New Zealand Beer Month: In Conversation with ParrotDog Brewery

By James Beeson

ParrotDog is one of New Zealand’s most highly rated breweries. Based out in Wellington’s Lyall Bay suburb, the brewery has won plaudits for its consistent core range and limited release IPA series. As part of New Zealand Beer Month, the brewery will be spending some time in the UK, appearing at London’s Craft Beer Rising Festival this weekend.

James Beeson sat down with Matt Kristofski and Matt Warner, two of the brewery’s founders, to find out what UK drinkers ought to know about New Zealand’s Champion Medium-Sized Brewery.

(JB): Thanks for taking the time to speak to HonestBrew today guys. Firstly why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you met and how long after that you decided to start a brewery?

Matt Kristofski (MK): Well that was about half a day! *laughs* In terms of how we know each other, Matt Warner’s girlfriend was at the time best friends with my girlfriend, and we started flatting together around 2009/10.

Matt Warner (MW): Kristofski did his first little kit homebrew around that time, and he was telling me all about it. We went for a drive round the coast and had fish & chips and tried his brew for the first time. It was pretty drinkable at the time. I was fascinated by what he had done.

MK: During that time Warner got a kit too, and we were both tandem brewing before we stated flatting together. We eventually decided to join forces and split the cost of brewing together.

JB: When did you decide there was the possibility to brew commercially?

MW: From those kits we moved onto partial mash and then all grain brewing, and obviously the beers started getting a lot better. We started to form some connections in the industry – we would go to events at The Malthouse (a famous Wellington craft beer bar) and sneak in some of our homebrew because we knew there would be brewers there.

Stu from Yeastie Boys and Soren from 8 Wired were two of the brewers who were really good at giving us feedback and gave us the encouragement to step up to contract brewing and how to scale up the recipes. We’d been turned down by a couple of places but eventually Mike’s Brewery in Taranaki replied with some interest. One of his biggest terms was that we had to brew the beer largely ourselves on his kit, which we were really excited about.

MK: We ended up doing around six batches on that kit. In amongst all of this we were still at University. Every month we would get kegs and bottles freighted back to our flat and drive around to bars in between classes. At the end of 2011 we finished our study and were faced with the decision of whether to continue with the business we had started. Matt Stevens (the brewery’s third founder) was good friends of our girlfriends and working for Deloitte as an accountant, and when he quit his job we decided to go all in and build a brewery in the city on Vivian Street.

ParrotDog Brewery Exterior

JB: Obviously things moved pretty quickly from there, and with the crowdfunding you undertook in 2016 you’re now able to brew and package everything on site here in Lyall Bay. How important is that to your identity and making you stand out from other New Zealand breweries?

MK: I think that is definitely a major point of difference for us. We have full control across everything we produce here, right through the supply chain. That gives us the ability to make sure our product remains of the same quality and consistency.

JB: What is ParrotDog about and what would you say the brewery means to you?

MK: The biggest thing for us is simplicity and quality, and with that also consistency to market. A big focus behind what we do is our core range and creating a quality and consistent product. Beyond that it is about developing beers and recipes that we enjoy drinking ourselves. That’s been the basis from what we’ve done from day one.

MW: We try to stay true to what our own tastes favour. Halfway along this journey we made a conscious decision to tweak our recipes to be a little bit more on the drier and hoppier side, whereas in the beginning we had quite a lot of malt heavy recipes, which had a bit more residual sugar in them. We just let our instincts guide us in terms of developing recipes and brewing the styles we enjoy drinking.

JB: What exactly have you got planned while you are over in the UK? Where can people find you and drink your beer?

K: The New Zealand Beer Collective is distributing our beer and at the moment they are really focusing on the high end, specialist craft outlets. From what we have seen so far we are in a really select few places across London, and obviously online through HonestBrew. At this stage we are really focusing on building a bit of a presence before pitching to higher volume customers. Part of that is appearing at Craft Beer Rising in London, and we’ll also be doing a brew with North Brewing Co in Leeds.

MW: We are taking some trial hops over for the collaboration, which is pretty exciting. We’re going to be brewing a hazy IPA with trial New Zealand varieties. We’ve also got a tap takeover that night at North Bar. We’re also doing the New Zealand Beer Collective’s fourth birthday party event at The Commercial Tavern while we are in London. We’re only there for about six days so it’ll probably be pretty busy!

JB: What beers are you taking over and will you be pouring at Craft Beer Rising?

MK: The beers we have sent over are Rifleman – our XPA, Falcon- our American Pale Ale, Bitterbitch – our IPA, Keith – A hazy IPA and Colin – A West Coast IPA. That’s everything we have sent so far – we’ve only done two orders, but we are about to pack our third. We picked those core range beers with the view to increasing volume in the future. We’ve found so far that Bitterbitch is outselling all of them, including Colin and Keith, which is quite interesting.

MW: I’m pretty sure it’ll be Keith and Colin on tap at Craft Beer Rising, and we’ll also have a fridge for our canned beers.

JB: Tell us a little bit about Bitterbitch. It was the first commercial beer you produced right?

MK: That is a beer that goes right back to our homebrewing days. It would have been around late 2011 when we were working on a recipe and trying to create our favourite IPA. We did our first contract brew at Mike’s and Ron from the brewery rung me and said ‘This beer is fucking bitter, you’re going to have to dump it’. At this point we had invested our own student savings, and Matt Stevens had largely paid for the first batch – we were almost too scared to tell him at that point! We decided to try and come up with a silly catchy name to help sell the beer, so that’s where Bitterbitch came from.

MW: We stuck a massive amount of New Zealand dry hops in the beer, which saved that batch from the early perceived bitterness, and it ended up being a really nice super hoppy, bitter IPA, and actually won the People’s Choice Award at Beervana (A Wellington Beer Festival) that year. We’ve tweaked the recipe down the years as our own tastes have developed, taking out some of the earlier malt character to make it a little bit drier and easier to consume, and tried to retain that big New Zealand tropical hop character.

JB: What breweries are you personally looking forward to visiting and/or drinking while you’re in the UK?

MK: I’m actually really looking forward to visiting Fuller’s Brewery, which we think we are going to do on the Saturday. I used to drive past the brewery every day when I lived in London and it’s one of those things I always wanted to check out.

MW: When we first started trying and drinking craft beers I remember having a few ESB’s and IPA’s from Fuller’s. Obviously they had traveled quite a long way and quite oxidised, but every so often we’d get a fresh one which we always enjoyed trying. We might have to check out a bit of Cloudwater if we get a chance too. We’ll definitely be seeking out the likes of them, Beavertown, Fourpure, The Kernel, Siren and Burning Sky as well.

K: I think mostly I’m just looking forward to being able to sample some of those breweries beer fresh. It’s a long way for them to travel to get over here!

JB: I know, I’ve done it! Thanks so much for your time guys and have a great trip.

James Beeson is an award-winning food and drink journalist and photographer. To read more of his work, follow him on Twitter. Buy ParrotDog’s beers online, or check out HonestBrew’s full range of New Zealand beer.

ParrotDog Founders Matt Kristofski and Matt Warne