I first crossed paths with Martin Townshend long before he started brewing beer, we shared column space in the Nelson Mail some 16 years ago, he wrote a beer column one week and I wrote a wine column the other.
When he started brewing his own beer I very quickly became a fan of his amber nectar, you will always find a few bottles of Townshend Brewery beer in our fridge at home; his hand-crafted products have also won many accolades with Townshend being named as the top brewer at the New Zealand Beer Awards in 2014.
But it has been a long and winding path from his home county of Cambridge in the UK to opening a sparkling new brewery in Motueka.
Townshend moved to New Zealand in 1993 with a diploma in farming from an agricultural college in the UK, met a terrific woman in 1995 and married her 18 months later.
When his wife Keri had finished her nursing degree he was under a bit of pressure with his working visa running out so they went back to the UK where Martin says they “worked really hard for three and a half years, and sent money back every month to save for a deposit on a house”.
“I got a job working for Cambridge City council cleaning graffiti, I loved it and got to meet lots of people. When you are wearing council blues you were quite neutral, everyone would talk to you and I met some really cool people.”
When Townshend first came to New Zealand he says it was literally a beer waste land compared to UK so his love of cask conditioned beers and inability to buy them here “gave me the kick in the pants to get hold of real ales again” when he returned to Nelson in 2001.
“Matt Lawrey had a breakfast show on Fresh FM, they had a guy talking about wine and I asked him why they didn’t have someone talking about the true joys of great beer, he said ok, you start next week!
“That weekly slot went turned into 18months, then I got the job as the Nelson Mail beer columnist as well and found people starting to talk about craft beer and to understand the pleasure it has to offer.”
During this time he met Mic Dover, “we went to his wedding and a while after we decided to form small marketing company called Craft Brewers to promote the few local craft brewers at the time, but we soon found out it was too difficult to get them together regularly.
“I was lucky to meet such a great bunch of brewers and thought making my own beer would be fun to do.”
Of course making beer requires a brewery and he needed to earn a living too so he bought Upper Moutere Takeaways, he built a brewery at home during the day then cooked fish & chips by night.
“When I started we borrowed some money to renovate the bathroom but the bathroom ended up as a small 250 litre brewery, it took a few years for Keri to get her new bathroom” he says with his typical grin.
Martin also wanted to make his beloved cask conditioned beers and the only way was to have their own proper cellar to condition the beers in, he got together with some friends and bought the Moutere Inn, but after eight months got too busy with the brewery, sold his shares and has been focused on brewing ever since.
Martin says it was a crazy few years “We had a young child, Keri was working two days a week as a theatre nurse at Nelson Hospital, when she was working I had my days off looking after our son and we were brewing flat out while the beers steadily got more popular.”
The Townshend Brewery is a true micro-brewery that they expanded as they could, “as we had some spare money we poured some more concrete or bought another tank, building and expanding a brewery in the back blocks of nowhere was a challenge too, trucks had trouble getting there but as it was intensely private, I could work on my own in a really nice environment with bush all around me and I really enjoyed that.”
The latest move is to a brand new brewery in Motueka, behind Toad Hall, “we were lucky to be offered the space beside their café and we are there to enhance what they are offering.
“We were nervous because we had to produce something that would fit in and we are trying to compliment what they have already achieved so the brewery is tucked away at the back while they manage the visitor experience.
“Folks may get the impression we are still very separate businesses but we are working together to create something special: essentially a unique and exciting entertainment venue and garden bar where Toad Hall’s excellent food and service is backed up by our weird and wonderful craft beer range.
“A great outdoor area and massive deck between the two buildings really complements the connection between us.
“People get to enjoy the wonderful family friendly café and they serve my beers, people can look into the brewery and see beer being made, engage more with the brewing experience in a family oriented way.”
Martin says he has also had huge support from The Freehouse, the Moutere Inn, Rhythm and Brown as well as Toad Hall while he has been going about restructuring his business, “they have been and still are serving my beers from the tap while Motueka New World and Nelson City Fresh Choice have been superb supporters of my bottled beers.”
There are lots of new things in the pipeline at Townshend Brewery including “seasonal beers, lots of experimenting with things like small batch barrel aged beers and maybe wild ferments all with the goal of growing the business, engaging more with the general public so they know who we are and why we do it, we want to create a beer mecca for Townshend Brewery and be part of a tourist destination as well as part of a great network of craft brewers.”