Paul Roigard should really brew a Radler — the Tuatara head-brewer is a mad keen cyclist and what’s more, it was a cycle trip from Cape Reinga to Bluff in 2016 that started him on his late-life beer-career change.

Roigard was in his late-30s, living in Melbourne, working in IT and home brewing as a hobby. Well, more than hobby to be fair. He also sat the International Brewing & Distilling general certificate in brewing.  Armed with a science degree, and some time to study, he ended with the equal top score in the world and started to think about brewing as a career.

“I was good at IT, but I didn’t love it.”

When he and his wife Sacha Elmiger decided to ride the Tour Aotearoa 2016 – a 30-day, 3000km ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff — he had his revelation. “You spend 10-plus hours on a bike and we were like: `it’s really nice here, it would be great to come back and open a brewery’.

“So I decided to stop IT and become a brewer.”

Roigard applied for brewing jobs in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

“The New Zealand industry was still quite small at that time, and breweries wouldn’t take anyone without experience.”

An application to Meantime Brewing in London got traction. “They said ‘you can’t be a brewer but you can work on the packaging line’.”

That was enough and Roigard and Sacha were off. He spent six months on the packaging line before moving to the brewing side, and in that time saw the brewery sold to Asahi.

What Roigard liked about the UK was the focus on technical learning.

“People go to university there to learn brewing — at Heriot-Watt or Nottingham — and they learn the importance of systems.”

New Zealand still beckoned and when a job came up at Tuatara he returned, and when Brayden Rawlinson moved to Fork & Brewer, Roigard stepped up to the head brewer role, which he will continue when Tuatara move from their current site in Paraparaumu to a new site (and new brew house) in Upper Hutt’s Brewtown.

Turning passion into a career

“Not many people get to turn their passion into a career,” he reflects.

“Some of the things I used to love about brewing, I don’t love quite as much anymore, but other things I love more.

“When I first became a brewer I thought I’d be swanning around all day tasting beer and tweaking recipes – that creative side is still there but it becomes less important in a commercial brewery and I’ve become way more passionate about quality, consistency and processes. And sustainability has become important. When I first started at Tuatara we were using 12-13 hectolitres of water per hectolitre of beer — we wasted a lot — but by focusing on small things and not changing the equipment, we got down to 5-6 hectolitres of water per hectolitre of beer and we’re aiming to get that number down even more in future.”

And these days, Roigard’s bike travels are closely aligned to beer.

“I love Belgium if you’re into cycling, beer and chips, Belgium’s the perfect country for that.

“I’ve ridden in Germany, Estonia, Stockholm, the length of Hokkaido in Japan, across England, the Netherlands, Denmark … the next one is bike-packing around Vermont.

“It makes me very boring for people who aren’t into beer.”

Roigard’s next big test will be commissioning the new brewery at Brewtown, noting that the current Tuatara kit is way past its best-by date.

“Carl Vasta [Tuatara founder] built this brewery out of bits and pieces he could afford and find. Along the way he made some cracking beers but the current brewery has been ready for retirement for a while.”

The mention of Vasta is the segue to Tuatara’s operation under DB (ie Heineken).

“My gut feeling is that there’s comments like ‘Tuatara is not what it used to be’. Tuatara made cracking beers back then but the nature of craft beer back then was that there were also absolute stinkers.

“Our goal now is to aspire to make the best beer all the time and we see that in our ‘first-time right’ and sensory numbers.

“I am unapologetically proud of working at Tuatara.

“There’s an assumption that big business is evil, which is not true, but the idea that all independents are good people is also not true. We’ve seen that around the world. Independence isn’t always good and global brewing isn’t always bad.

“I know that we pay our team well and one thing I will always say about Heineken is that they value safety, and I’m not being a mouthpiece here.

“I’ve worked for a few global breweries and never had them say ‘you can’t spend that money on those raw ingredients’, or ‘cut this, cut that’. I’m not saying that never happens but I haven’t seen it. What I have heard them say is ‘you need to make this more consistently’ and ‘you need to do this more safely’.”

Everyone is on a journey

Roigard is also a fan of the democratic power that comes from DB-ownership. Their wide distribution means more people than ever are being exposed to craft beer and many of them will use that introduction to go on a journey.

“We’ve been able to put so many beers in front of consumers who wouldn’t normally have a craft beer. We’ve done things like a Vienna Lager, a pomegranate and orange blossom sour … and they’re going into bars that typically don’t have much craft choice beyond maybe a Tuatara Hazy Pale Ale.

“Craft beer is fun but there’s an elitism to it, and I’m elitist, I realise that. But beer is the most democratic of the alcoholic beverages, and I like the fact that you can now go to a bar and get a craft brew including Tuatara Hazy.”

“Everyone is on a journey and to ridicule people who are drinking Mac’s, Monteith’s or Boundary Road doesn’t do any good.”

As we speak, Roigard is getting ready to make a fresh hop version of their gold-medal Regenerate Pilsner which will be keg-only and therefore bring that fresh hop experience to a wider audience.

“We decided to do a fresh hop version of our Pilsner because it’s one of the foundation beers of Tuatara.

“It’s a beer we keep improving by playing with hop timings, yeast … trying to meet where the style has moved to — slightly lower bitterness, more fruitiness.

“To get a gold for that at the New Zealand Beer Awards last year was very rewarding, because shit breweries don’t make good pilsners.”