Many people talk about the next big thing and although craft beer is regarded by many as mainstream these days, Blenheim boy Josh Scott knew he was onto something when he had his eyes opened to a world of full flavoured, quality beers during an OE to Europe and the US in his late teens.
The son of Allan Scott of Allan Scott Wines, his refined tasting palate blossomed like a fine wine and now stands as a pioneer in the craft beer movement in New Zealand.
Being a successful entrepreneur, qualified winemaker and a Cicerone is thirsty work for Marlborough’s Moa Beer founder.
Josh used his father’s old shed located at the back of the famous Marlborough vineyard to brew his very first beers and suffice to say, his batch of home brew didn’t exactly taste like the award winning craft beer you savour today.
A Christ’s College boy, Josh left school and completed a Diploma in Viticulture and Wine Production from the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. A stint in Loire, France and Napa Valley, California soon followed, where he absorbed all the knowledge he could in winemaking. It was during these stints that Josh discovered a new world of beers – the traditional European classic brews, and the modern “new world craft beer” brews in the US.
Up-skilled and armed with experience and a new appreciation for beer, his return to the shire in 1999 saw him graduate to head winemaker at his father’s winery. But Josh was ready to go out on his own, and so in 2013 the Moa Brewing Company was founded in Blenheim’s Jacksons Road in the world famous Marlborough winemaking region; brewing super premium handcrafted beers the traditional way – made the way beer used to be made before mass production altered the equation.
At its inception, apart from lacking capital and trying to sell high-end beer to places that had never stocked it before, which Josh described as a “hard slog”, it was FreshChoice in Merivale, Christchurch that gave Moa Beer its first break, placing it on their shelves.
Josh explains the challenge to get his beer out there was mostly about “building a relationship and trust with an account for them to give it a go, and then making sure it pulled through once it was on shelf”.
Seventeen years later with eight beers and one cider in its full time range, plus a bunch of limited edition Special Reserve brews, as well as exporting to Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, China, Ireland, Singapore, Malaysia, US and Vietnam, Moa Beer is led by a 20-strong team who have many reasons to raise a glass or two.
The company sponsored the New Zealand Olympic team for the 2012 London Games and has signed on again for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in Brazil and, as of late won awards at the New Zealand Brewers Guild Awards 2014, the Australian International Beer Awards 2014 and the Dublin Craft Beer Cup Awards 2014.
Although New Zealand’s craft beer industry is in good health, Josh says “There’s a large amount of room for growth and improvement. I do think we still need to educate the drinking public more. Beer has a very interesting history, and when you put beers into context, this knowledge can greatly boost appreciation.”
Moa Beer has got a lot of work to do as it focusses on growing sales domestically and internationally for its shareholders. The company intends to keep rolling out limited edition special reserve brews, too.
“Australia is still in the early stages on the pick up of craft beer, but as the country is five times the size of New Zealand, there is huge potential and we’ve got some clever plans to convert the Crown, VB and Little Creatures diehards.”
The company is also launching a range of sour beers. “While an acquired taste, the process involved in brewing these is closest to the origins of beer making from 7,000 years ago. Sours are a fast growing market in USA and we seem to follow these trends in New Zealand.”
Last year Moa Original Lager was the company’s best selling beer in the country, with Moa Session Pale Ale quick on its heels. Abroad, Moa Methode Pilsner sells well across the board “but some of the specialist brews such as Moa St Josephs (9.5 percent Belgian Tripel) and Moa Imperial Stout (10.2 percent Oak Aged Stout Ale) are going great guns in the more advanced craft beer markets.”
On a more personal level, Josh plans to become a Master Cicerone in 2015. “With only a dozen in the world reaching this title, it is no walk in the park. My biggest strength is my palate and I love history/geography and this helps when learning about beer and wine. For the certified Cicerone I tasted near on 1,000 beers, so I am looking forward to the ‘research’ involved in my Masters and hopefully passing this knowledge on to others keen to school up in the industry.”
This is the package
The company’s marketing department has come under scrutiny from the media in the past for its controversial marketing campaigns, but Moa Beer’s new pioneer inspired packaging and its ongoing ‘How to Brew a Country’ campaign is a nod to New Zealand’s “unsung heroes”.
“Yes, our marketing department has definitely had its fair share of media scrutiny and we’ve taken a lot of the negative (and positive) feedback on board for sure. Right now we think we’ve made the necessary changes to have our ducks in a row for the future, and How to Brew a Country is just one of the ways we’re firing the marketing machine.
“While still in its infancy, it’s about relating back to New Zealand’s pioneering days and raising a glass to unsung heroes. The concept came about when we were searching the National Library of New Zealand’s archives for images of Kiwis doing great things – and found a shot of a bloke called Sammy Turner (now the star of our latest Session Pale Ale packs), who we uncovered was not only the first man to ascend Mt Cook alone in 1919, but also claimed the world record for skipping in 1911.
“We thought this was pretty cool, so we went to work tracking down his great grandson for the ok to use the image, and it turned out he had no idea of his great-grandfather’s achievements. It made us think that there must be a whole raft of stories of New Zealanders who exemplify our innovative, hard working and adventurous national psyche, so the campaign is really a call to action to celebrate this.”
His personal favourite story from How to Brew a Country is about the company’s CEO’s dad. “Geoff’s dad was not a boat builder, but after talking to a few people decided he would give it a crack himself and started by milling his own timber. He ended up building a huge yacht from scratch using materials sourced almost exclusively from the family’s land. Just incredible stuff, really. I can’t imagine someone doing that nowadays and I like the sentiment that if someone else is out there making something happen there is no reason you can’t either.”
Moa Beer is calling to hear more great tales and memories to “save from extinction”.
Behind the scene
We don’t often hear about the people who work behind the scenes of a business and who contribute a great deal to its success, so it would be almost rude not to mention one of Moa Beer’s most influential employees who has been integral to the company’s success.
One of Josh’s best executive decisions was hiring David Nicholls, ex-Heineken head brewer, to become part of the Moa Beer family; he became Moa Beer’s head brewer in 2007.
“After working for many years for corporate brewers David had moved to Marlborough to ‘relax’, but I was able to convince him to come and work for Moa when I caught him critiquing one of my brews at a beer festival.
“He has brought a lot of experience and systems to a small brewery and greatly improved the quality of our beers without us having to expand the operation – no mean feat when we have a 1,000L brew-plant at Jacksons Road and have gone from producing 30,000 litres per year to over a million.”
You may be interested to know that David (Head Brewer) is a qualified skydiver, Geoff (CEO) is an accomplished freediver, and James (Moa Cellar Hand) is a pro golfer. “The list goes on… although Gareth (our GM) has no considerable talent I know of except an ability to drink us all under the table (responsibly, of course).”
Moa Beers’ latest awards include:
New Zealand Brewers Guild Awards 2014:
• Trophy – Moa Five Hop (English Ale)
• Gold – Moa Five Hop (English Ale)
• Gold – Moa Tripel Savvy 2014 (Belgian Tripel)
• Gold – Moa Mulled Spiced Ale
• Silver – Moa Original Lager
• Silver – Moa Southern Alps (White IPA)
• Silver – Moa Five Hop (English Ale)
• Silver – Moa Cherry Sour 2012
• Silver – Moa Apple Cider
• Bronze – Moa Session Pale Ale
• Bronze – Moa Sour Blanc 2012
• Bronze – Moa Kiwifruit Cider.
Australian International Beer Awards 2014:
• Top three finalist for the title of ‘Champion Medium International Brewery’
• Bronze – Moa Original Lager
• Bronze – Moa Methode Pilsner
• Bronze – Moa Imperial Stout (French Oak Aged Stout Ale)
• Bronze – Moa The Yardstick (Triple Dry Hopped Imperial Pilsner).
Dublin Craft Beer Cup Awards 2014:
• Biggest medal haul of any brewery worldwide
• Gold – Moa Noir (Dark Lager)
• Silver – Moa Pale Ale
• Silver – Moa St Josephs (Belgian Tripel)
• Silver – Moa Southern Alps (White IPA)
• Silver – Moa Royal (Belgian Double IPA)
• Bronze – Moa Five Hop (English Ale)
• Bronze – Moa Imperial Stout (French Oak Aged Stout Ale).