Stu McKinlay is serious about beer. He just has experimental tastes. We chatted with him the morning before the Yeasy Boys won the Morton Coutts Trophy for Innovation at BrewNZ, and we got a good sense of what drives him into crazy projects like Rex Attitude, the world’s first beer made with 100% peat-smoked whisky malt.
Growing up in lower Hutt he was always looking for new beer experiences. The one that hooked him was Emerson’s Bookbinder at Tupelo’s (now the newly opened LBQ beer bar). “I was always trying something different, but with Bookbinder, there was the amount of flavour, the hop character, the balance… wow.” It was an epiphany, and he fell in love with beer.
A move to the Coromandel in 2001 found him making modified kit beers to augment the extremely limited selection of craft beers available. ‘I made heaps of bad beer, but most of it was drinkable.” Of course many of those beers were experimental, with coffee and other additives and whatever techniques came to mind. He didn’t have access to the internet, or brewing books, so he improvised.
After 2 years, he moved back to Welly and found he no longer needed to brew – there were three breweries!
Another 18 months went by and he came across his fermenter in storage, and decided to give it another go. He made a strong, hoppy pale ale with a new hop he had never seen before, Nelson Sauvin, and he liked it. He looked into all-grain brewing but it seemed too complicated.
A while later, at a Neil Miller beer tasting session, he met Brendon McKenzie (soon to launch Revolution Brewing) and they collaborated for a few brews. Brendon had taken a brewing short-course and knew about all-grain brewing.
One of the beers they made, a Baltic porter, went on to win the tri-nations homebrew competition. “It probably wasn’t that great, but at the time… The standard of homebrewing has risen so fast.”
Stu had just had his first child, and found the collaborations difficult with his tightened schedule, so he bought his own 40 litre system, which he still uses for recipe development.
He likes brewing at home, but he loves collaborations. Last year he collaborated with Joe King of Liberty Brewing in Taranaki to make a pair of beers – Yakima Monster and Motueka Monster. The concept was to make the exact same beer, just swapping the American hops in one for New Zealand hops in the other. This year they have done it again, releasing Yakima Warrior and Motueka Warrior in time to be on tap around town during Beervana.
“Joe inspires me, and then I come up with the final recipe for Invercargill to brew.” Unlike last year, the Warrior beers are not exactly alike. The malts are the same but the Yakima has more hops, and dry hopping, “which you can do with American hops.” The Motueka has less hops and only late additions. The hop bill and timing have been tweaked to best fit the hops, making the experiment a hot topic among beer geeks. Stu himself prefers a more balanced malt profile. “Honesty, they are my least favourite beers, but I love the process.” And he said it’s nice to experience the “terroir” of the hops, the differences between the US and NZ.
When asked about his secret projects, he has a few ideas but isn’t keen to start any time soon. “Rex Attitude took over for months.” He and his Auckland partner Sam Possenniskie had planned on it becoming a small percentage of Yeastie Boys production, but currently it’s still running at around 40%. A few minutes later though, he couldn’t help pondering, “Though I have been wondering what it would be like to distill the Rex…”
Originally published in the Nelson Mail.