There’s something incredibly likeable about Lester Dunn, brewer at the Fork & Brewer in the heart of Wellington’s CBD. Brewers tend to be open, friendly people and none more so than Lester, who always greets you with a big smile under his massive beard and afro, followed by a warm handshake.
We find a quiet corner of the bar to chat over a pint of his Bohemian Hipster Pilsner, and Lester drops a bomb on me: he’s leaving.
Lester’s been a fixture of the Wellington brewing scene for what seems like a very long time. After working in hospo for years, he suddenly found himself in a “2am impromptu job interview” at Matterhorn, following a beer tasting in 2007. That’s how he got his start working in Nelson at Mac’s.
“I showed up for work the next day, bright and early, and that’s when they knew I really had the work ethic they wanted. I started as a cellar hand… it took a couple of years before I was allowed in the brew house.” Back then, Mac’s Nelson brewery had eight 20,000-litre tanks. When that brewery closed, Lester moved to Mac’s on the waterfront in Wellington, learning the craft under Paul Howell and Colin Paige.
When he started at Fork & Brewer he had to wait just over a year to get his hands on the brewery as earthquake strengthening was required to make sure the tanks didn’t flood the bar. For the first year, Fork and Brewer’s brewer was a bartender again.
Lester may also be the brewer who is the hardest on himself. He strives for perfection in each brew.
“Brewing to me is just something I became very good at,” he muses, “but I’m still very fussy and meticulous. I made coffee for six years and it was the same thing. I loved the ‘diamonds’, like, that’s gonna be the best coffee that person has ever had. It’s the same with my beer…
“I’m really, really proud of the beers we’re pouring at the moment. I’m over people buzzing about the beer, it’s more about consistency.”
We go through the beers Lester has made, he says he’s had more misses than hits. So I ask what his favourite beer is. Soon I’m looking at a glass of dark chocolatey goodness.
“Easter Egg Chocolate Stout. We did it last year as well, but this year is better! This beer is so great! It’s got cocoa nibs from Wellington Chocolate Factory and a whole bunch of lactose.” (It’s a milk stout, which means this beer writer can’t drink it.)
But now Lester is leaving in July. His new prospects include knitting and tea, or possibly a stint at an overseas brewery. So this is the time to go in to Fork & Brewer and try all of Lester’s wonderful creations! The Easter Egg Stout may be gone, but the Base Isolator, the Hipster Pilsner and all of his other hits will still be going strong.