I’m part Basque although my bloodline isn’t. Let me explain…

It was 1999 when I first drove into the Basque Country from Cantabria, Spain. In a small coastal village, just a few days after I’d arrived, I met my future wife, so I parked up at that spot for a couple of years, refusing to budge, until she finally agreed to come back to New Zealand with me.

Fast forward 23 years and we’re still living here, in New Plymouth of all places, captured by the rugged coastline, great surf and majestic Mt Taranaki.

We’ve got two kids both proudly half-Basque, and my wife seems more Basque now than ever. She stands out not only because of her exotic looks and accent, but also for all that energy and passion she exerts with a certain unmistakable European flair.

Therefore part of me is Basque now.

I’ve always loved beer. And since my very first sip some 40-odd years ago to the one I took last night, the cool carbonation, the nostril tickling froth, and that slightly bittersweet blend of malt and hops, no matter what the brew or where I am and on any given day, especially now that I’ve grown to love and appreciate craft beer, is always magical treat. 

So not only is beer firmly a part of my life now, I reckon I’m part beer as well. Let me explain…

How it all comes together

I dived on in and bought a bit of Three Sisters Brewery during their crowdfunded equity capital raise earlier this year and, with a long overdue trip back to the Basque Country coming up I boldly suggested to founder Joe Emans and the team at Three Sisters that perhaps while I’m over in Spain I could find a little local craft brewery and propose some sort of collaboration.

But why aim small? A quick search revealed Basqueland Brewing to be the largest and most successful craft brewery in Spain, based not far from where I was heading.

“I think I’ll set it up with that one then,” I said although I’m sure I was the only one in the room at the time who believed I could pull it off.

Multi-award winning Basqueland Brewing was established in 2015 in Hernani, near San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque Country. Two North American expats wanted to make quality local craft beer to accompany the incredible and unique Basque cuisine. Since then it has grown year on year, and now employs 25 people, produces 100 limited editions and over 1,000,000 litres of beer annually.

So, with along with Juan Carlos my brother-in-law, on a stinking hot mid-August day, I was lucky enough to be shown around Basqueland’s awesome brewery by head brewer Oscar and their marketing manager Goren.

Taranaki Basque collab
Craig Williamson at Basqueland Brewing

They are set up in an industrial facility with a modest taproom and 1500m2 of space filled with dozens of stainless steel tanks, storage racks, chillers, a centrifuge, canning line and bottling facilities, all very impressive, especially the enormous 12,000 litre fermenters.

Some beer sampling was followed by a three-hour long, lively and entertaining Basque lunch, and before we knew it the brew was underway and Three Sisters’ first ever international collab was in the tanks.

You can find the outcome at basquebeer.com — it’s called Taranaki, “a NZ style West Coast IPA” made with NZ Cascade, Waimea and Wakatu hops which Basqueland, to my surprise, already had in stock. The branding looks fantastic and I hear that it’s selling well over there and getting great reviews.

Taranaki Basque collab

From our side, Three Sisters have now created the same brew here with slightly different artwork and called it Taranaki IPA.

It was great fun, I made new friends, and had an eye-opening experience making beer and we’re already talking about doing it all again when we head back to see our Basque family next year.

Taranaki Basque collab