit this bar.

Making an effort to make craft beer and bars a better experience. (firstly for me, but ultimately for everyone)

BREW DAY – Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse

Friday 24th January – Luke Nicholas, Kelly Ryan, Joe Wood, and Steve Plowman got together again to brew a batch of Hopocalypse. Below are a few moving pictures from the day. I will expand on these with some commentary and additional photos soon.

The Exploding Mash Tun

Milling 1000kg of Weyermann Pale Ale Malt

Adding hops to the Mash (5kg Zythos)

Cleaning Up

Silly photo of the Horsemen

1000 Distinct Beers on Untappd

Untappd is a beer drinking app for your smartphone, you can also use it on a browser

This app lets you track the different beers you try.

You check into a beer, you can rate it (out of 5), add your location, take a photo, make a note 140 characters, and then share this information with your other social networks – Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

One cool feature of this app is you earn badges for checking into beers. Yup thats gamification for just trying new beers, no point in just drinking the same green bottled lager everyday. (here are the badges you can earn)

The weekend saw me have an opportunity to try a number of new beers I have never had a chance to try before. I earned the 1000 distinct beers badge (this has taken me just over 3 years) Cheers to the Beer Mule for suppling so many great beers for this tasting and over the previous few years.
If you enjoy craft beer, you probably try anything new you can get your hands on, just like me. If so this is a perfect app to keep track of your beer tasting journey.