Inundation and Appreciation

Life post-brewing has been kind. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any source of income at the moment (which has a few downsides) but there is the hope that one day the house that I’m working on will be up to standard to sell and we get a bit of money for all the hard graft! On the upside, I’m learning a lot about renovating houses, I’m now close to being a master sander/scraper of windowsills and doors and my ability to remove wallpaper and rip up lino is improving every day.

Then there are the other upsides! I’ve managed to procure my brother’s homebrew setup and have promptly entered the world of the home brewer. Sure, I’ve played around on small kits before, mostly when I was with Epic and we cranked up ePicoBrewery to trial new beers, with both Epicurean Coffee and Fig Imperial Oatmeal Stout (codename: ePicobrewery Collision) and Zythos (codename: ePicobrewery Zythogeddon) beginning their lives on this 50 litre scale. 

Being away from brewing for a few months has been both refreshing and a bit disappointing. The last 20 months had been pretty frantic with the new brewery startup at Good George, the birth of our son and the passing of Dad as well as a move into uncharted territory of life PB (post-brewing) and moving ourselves to New Plymouth without any employment.

Laying down a mash in the garage and smelling that beautiful sweet, biscuity malt has been therapeutic. It’s times like this that you completely understand why your lifepath has worked the way it has and had me brewing professionally for close to a third of my existence. It’s been fun to get a little experimental again, something that I’ve always loved to do and I’ve been stoked with the Chamomile and Sage Saison (Sageson) in particular.

There are other things about being freelance that have also been wonderful. Dave Kurth has been extremely generous and sent me a few samples of his delicious canned Hot Water Brewing beers, with the Kauri Falls Pale Ale (my brother, Shannon’s 2013 Beer of the Year) and Walker’s Porter both showing the excellent drinkability that is Dave’s trademark. 

Our family was also very lucky to be supplied by Good George, Epic and mike’s with beer for Dad’s wake, again, it’s so amazing to have support like this from the brewing industry and there were certainly some palates opened up to tasty beer and cider, that’s for sure!

I’ve also just received a box from Mel and Phil of Beertique, a relatively new company based in Auckland who are importing international beers and ciders from around the world for our enjoyment here in NZ. Even though I’ve never met them, they’ve sent me a selection including Thornbridge Jaipur and Kill Your Darlings, Camden Town Gentleman’s Wit, Wild Beer Co (best beer website i’ve seen in a long time, especially the beer descriptions) Madness IPA and the Wild Beer Co/Burning Sky/Good George Shnoodlepip that I collaborated on in the UK last year. Thanks so much Mel and Phil!

Speaking of Shnoodlepip, this was the first actual time I have tasted the beer and I’m super pleased with how it has turned out. The last time I tasted it, it was still wort being pumped into an open fermenter and being dosed with Brettanomyces and Saison yeast strains. We had chucked a (possibly) ridiculous amount of crushed pink peppercorns into the end of the boil. Not a true peppercorn, these fuchsia-pink fruit have a lovely pepper-like note and always impress me with their sweetness and juniper-berry like character. If I recall, Andrew from Wild Beer Co cranked up the barbecue and we had the most amazing pink peppercorn-coated steak sandwiches for lunch on the brewday. A great flavourmemory.

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Myself, Mark Tranter and Brett Ellis hanging out in the open fermenter…

Post ferment, we were constantly in touch to chart the beer’s progress. Not only was this brew to be barrel aged, it was also to include passion fruit and hibiscus flowers. We wanted a little tartness and dryness form the yeast strains, depth of spice from the pink peppercorns (though not too much) that would blend in well with the vanilla and spicey notes from the oak barrels and then a little more tart fruitiness from the Hibiscus flowers. These were to be infused and added for both flavour and the fantastic hue that they give. Finally the passionfruit was there for that heady, rich impact. It’s unique combination of sweet and sharp and an uplifting tropical aspect would hopefully bring this unusual beer to completion.

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Shnoodlepip wort

Do you know what? It worked! A touch of pink in the colour, almost like a pale ale has been blended with a Rosé wine, a fantastic effervescence in the mouth with bubbles that almost seem larger than they are, but in a good way. That underlying tastness from front to back, balanced with body and sweetness from the fruit and vanilla-like oak. The passion-fruit finish, brining it into the realms of NZ Sauvignon Blanc but with in a tasteful one-dimensional way. It is just passionfruit, no gooseberry or lychee or anything else getting in the way.

It was the memory of my Nana and Grandpa’s passionfruit vine on a hot summer day in Oakura as a child. Cracking open the super-ripe crinkly-skinned passionfruit that littered the soil under the vine, usually with your teeth (sometimes to the point where the sides of your mouth hurt from eating so many of those addictive, acidic delights). I shared some with my Mum and Catherine, their eyes opening wide, both of them impressed with this beer from the other side of the world.

I love collaboration and I love doing something slightly different. And I am so appreciative of being inundated with these fantastic brews.

Inspiration begets Inspiration.

I’m off to write a beer recipe…

(By the way, another little side-project I’m involved with involves brewing, a nano-brewery and New Plymouth… Brew Mountain is getting closer!)

 

Farewell brewing. You’ve been amazing!

I’m leaving the world of brewing.

Hopefully not for too long though…

It’s been a tough decision, but we’ve decided to move back to Taranaki to be closer to my family and my Dad who has got cancer. Jobs come and go but we all only have one family and it’s going to be great to be living around the corner from Mum, Dad and my brother and his family so we can spend loads of quality time together.

Good George Brewing will continue on, with our great brewers Nate Ross and JB Martineau taking the reins and doing the Good things that they’re currently doing and I’m sure I’ll be keeping in close touch with them, especially as I want to see how our barrel aged and sour beers go over the coming months and years and taste my babies as they progress!

Thanks for everyone in the brewing world’s support. It’s been an incredible 13 years since I began as an innocent trainee brewer. I’ve made friends for life and will hopefully keep meeting all of the brilliant people that surround this industry.

And if anyone wants to set up a brewery in New Plymouth and throw heaps of money at me… You know where to find me :)

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Rock on!!!!

 

 

 

chalice: belgian black – An Auction

Oak can do some pretty amazing things to beer. As brewers we’re always appreciative of the flavours, aroma and complexity that not only oak can bring but also the heavenly liquids that the barrels once held. Whether the finest Chardonnay, a sour mash Bourbon or a sweet, sticky Pedro Ximénez sherry, the character that can come from the memory of these fine drops can be impressive.

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Here is what we want to do. The very first bottle of our chalice series is up for auction. It is an interesting brew… It was born on November 19, 2012 as a big, bold dark brew. Fermented initially with a British Ale yeast strain, it then found its way into some fine French Oak 2008 Pinot Noir barrels from Spy Valley in Marlborough where it has slumbered for a little over 6 months. During this time, an American Ale yeast strain and a Saison yeast made their way into the mix to help with the fermentation.

Why chalice? The beers that will come out in this range are a little bit different than the norm. They’re to be appreciated and savoured. To be sipped and to satiate. We love the wonderful goblets and chalices that the Belgian brewers use to showcase their beers, so thought it was the perfect name for this series!

The goal was to blur the boundaries between wine and beer. To showcase the berry goodness of the Pinot Noir, the subtlety of the aged oak notes and the underlying soul of the malt, hops and yeast varieties used during the beer’s birth. We think we’ve achieved that.

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As for styles? If we enter the technical world of brewing, we guess it’s somewhere between a Black Saison, a British Imperial Stout and a Belgian Dark Ale. Like the Belgians however, who are renown for creating brews more on provenance than on a style guideline, we just call it belgian black. It comes in at 11.2% AbV.

The beer in this bottle has finally been refermented with a strain of French Champagne yeast. It’s alive (the yeast in the sediment in the bottom of the bottle is testament to this), it’s been through a lot, with four separate fermentations and most importantly it has wonderful drinkability. We won’t tell you about what it tastes or smells or looks like. We’ll leave that to you.

The proceeds from the sale of this first bottle will go to the Child Cancer Foundation. So get out a few greenbacks and tell us what you’d pay for this…

We’re going to run the auction on the Good George Brewing Facebook page, so jump on and place a bid for a great cause!

Changing Tides and Pearls of the Pacific

It’s amazing what 2 1/2 years away from a country can teach you. Coming back to the UK provided me with a huge lungful of fresh (and remarkably cool) air and sometimes the mind and soul needs inspiration. I found bucket loads…

So, as I talked about in my previous post, it was back to England for me with an invitation from the JD Wetherspoon pub group to come over and brew a tasty beverage for their biannual International Real Ale Festival. The ale of choice was a nice, hoppy, black number, brewed at the fantastic Batemans Brewery in Lincolnshire with a liberal dosing of Kiwi hops in the mix. The festival just began a couple of days ago, so it has been brilliant to see people on social media enjoying the beer and commenting so positively!

It began (inevitably) with the long airway trek from the Land of the Long White Cloud via various countries to the ever welcoming London Heathrow airport. I was met there by Ian Jeffery of Naked Brands, the company that has the fun challenge of organizing all of us international brewers and ensuring we arrive and get to our corresponding breweries on time! After 50 hours of travel, I did find myself slightly dehydrated, so by luck, there was a pub in the airport. Fellow international brewer, Jason Oliver from Devils Backbone Brewery was obviously also feeling a little dry, so we shared a couple of pints, had a few yarns, as seems to happen in British pubs and made our way to the hotel in Euston. This hotel was conveniently close to the Euston Tap and even closer to the Cider Tap. Needless to say, we sampled like we hadn’t been there for years and slept like babies that night.

A thirsty Jason Oliver from Devils Backbone Brewery

The next morning it was up bright and early and on to the train to Lincolnshire. I was off to Batemans Brewery in the bustling metropolis of Wainfleet All Saints to lay down a couple of brews and freakin’ excited at the prospect! The train ride gave me a bit of time to reflect on the quality and diversity of the beers and ciders that I’d been sampling the night before. I thought back to 2006 when I first arrived in the UK and began brewing there and the offer of beers that was around. There wasn’t a lot of non big brand beer available, seldom did you see something from the US. The keg beer from smaller breweries in the UK was pretty much limited to breweries like Meantime and Samuel Smiths and even then, I could imagine the challenge to get tap space in bars was a tough one. Changing tides? Absolutely.

Leaving England in 2010, I remembered the beginning of the London Brewery Alliance, with its 9 or 10 breweries back then. Returning a couple of years later, I was absolutely staggered by the amount of intensive growth. The new wave of breweries, all working hard to promote and interest people with a good pint… An impressive 40+ breweries now operating in the London region. It’s amazing to see this change and how this industry is metamorphosing with a great combination of tasty keg and cask beer on offer in a growing number of pubs and bars.

My mind shifted back to the flat, agricultural fields of Lincolnshire and the heady, sulphurous Brassica aromatics that came from the surrounding countryside, cabbages abound. I made a mental note that fresh cabbage leaves should never make it into any speciality beer…

I met up with Martin Cullimore, Batemans’ Head Brewer at the train station and we made our way to the brewery. I was really looking forward to seeing the distinctive windmill tower that is heralded in their branding and was suitably impressed by the choice of flag that stood proud at the top…

The New Zealand Flag on top of the Batemans Brewery windmill

The New Zealand Flag on top of the Batemans Brewery windmill

It was up bright and early the next morning, with 120 UK barrels (around 19640 litres) to be brewed, it was going to be a decent days work! I met up with brewer Adrian Symonds and we began mashing in some tasty Pacific Pearl wort! Interestingly, Adrian and his family (including his parents and uncles) had worked collectively for around 180 years for Batemans Brewery. How amazing is that!!

The Pacific Pearl hop and grain grist came about from a bunch of phone calls and emails between Head Brewer Martin and myself. We chose to use some malt varieties that Martin used in his Batemans beers, in particular the Flagon variety of barley along with a blend of Munich, Chocolate, Black malt and a hint of Crystal to provide a bit of dextrinous richness to balance out the bittering hops. Hop wise, I chose a triumvirate of Kiwi powerhouse hops… Pacific Jade, Pacific Gem and Pacifica. The plan was also to use some Nelson Sauvin or New Zealand Chinook in the dry-hopping, but due to lack of supply and the seemingly endless infatuation with Kiwi hops abroad, I decided that an alternative that would give a similar resinous, citrus kick would have to be the lovely US Chinook… It is grown close to the Pacific, so I thought that was enough for me to allow it into the mix…

Montage!

Montage!

Always a fan of the montage, here is a bit of an explanation of the odd picture to the left (clockwise from George…)

Interestingly, Batemans Brewery was founded by George Bateman in 1874… Is it sheer coincidence that a brewer from Good George Brewery should be brewing beer there a mere 139 years later? I think not!

Next is a picture of Pacific Pearl in the later stages of fermentation in one of the many open fermenters that Batemans use.

That strange looking fella is a brewer at 5am in the morning loading the giant grist case with a little under 2 tonnes of malted barley.

This Batemans pump clip montage appears on a wall of the bedroom in the brewer’s cottage.

That bright red glowing light is what the Pacific Pearl wort looks like as it rushes through the heat exchanger.

The crazy, creamy stuff is the yeast at a stage known as High Krausen… it’s right at the peak of active fermentation and smells incredibly fruity!.

The final picture is of the four separate wort samples after all 240 barrels were brewed… Good to see that colour consistency!

All in all, I can’t speak more highly of my experience with the Batemans team. They looked after me really well, it was amazing to brew in a place with such heritage and, as always, you learn so much from hanging out and brewing with brewers. Everyone will always do something slightly different and its always an extremely educational experience. The thing that impressed me most was the loyalty that the staff had… I think Adam, who was in charge of quality assurance and the brewing laboratory was still thought of as a newbie after being there for 12 years…

Lincoln Cathedral by night

Lincoln Cathedral by night

I also got the chance to head into Lincoln for a night on the town with Andrew, the Batemans Sales Director. It was brilliant and many pints and curries were sampled :)

Next stop was back to London where we headed to the impressive Cross Keyes pub to meet up with all of the other international brewers and have a meet and greet with the Wetherspoons staff. As well as Jason from Devils Backbone Brewery, the international team included Cam O’Connor from Deschutes Brewery in the US, Evgeny Tolstov from Vasileostrovsky Brewery in Russia, Klaudio Mouzakitis from Corfu Brewery, Lodewijk Swinkels from Bierbrouwerij Koningshoeven (La Trappe) in the Netherlands, Gary Lohin from Central City Brewing in Canada and Honza Kocka from Brewery Nomád/Kocovnik in Czechoslovakia. Needless to say, a few pints were enjoyed in a few of the local Wetherspoons outlet before we made our way to Borough Market and the celebrated Rake bar so that we could continue to enjoy the plethora of delightful brews that the UK has to offer.

Myself, Lodewijk Swindels of La Trappe and Don Burgess of Freeminer Brewery hanging out at The Rake

Myself, Lodewijk Swindels of La Trappe and Don Burgess of Freeminer Brewery hanging out at The Rake

 

The following day saw a bunch of us head for a brewery tour at Fullers Brewery out in Chiswick. I had never had the chance to visit this brewery and (as you can imagine) was pretty damn excited about going to check out this important part of London brewing history. In my mind, their London Porter is the epitome of this style of beer and I always find myself absolutely amazed by its richness, body and the incredible chocolate character. It’s one of those beers that is great on either cask or keg.

Speaking of which, there is some crazy, weird debate going on in the insular world of brewing, beer blogging, beer social media etc. about whether cask can be craft (Mark Dredge of Pencil and Spoon puts forward an interesting blog here), whether it’s okay to refer to keg as being craft or non-craft, whether breweries are allowed to put forward cask dispense and keg dispense options for the same beers, why keg beer costs more than cask beer, blah blah blah.

Two words. STOP IT.

How on earth is this industry going to keep moving forward at the rate it has over the last 10 years if everyone is riding the wave of pedantry, getting pissed off with terminology and generally alienating each other. So brewers… Please, please, please spend lots of time brewing great beer and promoting it and educating people about it, not moaning about your dislike of the term “craft keg” which exists in the minutiae of beer marketing and promotion. We’re an industry that works really well together, let’s aim to keep it that way! Make good beer and let the moaners moan.

Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough and will fill you all in on my tours of Fullers, Meantime, Camden Town, my road trip with brewer extraordinaire, Mark Tranter and super-fun collaboration brew with the Wild Beer Co guys in Somerset, a trip to Bristol and their great Beer Factory, as well as a couple of days at the SIBA Beer X in Sheffield (and a brief interlude or two at Thornbridge Brewery) in my next blog. I’m also pretty keen to let you know about my 5 favourite beers of the trip!!

Cheers and Beers!

The old copper Mash Tun at Fullers Brewery in London

The old copper Mash Tun at Fullers Brewery in London

Good

Wow. I think that’s the one word that sums up the last year of my life. From leaving Epic Brewing in Auckland to moving down to Raglan and taking on the head brewer role for Good George Brewing to heading to Fiji and Canada to help out with some brewery consulting to judging at the World Beer Cup in San Diego, the NZ Brewing Awards back home and the excellent National Homebrew Competition held here in Hamilton to running the brewery here to hiring the fantastic Nate Ross (ex Kernel Brewery in London and Renaissance Brewery in Blenheim) as my assistant brewer and being in the process of hiring yet another great assistant brewer, Jean-Baptiste Martineau from France (whom due to the colour of his locks and Heriot-Watt training, I have dubbed French Martin Dickie from Brewdog) to now heading over to the UK to brew 40 000 litres of a nice, hoppy black ale called Pacific Pearl (at Batemans Brewery in Lincolnshire) for the JD Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival.

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That’s why I decided I needed a long sentence. It’s been a busy and brilliant year.

Good George has taken off with a hiss and a roar! In just three weeks of production, we hit our capacity and were able to look at getting in new tanks and kegs, which have just arrived. We thought that we’d grow into our capacity over the first year, but far out have we been surprised! There has been some fantastic feedback from customers and the odd lukewarm response from beer-geeks and die-hard “cheap beer” fanatics, but I’ll get to that a bit later…

So what has been happening here in the little suburb of Frankton? I’ve been working hard on our core group of beers and ciders, never quite 100% happy with each batch, but that’s what been a brewer is all about, right! I’m a massive believer in continuous improvement and this also ties in a lot with taking our customers on a bit of a journey, which is definitely one of the things I truly believe in and am hopefully achieving.

The original range of our White Ale, Sparkling Ale, IPA and Amber Ale as well as our Cider, Drop Hop Cider and Doris Plum Cider have all been tweaked at every brew which has been great fun. I love experimenting. There is an important reason behind this. To begin with, the majority of people who visit Good George and have become our regulars haven’t had a lot of experience with craft beer. They may have tried the odd bottle or pint, but I keep noticing that the majority of folk would rather start off in their comfort zone and learn a little before venturing into this large, unknown world of different flavours.

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Nate Ross and Nathan Sweetman try out our White Ale Beersicles that we dreamed up for our Waitangi Day celebration

I suppose it’s quite interesting that our little brewpub used to be The Church of Saint George. The beers that we brew here are about conversion. Moving people away from the cheapest 24-pack of bottles they can get at the supermarket, realising that craft beer isn’t necessarily just about big, bitter beers (which can be quite scary and shocking for those new to the world) or thick, rich coffee and chocolate stouts (which again can be a bit flavour-forward for a lot of people who are used to drinking relatively flavour-neutral brews). I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. I’ve spent a lot of my brewing past making bigger flavoured brews and love doing this, though the more I work and play in this industry, the more I realise that there are a heap of people out there that just don’t really know where to begin. They may pick up the odd bottle of craft at the supermarket to give it a go but are put off by the flavour or bitterness or sheer intensity! These are things that a lot of us craft beer lovers and beer-geeks strive for in a brew, but we’re a minority. Luckily though, we’re a minority that wants to turn the world of the uninitiated into a world of great beer lovers. That’s a special place to be and that’s always in the forefront of my mind.

I think back to a question from a great NZ brewer who came to visit soon after we opened. He tried the beers and looked at me quite quizzically. “You wouldn’t have brewed these types of beers before, would you?” he asked. By this, he was referring (well, hopefully!) to easier drinking brews with a little more balance and subtlety than others I’d done before. “Of course!” was my reply. I told him of the wonderful Fyne Ales brews… Highlander, Piper’s Gold, Maverick, Vital Spark. Of Thornbridge with it’s Hopton, Lord Marples, Brock, Wild Swan, Jaywick, Ashford and so many more. Beers that were lighter in strength, were rounded and full of flavour and balanced and drinkable. Each with their own personality and enough accessibility to allow those that don’t know a lot about the flavours and aromas of craft to appreciate them and begin them on the road to being a beer-lover.

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Sure, there are nay-sayers and there always will be in this sometimes dichotomous world of brewing and beer. There are always those that want more. More flavour, more hops, more body, more esters, more acidity, more malt, more richness, more roastiness, more intensity, more drinkability… you get my drift. There are also the others. The classic “that beer is crap” folk. They taste a beer with a little more character than usual, think about the beer that they drink every day, possibly bought in a crate of 745 mL bottles or on super-special at the liquor store and insist that it tastes like mouthwash, dog’s arse (yes, that has been said and we have queried how someone knows what that tastes like!) or something else that they draw from their vast experience of beer tasting. I’m not saying they’re wrong for not liking it of course! I’d be surprised if everyone liked every single beer they try and everyone is entitled to like or dislike what they want. I honestly think everyone is entitled to an opinion about beer, but only as long as they can argue that opinion… with me… :)

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Crate! (Image from http://www.connox.com)

The other great thing about brewing beers and ciders that appeal to a good cross section of people is that it helps us to grow the business. The great thing about growing a business is that it then gives you the resources to do more fun things. Interesting, eclectic beers, barrel-aging programmes, experimenting with different yeasts and bacteria and having the staff and time to do these things. We’re getting closer to this point and this is another source of excitement!

We’ve just had a bit of a play with something a little different… Nate and I sat down with a selection of hops, got our noses primed and decided on what we think is a great combination that we’ve put into our 5.5% Black Pearl, a hoppy black ale that is a bit of a brother brew to Pacific Pearl that I’ll be brewing in the UK.

Black Pearl used a combination of Pacific Jade, Pacifica, Amarillo, Admiral and NZ Chinook to give a decent level of hoppiness without being massively over the top. I really wanted this beer to have a nice, rich maltiness without being over-roasty or too chocolatey. It had to dance gracefully with the hop bill and with 55 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), the bitterness had to also be soft and gentle in its intensity. I see this beer as a little bit of a stepping stone. It begins to take people out of their comfort zone slightly. It always surprises me how many people think that darker beers are instantly more “heavy” or “a meal in a glass”. To have explained to them that they still use the same ingredients, they still contain the same amount of water and they aren’t like that old, skewed memory of their first pint of Guinness (which I have never really found to be heavy but I know that people drink with their eyes!). This is important. The act of getting them to close their eyes and have a sip. To have a second sip to allow their palate to get used to the initial bitterness. To ask them if they find an ice chocolate or an ice coffee or a coolish glass of red wine or a mug of iced tea to be heavy because they are darker in colour. To get them to think a little about what they’re drinking. That’s the first step. It’s not being disappointed that they don’t appreciate the nuances that the brewer has worked hard to get into the beer. It’s just the first step on the road of appreciation. Beer as a refreshment is a given, as a craft brewer I love watching that voyage of discovery for the new craft beer drinker. That conversion

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So it’s a countdown now until England beckons again. I’ve missed the wonderful world of cask ale, I still nod disappointedly at the generic Kiwi terminology for British Ale… “That’s that warm, flat stuff isn’t it?” In fact I really hope we can get a good cask ale programme cranking here at Good George… one for the future I think and I’m looking forward to it!

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Teaming up with Bateman’s is really exciting. I’ve been working closely with their Head Brewer, Martin McCullimore on getting this recipe exactly where I want it. Pacific Pearl is going to be jam-packed with some of New Zealand Hops’ finest… Pacific Jade, Pacific Gem, Pacifica and because it’s truly Pacific (and I can’t source any NZ Chinook in the UK), we’ll even throw in some US West Coast Chinook to bring in a hint of piney intensity. We’re dry-hopping this brew, it’s going to be rich and bitter and I can’t wait to brew it (though a 6 am followed by a 5 am start after 40 or so hours of flight and travel is going to be a good challenge). If you’re in the UK and are close to a Wetherspoon’s pub in April, please go and try it and let me know what you think of it!

Because I’m travelling all that way, I’m also going to team up with my great mate, Mark Tranter, the (soon-to-be) former head brewer and wizard behind the fantastic Dark Star Brewery in Sussex and head to Somerset to put down a brew with that whacky, wild duo of Brett and Andrew at Wild Beer Co. It seems fitting with Good George being on Somerset Street here in Hamilton that I do something fun with them!

ImageAnd fun it shall be… I can give you a few hints on what has been going on in our twisted brewing minds… Think Hibiscus, Passionfruit, Pink Peppercorns, Barrels and Brettanomyces and you’ll begin to form a picture of what is going to be an extremely exciting beer!

I’m also going to head up to the SIBA Beer X in Sheffield for a day to catch up with lots of brewers hopefully as well as pop in to my old home of four years, The Coach and Horses in Dronfield, to catch up with all of my great friends and locals there. Hopefully some of the Thornbridge crew as well!

So that’s where I’m at.

Good?

Hell, yeah!

Codex Fermentarius

Tomorrow we begin to move our tanks into our new brewhouse in Somerset Street, Frankton in Hamilton. The building itself is a deconsecrated church. It got me thinking about what the Brewer’s Ten Commandments could be. Add some more and I’ll pick a few great ones for the ultimate list. Also, I’ll tell you the name of the brewpub in a few days with a bit of luck. Excited? Yep!!!

Codex Fermentarius

Thou shalt not covet another brewers’ kegs or casks.

Honour thy other brewer’s recipe choice.

Rejoice to thy daughter yeast and thy mother yeast.

Thy glass shalt always be full. Never half full. Never half empty.

Remember thy first brew day. And keep it holy.

Thou shalt not steal another brewer’s hop combination. This is hopdultery.

Thou shalt not covet another brewery’s name. Or beer name. Especially if it is that of a German cyclist.

Seven days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work. Thou art a brewer. Drinking is work.

Taste thy water, taste thy malted grains, taste thy yeast. Don’t taste thy hop flowers.

Thou shalt not drink false beverages. We know what thee are.

Give me some more great Brewer’s Commandments!

The Road to Building a Brewery…

Three months now since I left Epic and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind…

I moved here…

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This is a view from the balcony of my place on the mighty West Coast of NZ called Raglan. It has black sand, which is the proper colour of sand as every honourable Taranaki denizen will tell you. It has amazing surf and I seriously need to get a board and see if I can remember how to stand up and more importantly, it has a nice sheltered harbour which is perfect for me to go kayak fishing in!

I can be in Hamilton in around 35 minutes which is handy as this is where I’m going to be working in a new brewpub on Somerset Street in the suburb of Frankton. But more about that a wee bit later…

The last few months have seen me clock up a few air miles and head across the globe to help out a few breweries. Our brewery is coming from a company called DME who are based in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island which was quite fortuitous as my first offshore job landed me in Charlottetown!

I spent 2 1/2 weeks at Prince Edward Island Brewing Company/Gahan House Brewery helping the team out. As with the majority of craft breweries across the globe, the team were a brilliant bunch and we had some fun (and long) hours spent commissioning new fermenting vessels, double and triple brewing, counting yeast cells by the million and commissioning a new canning line!

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This picture shows PEI brewer, Bryan Carver, checking out their awesome DME brewkit. Interestingly, one of the laws on the Island involving brewing is that no commercial beer can be brewed over 6.5% alcohol by volume. You can probably imagine how restrictive that is for a bunch of passionate and creative brewers and I really hope that this law is overturned and the guys can push out some big Imperial Stouts or Barley Wines!

PEI was also pretty cold. After a couple of weeks there I was definitely keen to head back to warmth. It’s not often that a Kiwi sees ice on a beach. Walking along the shore and seeing a load of razor clam, clam and oyster shells made me pretty keen to get a feed but the fact that it was only about 2-3 degrees celsius made that pretty damn unlikely! Lucky the local restaurants did incredible food and I was lucky enough to head along to Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar and have an incredible local lobster and some aged PEI beef which is up there with some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

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Contrast is a pretty cool thing and my next port of call was Nadi in Fiji. I spent a couple of weeks at Island Brewing Company, the home of Vonu Lager and had a great time with their brewing team. Aisea, Soneel, Ashweeta and the rest of the team run a fantastic setup and it was cool to come in and work on some of their processes and make some improvements. It’s not often a brewery has a full laboratory setup and designated staff for the roles and this definitely makes a big difference with regards production. Another thing of interest is the fact that most of the brewing staff have scientific degrees and have all completed qualifications with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in the UK. It’s just the little things, but these all add up to make a real difference in a brewery.

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This is a picture of Soneel working hard on the DME kit in Fiji. Needless to say, the brewhouse got pretty warm…

Most readers will know of the legendary hospitality of the Pacific Islands and it was no different when we were there. Heading out to the brewery manager’s house for dinner, learning how to cook various curries, make roti bread and some seriously delicious dahl, or getting a delicious meal of mud crab, cassava and ota fern (similar to the New Zealand Pikopiko) dropped off by the brewery staff (thanks Etuate!). I can’t forget the big banquet that the staff put on for me on my last day either. No one knows hospitality like the Fijians!

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It was back to NZ for a couple of days or so to continue the process of getting everything sorted for the brewpub that is going in and then it was off again! This time it was to San Diego to judge in the World Beer Cup, the premier international beer competition that I was lucky enough to be invited to again. The WBC occurs every two years and with almost 4000 beers entered for judging, this was the biggest one yet. It coincides with the Craft Brewers Conference which we also attended. This is jam-packed with loads of seminars ranging from sustainability right through to brewing Berliner Weisse or using social media in beer marketing and has something for everyone within the industry. As well as that you get to rub shoulders with some of the world’s greatest brewers which is good if you have a few questions for them!

I was stoked to see a few mates from Australia pick up medals in the competition, super pleased with Lovibonds (from the UK) taking out a Gold Medal in the Barrel Aged Sour category and stoked to see the old crew from Thornbridge pick up a Bronze Medal for their Black IPA, Raven.

Five points if you can tell me who this bona fide HOPHEAD is in the picture at Lost Abbey brewery in San Marcos, California

So now I’m back in New Zealand and we’re all working hard at getting everything organised for the arrival of our brewery. As some of you out there know, it’s no easy task to get everything organised and I’m learning something new every day. It’s fantastic! The site is coming along slowly, we have a brewhouse wall (see picture below) and the floors are going to begin to be poured this week, meetings with suppliers and everyone in between are becoming commonplace. I am becoming a spreadsheet master at organising incoming quotations for all matters of equipment and the day where that first brew goes down is drawing ever closer.

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I’ll keep on posting here when I have the time and if you’re lucky I may even post a few pics of my super awesome engineering drawings. Let’s just say I should stick to brewing…

It’s been Epic!

It’s official. I have just one week left with Epic Brewing Company before moving on to a Head Brewer role at a new brewpub in Hamilton. Changing jobs is always a tough decision and none have been more difficult than this one. My 13 months with Epic have been fantastic and filled with more beery highlights than ever:

NZ Craft Beer TV - This was an incredible project to be a part of. Capturing a moment in time in Kiwi brewing, combining the musings of brewers and developing a beer and getting a bit of content on to the internet. I learnt loads, got to meet some fantastic people and was instantly mesmerised by the quality of the NZ brewing landscape.

Mash Up – How to capture what we thought was a representation of New Zealand beer in a manner that all involved brewers would agree on? Writing a recipe and getting out there for discussion was the first step and it worked out pretty well! I’m really proud of this beer and think the brewers of NZ should be as well. Kudos to you all! We did slightly tweak the final batch, but I reckon it’ll get a Gold instead of Silver in the BrewNZ awards now :)

Hop Zombie – This is one of my favourite beers of all time. Working with someone like Luke means that you don’t really have to worry about the cost of hops per litre of beer or anything like that. It’s about delivering an experience, so we worked on doing just that. We only had enough hops to do 2 brews in 2011, which was a shame, because it was a popular beast! The first brew needed tweaking. We wouldn’t be brewers if we didn’t work hard to realise our dream beers. The second batch was exactly where we wanted it. I’m really going to miss this beer!

Photo from http://www.thebeerproject.com (Jed Soane)

Barrels – Always fun to play with! I remember coming over at the beginning of 2010 to brew the Epic Thornbridge Stout and seeing a dozen or so brand new American Oak barrels that Luke was planning to fill with Armageddon IPA. I’d never seen or heard of new oak being used for beer ageing (though I’m sure it had been by many brewers). The beer turned out brilliantly, winning a Trophy at BrewNZ that year and the resultant Stout that was aged in them was brilliant and is still tasting amazing. Luke took something, turned it on it’s side and rolled with it. That’s cool! We had just as much fun in 2011 with the Barrel Aged IPA, this time blending it with fresh Armageddon to get the oak/hop balance exactly where we wanted it.

Victoria from Dish Magazine hard at work

ePicobrewery – I was never a homebrewer. I went straight into a trainee brewer role with a couple of science degrees under my belt and was armed with the knowledge that the late Jean-Pierre Dufour (my professor at Otago Uni and an amazing brewing scientist and educator) had given. I knew about metabolic pathways of yeast, the flavour chemistry of esters and higher alcohols and how fantastic Duvel and Chimay were (JP was Belgian, so we would do sensory analysis on Belgian beers in our lab classes) yet I’d never physically brewed a beer before my first job. This is where Luke’s 50 litre trial brewery came in to play. Luke and his father-in-law had lovingly built this up over the years and it had seen many a barley kernel and hop cone over the years. I got to have a lot of fun with this, pushing out a dozen or so brews over the year and figuring out what certain hops would do or how certain recipes for the Epic beers could be developed or improved. From Coffee & Fig Stouts to new hop varieties to experiments with Brettanomyces and malt varieties I’d never used before, it was such fun!

Flying Nun – Being approached to do a beer by this iconic New Zealand record company was super exciting. We got to develop a new Pale Ale, using a couple of hop varieties I’d only ever used in trial on ePicobrewery and work on getting something out there that was about aromatics, drinkability and focusing on a nice, dry finish. It was destined to be concert beer, so we were stocked that we got its “quench factor” exactly where we wanted it. I was probably a little young to  know some of the earlier Flying Nun music, but as a student, bands like Head Like A Hole, Headless Chickens and Garageland were always listened to. I’m still stoked that we got to do their 30 year anniversary ale. It was a coincidence that Luke and I have been in brewing for 30 combined years as well!

Judging - I’ve always enjoyed beer judging and been really lucky to have been involved in both SIBA (The Society of Independent Brewers) and CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) competitions, the International Beer Challenge, World Beer Awards and World Beer Cup with my judging hat on. 2011 saw me get the chance to judge at the BrewNZ competition. It’s always great sitting down with a bunch of brewers and beer experts and analysing beer after beer. Fingers crossed I get to do it again! (Picking up 7 medals in a Trophy for Armageddon was pretty awesome as well!)

Epicurean Coffee & Fig - I’m a big coffee fan and got to play around at Thornbridge with a Coffee Milk Stout, using locally roasted coffee from Sheffield roasters, Pollards. It was a great experience and I loved the process of transforming something that people just think of as beer into a brew that was similar to a cool, slightly sweet black coffee, with a nice, creamy head to boot! Based on that, we had loads of fun working with Victoria Wells of Dish Magazine developing the beer and putting it through it’s final permutations on ePicobrewery before brewing it on a large scale. I’m stoked with how this beer came out. It was a lengthy process, but it’s always worth it when you see someone try it and get their mind blown.

LARGER - I’m no expert on the masterful craft of brewing lagers and have been an ale man for the majority of my brewing career. Luckily, I’ve been involved in brewing a few though, so it was an amazing experience to take something like an Imperial Pilsner (or strong lager or whatever you want to refer to them as) and get it exactly where we wanted it. We were as nervous as hell with regards the amount of yeast we pitched (considering the strength of the wort) but it all worked out and we got something that I reckon is the perfect Summer treat.

Auckland – I’m a Taranaki man. Whenever the mighty Amber & Blacks would come up against the blue Aucklanders in rugby, it was always a mighty clash with us wanting to win. Generally, Kiwis are of the mentality that Auckland is rubbish and where they live is a zillion times better. After a year or so here, I’m gonna miss the place. Great people, a burgeoning craft beer culture and heaps of stuff always going on. It’s fun, vibrant and the traffic is nowhere near as bad as I anticipated. It may be due to my commute to work (I walk downstairs from apartment to office/warehouse), but who am I to question this minor fact…

Pretty sure my photoshopping skills won't be missed!

Epic - Thanks Luke and Wendy, I’m gonna really miss the place. Thanks also to the Steam Brewery team. It’s been great fun!

NZ Craft Beer TV – Steamin’

After Hallertau Brewery, we headed to Otahuhu in South Auckland to check out Steam Brewing Company. Steam brew the beer for the Cock and Bull pubs that can be found in the Auckland suburbs of Lynfield, Ellerslie, Botany Downs, Newmarket and at the airport as well as Hamilton and also contract brew for a few NZ microbreweries, including Epic.

We caught up with Master Brewer, Shane Morley and had a look around the brewery. I’ll put in a bit of a disclaimer here and say that we didn’t really need to see much of the brewery as both Luke and myself have spent a bit of time in it! Luke was previously head brewer of the Cock and Bull brewery when it was in East Tamaki and went on to become General Manager of Steam before starting Epic, so we there is definitely a close relationship!

We sat down and chatted to Shane about the beers, brewing and the brewery. Shane is one of the few Diploma Master Brewers in New Zealand and possibly the only one in Kiwi craft brewing, so he definitely knows his stuff! With a large trophy cabinet as the backdrop to our interview, we chatted about the ridiculous amount of medals that Steam have won over the years in brewing awards. Testament to the skill and precision that Shane and his team bring, with Monk’s Habit (an American Double Red style ale) one of the most awarded beers in NZ history!

But it’s not just big, bold, hoppy brews that Steam contribute to our fantastic brewing landscape. The Cock and Bull pubs stock Buxom Blonde, an American Wheat Ale, Dirty Blonde, a seasonal Witbier, Fuggles, a hopalicious English Bitter served on handpull, Classic Draught, a lightly hopped Pale Ale, Blue Goose, a Pilsner-style Lager, Dark Star, a solid porter-like dark ale and a number of Brewer’s Choice seasonals that see the crew flexing their brewing muscles.

Nigel Shaw heads up the brewery and with only 5 full time staff, they definitely punch above their weight. The team are all on their way to completing Institute of Brewing and Distilling qualifications, no mean feat when working full time and with around 900 hL of fermenter capacity, they can definitely brew a lot of beer! The brewhouse is a four vessel system, with a jacketed mash tun, lauter tun, kettle and whirlpool, giving good flexibility for the various brewing practices and beer styles that Shane and other contract brewers may need to utilise. The brewery is set up for hop pellets, though they have used flowers in the past. Don’t know who gets the fun job of cleaning out the vessels when this is the case, but I’m glad it’s not me! A 10 000 litre brewhouse would mean a lot of hop cones for an Epic brew.

We head to the vessels to try a few of Shane’s creations. We have a sip of the Blue Goose, only a few days into conditioning, but clean, crisp and citrusy with the lightest hint of sulphur, something that is associated with the yeast and will condition out, leaving a great session brew. We moved on to Monk’s Habit next, a bold, hoppy nose, rich, fruity alcohol and toffee and warmth in the mouth. To clean the palate, we then tasted Buxom Blonde, another clean offering with the faintest hints of estery banana. Another to try after an extended conditioning period and something to sup on my next Cock and Bull visit!

Shane also had an experimental version of Monk’s Habit on the go, fermenting it with a Belgian Ale yeast strain. We had a taste and were impressed by the combination of big clove-like ester, rich toffee from the malt, resinous hops and rich mouthfeel. It’s always great to see brewer’s experimenting and I seriously hope these guys do a lot more of it!

The day over, we realised that there wasn’t really much time to film the Epic section of Craft Beer TV… maybe next week…

NZ Craft Beer TV – Hallertau. Awesome.

Another early morning start saw us weaving our way westwards of Auckland out to the historic township of Riverhead, home to one of New Zealand’s most awesome brewbar/restaurants… Hallertau. We met up with owner and head brewer, Stephen Plowman, who has been imagining and creating fantastic beer there since 2005. Together with his wife, Hayley, they run a great venue and the food is seriously top-knotch!

Hallertau itself is only 15 minutes drive from downtown Auckland, so if you have a nice, friendly sober driver available, it would be pretty much sacrilege if you didn’t go and check it out. Nestled off the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway, hop bines curl up the frontage of the building and with the giant palm trees outside (and the blazing hot sun like there was yesterday), you’d almost mistake yourself for being somewhere a lot more tropical! The team have done a brilliant job with their branding, from the Hallertau insignia, through to the simplicity of the beer numbering system at the bar and the intricacy of their speciality beer bottles. It’s the complete package and after a brief chat with Steve, we propped ourselves up at the bar and went through his range.

Hallertau Luxe or “1” was first up and this Kolsch was exactly as one would wish for. Lovely New Zealand hop notes of passionfruit and gooseberry weaved their way through this pale offering and with a little biscuity malt at the back of the palate, you could see that this would be a popular introductory beer to craft newcomers. We followed this with Statesman or “2”, Steve’s delectable Pale Ale. Some crystal malts, NZ hops and NZ malt had been transformed into this delicious brew, the biggest selling at Hallertau and a fantastic creation that balanced solid fruity hop character with a good malt backbone. Copper Tart, number “3” followed, a solid American Red/Amber Ale style beer but produced using mostly Kiwi ingredients. Wisps of toffee, some subtle malt sweetness and the hop notes that seem to be Steve’s trademark were spot on. Last but not least was Deception, “4” a Schwarzbier that was full of light coffee and deep chocolate notes, but with a subtlety and balance that worked wonders.

Steve rattled off accompanying dishes and styles of food as we tasted each beer, highlighting the epicurean approach that Hallertau embodies. The quality of their food is superb (as we were to find out later) and the ability to match their beers with the food from their kitchen is an important one!

Next up we tried a couple of other beers that Steve had on tap – the seriously impressive Minimus, a 3.8% hop bomb that Steve designed as a breakfast beer. Light in alcohol but with a humungous hop nose, this has to be one of the tastiest sub 4% beers in the New Zealand marketplace. We also had a taste of his Beastwars IPA which Steve thought up whilst listening to Wellington band Beastwars on the radio whilst brewing one day. He contacted the band and they were super-keen on the idea. It’s a big, hop-forward IPA and definitely worth a taste!

We then moved on to Hallertau’s more esoteric bottled beers. Presented in champagne-style bottles, we cracked open his Porter Noir. This beer is incredible. A combination of chocolate mousse and tart cherry pie on the nose, this beer is balanced to perfection. Rich and soft in the mouthfeel, but with just enough sourness from Brettanomyces and other wild bacteria, it’s amazing to see a Kiwi brewer taking on the sour-style beers and acheiving something as refined and tasty as this. The beer is aged in local Pinot Noir barrels that contain a stain of Brett native to the area. It’s definitely worth a taste.

We then cracked his big Barley Wine, weighing in at over 9%. Steve has aged it in the bottle for 12 months and based it on an English-style barley wine, underplaying a big aromatic hop nose that would be more apparent in the US versions of this beer type. Using all Nelson Sauvin as the hop variety, but keeping it well away from aroma additions, a long boil to intensify the caramelisation and an extended bottle ageing before release, this is fantastic. It reminded me a lot of some of John Keeling’s Vintage Ales (of Fullers in London), but with a more intense mouth-coating bitterness. High praise indeed!

Finally we cracked open Stuntman, Hallertau’s Double IPA. Made with all Kiwi hops, this smelt and tasted like it was done with the cream of the US hop crop. Big, piney and resinous, with undercurrents of tangerine, this was a fantastic finish to the range. As well as their own beer, they also have taps for other Kiwi craft beer and usually have at least one US craft beer on draught (Green Flash Le Freak was on when we were there). They also do their own fruit wines under the Pukeko Grove label and Steve makes a damn good cider as well!

If there’s one thing for me that was to come out of trying all of Hallertau’s beers, it was one word… Balance. Even though the hop notes rocketed from light, to huge and the bitterness went from slight to big and zesty, Steve always managed to get the balance in the mouth right. Whether it was ensuring the dryness of something like Luxe matched it’s lighter bitterness or ensuring the big, rich fruitcake and marzipan notes of the Barley Wine were balanced out by the big, mouthcoating Sauvin bitterness, he hit the nail on the head every time!

We went in and checked out the brewery, brewer Simon and their new assistant were hard at work brewing Luxe and the hops were smelling great. Luckily it’s been a damp summer, so they had enough water for brewing! All of their water comes from the skies, so a little rain is definitely important for these guys. We checked out the barrel-ageing room and our stomachs rumbling went back to the bar for some tucker.

A mountain of food appeared. Local sausages, some made with Hallertau beer, incredibly sweet and rich barbecued ribs, made for fingers to be licked. Salt and pepper squid, locally cured meats, sticky chicken wings, fries with smoked garlic aioli made in the kitchen. Get out there and go enjoy yourselves. I think we all deserve it!

From here we went to Steam Brewery out in Otahuhu. I’ll save that one for next week though…

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