Tap tales: James Kemp, Yeastie Boys

James Kemp, or JK for short, has recently taken over the reigns as head brewer at Yeastie Boys’ UK brewery. With stints at Manchester’s Marble, Buxton and Thornbridge, Kemp joins Yeastie Boys as it celebrates its tenth year in business. The Kiwi brewery was founded in 2008 and now brews beer in Australia and the UK as well as New Zealand. Since setting up operations in the UK in 2015, last year it announced that the investment had paid off, with sales tripling in 2017. Born in England but having spent many years in New Zealand, Kemp shares how beer runs in his blood, his admiration for the head brewer at Fuller’s, Georgina Young, why he’s fed up of the “prevailing sexism” in the beer industry and how ginger crunch is his greatest vice.

When did you first get into beer?

I’ve been into beer for a very long time, my father is a homebrewer so I’ve been around beer from an early age….and brewing it. I think the first time that I really got into it in a big way was at University in Christchurch, New Zealand. At the time there
were some great breweries around including Harringtons, Dux de Lux, Wigram and Monteiths from the West Coast, and I was blown away by the possibility of flavour in beer.

Which brew sparked your love of beer?

I would say equally both Ruddles County and Macs Black, I know, they’re not exactly ground breaking but at that time they were pretty flavourful beers in comparison to the standard NZ amber lagers. The supermarket where we shopped had both those beers and I think this was my turning point, where I drank less but more flavourful beer.

What would you be as a beer?

Bitburger, there’s no real link to me or my personality apart from the fact that I really like this beer, it’s my every day beer. Triple decocted, beautifully fermented, you can get it in a supermarket. If you get it really fresh it has beautiful flora aromatics, it’s elegant, flavourful and refreshing…almost exactly not like me.

Who is your inspiration in the beer world?

Georgina Young, Head Brewer of Fuller’s Brewery, such a good brewer, so knowledgeable, so cool, calm and collected. She’s handled everything that’s been thrown at her in an industry not kind to women and is in arguably one of the top jobs in the industry in the UK. My mantra, ‘Be Like George’.

Where are you happiest?

At the pub with my wife and daughter, a pint of Landlord and pig snacks, that’s a slice of fried gold right there.

What is your greatest vice?

Ginger crunch, it’s a tray bake from New Zealand, my wife makes it for me and I probably eat at least three pieces a day. It does take a bit of exercise to allow me to do that though – everything in moderation apart from ginger crunch!

What are the best and worst things about the beer industry?

Best things about the beer industry? The people and especially the people that are willing to help each other out, it’s now a very competitive market and naturally it’s a competition to sell beer, so I really value people that are willing to share their experiences and help you out.

The worst thing is the prevailing sexism in the industry, it’s disturbing and saddening that people still think it’s okay to behave in this antisocial manner.

What is your proudest achievement in beer?

Getting this job at Yeastie Boys. 10 years ago I met Stu (founder of Yeastie Boys) while I was working for Biosecurity New Zealand and I had nothing but admiration for what he was doing, both with the brand and the beer. I love the beer and just wanted to be a part of that, and now I am, so I’m very happy.

What is your ultimate beer and food pairing?

To be honest I’m not a big believer in food and beer pairings, in my mind beer is not a condiment. If your food needs beer to enhance it you need better food, if your beer needs food to accentuate it, you need better beer. Now if you’d asked me about beer and music pairing….that’s another story!

Which beer style do you find it impossible to get along with?

That’s a really tricky question, there are a lot of beers I don’t like but it’s not the style I don’t enjoy, it’s the beer itself, the way it’s brewed or the recipe. However, I’ve had cream ales before and I really don’t like them, what is the point to them? They’re like a budget, rubbish lager.

If you weren’t brewer, what would you be doing?

I’d probably finish my Masters and be an evolutionary ecologist. I always wanted to be a heavy metal guitarist but it turns out that i’m just not that good at guitar, so ecology it is!

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