This week, we feature brewer and bar tender Lester Dunn and ParrotDog founder and beer sculptor Matt Kristofski.  Each kindly answered our deliberately vague question – “when and how did you become a fan of craft beer?”

First up was Lester Dunn, a former brewery technician at Mac’s (Wellington Waterfront), soon to be brewer at the Fork & Brewer and currently strutting his stuff behind the bar at the Fork. [1] While he is allegedly no relation to the legendary Donald “Duck” Dunn, a member of the band in the Blues Brothers movie, rumours regarding his startling resemblance to Corporal Willie Apiata VC have proved harder to shake. Over a few quiet ales, Lester told this humble scribe the story of his beer journey:

“While I was in the Hawke’s Bay we generally drank the cheapest thing we could find. We used to buy $7 dozens of a Japanese beer called Landmark which, when you opened the can, smelt a lot like urine. Apart from that, we drank a lot of Tui, KGBs and Waitemata Draught (which was actually a good, solid, brown, drinking liquid). 

I moved to Wellington in 2001 and drank pretty much the same sort of stuff until I began working in 2006 for Mac’s as a brewing technician. There, I started enjoying beer like Mac’s Wicked Blonde [2], Mac’s Sultry Dark and Mac’s Reserve. Their Sassy Red had a big impact – it was the first time I appreciated chewy, malty and full bodied beers.

In terms of my beer epiphany, I like to think it was with John Fisher from design firm Doublefish at Malthouse some years ago. He bought me a beautiful ruby brown beer in a goblet but would not tell me what it was. I tried the beer and – even at 11pm – found it so robust and very captivating.  It was a beer my body and palate instantly fell in love with and that was the exact moment which changed my perspective on craft beer.

As it turns out, that beer was the legendary Cock & Bull Monk’s Habit. That one big IPA changed me from a lager/pilsner drinker to someone who loved pale ales, red ales and dark beers.” 

From the outside, it is quite sad to note that virtually all the beers mentioned in Lester’s story – Mac’s Reserve, Wicked Blonde, Sultry Dark, Cock & Bull Monk’s Habit and, to a far lesser extent, Waitemata Draught – have all gone. Only Sassy Red and Tui survived having his patronage though I’m sure there were other factors at work here. 

If ParrotDog Brewing could be compared to a boy band, and many believe it can be, then Matt Kristofski would definitely be “the sensitive one”. Here is how he described his beer development process:

“Growing up in Nelson, surrounded by a variety of different breweries, should have been enough for me to skip the consumption of those colourful cans of Double Brown, Tui and Lion Red. Unfortunately, they were just as much a part of my growing up in my late teens as they were for the mates I drank them with.

I can’t actually recall a defining point in time, where I was converted to craft beer.  I think it was more of a gradual process of elimination, where the tasteless beers I was drinking were slowly replaced by beers with more character.

Going back to my late teens, I was lucky enough to have a close mate who managed one of the Harrington’s Brewery outlets in Nelson (what is now known as the Sprig & Fern Brewery). Needless to say, there were many pints consumed every Friday night, often at a price I probably shouldn’t mention here. 

I remember ‘Tasman Lager’ always being a favourite – not only for its high percentage in ABV but also for the extra flavour by comparison to other beers I was drinking at the time.  Looking back, this probably should’ve been my ‘beer epiphany’, but being in my late teens, I was definitely more concerned about the other qualities in beer, primarily alcohol content and cost! [3]

Moving to London at the age of 20 is where my palate really started changing.  I think it began with the mandatory attendance at Oktoberfest in Munich.  Needless to say, plenty of sampling occurred here. During this time I came to the conclusion that a good beer had to be a German lager, obviously being golden in colour, as I had no idea there were so many different lager styles.  Having developed a taste for beers such as Paulaner, Lowenbrau and Hofbrau, I began to seek more. Many evenings were spent at the Porterhouse, a craft beer bar in Covent Garden, where I continued my path of discovery.

Since returning from the UK to live in Wellington, my taste in beer has continued to develop.  Beers such as Epic Pale Ale, Renaissance Discovery and Tuatara Pilsner have all played key roles in this process and been a big influence for me in the co-development of a new species, the ParrotDog.“

My sincere thanks to Michael Donaldson, Brayden Rawlinson, Matt Warner, Mike Conroy, Lester Dunn and Matt Kristofski for describing their beer revelations – many for the first time.

Finally, this Friday marks the start of a new Malthouse tradition – Firkin Fridays.  At noon each Friday, the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Malthouse Proprietor Colin Mallon will tap a 20 litre cask of a traditional-style beer which will be served on gravity from a handsome cradle on the bar. This week, it will be a brew from the Aro Valley’s Garage Project. Full details will be revealed on Twitter and Facebook. [4]

Next time, we drink Mighty River Power.

[1] His photo appeared on the Wellington on a Plate page for the Fork & Brewer degustation.  Despite a sizable price tag, the event sold out in days.  Many have drawn a causal relationship between these events.

[2] I have only “helped” make a couple of beers in my life.  Those included “Neil’s Particularly Wicked Blonde” (with Munich malt and more hops) and “Surfdale Sassy Red” (for a Treasury post-Budget function).  Both were possible due to the kindness and indulgence of then brewer Colin Paige.

[3] In Matt’s defence, the Tasman Lager is also my tipple of choice at Sprig & Fern in Thorndon.  Their blackboard even notes that I have pre-bought a Tasman Lager for Prime Minister John Key though he has not yet dropped into his local watering hole to redeem my largesse.

[4] The irony of notifying the tapping of a traditional cask on modern social media is duly noted.


Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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