Moving from hip-hop to hop

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Arthurs Point’s new local, Canyon Food Brew Co., opened its doors last Wednesday. Tracey Roxburgh talks to the man behind the beer – a dancer, turned mechanical engineer, turned award-winning brewer

HE’S fleet of foot and a vanguard with the vats.

Jonathan Kauri moved to Queenstown a couple of months ago to become head brewer at Real Journeys’ new resort restaurant and micro-brewery, Canyon Food & Brew Co.

It opened last Wednesday near Edith Cavell Bridge in Arthurs Point, giving punters the first chance to sample the original cold ones he makes on-site.

Originally from Feilding, Kauri spent the past six years working in Melbourne’s Thunder Road Brewery, where last year he won an award for his mid-strength lager.

Brewing wasn’t always his career path, though.

The 31-year-old grew up dancing – “mostly jazz, modern, and a little bit of hip-hop” – in a farming town before shifting south to attend Canterbury University, where he got a degree in mechanical engineering.

“I had a pretty good understanding of systems [and] strengths in physics and maths.

“Basically that leant itself to pursue a degree in engineering, and specifically mechanical engineering was chosen as it had the broader range of opportunities post-degree.

“I didn’t have a strong career path when I elected to do that degree, but I knew where my strengths lay and wanted to keep my options open.”

With his dancing on hold while he studied, after graduation he did a bit of work for Fonterra, “some other food processing work” and dabbled in brewing before deciding to hop across the ditch.

“It’s got a pretty good cultural scene … and just by a little bit of luck and some good timing I managed to pick up a job part-time teaching dance.”

Teaching mostly partner-dance, like the waltz, salsa and rumba, he supplemented his income initially by working “back of house” at music festivals and rock concerts.

Then he saw a part-time role advertised at Thunder Road and his brewing career was set in motion.

Kauri’s always had a fascination with how things are made, including beer.

The job seemed like a “natural progression”, even though he was probably over-qualified.

“I thought I had a bit of knowledge before I [started] – within my first week I decided that I was going to basically clear what I thought I knew and latch on to everybody above me and absorb as much as I possibly could.”

When the brewery expanded, so did Kauri’s role within it, and it wasn’t long before he hung up his dancing shoes to focus on producing ale.

And, when the opportunity came up to shift to Queenstown and head up Canyon’s micro-brewery, he jumped at it.

For the past couple of months he’s been working on creating original beers for the six taps – four of them will be staples with two taps pouring seasonal pints.

They’re all “accessible”, he says, with some “experimentation” with the seasonal ones.

“All of the beers are going to be well-constructed, well-balanced and clean, so that really it’s more about letting the raw materials and the ingredients shine through into the finished beer, rather than doing anything overly complicated.”

As much as possible’s being sourced locally but Kauri says they’re not going to limit themselves to New Zealand ingredients, sourcing from Europe, Germany and the UK if they need to.

His brews are already on tap at Cardrona Alpine Resort, also owned by RJs, and in time they’ll be poured on the TSS Earnslaw, at Walter Peak and on other RJs boats.

Canyon’s also got an off-licence, so punters can get takeaways, or fill their own flagons or riggers – it’s also the first place in New Zealand where Mt Difficulty wine’s being served from a keg.

As for finally getting the doors to Canyon open for people to quench their thirst and fill their bellies, Kauri says he’s fizzing.

“It is going to be pretty exciting .. not just for myself … there’s been a lot of other people involved in this project for far longer than I have, so everybody’s pretty much frothing at the bit to see it open.”

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz