Yeastie Boy Stu McKinlay’s UK project is so successful that he has no immediate plans to return to New Zealand.
“The UK is the priority market for us now. We are already selling as much in the UK as the rest of the world combined, and there’s certainly huge growth potential there.”
Yeastie Boys' UK expansion started one year ago. Speaking to Beertown.NZ in August 2015, Stu was looking at living in the UK “for at least a couple of years”. Now he says his family’s stay is “indefinite at this stage”. “We certainly see New Zealand as a smaller market, and with the UK being the biggest market it’s important I’m over there.”
Yeastie's UK contract brewing is done by BrewDog, and meeting that huge potential is not a problem. “We can brew a hell of a lot more beer at BrewDog than I can imagine selling. We are moving to 20,000L for every batch now, so we can start looking at canning, which will be significant for us.
“We’re about to launch our first UK-only beer, called Bigmouth session IPA, which will be out in mid-October.” Bigmouth will become part of Yeastie’s core UK range, joining Pot Kettle Black South Pacific porter, Gunnamatta tea leaf IPA, and Digital Pacific IPA.
Yeastie Boys is one of five Kiwi brewers selling into the UK through the New Zealand Beer Collective. The other four – 8 Wired, Tuatara, Renaissance and Three Boys – make all their beer in New Zealand, for now.
“New Zealand beers’ (UK) reputation has been very, very strong. I think we look after our beer better than a lot of the American breweries. All over the world there’s a movement towards locally brewed beer, but New Zealand beer has that bit of excitement because it’s not easy to find. There’s good opportunity for a couple of New Zealand breweries to look at what we’re doing and brew over there. I would be disappointed if other breweries in the Beer Collective didn’t look down that route.”
As the only UK producer, Stu says Yeastie Boys accounts for “the vast majority” of the Collective’s sales. “The Beer Collective we see as a promotional vehicle – we get support from NZ Trade & Enterprise, so when we get together with those other (NZ) breweries we get subsidised. It means we can be at more events – not just the festivals I can get to. We’re really open that our beer is brewed in the UK and we’re determined to be part of the UK brewing scene rather than just being thought of as a New Zealand beer.”
Yeastie Boys uses Invercargill Brewery to produce it’s New Zealand beer, and has done for several years. Stu says they will continue to contract there – a testament to the strength of the relationship. “Our margins are better in the UK than they are in New Zealand, and a lot of that comes down to economies of scale. It costs almost as much to send a bottle from Invercargill to Auckland as it would from the UK to Auckland. We have a long relationship with Invercargill and they do a really good job of nailing the recipes.”
New Zealand craft beer fans can expect to see the traditional series of Yeastie Boys seasonal beers coming out of Invercargill. The next will be the 2016 Pot Kettle Black remix. “We’re doing a little play on the fact some people call PKB a black IPA, so we’re doing a ‘pale black IPA’ by removing all the dark malt this year.”
Stu has returned to New Zealand twice in the last year, and has noticed some big changes in the local craft beer scene.
“It’s really interesting to come back here and a see a lot of taps with breweries I’ve never heard of. The quality is as good as anywhere in the world. Here in New Zealand there were a few breweries that set a really high standard a few years ago, and everyone since has looked at that standard as being the place to be. Any beers from Emersons or Steam all very high quality.
“Obviously the more breweries there are, the more of a land-grab there is for any free taps. Now there’s 20, 30 breweries trying to get on one tap in lots of bars, so we’re looking for opportunities outside of that – bottled beer, especially in places like cafés and cocktail bars that don’t have taps.
“There still a long way to go in what the market could be here. People think it’s getting saturated, but get out of one small part of Wellington and there’s lots of room for growth. Some people are living in a bubble and don’t realise how hard it is to find a good beer in most of New Zealand.”
While beer brewed at Invercargill is being sent to the UK, the new Bigmouth IPA will be imported to New Zealand next year through Beertique. The New Zealand sales team is set to expand, an Australian team is planned, and Stu is recruiting a UK admin assistant “so I can get on with making beer and being a bit more creative”.
And while BrewDog has opened a brewing facility in the USA, the Yeasties don’t plan a North American branch just yet. “We want to focus on the UK first and see how things go from there.”