“All I know about Westport is that people call it Methport”. It sucks how many times people have said something like that when I told them I was moving here.

Westport might not be seen as the coolest place, I guess, but right now in our rental house I can hear the ocean not 500m away. Birds are chirping, and a breeze is rustling the harakeke and tī kōuka outside my window. It’s a sunny afternoon in Cape Foulwind, a 10 minute drive from our brewery in town.

We’ve been here a few weeks, after two weeks’ transit and quarantining, from across the ditch in Footscray, Melbourne (the 13th coolest neighbourhood in the world, according to a Time Out Magazine poll last year). I’m not sure me nor Emma, my partner of 15 years, ever thought our future would be in Westport. However when your hometown brewery comes up for sale and you’ve worked in the beer industry for more than a decade, you have to at least kick the tyres. And late-2020, when the West Coast Brewery (nee-Miner’s Brewery) was on the market, that’s what we did.

Next was months of frustrating negotiations with an owner who didn’t really want to sell, wouldn’t (or couldn’t) tell us what he was selling, and wanted far too much money for whatever it was he was trying to sell. At the time we joked we would wait until he went bust and buy it cheap…which took about six months when excise bills started catching up. It was a sad outcome leaving a trail of debt, soured relationships, unpaid contractors, and frustrated and unpaid employees.

Previous owners have also racked up debts, leaving investors out of pocket (one had three mortgages and more than 300 investors when he dipped out). As the craft beer industry has exploded on a global scale, the focus at 10 Lyndhurst Street Westport has been green bottle lager and flavoured cider. While almost every food and drink trend for the past 20 years has celebrated small batch, locally made products, its owners were trying to ship cider in warm containers to China. Any money invested or earned rarely made it back into the brewery itself. The brewhouse is the original 2500 litre kit from 30 years ago. Other than a few tanks here and there plus a basic bar fit out, it’s relatively unchanged.

Late in 2021 our tender for the liquidated brewery was accepted. We were stuck in hard lockdown in Melbourne and hadn’t seen the building since 2012 (when former brewer Dave Kurth was making a stunning Pale Ale*). Even the most basic plans were difficult when we could barely leave our house. I couldn’t tell you then the capacity of the brewhouse I’d just bought because there was little to no information from the previous owner. It’s not the ideal way to buy a brewery, but what’s life without a little thrill?

We have had a week onsite now and our plans are simple: do the opposite of everyone else who has tried. That starts with changing the name from West Coast Brewery to Shortjaw.

It’s borrowed from a native whitebait (the Shortjaw Kōkopu). The little fishes are endangered, and spend most of their time hiding out in hard to find spots. It’s been called the “kiwi” of the whitebait world. You can find a metaphor in that if you like, but if I’m honest we chose it because it’s something local that sounds cool, and we could get the domain name. We also wanted to avoid miners, coal shovels, and any other cliches from the area. We aren’t Monteiths, and we aren’t playing pretend for West Coast credibility. I was born here bro.

Next is our beer. As I write this I’m working with brewer Marc (a past employee caught out in the chaos) to refine three recipes for our launch: a classic Pilsner with Kiwi hops, an easy drinking pale (known as Breezy), and our Kiwi Dark Lager. All featuring NZ hops, and all designed with the local market in mind. Plus, on our new 30 litre pilot kit we are planning some chaos. For launch we’ll have a beer called eXX-Port, our homage to De Ranke XX Bitter (a favourite of Emma and mine). It’ll be 60+ IBU of Kiwi hops, sugar additions, Belgian yeast and the antithesis of current beer trends. Plus maybe a double version of our dark lager, a dark version of our pale, or something mild. And there might be a hazy IPA, because apparently that’s what the locals in Westport want as well. We aren’t reinventing the wheel with our beer, and we don’t give a shit if anyone in China ever buys it.

As much as we’d love to rip out the taproom and start again, we’ll only be making small changes and we aren’t upgrading the kit just yet. We’ll be using mobile canning for a start, and we can’t really afford to hire too many employees for now. However, we have goals and we are confident there’s a path to make them happen. For now, we just want to sell one keg to the pub across the road. Then our focus is jamming it up all the deadshits who laughed and said “it’s actually called Methport”.

*For those wondering: yes there is still Dave Kurth brewed barley wine in storage. Maybe if you ask nicely, we’ll bring some to Beervana.