The story of Brood Fermentation is a love story, and like all great love stories, it starts on a vineyard in Blenheim. Lauren Yap and Jim Brown met while harvesting grapes in 2019, and the pair quickly discovered a shared passion for craft beer, low-intervention wine and all things fermentation. Just three years after they met, their tiny Nelson-based brewery won a trophy at the New Zealand Beer Awards.

Prior to meeting Lauren, Jim worked as a cocktail barman in Wellington, where he was introduced to the world of natural and biodynamic wines. When his passion for wine intensified, he decided to move to Marlborough and study Viticulture and Winemaking at NMIT. Shortly after qualifying, he headed off to South Australia to work for Commune of Buttons winery, and then spent a few years hopping hemispheres, working vintages in Italy, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Lauren hails from Portland, Oregon, where she studied and worked in environmental science and horticulture. After university, her first internship was with a hop breeding program, and from there she developed a love of craft beer and brewing. While working for several breweries in Portland, Lauren also worked vintages for a number of vineyards, and over time she developed an interest in creating beverages that blurred the boundaries between beer and wine.

“I was brewing in Portland and I’d started using a lot of grapes in my beers, so I really wanted to learn more about winemaking,” says Lauren. “I’m of the opinion that swapping into other products makes you a better fermenter.”

After working a vintage together in Blenheim, Lauren and Jim went to Portland, where Lauren worked as a brewer for Migration Brewery and Jim worked as a winemaker for Brooks Winery. During this time they developed a shared desire to make their own wine and beer, so they put together a business plan and decided on a location. After weighing up options in the US, Australia, Italy and New Zealand, they eventually agreed on Nelson.

“A pretty big priority for me — as someone from Portland, where it’s really rainy — was to be somewhere sunny,” Lauren says. “We’d only visited Nelson once or twice but we knew that it was a hop-growing region, a grape-growing region; it’s pretty close to where barley is grown, and it’s essentially a fruit basket. That was really exciting for us.”

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Jim and Lauren with their Harvest Ale. Photo / Lyndsey Cassidy

By the end of 2019, Lauren and Jim had relocated to Nelson, leased a small organic vineyard, set up a tiny brewery, and created Brood Fermentation. The name stems from one of Lauren’s other passions (she has many), beekeeping. A ‘brood’ is where the eggs, larvae and the queen live in a beehive. The ‘fermentation’ part of the name speaks to a holistic approach to food and beverage production. Lauren and Jim love all kinds of fermentation and their work will never be easy to pigeon-hole.

Although currently better known for their wine, Brood Fermentation have released some of the most exciting, innovative and down-right delicious beers of the past couple of years. They release two or three beers a year in very small batches — usually unfined and unfiltered —with a strong focus on barrel-ageing and local fruit additions.

While brewing is slightly less seasonal than winemaking, these beers have a strong connection with the land and climate that surrounds the brewery, as Lauren explains: “We’re working on a really small manual system, and because of that, I like to brew warmer fermented beers in the summer and colder fermented beers in the winter. Beyond that, we like to add adjuncts like fruits and nuts and spices, and that means that we get to put things in barrels… A lot of our beers are really seasonal, and an expression of the local climate.”

Many beer lovers were introduced to Brood Fermentation with the beautiful 2021 Harvest Ale — a bottle-conditioned saison that was barrel-fermented with organic chardonnay lees and Riwaka hops, then aged in-barrel for another four months. The result was an incredibly complex and well-balanced beer that was somehow bright and deep at the same time, with yeasty-funk, oak dryness and a fruity vibrancy.

Although less than 500 bottles were released, this beer turned a lot of heads in the brewing world, especially when it won a silver medal at the 2021 New Zealand Beer Awards. However, it was the next release that really put Brood Fermentation on the map as one of New Zealand’s most exciting new breweries.

The Feijoa & Rye, brewed in collaboration with Kindeli, is a rustic rye saison brewed on top of a mid-ferment, organic feijoa cider. It’s fermented with a mixed culture, including house wild yeasts, and aged in large format oak barrels over the spring and summer months.

The result is a unique and fascinating drink that offers a world of subtle and nuanced delights. When it won the trophy in the Specialty & Experimental beer category of the NZ Beer Awards last year, it introduced Brood Fermentation beers to a large new audience, including people who already loved their wines.

“It enabled the beer industry — and the wine industry — to see what we’re doing a little bit better. Suddenly there were so many people that didn’t know we existed saying ‘Hey, where can I get your beer?’ That was a really cool feeling. You don’t always need awards for affirmation, but it allows us to keep moving in the direction that we’re going in.”

Trophies and unusual beer styles make good stories and headlines, but Lauren and Jim are also brewing more conventional beers exceptionally well, such as their Vienna Lager and the recently released Lil Bits — a refreshing and sessionable wheat beer. Both are technically excellent classics that showcase a solid knowledge of traditional brewing methods, even though they’re being brewed on a macro level.

Sometimes passion and creativity can clash with patience and long-term dedication, but the work of Brood Fermentation seems to hang perfectly in the balance of both. There’s an almost meditative calmness about these beers — something that makes you want to drink them quietly, in a peaceful place. They taste overtly unrushed and seem imbued with the harmony of rural afternoons. 

If you’d like to experience this, look no further than Truce, which was released in September last year. This is a barrel-aged lager that was brewed back in 2020, then in 2021 it was re-fermented with ripe neighbourhood apricots, before being re-barrelled for another year. This stunning beer epitomises so much of what Brood Fermentation is all about — the technical skill of the base lager, the innovative production method and style, the locally sourced fruit, and the depth and richness that comes from barrel-ageing.

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Photo / Michael Donaldson

“For me and Jim, it all comes back to the general ethos that we just want to make a great beverage. With wine you’ve essentially got one ingredient, grapes, but with beer, the sky’s the limit. That really allows us to push the boundaries… we’re always tasting our products throughout the seasons to see how they move, which is cool and exciting to watch. It means that if we have a beer that we didn’t like the taste of when it was quick-fermented, we can look at what it’s expressing and think about what will help it move in the direction we want it to go.”

It’s clear that Lauren and Jim are supported and inspired by a great local community. As well as being surrounded by a lot of amazing breweries and wineries, Lauren is working part-time for Clayton Hops, while Jim is the assistant winemaker at nearby Unkel Wines.

“Having a community of winemakers here allows me to think really critically about beer,” explains Lauren. “They talk about a lot of different faults and expressions of yeast, and how to really improve fermentation. I’ve learned so much from getting to know wine and growing grapes. It’s made me a better brewer.”

There’s undoubtedly a promising future for Brood Fermentation, but it’s a future that doesn’t need to be labelled or defined right now, as they have many creative avenues to explore. Lauren is also a talented potter and her pottery has started playing a role in the beer and winemaking. Last year she made a very large clay vessel that was placed in the vineyard and used to start a yeast culture — yet another example of how this pair likes to mix creative influences and intertwine passions.  

Although they currently only grow grapes on the farm, Lauren and Jim share a dream to eventually brew an “estate beer”, using hops and barley grown on their own land. It’s a great ambition, and one that will no doubt come into fruition one day. There’s a strong determination and belief in this enterprising couple, which seems to stem from their joint vision and enthusiasm for the world, along with mutual encouragement and backing.

Had they not met on that vineyard in Blenheim four years ago, it could have been many more years before either of them decided to start a business and release their own drinks. We’re all better off for it, so let’s raise a glass to romance, and the exceptional beer that can blossom in its light.  

Main photo: Lyndsey Cassidy