Though he grew up in Roswell, and lives in Decatur, Brian Watts is known as the “International Man of Beer” for 8 Wired Brewing Co. in Warkworth, New Zealand.
Sitting at the bar at My Parents’ Basement in Avondale one recent afternoon, sipping an 8 Wired Hippy Cucumber Berliner Weiss, Watts said the 16-hour time difference between Atlanta and Auckland can be a bit disorienting at times.
But the back-and-forth has been part of a much longer, more difficult journey that began in tragedy and continues in a place where he’s found good friends and a home away from home.
In 2012, the year after his 26-year-old wife, Brittney Fox Watts, was shot and killed in a Midtown Atlanta parking garage, Watts journeyed to New Zealand with a one-way ticket and a one-year work visa.
“It was No. 1 on the list of places Brittney and I wanted to go together,” Watts, who is an avid hiker and cyclist, told me later. “Traveling alone was pretty tough. But it was one of those moments when you decide, if you can’t make it through this, and you quit here, and you give up, you’re not going to make it through the rest of life.”
That brewer/founder Soren Eriksen and the 8 Wired family adopted Watts as a kindred spirit during some of his darkest days, and eventually gave him a job handling sales for the company, was the start of another life and a new career.
“In the beginning, I was mostly doing sales in New Zealand,” Watts said. “Now I’m doing the U.S. and Canada, and helping out in Europe and Asia.”
Oddly, during most of the time Watts has represented 8 Wired around the world and in 36 U.S. states, its beer hasn’t been available in Georgia, mainly because it was part of the Shelton Brothers importers portfolio, and didn’t have a distributor here.
Last month, though, Shelton Brothers — known for bringing beers from the likes of Cantillon, Fantome and Westvleteren to the U.S. — joined with Tucker-based Liberator Distributing to deliver 8 Wired to the Atlanta market.
“Typically, we’re in high-end beer bars and package stores, and as far as price point, that’s where we need to be,” Watts said. “But in Atlanta, it’s about relationships, too, so it’s nice to be at My Parents’ Basement and Grindhouse Burgers.”
Watts describes 8 Wired as a craft brewery founded on travel and a curiosity about new flavors, with a special focus on barrel-aged and sour beers.
“Soren, who is Danish, and his wife, Monique, who is a Kiwi, met in Bangladesh and moved to New Zealand, where they started the brewery as a sort of mom and pop business,” Watts said. “And I think their passion for traveling, and the way they met, is why they started exporting beer.
“But they were making beer styles that were ahead of the game in New Zealand, so it was a good way to push the boundaries and sell beer, and build the brand around the world.”
As far as what 8 Wired beers might be showing up in Atlanta in the coming weeks and months, don’t look for much in the way of pale ale or IPA.
“Most of what we’re sending now are barrel-aged beers and things like imperial stouts, smoked porters, saisons or sours,” Watts said. “Those are beers that can be aged and don’t need to be delivered fresh, like hoppy beers.”
Asked if being the “International Man of Beer” sometimes seems surreal, Watts laughed.
“First of all, if I’m doing an event, people expect me to be from New Zealand, and then they hear me talk, and there’s a little disappointment that I’m clearly not a Kiwi,” he said. “Explaining to people that I live in Georgia and I work for a brewery in New Zealand usually takes a while.
“But I love that. I love what I do. I love the brewery and the people. They brew some of the best beers in the world, so it’s easy to get behind it. And it keeps me traveling.”
8 WIRED ON TAP TODAY
Cucumber Hippy Berliner Weiss (Hippy with cucumbers)
Hippy Berliner (4.5% dry hopped Berliner Weiss)
Rendition (Belgian ale with Brett/Orval Clone)
iStout (10% Russian Impial Stout)
Flat White (5.5% Coffee Milk Stout)
Hopwired (7.3% New Zealand IPA)
Saison Sauvin (7% Hoppy Saison)