From home-brew to winning brew: Southpaw punches above its weight

It was a Christmas present from his sister that sparked a career-defining love of brewing for Southpaw Brewing Company founder Cameron Burgess.

The homebrew kit that Burgess received some 15 years ago wasn’t inherently unique. The 34-year-old jokes, “Every Kiwi workshop has a homebrew kit with dust on it,” but he quickly fell in love with the process.

Now he and his partner Penny Prescott, along with their friends Geoffrey Bunn and Harriet Jenkins, own the Christchurch-based Southpaw Brewing Company. One particular beer, Say Hey Kid, was named to the Top 30 New World Beers and Ciders list for 2022.

Cameron Burgess fulfills orders from its Hornby premises.

Peter Meecham/stuff

Cameron Burgess fulfills orders from its Hornby premises.

Burgess may have mastered the art of brewing great-tasting beer, but he admits there have been some epic failures in his day. The most memorable is one of his first brews. He adapted a recipe he found online but messed up a decimal when adding hops. This resulted in about 10 times more hops being added than required.

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“Not only did it cost me a lot to make, but it was also inedibly bitter,” he says.

“I couldn’t throw it away. It was still beer. It doesn’t taste very good, but you have to drink it,” he says.

Since ramping up brew volumes, however, he has yet to dump a batch of Southpaw beer. A good thing, he says, because there’s nothing worse than having to pour out beer.

Southpaw takes American beer and blends it using the finest New Zealand methods and ingredients. The inclusion of Say Hey Kid in the Top 30 list of New World beers and ciders was an acknowledgment Burgess found “amazing”.

The disbelief he felt was not helped by the fact that he was sleep deprived at the time. And Prescott was in labor with the couple’s second child, their now 8-month-old son. The notification appeared on Burgess’ phone while he was scrolling during a work-related “downtime.”

Cameron Burgess learned his craft in Canada after getting into brewing with a homebrew kit.

Peter Meecham/stuff

Cameron Burgess learned his craft in Canada after getting into brewing with a homebrew kit.

“I hadn’t slept in a few days. I’ve checked and rechecked that email about 40 times,” he says.

“I’m trying to lower expectations,” he says of the recognition. “I was so excited. I could not believe it.”

Brewing was something Burgess became fascinated with after receiving this Christmas home brew kit. By the time he was about 23, he and Prescott were traveling throughout North America and Canada and developed a love for baseball and the American beer they drank while playing baseball.

He worked at Central City Brewing in Canada for about three years before returning to Christchurch.

Back home, he took that love and knowledge he and Prescott shared to start Southpaw. The first beer, Uncle Charlie, with a combination of American and New Zealand hops, was launched in 2016.

“We’ve been craving a little bit of Christchurch beer that has a little more of that American influence,” he says. The American influence is a more hoppy flavor, he says. It gives the beer a fruitier and more complex taste.

“American beers really reinforce the hopping, so you get really interesting elements,” he says, but insists New Zealand produces great hops too. Choosing the best of both worlds, he brought American influence to his beers, which were made primarily from New Zealand ingredients.

“Using that style, but using what we produce [in New Zealand] was the cornerstone of how we make Southpaw beers,” he says.

Cameron Burgess checks a batch of beer from a vat at his Hornby brewery.

Peter Meecham/stuff

Cameron Burgess checks a batch of beer from a vat at his Hornby brewery.

The name Southpaw is a nod to the American influences in beer (Southpaw is a baseball nod to left-handed pitchers) and the fact that he and Prescott are left-handed.

In 2019 Burgess bought Southpaws own brewery. It was a big step for the craft beer company. “I get paid less to start with,” he says.

However, the investment became a major motivation for Burgess. He’s always had a passion for his brewing, but buying his own brewery was a real commitment to make it work.

“There are more stressors involved. I have always been primarily a brewer and not a business owner, but integrating this element of the business into my work has been tough but very rewarding.”

As for Southpaw’s future?

Burgess says he’s not seeking global dominance. He believes one of the best things about craft beer is the variety and choice. He wouldn’t want to delve into global mass production.

However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have plans to make the company’s name popular.

“If the average beer drinker has heard of Southpaw and likes it [that is great],” he says.

“If I can run my business and pay my bills, that’s a fantastic achievement for me.”

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