After another late night earthquake, another Christchurch day dawned, albeit a little cooler than the balmy thirty degrees day that we had arrived to. Polar fleeces and jeans donned, our first port of call was the Dux de Lux Restaurant and Brewpub. Running since 1978, these guys definitely know how to crank out a good beer and the brewery was in full swing when we rocked up in the camper. We were met by brewer Paulie Rutledge, a Portland, Oregon native who has been pumping out Dux beers since 1999. The mash for the Black Shag Stout was settled in the mash tun and the first thing that was evident was the size of the brewery. Every conceivable space was packed with brewing vessels and pipework and filters, with an equally small coolroom filled with conditioning and bright beer tanks.
These guys do something a little bit different in that they do high gravity brewing. This means brewing wort to a higher gravity (amount of original fermentable sugars) and then liquoring/diluting down the finished wort to the correct amount of sugars for fermentation. The reason Dux de Lux do this is related to their equipment and brewery size. Their mash tun can only hold a certain amount of malt grist, so this allows them to get a larger amount of beer than usual on a small brewery. Paulie enthusiastically filled us in on the brewery and their beers until head brewer and brewing industry legend Dickie Fife arrived. Dickie is a dervish of energy, animated and excited and full of passion and excitement for not only the craft beer industry, but for drink, food and anything New Zealand. His past training as a chef has helped him to develop some great beers, full of flavor and character and as interesting as the man himself. We started off with a taste of their Ginger Tom, an incredibly spicy ginger beer with a great warming aftertaste attributed to the fresh Queensland ginger root that is liberally used in the brewing process. This is the type of beer that would work in either summer or winter. The great thing about ginger is that it can be both refreshing and warming. A great beer.
We then headed into the bar itself and Dickie poured us a Black Shag Stout. The first nitrogen-dispensed beer of the trip and probably the only that is brewed by the NZ craft scene, this was incredibly smooth and rich with lovely hints of roast coffee, chicory and hazelnuts. The finish was long and slightly bitter. You knew you’d drunk this beer and it’s a great example of how a nitro-brew should taste. The nitrogen itself helps the beer form a tighter, finer bubble, hence the impression of velvety goodness that the beer had.
Next on the agenda was Three Boys Brewing, so we headed through the city to Woolston to meet up with head brewer and owner, Dr. Ralph Bungard. Ralph was originally a plant scientist and fell in love with craft beer when working at the University of Sheffield in England. We asked Ralph about his brewery name and he told us that he had two sons, so his wife had three boys and he also had two brothers , so had grown up as a three boy family as well. My theory that it was named after Alvin, Simon and Theodore from Alvin and the Chipmunks was incorrect. They were chipmunks, not boys.
His 2000 litre brew kit stood resplendent in the building and while staff were hand labeling, Ralph showed us around. We went through his range of beers that were all top examples of their individual styles. We started with his Pils which shone with slightly floral, noble hop characters from New Zealand Saaz. Interestingly, we tried a sample fresh from his lagering tank against a bottle that was a few months old. The fresh sample had a more pronounced NZ hop character, reminiscent of fresh grass and subtle tropical fruit, whereas the bottle had a more European hop character to it. Both samples had a beautiful, crisp bitterness and it was interesting to chat to Ralph and Luke about the New Zealand Pilsener style, which we all thought was showcasing some great beers across the country.
Ralph’s Wheat is based on the Belgian Wit style and is up there with one of the best wheat beers I’ve ever tried. Ralph does a slight acidification of the water for brewing and uses 50% wheat malt. He then does something interesting and uses local lemon peel and Indian coriander seeds to provide a touch of citrus class to this incredibly refreshing beer. Usually wheat beers aren’t Luke or my favorites. We appreciate good ones but prefer the hop bombs! This however was a changing beer for both of us. If I ever see Three Boys Wheat in a pub or bottle shop, I’ll be buying it without even thinking!
Three Boys Golden Ale was a real taste of England for me, reminding me loads of one of the past beers I brewed, Thornbridge Kipling. The Golden Ale was an ode to the characteristic Nelson Sauvin hop and screamed big tropical fruits, lychees and ruby grapefruit. The finish was slightly malt sweet and absolutely delicious. From there we went to his IPA which again was a bit of a taste of the UK. Instead of the intense US hop style, this was decidedly more British in it’s hop-malt balance. There was some great fruity hop on the nose, but the mouth showcased some full toffee and caramel malt characters. Orange marmalade was also dominant and this beer had me thinking of Worthington’s White Shield and Thornbridge Seaforth in it’s complexity and balance and lovely edgy bitterness.
Finally we had a taste of the delectable Porter, all chocolate and massive drinkability. This was a beer that we discussed a lot. We were all in agreement that drinking this beer cold out of the fridge was as refreshing as any IPA, Pilsener or Wheat Beer on a hot summer day. The quality of all five of Ralph’s beers was second-to-none and massively impressive!
From Three Boys we headed to one of Christchurch’s newest breweries, Cassels & Sons. These guys are doing something really unique and pretty special. Their goal is to be as sustainable and environmentally friendly as they can. They use refillable swing-neck bottles which are sold locally in handmade wooden crates and the team their are firm believers in local produce. Their 600 litre plant has been specifically made with the Eastern suburbs of Christchurch in mind, providing beer for local people. Owner and director, Alasdair Cassels has some awesome plans for the brewery and surrounding buildings. The beautiful red-brick building next to the brewery, a former tannery dating from back at the turn of the 20th century is in the process of becoming a brewpub and series of bars and is a really exciting prospect for the area. Head Brewer is ex- Wanaka Beerworks and Twisted Hop Brewery’s Nigel Mahoney. Nigel is really keen on sustainability and tries to use as much local organic Canterbury malt as possible in his brews.
One of the coolest things about this brewery is that the brewing kettle is wood-fired. This is unique to New Zealand and only a couple of breweries around the world in places such as Belgium and Germany still use wood-fired coppers. Nigel only uses sustainable Pinus Radiata grown here in NZ and due to the fact that it is grown this way, means that the boiling process is carbon neutral. Nigel loves the chaos that the wood-fired process brings to the boil and upon firing it up, we saw what a challenge it was to balance the heat from the fire to get a rolling boil. This definitely brings another element of craft to the art of brewing and the beers we tasted were testament to the care that Nigel takes.
We started on the easy-drinking Lager and then moved on to the Pilsener which was another brilliant example of the NZ style that is dominated by the citrusy, fruity New Zealand hops. The finish was remarkably clean and the top palate bitterness was pleasantly cleaning and pushed you towards another sip. We then tried the Elder Ale, which is produced with locally picked Canterbury Elderflowers. Nigel did a lot of research into the flowers and found that the best time to pick them was early in the morning, before the heat of the sun had pushed out their perfume and attracted insects. The unique floral aroma wafted from the nose of the beer and followed through into the mouth. A great example of this style and an ideal summer refresher. The 5.5% ESB was an impressive example of the style and stood up to and surpassed many an ESB that I have tasted in the UK. The nose showed some nice spicy and slightly earthy hop characters. Juicy, toffee and light milk chocolatey malt blended seamlessly with a great bitterness and made this beer incredibly quaffable. I really wanted to reach for more. I did
Last up was their Medicinal which uses local Elderberry juice. Alasdaid and Nigel are both firm believers in the antiviral and antioxidant properties of those little black berry and told us of it’s use in fighting the flu virus. The dark ale showed us it’s complexity and pushed out fruitcake and chocolate notes, making it a great warming beer.
While there, it was great to see the comings and goings of locals, returning their re-usable bottles (which the give a $1 refund on) and buying new bottles. It’s so exciting and invigorating to try such good beers from a new brewery and see the plans that they have for the future. Christchurch is a pretty cool place to live if you’re a beer lover. If you’re not, then now there’s no excuse!
Finally we popped in to see Ally McGilvray from Golden Ticket Brewing and his cool little homebrew setup. He trials his beers on this system before getting them brewed at Invercargill Brewery. We tasted a couple of his brews which were tasting great. This guy really knows how to use hops, Centennial in particular and we even tried his third ever homebrew. He’d brewed this with malt extract and loads of hops, aged it for two years and it tasted surprisingly awesome! Well-integrated alcohol blended with rich fruity, marzipan notes and the similar to dessert sherry were definitely there. The big hops followed through into the finish and again this showed us how accomplished some of the young brewers of Christchurch are.
The day over, we hit Pomeroy’s for a couple of beers, had a chat to the ever gracious host, Steve and had a couple of great pints of Mussel Inn Captain Cooker. A great drop. Already we were looking forward to the rest of the trip!