It was probably appropriate that I wrote some of this blog post at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.  I was there earlier this week as Chair of Judges for the inaugural New World Beer and Cider Awards but the assembled panel of a dozen beer experts were doing most of the heavy lifting as they surveyed, swirled, sniffed and sampled their way through an impressive 354 entries.
This gave me a few moments to write up my notes from an actual proper journalistic interview with this week's featured brewery. I first tried their flagship beer at the very same venue at this year's Beervana and while the weather on day one of the judging was inappropriately fine, sunny and still, day two did it’s best to recreate the authentic Beervana 2014 experience with horizontal rain, screaming winds and temperatures which chilled even this well insulated Scotsman who drinks.
As an award-winning beer writer, I'd like to say that my highly developed reporting antenna had picked up on this relatively new brewery but that was simply not the case. I did read the rather excellent Beervana booklet covering the beers available but what turned out to be my favourite beer did not even register on my radar pre-festival. I found the old-fashioned way with a fellow punter on the concourse telling me to try it because they thought the beer would be absolutely to my taste.
He was right. The name of the beer in question was Rocky Knob Snapperhead which immediately appealed to my still teenaged sense of humour. The style was hoppy IPA which certainly appealed to my middle aged hop headedness.  I may or may not have badgered Colin the Handsome yet Softly Scottish Malthouse Proprietor into purchase a couple of Rocky Knob kegs. I'm kidding no-one here – of course I did – but I gave him assurance that I would personally finish any remaining kegs. That is not likely to be an issue it seems.
Rocky Knob Snapperhead was my favourite beer at Beervana that I did not make.  It was also a beer I'd never even heard of from a brewery I was not previously aware existed. Putting on my old and ill-fitting investigative journalist hat, I rang the owners Stu and Bronwyn Marshall and talked to them about their story.
It turns out that Stu Marshall has been home brewing and enjoying craft beers for five or six years. From Nelson, he says he was "used to buying fresh beer from the brewery" and in June/July 2013 started Rocky Knob with his wife. The brewery gets its name from his old family farm up near Motueka which is "near where most of the hops are grown." Bronwyn is more forthright saying Rocky Knob is a "catchy name that people will remember."
Initially, Rocky Knob beers were made at the small Fitzpatrick Brewery before being contract brewed with the Aotearoa Brewery (Mata) at Kawerau. Today, their beers are made down at Wigram Brewery in Christchurch. Stu says they have a good relationship with Wigram and that Wigram head brewer Paul Cooper is "a very particular brewer" with an attention to detail.
Rocky Knob focuses on hoppy beers ("my true passion" says Stu) which are not the usual beer styles for Wigram. Rocky Knob is not currently active in the South Island market which means the two brands are not competing. Their beer is kegged in Christchurch then shipped to the Bay of Plenty for distribution, mainly to the upper North Island.
Malthouse is the first Wellington venue to offer Rocky Knob beers on tap. Bronwyn says they are "very excited" to be breaking into the Wellington market but it is "also a bit nerve wracking because the Wellington scene is so vast compared with the rest of the country." Rocky Knob brews have previously only been available at limited locales in the Bay of Plenty, Taupo, Auckland and Hamilton.
The Marshall's are based in Mouth Maunganui with their three children. Stu the brewer still works for a log exporting company and has a degree in forestry science. He tells the now slightly ironic story of how the careers advisor at his Marlborough school talked him out of going to Massey and doing food science and brewing from the start. Bronwyn has given up her work as speech language therapist to focus on the beer business. She describes her role as "the face, the one sending invoices, the stalker and the person dropping off kegs." 
Malthouse currently has two Rocky Knob beers on tap both of which passed what the Marshall's call "exhaustive testing in our garage." Rocky Knob Snapperhead IPA (7.4%) is packed with Citra and Nelson Sauvin hops. Stu describes Snapperhead as "well balanced" (yes), "a big fun beer" (oh yes) and a crowd favourite for many years" (I can see why). However I'm less sure about the claim that it is "sessionable". This is a strong contender for my annual Top Ten Beer List but it should be approached responsibly.
Rocky Knob Oceanside (5.6%) is an American amber ale full of a "huge amount"  of Mosaic and Motueka hops. Stu says he "uses as many New Zealand hops as I can" but loves to mix up Kiwi and US hops. He has been "tweaking" this beer for 18 months or so and this is the first commercial batch of what he correctly describes as a "hop forward" ale. I've always had a bit of an ambivalent relationship with amber ales but I adored this beer – so much hop goodness swinging off a caramel skeleton and it is (relatively) sessionable.
In my unrelenting and unsuccessful pursuit of a Pulitzer Prize, I asked Stu and Bronwyn about their plans for the future. Like any decent new small business they were rightly coy about the topic. However, their key priorities were to "build up the brand, establish a reputation, grow the business, at some point write a business plan, and work out if we invest in brewing plant or use primarily contract brewing." They are already way more organised than my company. 
Finally, I had to ask what they thought about Malthouse as their debut Wellington bar. They described Malthouse as a "great bar with great staff," They have had a number of good chats with Mack and Colin and are always excited to visit when they get down to Wellington. Bronwyn and Stu gave a shout out to the entire Craft Beer Capital saying that in their experience "all the people who run craft beer bars in Wellington are very friendly people."
Next time, we drink Matt Prior. Anyone who annoys Kevin Pietersen that much must be doing something right.
 Don't call it the Cake Tin or there will be... trouble.
 I thought I just made up the phrase "hop headedness" but bizarrely my spell checker thinks it already exists.
 Everyone should try Kereru/Miller AT-AT Imperial Pilsner which is easily the best 11% pilsner made with Weet-Bix of 2014. Also, it has Star Wars stuff on the label.
 For the record, she is totally not a stalker.
 Another technical brewing term for the purists.
 We are currently celebrating a decade in business and no semblance of planning or strategy has yet emerged. I use the term we to make it appear that my company has more than one employee.
Beer Writer of the Year 2014
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New Zealand Liquor News Magazine
Rocky Knob Brewing - http://www.rockyknob.co.nz/
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