An Irishman and Englishman walked into a pub, they sat down and had a few beers together, what happens next? They decide to start brewing their own beer of course.
Phil McArdle & Chris Brown actually met at the climbing wall in Nelson and went for a beer at the Freehouse in Collingwood Street after one challenging session, they both ordered a cask-conditioned real ale made by Martin Townsend from Townsend’s Brewery and instantly bonded over beer.
The fact they are both into adventure sports helped too and it wasn’t long before they were having a beer together regularly after rock climbing, mountain biking, windsurfing, taking part in triathlons and other high adrenalin outdoor sports.
Brown comes from Wakefield, west Yorkshire in the UK while McArdle hails from County Louth in Ireland; Brown moved here from Australia where he met a couple of kiwis while he was travelling around Tasmania and they told him he had to go to New Zealand and if he liked Tasmania he would love Nelson.
McArdle came to Nelson to visit a family member about five years ago, intending to stay for two or three months it didn’t take him long to realise Nelson was the place he had never been looking for and decided to stay a bit longer. He told me New Zealand offered him a quality of life he couldn’t have in Ireland and says making the move was the best thing he has done, he says he has never been happier and can’t see himself living anywhere else.
McArdle has a background in marketing and in Ireland had bought his grandfather’s old store from owners who had let it run down.
He says “it was my grandfather’s store, my dad bought it from him, he sold it and I bought it back years later. It was a local village store that sold groceries, fruit and vege and was the local post office too. We also specialised in retro lollies and that became a big part of the business, not just in sales but it is what attracted people to the shop and they bought other stuff when they were there.”
Brown on the other hand is a mechanic and he was working as a forklift mechanic when they met. McArdle says Brown can restore vintage vehicles better than anyone else in the business.
Brown’s passion is cars, motorcycles, bicycles, anything old and he said he enjoyed working on forklifts because he had the time to do the job right and that suited his perfectionist personality.
About seven months McArdle had shoulder surgery and while recovering was filling in his days looking on Facebook, he had time to think about life in general and what he wanted to do with it, he decided he wanted to do something with beer.
“We were a couple of single guys in our 30’s with no kids and no responsibilities so I asked Chris if he wanted to make beer with me”. says McArdle “He asked for some time to think about it but I went ahead and did it anyway.”
McArdle knew that Townsend was the best brewer in New Zealand so he approached him for some guidance, as it happened Townsend had some spare capacity at his brewery and a couple of months later McArdle had his first beer ready to go.
With Townsend making the beers to recipes provided by McArdle he ran the business on his own for a month or so but the work load was pretty big so he asked Brown again and this time without needing to think about it he quit his job straight away
One of the secrets to their rapid success is Martin Townsend who Brown says is “the best brewer in New Zealand and he lives right here in Nelson so we would have been stupid not to use his skills, he has the same passion for great beer.”
McArdle loves dark beers and Townsend loves them too, he told the boys the water he uses was perfect for dark beers, so that made it a really easy decision to work with Townsend, they sourced the materials they needed, gave him the recipe and he made it for them, pretty simple really.
Horse Box Brewery (named after the store back in Ireland) is in its fourth month of production now and the plan is to reduce a new brew each month for six months and so far they are sticking to that.
With huge support from Mic Dover and Eelco Boswijk at the Freehouse who were the first to serve Horse Box Brewery beers on tap they have been able to test each brew on consumers, thet get a real kick from sitting in the bar, seeing their beers being poured and having a chat with drinkers – “instant feedback” says McArdle.
Initially the beers were only available in kegs but they started bottling in January and launched two beers in Fresh Choice stores in the South Island. They now have their beers being poured from kegs in bars and sold in bottles in many centres around the South Island.
“The Whole reason we did this was a lifestyle choice, we wanted to be happy, we are in our mid 30’s and were doing our jobs but not things we really loved doing, we wanted to do something with our lives that we really love to do so we are creating our own futures” McArdle told me.
That attitude flows through to selling the beer too, they filled up the panniers on their motorcycles with beer and went on a road trip around the South Island, visiting bars that had a focus on quality craft beers “we love New Zealand and love motorbikes so combining selling beer and riding motorbikes leant we got to do two things we love.” Says Brown
They tell me they are trying to make beers they like to drink and hope everyone else likes it. So what is their favourite beer? Milk Stout hand-pulled from real ale for McArdle and Ronin Pilsner for Brown.
Phil McArdle and Chris Brown are two guys with huge passion for what they do and their enthusiasm may be infectious but course there have been challenges, the biggest one right now is keeping up with demand and I think that is a great problem to have. Oh, their beers are in my opinion damn fine too.