Meet the California Expats Who Opened a Brewery in New Zealand

November 7, 2012

They’re beer guys in New Zealand’s wine country. That might explain why Andy Deuchars and Brian Thiel, expats from California, have given the name “Paradox” to one of the pilsners made at their Renaissance Brewing Company. Or why they describe an ale with equal parts sensory effects and breakfast-buffet details: “Layers of biscuit, maple syrup, and hints of black currant and toast.” The combination works. Just like a winemaker (Andy, 45) partnering with a Mercedes mechanic (Brian, 43) to create beer 7,000 miles from home.

Andy Deuchars
Andy’s winemaking skills helped get him into the country, but a large void on the drink menu got his attention. Renaissance Brewing

Q: This is the South Island of New Zealand, home of grapes and more than 100 wineries. Why beer?
A: Yeah, well, it’s also a major hop-growing region, and we get lots of support from the local growers. [Andy does the talking while Brian tinkers with gadgets and gizmos in the brewery]. Plus, some of the world’s best malting barley grows in New Zealand.

Q: But you were a winemaker in California, and here you are, in the middle of another wine country. A: That’s the thing. There are a lot of winemakers around here, so why make more wine? And I’ve found that, like me, winemakers are giant craft-beer enthusiasts. There’s a saying: “It takes a lot of beer to make good wine.” So we had a built-in market from the time we bought the place. And we make really good beer.


Q: So it was the beer that brought you to Marlborough?
A: No, that wasn’t the case. I just had the usual stuff happen in [Boonville] California.

Q: The usual stuff?
A: I was laid off from a winemaking job there. My girlfriend left me for a friend of mine. I was living in a small cabin three miles up a dirt road in the middle of the redwoods.

Q: Some of us might see that as the great escape.
A: I had no prospects. This was 1999. My sister had emigrated to New Zealand five years earlier, and my parents offered to pay my expenses to do the same. It isn’t cheap to move here. My parents just wanted to help me out, get a fresh start, so I eventually decided to take them up on the offer.


Q: Was it as simple as it sounds?
A: No, not at all. I found out pretty quick that it’s tough to emigrate to New Zealand. My first application for residence was rejected because I hadn’t proved that I spoke English.

Q: But you speak perfect English.
A: Yeah, I even argued with the immigration official in English. It didn’t help. He heard my American accent and didn’t think English was my first language. I had to get the chancellor of my college [University of California at San Diego] to write a letter and confirm that all my classes were given in English.

Q: It all worked out though.
A: Only because I had a college degree, work experience, fell into the right age group and had relatives here. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have made it.


Q: And how did you wind up owning a brewery?
A: Remember, I was working as a winemaker but knew all along I could make better local beer than what was available. One day I got a call from the owners of the Marlborough Brewing Company, saying they were going out of business. They knew about my interest in making craft beers and asked if I wanted to buy the brewery. One thing led to another.

Q: Did you have the money?
A: That’s where Brian came in. He’d married my other sister a few years after I moved to New Zealand. They honeymooned here and decided to stay. Brian had made some money in California real estate, so we got to talking and decided to give the beer thing a go in 2005, and renamed the brewery Renaissance.

Q: What’s different about the way you make beer, compared to how it’s done at breweries in North America?
A: Our brewery is low-tech, for one thing. Processes that are automated at other breweries are still done by hand here. I like to introduce this place to people by saying, “Welcome to the 17th century.” It’s a lot of work, but the results more than speak for themselves.


Q: Let’s say you have the day off tomorrow. What’s the perfect way to spend it?
A: I can go camping, hunting, fishing and sailing in the most beautiful places on Earth, and not be more than an hour from home. It’s amazing. But an ideal day for me is at home with my Kiwi wife and our three kids, just a few blocks from the brewery.

Q: Explain how that might go.
A: Every day together is special. I particularly love a bright autumn afternoon when the golden light makes the view of the hills almost magical. I’ll just sit in the backyard, with the family around me, reading a good book and drinking a little of the local bubbly.

Q: You mean you’d be drinking champagne? Not a chocolate oatmeal stout from that brewery just up the road?
A: Hey, you know we have some great wineries here in New Zealand. Maybe you’ve heard about them.


Kiwi Slang. A sidewalk is a “footpath.” A beer is sometimes called a “piss’ (not real pleasant to hear when you made beer). Signs in coffee shops read “short black” (for a single shot of espresso), “long black” (espresso with hot water), “flat white” (espresso with a bit of milk), and you have no idea what’s what.

Maori Culture. Some names of places come from the language of New Zealand’s indigenous people, and they can be real tongue twisters. Plus, the Maori custom of greeting friends by rubbing noses still isn’t as natural as a handshake.

Driving on the Left. You run into this when traveling to a lot of places outside the United States. Here in New Zealand it’s made much easier by the fact that there are so few people in the country, so roads are seldom crowded.


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