Tiny craft brewer taking on the big boys

Craft brewer Martin Townshend's national awards prove that the little guy can take on big business, and win - with the right blend of hops, barley, water and hard work.

Townshend Brewery from Rosedale near Nelson placed second-equal overall at the annual Brewers Guild awards in Wellington this month, alongside Lion, New Zealand's biggest brewing company.

Two of Townshend's brews, including the best-selling Old House EBS which he says is popular at the Free House in Nelson, and Oldham's Tap Riwaka Pilsner, were judged best beer in their categories, while six of his other drops also earned medals.

Mr Townshend said the successful awards ceremony proved that small craft brewing operations could compete with corporate giants.

"They [Lion] are enormous, and I'm just a one-man band," he said.

"We [craft brewers] have taken the big boys to task."

He said the true craft breweries in New Zealand made up just 3 or 4 per cent of the market, which was dominated by large companies which often used their economic strength to buy out smaller businesses.

Townshend Brewery has grown over eight years, from being the second-smallest to the tenth-smallest brewery in the country, but it has remained a one-person operation based out the back of the Townshend family home.

Mr Townshend said it was when he took a loan to rebuild his bathroom, but instead invested the money in the makings of a small brewery, that his craft beer story started.

He now brews more than 50,000 litres a year, and though five staple beers have consistently remained best-sellers, he thinks he has produced about 70 other unique drops since pouring that first beer.

"It's wonderfully fun, but it also puts food on the table," he said.

He said it's made him enough, after saving for four years, to take his family on a holiday to Thailand and back home to the UK, but it was still a labour of love.

He was expanding his brewing operation when the Nelson Mail visited his 6.5-hectare rural Moutere property, building extra space to complement his shipping container "man cave" in which he stores grain, thinks, and listens to records.

"Demand keeps going up all the time," he said.

He would continue making more and more beer to keep up with orders, and "just carry on having a laugh, really".

Renaissance Brewing Company Marlborough won best brewery at the awards.

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