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Inspired brewer brings a religious fervour to craft

Something new is always brewing at Kelly Ryan’s workplace — not that it’s cause for consternation.

Celebration more like because, as head brewer at Good George in the industrial heart of Frankton, Kelly’s simply doing what he does best. Every day he’s brewing up craft beer and cider at the converted St George’s Church which opened as a boutique brewery and dining hall in late September.

Not even the daily commute from his Lorenzen Bay home to Hamilton puts Kelly off. He’s new to town this year, and with the new job too he reckons it’s a dream life.

Good George Brewery offers the full experience for beer and cider drinkers, with rustic racks or “flights” of a variety of amber-coloured ales served up in the dining hall or on expansive packing-crate tables on the deck out the back of what looks, from the entrance, a bit like ye olde English pub.

Four different beers ranging from India Pale Ale, inspired by German hops, to Amber Ale, described as a classic English bitter, are lined up in the tasting racks with a cider thrown in for good measure.
Then there’s the two-litre recyclable, reuseable flagons or “growlers” which are available for the serious beer-drinker.

But Good George is far from a mere giant watering hole for the local faithful. Alongside the bar and dining areas — behind huge windows — are three impressive stainless steel tanks with a confusing array of pipes, offering patrons a view of a working brewery complete with technicians clad in white gumboots.

Brewery tours are available during the week, demystifying the whole process, and 95 percent of beer brewed on site is sold through Good George itself.

The brewery’s not unlike a high-tech laboratory to look at. In fact while brewing is the art of science, says Kelly, it’s also about “trusting your palate and instincts”.

Kelly, 34, studied microbiology and food chemistry for years at Otago University, and has a post-grad degree in fermentation science.

Inspired there by the late Professor Jean-Pierre Dufour from Belgium whose passion was “brewing, brewing and more brewing”, and who was an important part of the burgeoning microbrewery industry in New Zealand, Kelly believes JP’s legacy lives on in brewers like himself now experimenting with craft beer.

It’s a creative process like wine or cheese-making, he insists, the brewer limited only by imagination. And there are 90 to 100 different beer styles with “infinite” flavour possibilities.

Think outside of hops and malt, he adds, to truffles, grapes and cherries for natural acidity. Think chocolate, dark raspberry, chestnuts and different herbs like sage, caraway seed and crystallised ginger. “You can completely go crazy with your imagination.”

And unlike vintners whose preoccupation is grapes, he adds, brewers can use any ingredient in the world.
Kelly’s also an international beer judge who gets to go around the world sampling ale and bestowing awards on deserving brews. He’s been judging professionally for six years now and, yes, it’s “pretty cool”, although “you’ve got to trust the ol’ palate a bit”.

He judged at the New Zealand Brewing Awards in Wellington back in August, and before that was in San Diego as part of an “elite panel” of judges in the 2012 Brewers Association World Beer Cup.

Kelly, whose first job in the industry was at the Maingatainoka brewery made famous by the Tui adverts, has had stints seemingly everywhere — from the highlands of Scotland where he had his first foray into craft brewing , to England’s small Thornbridge Brewery in the heart of the Peak District National Park close to Bakewell.

And he played rugby wherever he happened to be. “You’ve gotta be pretty fit to be a brewer.”
It was Rugby World Cup weekend late last year that first brought Kelly and partner Catherine Mueller to Raglan for a break. “We fell in love with Raglan, pretty much, and the job (as head brewer at Good George) came up a few weeks later.”

Kelly had worked the previous year at Auckland’s Epic Brewery Company — one of the top craft breweries in the country, with a reputation for smaller produce but flavour-filled beer.

He’d been a “west coast boy” from way back, however, dreaming on his OE of black sand beaches like at Oakura where he grew up. Now he delights in his view across the harbour, kayak and fishing line at the ready just in case there’s “any big snapper out there”.

Catherine commutes too, to Enviroschools’ head office in Hamilton East, although now the couple have a baby on the way.

“We’re living the dream,” Kelly enthuses of their new lifestyle in Raglan. For him it’s “real” New Zealand.

Edith Symes

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