There’s no brewery in New Zealand quite like Outlier Cartel
For one thing, it isn’t just a brewery. One year old this week, it has produced several beers, a rosé wine, and a cider is in the works.
For another, they’re gloriously, chaotically mad.
Founders Carlos de la Barra and Mark von Nagy met in New Zealand in 2010. As neighbours they shared an interest in food, drink and creativity. They got their act together last year, and officially launched Outlier Cartel on 4 December 2015.
Mark has no previous brewing experience, but Carlos’ day job is assistant brewery manager at Hallertau Brewery. They met in Auckland but have a deeper connection – Mark’s father and wife are both from Vienna; Carlos grew up in Vienna as the child of Chilean political exiles, and finished his Masters in Winemaking there.
Six years after they first met, they form a dynamic duo, finishing each other’s sentences, taking the interview in unexpected directions, and working as a single creative force.
“There’s a good balance between the two of us. Some of the ideas are quite out there if I might say so. When we did our honey chestnut beer we had agreed on a beer, we had agreed on the packaging, and then we ended up doing a completely different beer with different labels in the end”, says Carlos.
“I might do some sort of crazy sketch with a cat and start from there,” Mark says.
“Yeah! The cat was a good one!”
“I know Carlos is the expert on the beer so I might come up with some crazy concept or packaging scheme that I know is worthy of the beer.”
Carlos: “My thing is, ‘Hey, what beverage might suit that concept best?’”
Mark: “I always start with a sketch…”
Carlos: “…and I try to convey that into a beverage.”
The pair use Trello project management app to share their sketches and build mind maps. And there’s now a third member of the team – the mysterious Alvin.
“Alvin is our financial mastermind,” says Carlos.
Mark: “Money does come into it. It’s a side project at the moment but we brought in Alvin Soh who is a CFO by day. We needed someone to stabilise it because we go out on wild tangents. He helps us make things happen.”
And things are happening. The creative process is bubbling, but the beer is real and produced in commercial volumes.
“Our first beer was made at Deep Creek. The beer sold out in three weeks, 2000L. That was pretty ambitious. Now we’re doing 2000L a month out of Hallertau. We’ve got cider in the works, we’ve got more beers in the works, we brought out a wine this month.”
In its first year Outlier Cartel has made beers including the Keri Keri citrus IPA series, a honey chestnut IPA, and Apricity spiced doppelbock. Its latest release is Cargo Cult lager trouvé: “We imagined what it might be like if a transport plane full Outlier kegs crashed on a remote island full of previously un-contacted natives – how would they react?”
Carlos and Mark agree that collaboration and a hand-made ethos are fundamental to Outlier Cartel’s kaupapa.
Mark: “We took our name from the book by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers. It was originally going to be Outlier Brewing Company, and then we thought about it. We wanted to do wine, we wanted to do other things. We felt connected to cartel because it means collaboration and it didn’t mean beer.”
Carlos: “All our beverages are really collaborative. When we did the wine we got 25 people together and went out to Waimauku to harvest the grapes, literally with the help from our friends. We pressed the grapes and made the wine at Westbrook winery. With our beers, it’s the same way. We publish all our recipes online and I’ve had people giving us their feedback about how they went about making that recipe on their own equipment.”
Mark: “Collaboration and being hand-made are really important to us. We realise that if we grow a lot in the future, scaling that would be really difficult, but we try to be really mindful. Fresh ingredients and seasonality are important.”
Carlos: “Creativity is super important!”
Mark: “I had no blueprint for starting out in beer. People told us we had to put $100,000 to a million into this to really compete. We do want to make a living but it seemed like such a narrow kind of path. Now we can see ways to do this stuff until we reach the tipping point where we might want to buy a brewery.”
Carlos: “We kind of feel we are just hitting our stride. We are really new at this and we’re feeling out our own dynamic. All I know is we really love it.”