Don’t call Steph Coutts Head Mistress
Wellington’s Craft Beer College runs Beer 101 as the first step in an Introduction to Craft Beer course. “We are not NZQA-registered and we’re not teachers”, owner Steph says. “After much debate, we call ourselves educators”.
The College’s educators – Steph, Jonny Day, Phil Cook and Ryan McArthur – have introduced hundreds of people to craft beer – so many that Steph has lost count.
The College theme brings people to craft beer to learn and experience its diversity. The College offers a certificate in five sessions. Beer 101 is an introduction to craft beer. The other sessions cover malt, hops, yeast, and finish with a blind-tasting exam. Each session takes one-and-a-half hours “depending on how much people talk”.
Craft's wide availability stimulates interest, and Steph says it is definitely not yet mainstream. “Wellington people are adventurous by nature, they are into things that are boutique and crafted, local, unique. They not afraid to be pre-trend, so we live in a very lucky environment here, in terms of the number of outlets selling good beer. Certainly the luxury of Wellington does not extend across the country and it’s not mainstream.”
The straight-talking Australian says brewers must stay on top of quality control if they expect to keep attracting converts. “In the early days when craft beers were beginning in New Zealand we actually had some really awesome products on the market. Tuatara, Limburg, Three Boys and Epic were breaking new ground and making good beers.
“I see that scene growing now and I don’t see it growing with 100% quality product. That has the potential to impact on growth. You cannot always guarantee, just because a product is craft, it is also good quality. I think you are more likely to find poor quality from a craft brewer than you are from a mainstream brewer, to be frank.
“And that has the potential to damage. When you have some obvious faults that even a non-craft beer drinker can perceive and dislike, then you’re damaging your individual brand and the craft beer brand as well. There are a lot of good beers out there, but there are also a lot of average ones, and as an industry that’s not what we’re looking for.”
Steph plans to continue recruiting new craft fans. “There is whole bunch of people out there who want to do a tasting with Beer 101. They will learn more about the beer styles and breweries they like, because we will only deliver them quality beer and they will be able to make a better-informed choice when confronted with a range of craft beer taps.”
Look out too for more specialised sessions for the hard core, and walking tours through Wellington.
"Right now we have awesome people and awesome beers and a greater diversity of beers being produced. There's a lot to be celebrated."