This week we catch up with 33–year–old, Russell Erskine whose passion for beer and brewing led him on an unexpected career path and ultimately, to a life in Auckland, New Zealand.
‘I have lived away from home for coming on 7 years now, and cannot see myself returning anytime soon…
I write from New Zealand. I ended up here after having visited 6 or 7 years ago for a month–long holiday. I had always wanted to return, and so purchased a working holiday visa when I was just on the limit of the age restriction.
After having been in Australia and New Zealand when I was 28 years old, I had returned home with no real plan nor massive prospects. I took two part–time jobs in Belfast, lived on the Cregagh Road in east Belfast for a few months, and then started looking for a job that would be holistic and give me serious on–the–job progression possibilities… I tried the Ambulance Service, the reserve Army, the Fire Service over the years, but what came next I had not really prepared for.
While in Australia, I had stumbled upon the new but quickly growing beer industry. Notwithstanding my historical excessive consumption of this fine beverage, I pursued a path of somehow working in the beer industry. I sent an email to a company called Brewdog regarding bar staff. I got a response, but not for the service of beer. It was for the aiding of producing and supplying it – but with one hitch. It was located in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire.
I am not sure how to diplomatically describe Fraserburgh, but suffice to say that the people are far warmer and friendlier than the facade of that damp, dank corner of Scotland. I took the plunge. Fast–forward four years and I was a fully–fledged brewer who had made many friends from around the world and worked with, without doubt, the most important and influential and inspiring people I could have asked for.
That job is what I consider to be a massive turning point in my life. I am not sure I will go through another experience like it. To put it simply, after those four years I never ever thought of returning to Northern Ireland. The opportunities in life had opened my eyes to living and working anywhere BUT Northern Ireland.
I say this sadly, but traditionally, Northern Ireland, is not exactly known for its entrepreneurial zeal. The restrictive habits directed towards my side of the economy, and the political direction of the powers–that–be regarding opening hours etc did not exactly endear me towards coming home.
Sure, the quieter life and the real terms affordability of Belfast was – and still is – tempting. However, looking at N.I from the outside has made me realise just how much the politics and history of the place holds it back. I know that real progress is being made, but I hope that one day there will be proper change triggered by the people. The people are way ahead of what we see on television.
New Zealand has a much better work/life split. I took a pay cut in the job that I acquired before I even set foot in the place, but I also took a 10–12 hour cut in my weekly working hours!! I would much rather take the time than the money.
New Zealand is like one big giant village. A great collective national (secular) spirit along with great weather (at least where I live up North). It is also, to put it mildly, the safest and most friendly country I have been to. They say the Irish are hospitable, but in my experience the Kiwis are a notch up the ladder. I live in a quiet rural setting North of Auckland with two other brewers and two local “Natural Wine” makers. I call local small business owners my friends, and have gotten to ride in some proper mountain biking settings.
The whole place is beautiful. Of course the down sides are, apart from the Auckland traffic and generally shambolic house prices, that I do not see my parents, my brothers, my sisters–in–law, or my four nephews or grandmothers. But like so many of us from Ireland (North or South) and the UK, I have family connections here and assimilate like no other place I rather would.
My future, for the foreseeable time, lies down here. Life is much slower. Maybe one day “home” will become that again, it might even be sooner than I imagine if I cannot extend my stay here. But until then, I can’t imagine anywhere better placed to fulfil my personal aspirations. I just wish they were more interested in football. And that the beer was cheaper…And the whisk(e)y!’