James’ career has switched between home brewing in New Zealand to working for craft brewers in the UK
His first brewing job started in his early teens, making pocket money helping his father to home brew.
“We moved out from England in 1987 when I was 12 and moved to Te Awamutu in Waikato. My father started home brewing in New Zealand because he didn’t like the beer – at that time it was basically Waikato or Lion Red.”
James moved back to the UK after graduating, and walked into commercial brewing in Fullers’ quality control department, “which was nice! I learnt a lot about beer there.”
On his return to New Zealand, James again took up home brewing and had conspicuous success in the 2008 SOBA Home Brew Competition. “I entered five beers, three of them won gold, and I got the champion beer award and a couple of other awards.”
Facing redundancy in New Zealand, James again moved to the UK where he met Kelly Ryan at Thornbridge. “It was expanding at the time from 1600l to 5500l so they needed more staff. I got a job as a brewery assistant, moved up to assistant brewer, moved up to brewer, so I was at Thornbridge for a couple of years.”
James then moved on to Buxton Brewery, before working as a brewing consultant. His current employer, SPL International, distributes brewing supplies and distributes Grainfather home brewing gear.
This local connection has brought James back to New Zealand (again, again) for a three-week road trip to meet with local contacts and run home brewing workshops. James has visited Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch, Beervana, and is in Wellington this week. The programme sees him brewing with Liberty, Brothers Beer, Good George, Twisted Hop, Fork & Brewer, North End and Panhead. Tough gig!
The workshops are consistent with James’ mission to educate beer drinkers and brewers. He believes brewers benefit when drinkers demand a quality product, and his Port 66 website is full of advice for home brewers.
“Basically it’s just giving away commercial secrets. In America, the brewing scene is all about sharing. They know the next crop of brewers is coming from home brew seed, and if they feed that seed they’re getting better and better brewers and better beer. In the UK we haven’t been so good at that, but there’s no secrets in brewing, it’s all been done before!”