These Boots Are Made For Working

Lucie Campbell starts work at 7:00am most days. As the Operations Manager for The Lumsden Freehouse and its companion venues – The Wood Street Freehouse, Uptown Freehouse and most recently The Village – she finds the time alone in the office useful to getting work done uninterrupted, “if you want to see me, it needs to be early. People ask to meet at 4:30pm and I’m like, nup, I’m gone”! It’s 9:30am when we chat - slightly earlier than usual for someone in the hospitality business and Lucie’s not seen anyone yet (besides me via Skype) and has gotten a tonne done.

Starting work early gives Lucie time to work in her other roles – the most important of which is being a solo parent to a three-year-old toddler. Sadly, Lucie’s partner passed away seven weeks after her daughter was born. It’s part of her story, but it’s still really raw. She reflects on the support the beer community gave her at that time, and since then, with a slight crack in her voice. She also reflects that she’s lucky to have her partner’s parents close by. Family is otherwise a long way away in the United Kingdom. You can still hear a hint of that accent in her voice as well!

Lucie got into all things beer in the most typical of English ways, drinking at her local.

A drink after work is a UK tradition. It’s one Lucie carried with her when she moved to New Zealand in 2003 as a back packer. She’d just finished a degree in social work but didn’t feel old enough, or experienced enough, to work in the field. She moved into tourism here, during the early stages of our boom. She was working an average of 70 hours a week – long, exhausting days. But, she chuckles, “still going for a drink after work”, complaining about her job, while asking for a few shifts at the bar! The owner, Evan King, said he could do better than that, but Lucie didn’t take him all that seriously.

One day, Lucie mentioned getting a new job, and Evan responded in surprise. He had been genuine in his job offer, thought they had an agreement, and wanted to bring her on board. Initially, it was to be in a marketing role drawing from her tourism experience. But, at the same time she started, the Lumsden’s contract with Lion Nathan expired. They decided to become a free house. That was six or so years ago. And, Lucie didn’t really drink beer! My, how things have changed.

When the Lumsden first transitioned into independent beer, there weren’t as many breweries in Auckland and sales calls were made by the brewers themselves. Lucie tells a story about Christina Wood, from Liberty Brewing, driving five hours from New Plymouth to visit for a sales trip. They became, and remain, great friends. It was a perfect way to get to know the brewers, the breweries, and the beer scene; something she reflects is missing now as many have engaged distributors and sales staff in Auckland.

I asked about whether, as she transitioned into the scene in those early days, she had an “aha” moment. For Lucie, it was the Epic Coffee and Fig Stout. If you follow her on social media, you’ll know she’s a fan of both coffee and stout. So, it makes sense! And, highlights that there’s beer out there for everyone if you can make the connection to the food and drink they otherwise enjoy. Lucie knows this and has a strong focus on training staff across the Freehouses to help with this.

When I ask if she’s fully flipped from wine to beer now, there’s another chuckle, “I like all booze…it’s very social”. The “local” and the “social” is a focus for Lucie in her role at the Freehouses. Although the Lumsden is central to the city, she comments that it’s still a suburb and she wants it to be a suburban bar – a “Cheers” bar – where everyone knows your name! This influences the beers she chooses, how they’re presented on tap and at tastings, and the range of events they run.

Like many people working in hospitality, Lucie gets sent lots of free samples. What’s she’s looking for is consistently high-quality beer produced by good people, and minus the hype. By good people, she means those that treat others well, and with respect. And, to minus the hype, at the Lumsden they make their own tap badges and signage so that it’s not marketing that leads people to a drinking decision, it’s the staff knowing their stuff and making recommendations. They’re not so much into ticketed tastings. They can organise you one, but prefer to enable people to turn up casually to try something new or special. Their events also have a similar, vibe; curated but casual, and diverse. At any one time you can attend a tap takeover or a quiz, watch sports-ball, do life drawing or rebel against Valentines Day.

The local and social takes us into a discussion on beer in Auckland. It’s an interesting subject – the New Zealand population is about 4.8 million people and Auckland contains about one third of them – it’s a huge market but one that’s yet to be genuinely cracked by craft or independent beer.

Lucie’s view is that cracking Auckland will be hard. Even though the market is huge (by New Zealand standards) it is also quite parochial and she sees people fixated on their favourites, not on the new. She comments that even for the likes of Garage Project and Good George – both which have a huge market presence – opening tasting rooms has been a necessity. And, that it’s harder for smaller operations like those from the South Island and Wellington who don’t have the budget behind them. They used to have Invercargill Brewery on tap at the Lumsden, but now the number of breweries and their distribution channels have changed. And, there are only a few bars in Auckland actively seeking the beer explorers and geeks.

Finishing work at 4:00pm to head home to her daughter then gives Lucie time to work on her second “baby” after hours when she’s gone to bed - its Auckland’s Fresh Hop festival – and it does appeal to the geeks! Lucie initiated and has run the event over the past five years to celebrate the New Zealand hop harvest. You can jump on and off a bus that stops at her favourite beer bars around town, run by good people. They include her own (the Lumsden, of course), Galbraith’s, Vulture’s Lane, Brothers Beer and at the Brewers’ Cooperative. With the harvest coming up soon, keep your eye out on Facebook for this year’s event.

By this stage, you’ll see there’s a real theme to the answers about what motivates Lucie. Because of this, she’s worked to support the New Zealand Brewers’ Guild and is currently the President of the New Zealand Pink Boots Society. It’s an organisation she became a part of as it recognises and celebrates women in the beer community; both in New Zealand and overseas.

While she believes she hasn’t been held back by being a female, in her early days, Lucie reflects she was often the only women in the room at a tasting in Auckland. That’s changing, but she comments that the beer community still doesn’t reflect the make up of the general community. This is one of the reasons she’s excited by the opportunities Pink Boots can now offer in New Zealand. They’re looking to support a member through the Otago Polytechnic Certificate in Brewing and the Beer Judge Certification Programme (BJCP). Their focus is on supporting members to build their technical skills for their futures.

A couple of other things Lucie’s excited about for the up-coming year include beer-related travel overseas – to the Kona Brewers Festival in Hawaii, as she “really likes the way the US does beer festivals” and GABS in Melbourne. It’s her opportunity to network with the community and friends.

Lucie’s daughter is often looked after by her grandparents when she’s overseas, but she’s also well-travelled herself. She’s been to Marchfest and on a bucket list beer tour in the United States and UK Lucie took her on in memory of her partner (and daughter’s dad). They also stopped at a few beer bars in Singapore on the way home. Lucie hopes these, and other experiences, will be a positive influence on her daughter’s attitude to alcohol as she grows up.

We reflect upon the binge drinking culture in New Zealand; Lucie’s seen the same in the UK as well and it’s something she’d like to see change. At the time we spoke, she was planning to head to Silo Park for Symphony on the Port to celebrate Waitangi Day. She was surprised, but pleased it was a BYO; providing an event where people could enjoy themselves with their family, and have a drink, but not be focused on drinking.

A theme in my conversations with everyone with children has been that they’re focused on family first, beer and boozing second. It’s possible to balance both. Lucie’s not really sure how she’s balancing it all but she’s having fun doing it.

The final questions, for a bit of fun

What’s in the fridge and what are you drinking at home?

All that is in Lucie’s fridge are big, barrel-aged stouts. Nothing all that easy drinking for summer! Her answer is reinforcing that I probably need to stop asking this question!

What are your “beers you must try before you die”?

Lucie is a fan of the Ninkasi Brewing Prismatic Juicy IPA. Her two other “must tries” are Sparks Brewing Outlander Extra Stout and Epic Armageddon