Something’s wrong with the world today, I don’t know what it is.

It’s been a while between rants…Read today that a beer had been banned by a distributor due to it’s name. Flying Monkey’s Smashbomb Atomic IPA is apparently far too risque for the world we live in. Here’s the article

Giving me the urge to smash, bomb and atomic everything in my sight. You, too?

 

And another more indepth look at it by the Torontoist’s John Semley here.

It makes me wonder… why has beer been targeted for this? Is it going to be a trend we see more and more? Is it going to be something that permeates popular media not just in North America but even down here in little ol’ New Zealand? Even throwing a word like “breakfast” around when describing a beer captures the attention of the world media as has happened recently with Moa Brewery (making me confused as to why the rest of the world has ignored the 84 or so other beers that have been brewed that contain the word ‘breakfast”).

I know that censorship and prohibition are a part of life, but it just so happens that I saw this review when checking out the daily newspapers today… A game name is very different to a beer name, right. I mean, a beer is made to be drunk by adults and a video game played by children, teens and (maybe) older folk. I’m pretty confused. You can actively market something that is named God of War, Bulletstorm or Manhunt and it can appear in any shopping mall or store, yet the minute you combine this with an alcoholic product, then the thought police crack the whip.

I was in the UK when the Portman Group and Brewdog had a bit of verbal and legal biffo and know that the trend is there, but is anyone else getting sick of being thought of as a complete idiot when it comes to alcohol and labelling restrictions and requirements.

I am scarred for life. How can I ever happily watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas again after seeing such a label?

 

It makes me rage like a bitch. Are there any more recent cases such as this that you know about?

 

 

Collaboration – The Post I Almost Forgot to Post

My last blog detailed the background to what we think is the World’s Largest Collaboration Brew. At our latest count, we have 44 breweries involved, all having been visited, brewers contacted and concepts for the brew discussed (resulting in the aforementioned recipe).

It has definitely got me thinking about collaboration. Does it count as a collaboration if you don’t have 50 or so people crammed into a building, each one lined up and throwing in a hop cone in some type of ritualistic manner? I did the usual thing of looking up what collaboration means. It spoke of the act of working together with a person or group of people to create or produce something. This pretty much answered my question… of course it’s a collaboration!

This is a word, though, that some in the beer and blogging world cringe at. Overpriced, luxury beers (in mind’s eye) due to the expense of flying brewers from around the world so as to pay for the cost of such a marketing gimmick. I recall the excellent A Good Beer Blog making reference to this last year, disagreed wholeheartedly and am quite happy to explain why I think collaborations are amazing.

1 – FUN. I used capitals here because they ARE so much fun. You have to remember that the majority of craft (or micro, or larger-than-micro-but-still-completely-awesome, or artisan, or great beer, or well-thought-out-and-perfectly-made-beer) brewers got into doing what they’re doing because they love it and are ridiculously passionate about their jobs. Getting all of these people together, whether in person or as a collection of thoughts, ideas and recipe variations is an absolute blast. For myself, having been out of the NZ brewing community for eight years, this has been amazing. Meeting all of these like-minded, energetic people, having a laugh and putting something together that encapsulates the fun.

2 – Education. What brewers do involves two things. Science and art. I always look at beer development as a bit of a picture. I visualise a pint glass and imagine the flavours that I want in there, the aromas that cascade from the foam of the glass, the colour, the marriage of grain and flower, of malted barley and hops, the balance in the mouth and after the first and second and third swallow, the texture of the beer. All of these things I see and imagine. This is the art. The science then involves the actual process of creating the beer. How to tease the picture from the raw materials. Getting that pint glass just right using that which has come from the soil. The tiny seed that has become the barley grain… the germination, the biochemical process, the malting. The hop bine and it’s shoots bursting from the soil in the spring. The little fungus that changes the wort into beer. The water that has flowed from aquifers or fallen from the skies. You can see how the science and the art meld together so well. The education of collaboration lies in the different experiences that each and every brewer has had. The equipment and the flavours that they have pulled from the ingredients. This is what makes collaboration great.

3 – Creation. Brewers do what they do for a couple of reasons. They want to survive off their hobby (or jobby as I like to refer to it). They want to promote something that they believe is great. They want as many people as possible to taste what they have produced and (hopefully) enjoy it as much as they do. They want to realise their beer-dreams and put these into something tangible. They want to drink beer. Collaboration results in creation of beer. How can that not be good!

4 – Marketing. Like it or lump it, it’s essential for us to get the word out there. If you have not one, but two or even forty four breweries talking about a beer that they’ve been involved with and then push the recipe out there for them all to brew and generate excitement in their local areas with, then it has to be great for beer in general. Most of us have little to zero marketing budgets. We have to be a little savvy and use things like social media and word of mouth to let people know what we’re doing. Collaboration is great for this.

5- Family. That’s what brewers are. Whenever a bunch (or hopsack or zentner or bushel or tanker or flocculation or whatever other great collective noun there is that involves brewing) of brewers gets together there is always a sense of belonging. A sense that we’re all slightly whacky, just like most families are. We laugh together, we disagree, we argue, but we’re all still trying to do the same thing. Collaboration enforces this, brothers and sisters getting together and working on something fun.

Wendy from Valkyrie adds hops into the NZ Craft Beer TV ale

I’ve had the greatest times collaborating on beers. The Thornbridge/Brooklyn Brewery Alliance series with Garrett Oliver from the US, a couple of brews with Agostino and Mauro from Birrificio Italiano in Italy – SuJu, Sparrow Pit (not yet released) and Italia, the hoptastic Epic Halcyon and the Epic Thornbridge Stout with Luke from Epic in NZ, Colorado Red with Doug from Odell Brewing in the US, Coalition Ale and ThornStar with the awesome MarkStar Tranter from Dark Star Brewing in the UK, the sumptuous Fyne Bridge Black IPA with Fyne Ales up in Scotland, each one has been amazing.

Rhys from Peak. Quality Control is essential!

Creating something and putting out there to be scrutinised by others, however, is always a slightly nerve racking experience. I’m talking lying awake at night, wondering if you made the right choices in the grain bill, querying the beer name and the label design, pondering the maturation period… could it have been longer. All that kind of stuff runs through your head. Beer drinkers are often a vociferous lot (usually more so when it comes to the internet as a communications medium as opposed to telling a brewer to their face), you know that flavour and taste and aroma are completely personal, you know that it’s not going to be for everyone, but you still worry how your baby is going to be received.

Ron from Mike's gets stuck into the hops!

Generally it’s great. Beer is exactly that. Often people pull out the whole beer is just beer call. That is just like your personal preferences when it comes to what beers you like. For the guy or gal who finishes work and is thirsty and wants something liquid to pour down their throat, beer probably is just exactly that. It’s definitely something different for brewers.

Our NZ Craft Beer TV collaboration brew day was amazing fun. Thanks to those who made it… Wendy From Valkyrie, Paul from Croucher, Ron from Mike’s Organic Brewery, Rhys from Peak, Shane and Sam from Steam and David and Tom from Cryermalt. Oh yeah, and Luke and myself from Epic!

Brew Finished!

NZ Craft Beer TV – The ‘Naki to the ‘Tron

A huge feed of local bacon, eggs from the chickens outside, black pudding and sausages under our belts (thanks, Mum and Dad!), we were on the road again. We headed north of New Plymouth until we saw the tell-tale sign… “Brewery, 200 litres ahead”. We arrived at the picturesque grounds of Mike’s Organic Brewery (on the White Cliffs Estate) and were met by Ron Trigg, brimming with enthusiasm and energy as he began talking us through the brewery and beers.

 

Ron and his parents (including father , Mike… aptly named) took over the brewery almost four years ago. The family is originally from Zimbabwe and moved to New Zealand for a better life for themselves. They chose Taranaki as their new home and went about setting up an organic farm close to the brewery. When it came up for sale, they jumped at the chance of taking on the now 21 year old business, taking the organic philosophy to another level and broadening the range of beers. With a beautifully refurbished ex-school hall as their new brewery shop, an avocado orchard framing the site and extensions to the brewery itself, including more vessels and equipment, Mike’s has seen a big increase in sales due to the hard work the family have put in.

 

We head to the shop to taste a few of the beers and notice the great 10 litre keg dispense units that are lined up on the bar. Sourced from Germany, these really look great, kind of espresso machine-like in appearance, with the Mike’s fantastic new branding in a light-up display on the front, these wouldn’t look out of place in any nice bar or restaurant. The great thing about the units is their ease of use. You get the keg, you put it into the machine and the unit controls temperature. You don’t even need to clean any beer lines, as they all come with a one-use disposable dispense system that is replaced every time a new keg is put on. This means you have a closed system that keeps the beer in perfect condition (the gas unit doesn’t even put any extra head-space pressure in the beer in the keg, hence carbonation is accurately controlled).

 

As if to prove the machines are worth their weight in gold, we go through the line-up, beginning with the impressive Strawberry Blonde. Made with fresh organic strawberries, this is unlike some of the sweet fruit beers you often find. It pours pale, with the faintest hint of pink, an almost Rosé wine strawberry note on the nose. Expecting sweetness, this spritzy beer is the opposite in the mouth. Delicate, refreshing and palate-cleansing, it has the berry perfume without the sweetness, finishing dry and remarkably crisp. This is a real gateway beer. White and Rosé wine lovers and mainstream lager drinkers and those that don’t appreciate the subtle nuances that a delicate craft beer can have should try this, it’s great.

 

We then tried the Organic Lager. This is another gateway beer, appealing to those stoke on the bland stuff for most of their lives, but lifting it up a notch. It’s well executed with juicy malt characters and the faintest touch of light citrus and fresh-cut grass from the hops. It finishes smooth and goes down too easily. Another great beer served at the perfect temperature and carbonation and as fresh as can be. The Organic Pilsener is up next. The aroma blows us away, big aromatic hops, wonderful body and a persistent mouth-filling bitterness put this Pilsener up there with some of the best we have tried on the trip. The past four years have seen these guys working hard and this beer sums that up. Ron looks on like the proud father he deserves to be. A lovely drop.

 

We try the brewery’s most famous drop next. Mike’s Organic Ale is a bit of an institution and even appeared in Michael Jackson’s (the Beer Hunter, not the pop star) book as a rare example of an antipodean mild. It has a nice maltiness on the nose, is smooth and flavourful with undertones of rich toffee and roasted malt in the mouth and finishes slightly nutty and dry. It’s how I like a brown beer to taste. It’s how a brown beer should taste. And the best thing is… it has hops. They dance around the nostrils as you sniff the glass and follow through with the faintest hint of berry and citrus in the mouth. This is a great beer and is as good, if not better as I remember it tasting many moons ago.

 

As we entered the building, we couldn’t help but spot the myriad of ex-whisky barrels lined up on the porch, filled with porter and slowly ageing away. Mike’s Whisky Porter deserves the People’s Choice award it got at last year’s BrewNZ competition. It is rich and chocolaty, with lovely wisps of whisky and oak. It drinks like a rich, decadent, fruity port with an underlying Sherry character, heading towards Amontillado. It is a beer to drink when it’s cool and you want something hearty, but equally when it’s hot as hell and you have chilled it down in an ice bucket. We also try the big, hoppy, rich India Pale Ale. The big bottle looks the part. These are both beers to be savoured and talked about. The hops in the IPA leap from the glass, their American citrus and pine and fruit influence flooding the senses.

 

Mike’s have done good!

 

We reluctantly leave, knowing we could stand around and chat beer and brewing and flavours with Ron until the wee hours. Hamilton beckons and we head northwards towards Shunters Yard Brewery on the outskirts of the ‘Tron. Set up by avid homebrewers, Peter Mckenzie and his mate, Dave, this brewery smacks of the type of thing that we love to see. Peter is a mechanical engineer and Dave has spent the majority of his life working in the food/dairy industry so these two are a match made in heaven when it comes to the brewery and the processes. From air conditioning units modified and fitted to heat exchangers to act as cold liquor cooling, through to stainless steel ion exchange chambers modified and used as brewing vessels, they have managed to make an extremely efficient, energy conscious brewery at a minimal cost. They have a couple of old railway carriages outside on a pair of tracks and the quirky bar has a great old-world feel. It’s a great mix of country and industrial excellence. Pete and Dave chat away like excited schoolkids. It’s so obvious that they love their weekend hobby and the fact that they both hold full-time jobs and are able to produce 600 odd litres of beer a week make it all the more impressive.

 

We head outside into a stinking hot Waikato day and stand around perhaps the only wedge-wire table I know of. The guys give us a glass of their Number 7 Pilsener. Naturally carbonated, this is the closest to a European style Pilsner we have tried on the trip. The hop is more grassy and tends toward noble character than the NZ Pilsner style brews we have tried. The malt is dominant in the mouth with a hint of breadiness and a big, bold Czech-style bitterness that coats the mouth and brings instant refreshment. The light carbonation helps a lot. This is drinkable and delicious. It quenches perfectly.

 

Their dark beer, Midnight Special is up next. It has the same drinkability with dusty, roasted malt characters and a nice dry finish. The mouthfeel maintains smoothness and it’s impressive to see these two doing such good things with their beers. We really hope to see more from these two innovative, enthusiastic brewers!

 

Our last stop of the trip is to the impressive House on Hood in Hamilton. A large house, it’s grey visage dominates the street, but is open and inviting at the same time, with people sitting outside enjoying the craft beers on offer on the large tabled balcony. We catch up with Greig Mcgill from SOBA (The Society of Beer Advocates) and discuss what they are about over a delicious glass of Invercargill Brewery’s Pitch Black. SOBA is all about “Beer for the right reasons”. They are advocates for the promotion of the flavour and diversity that beer offers and are big at promoting all that beer offers while protecting the rights of the consumer. They are also available as an educative tool and a beer resource, helping out wherever they can with beer tastings, beer events. food and beer menus and sourcing beers for pubs and bars that are interested.

 

Greig loves beer. It’s so obvious when he talks and tells us of his story and journey from mainstream beers to the appreciation he now has. It began with homebrewing and a solid friendship with James Kemp, ex NZ Homebrew Champ/Thornbridge Brewer/All Round Beer Ninja and ex-workmate of yours truly. From small seeds and all that, but Greig is now up there as one of the authorities on New Zealand beer and is a huge supporter of the burgeoning craft beer scene that Hamilton has. Good on ya, Greig!

 

Our last meeting of the day is with brewing consultant and stalwart of the New Zealand craft brewing scene, Graeme Mahy. Graeme has been involved in craft brewing for years and given a truckload of his spare time to helping out breweries and guiding them with the knowledge he has acquired from his time brewing in prestigious breweries throughout NZ and Australia. Another guy whose love of beer is evident, he tells us excitedly about potential future plans for a brewery in the area. We know of his love of big, Belgian style beers, so can’t wait to see what magic he manages from the mash tun.

 

With both the film crew and ourselves waning after an epic 2000km in five days, we decide to forgo a night in Hamilton for a sleep in our own beds up in Auckland. We hit the road, put the last one hundred or so kilometres behind us and head home. It’s been a trip and we still have the Auckland and Northland breweries to come!

 

 

NZ Craft Beer TV – We Head East

The day broke, slightly sulphurous (we were in Rotorua after all) and we got the camper van cranking and headed towards Kawerau, the home of Aotearoa Breweries. The small shop frontage was somewhat deceiving and we walked in to find a small sales counter and glass bottle fridge in front of a row of gleaming stainless steel fermenters, glycol piping and a brewhouse at the back. The former butchers had been converted to a fantastic little brewery with the large cool store space utilized for stock and conditioning and bright beer tanks. The brain child of head brewer Tammy Viitakangas and partner Jaysen Magan along with Tammy’s parents, Jouni and Gloria, the brewery produce the fantastic range of Mata beers.

 

The first thing I noticed about the range was the striking packaging. These guys have thought long and hard about how their beer should look. As important as what’s inside the bottle is, I think that it’s pretty important to make the beer look as cool as possible. The Mata team have rocked this… striking black and yellow lettering, a simple, easy to pronounce word and a fantastic 4-pack box made me want to buy the beer without knowing anything about it. A win for sure.

 

We met head brewer Tammy and her father Jouni (originally from Finland) and began chatting about the brewery and the beers. Tammy had studied a Technology degree majoring in Bioprocess Engineering and had previously worked in the food industry before her and partner Jaysen decided that they wanted to open a brewery. Tammy began perfecting her home brewing technique before they leapt at the chance of buying a second hand brewery and beginning the challenge of running one. Tammy traveled around to a bunch of breweries and obviously asked the right questions and picked up bits and pieces of information before they put the brewery together, five or so years ago. They did it all themselves and self-taught along the way – from the brewery installation and commissioning, right through to brewing technique. An impressive feat.

 

The great thing about the Mata range is that Tammy really wanted to capture the essence of New Zealand. Something we’ve heard a lot along our Craft Beer TV route and something that New Zealand brewers should be proud of. From the artesian water that they tanker from down the road to use in the brewing process, through to the quality ingredients, everything is sourced from as close to home as possible and they even reflect other uniquely New Zealand flavours in their brews. We kick off the tasting with a lager brewed with Manuka Honey. It’s gentle and delicate and subtly floral. Tammy insists on keeping this beer light on hop and big malt flavor to allow the expensive and delicate honey characters to float around on the nose and the tongue. A difficult thing to do, but one she has perfected over multiple brews.

 

We then try the Artesian lager. A bit more hop forward this time, with a hint of dryness and bitterness and massive drinkability. We then move on to another uniquely New Zealand brew, the Mata Feijoa. Tammy sources her Feijoa fruit from a local fruit winery and has experimented a lot to get the flavor from this intensely perfumed fruit just right. Feijoa is really challenging to brew with. Not only does it have a massive perfume and sweetness, the skins also provide a tart, sour character and through multiple trials, Tammy has got the balance between Feijoa intensity, tartness and the character of the beer itself just right, resulting in something with great drinkability and just the lightest fruit character coming through.

 

With last years BrewNZ, the theme for a speciality beer was “Go Native” and with the Mata Taniwha, the team went all out. A traditional NZ Maori form of cooking is the Hangi, in which a fire is built, usually with Manuka branches and large river stones are heated in the embers. The fire itself is set in a pre-dug pit and the rocks retain the heat, effectively turning the earth into an oven. Prepared vegetables, meat and fish are wrapped, placed in baskets and lowered into the pit, then covered with wet sacks and finally with earth and the Hangi begins cooking/steaming. After a few hours, the dirt and sacks are removed and you have an amazingly smokey, earthy and moist character to all the food. It’s awesome.

 

What Tammy decided to do was actually put the malt for the beer into the Hangi pit, along with a bunch of diced Kumara (NZ Sweet Potato) and potato. This was then used to brew an incredible 7.3% Hangi-infused Reserve Ale. Luscious and smooth with the faintest trace of earthy smoke, this velvety beer is full of soft, dark maltiness and a lovely caramelized character. A well deserved Gold Medal winning beer and testament to the inventiveness of the Mata range.

 

We checked out their cool bottling facility, walking past fragrant bags of lemons and tangelos that were to be used in their wheat beer (Blondie), before finally tasting Brown Boy, a gorgeous Amber ale with hints of light coffee routines and a delicate spiced warmth from the use of the native tree, Horopito. Great beers, but it was time for us to hit the road again and head to Gisborne to check out the world’s most easterly beer producer, Sunshine Brewery.

 

The long, winding road was slow going in the camper, but we finally made it, passing numerous vineyards and orchards on the way. Amazing forest scenery, winding rivers, it was an amazing drive. We were met at Sunshine by brewery founder, Gerry Maude who told us of the brewery history. One of New Zealand’s longest running craft breweries (established back in 1989), their flagship lager, Gisborne Gold lead the way and had some great market share in centres such as Wellington, especially back in the 90s. The beer is a great example of a New Zealand lager, with lovely floral hop notes on the nose and a lovely, persistent bitterness, something that lacks in many of it’s mainstream counterparts. This beer has an almost cult status among craft beer drinkers that were sick of the mainstream and after a taste, I can see why.

 

We had a quick taste of the slightly more bitter, dry Gisborne Green, their Pilsner, followed by the more malty Reserve, which had great hints of toffee and hop and finally the impressive Black Magic Stout. At 4.5%, this punched well above its weight in flavor and character. A brilliant example.

 

We chatted about the challenges that the larger breweries posed for craft brewers and the hope that local people continue to get behind their local producers. As we talked a constant stream of regulars came through the door. Filling flagons and riggers with beer, buying dozen boxes and bottles from the fridges, sharing jokes with Gerry and the other workers, who had just finished a bottling run of Gisborne Gold. It seems to me that this brewery is well named. It’s a bit of sunshine for a lot of people who love the beer and really appreciate what the brewery is trying to do. Bring something great to this part of the world. This was the first time I’ve ever visited Gisborne. I’ll definitely be back for a couple of flagons of Gisborne Gold…

 

 

 

 

 

 

NZ Craft Beer TV and the North… We’re Back!

Like the greatest feeling of deja vu ever, the NZ Craft Beer TV crew reunite after a little hiatus (to do some of that proper work stuff). After a whirlwind tour organization week, Luke and I decided that the best way to start the North Island Craft Brewery tour would be to have a serious American craft beer tasting the day before we left. It’s possible that some of you would likely see the error of our ways and choose not to taste three dozen or so strong American beers, but our good friend, The Mule was in town for one day only. Seeing as he was responsible for bringing said beers back to NZ, we spent a great afternoon and evening making our way through a plethora of sensory apocalyptic activators… from Brooklyn Brewery, Dogfish Head, Southampton, Nebraska and Alesmith to Southern Tier, North Coast, Cigar City and Avery, we overloaded our taste buds with inspirational liquid.

 

The next morning came around slightly too quickly and before we knew it, we were back in a camper van with our trusty film crew, Scott and Jacob and on our way over the Bombay Hills towards Mount Maunganui. It’s probably a good time to remind you all again what it is we are doing. The goal for NZ Craft Beer TV is to capture the passion and the people behind the fantastic craft breweries of New Zealand. At the end of visiting everyone that we can in our restricted timeframe (and restricted budget… no television channel wanted to fund such a trip) the plan is to pull off a collaboration brew that pulls in the essence of what New Zealand brewing is about. Once we get that beer out there, then the recipe goes out to all the breweries that are interested. They then brew the beer with their own water and yeast, tell their locals and followers and fans about the beer, add their own brewery terroir in the process, link it back to the NZ Craft Beer TV website and with that full circle, hopefully everyone in NZ and abroad that loves what the small producers are doing then helps promote craft beer! Simple, right?! We need your help!

 

So with that synopsis done, back to stage two of our journey… We had toured the South Island in 12 days, pulling out 2424 kilometres in the process! This time we were looking at 2000 or so kilometres in 6 days. That’s a lot of driving! We hit the Mount and pulled up at Brewers Bar. This is pretty famous in the area for its amazing live music. Loads of great NZ bands have played this place throughout the years and with a glass window behind the stage that looks in on a line of small shiny copper kettles, it’s definitely unique. We met up with Larry Kurth and his new understudy, Carl and began doing what we do best… talking beer! Larry is a really passionate guy. Previously an accomplished homebrewer, he began working in the brewery when it was a U Brew. Essentially, it was a series of small kettles and fermenters where people could come and brew their own beer and take it away with them, hence escaping excise duty (they were brewing it for themselves, after all!). These were really popular in Canada for a time, Australia still has a handful, but the concept never took off in NZ, even though there was one in Rotorua and one in Christchurch.

 

The U Brew kit then became the Brewers Bar and Larry began brewing the great beers he is still brewing. He converted the brewery from a malt extract setup to a full grain brewery and when we arrived, the spent grain bed was still throwing up light malty aromas and the wort had just begun boiling, filling the place with a great Horlicks smell. We had a look around the brewery as Larry explained his past and the processes and the beers that he brewed. We talked about the support the pub gets from the local community and how he helps out home brewers in the Mount, by acting as a supplier and a small home brew shop. Larry is great. He loves what he does and has given a lot… he told us that he was about to retire and hand the reigns over to new recruit, Carl (who has just spent 5 years abroad in the UK being involved with cask ales and pubs in Hampshire). It’s evident that Larry will always be about though… with 750 brews already on the little 600 litre kit, I reckon there may be a few more that he’ll have a hand in!

 

We tasted the brews, a tasty Lager that is the biggest seller in the bar and in flagon and a fascinating Draught beer that had big hints of berries and orange sherbet. Larry explained that the ale yeast he was using had been throwing up these flavors of late. Luke and I were impressed and amazed at how much character was coming from the yeast. A really unique and interesting beer!

 

With the clock ticking, we busted a move and headed towards Rotorua. Croucher Brewing were next on the cards and we really excited to get there and check out what it was the team had been up to for the last six years. We headed over the Pyes Pa Road with cameraman Scott at the wheel when we noticed that the camper didn’t really want to go anymore. With foot hard to the floor, we were only creeping along at 20 km/h or so. This wasn’t cool, we had a deadline, the Croucher team had a meeting to attend and at this rate, we were never gonna make it! We pulled over, panicked at our lack of cellphone signal (Vodafone seems to have a lot of dead spots everywhere we have visited in the country) and then remembered the Telecom phone we had! We got hold of the Maui camper crew and they sent someone out. An hour or so later, he jumped in, the van was sweet, we mocked Scott the cameraman and his boneless jelly foot and we were back on the road.

 

Paul Croucher and Nigel Gregory met us at Croucher Brewing in Rotorua, grins on their faces and eyes gleaming. No, it wasn’t due to them imbibing the fine Croucher brews, it was because these two absolutely love what it is that they’re doing. Nigel is in charge of marketing and sales and gave his executive life away to make great beer. Paul comes from a slightly different background. A PhD in Chemistry under his belt, he had been lecturing in Wine Science over in Australia and then in Auckland when his love of home brewing pushed him towards brewing full time. Winning NZ Champion home brewer (like another friend of mine, James Kemp, ex Thornbridge Brewery and now Buxton Brewery in the UK) was proof that he knew how beer should taste, so the next step was a simple one. Maybe simple isn’t quite the right word… these guys put successful careers on the line to follow their passion, telling us that some thought they were bonkers in the process.

 

From small acorns however… The guys tell us of their recent victory in the BrewNZ awards, with their Pilsener taking out Best in Class in the International Lager category. No mean feat in a fiercely contested competition and proof that their beer is exactly where they want it to be. We gave it a taste and were blown away with the body and mouthfeel, the crisp, NZ hop characters on the nose and the persistent bitter finish. This was a great beer. We went on to try the Pale Ale, a nice hoppy number with a solid malt backbone and yet another example of a great bottled NZ Pale Ale.

 

Nigel went into their refrigerated container and pulled out a couple of really special samples. A Christmas Ale, that yelled spicy complexity with wisps of dried fruit and nutmeg on the nose and a remarkably clean mouth and finish and the ridiculously impressive Patriot. Patriot is an India Black Ale… this is taking a big, bold, hoppy American style India Pale Ale and playing around with speciality malts to get a dark brown/black colour without an overload of roastiness that you would expect to find in a dark beer. I really like this style of beer because of it’s ability to educate. Some people love hoppy beers but don’t like porters or stouts. Others are the opposite. A beer such as this provides a gateway for both types of people with often surprising results!

 

Surprised I definitely was. Huge passionfruit, guava, lime and mango notes dominated the nose and this was balanced well in the mouth with lovely speciality malt sweetness and a clean, but not assertive bitterness. We all loved this beer and I hope to find it in a bottle one day! It’s great to see the Croucher crew playing around with interesting styles, aromas and flavors and pushing the perception of what beer should be… not just bland and tasteless and something you drink as a vehicle for alcohol, but something to make you raise your eyebrows and be amazed and fascinated by. We don’t eat the same meal everyday our whole lives, yet so many of us insist on drinking the same type of beer day in and day out.

 

Change!

 

NZ Craft Beer TV

Our awesome production company, Augusto have put together a little teaser trailer from the footage of our South Island craft brewery mission.

Check it out, comment on it and spread the craft beer love!

We’re about to hit the North Island tomorrow. 15 breweries and bars to visit, 2000-odd kilometres to travel and 6 days to do it in. Godspeed!

Keep updated on http://www.nzcraftbeer.tv

The Cold Stuff in Austria

Well, it applies to a couple of things really… firstly the snow and secondly the beer. I’ll be honest… I didn’t have high hopes of finding such a diverse and interesting range of well-built lagers up in the Alps, but I guess I was at altitude, so any hopes were high by default!

We had landed in Kitzbuhel in the North Tyrol region, about an hour and a half from Salzburg for a solid week of snowboarding with a bit of beer and food thrown in for good measure. Great place and my first experience of boarding in Europe, so the scenery and incredible beauty of the town and its buildings were something to behold… especially when it began snowing! Even more amazing was the fact that although the roads became more and more covered and white, powdery goodness, the cars kept driving around. This was in stark contrast to the week before in the UK, where a few inches in some places caused local economies to plummet, people to call work describing how their cars were snowed in and entrepreneurial folk to sell cheap, closing down sale Woolworths knives attached to the bottom of stolen shoes as high-tech ice skates. Yet, here in Austria it was business as usual… so confusing for a Kiwi lad like myself!

So we hit the slopes, I smashed my body to pieces all in the name of fun and come lunchtime it was time to head to an Apres-Ski restaurant for a snack to eat and maybe some liquid refreshment. There are times when I try my damnedest to remove the “brewer’s hat” which has been firmly sewn to the skin of my head so that I can just enjoy a beer for beer’s sake and I’ll admit that with a bit of coercion, the hat found its way to the chair next to me and the first drop of golden liquid that touched my lips was probably the finest I’d had in many a while. The beer in question was Steigl Pils. Stiegl is brewed in Salzburg and uses that ultimate Pilsener hop, the mighty Saaz. On draught it was incredibly refreshing and had a delicate, grassy hop kick that was very clean and definitely needed!

This was to become something of a habit! We’d drop our friends children off at ski school in the morning, hit the slopes for an hour or three, then off we’d go to the closest restaurant on the mountains for a beer and a snack! The food was fantastic! Sausages with sauerkraut, Nuremberg style, was a favourite of mine, as was the local Tyrolean bacon dumpling soup (Speckknodelsuppe). Hearty meat-filled goulash was ideal after a day wallowing through powder as well!

The local Billa supermarket touted an impressive selection of both bottled and canned beer as well as a vast selection of alcohols, with Schnapps a plenty! Each night I’d grab a few different beers and take them back to the hotel to taste. Although we had no fridge in our room, the double windows just so happened to fit beer bottles between them, so we had our own natural refrigerator!

First up was a 5.3% Kapsreiter Landbier Hell… supposedly this is a Landbier, which is a Franconian style lager, often unfiltered, with a good dose of malt and a whack of hop. This beer was okay, they’d used Tettnang, which I was hoping would be more apparent. If I was after a nice crisp, clean, very light coloured lager, then this was the beer for me!

Next up was a Wieselburger Stammbrau Pilsener. Weiselburger also brew Kaiser and Schloss beers, so am guessing they’re a pretty big operation! Not to knock them for being a big brewery but this was pretty standard as a 5.4% lager. It was relatively clean, with some sweetness and a bit of body, yet was lacking any hop-punch or the bitterness that I expect from a pilsener.

I had high hopes for the next beer, which was a 4.9% pilsener called Samson Budweiser. This was confusing…it had the same address as the famous Czech Republic brewery, it even had part of the name, yet the Samson moniker?? I took a sip and prepared myself for an Asterix-like transformation. No difference. I walked over to the bed and tried lifting it. Still weak. I looked in the mirror…yep, hair was long, so there was potential for some Samson-like strength there. I took another sip. Impressive bitterness in the swallow, nice noble hop note with a little malt-spice. I like this beer… even if it doesn’t make me strong. Maybe if I was to drink another five?

My favourite beer of this session had to be the delicious Zipfer Stefani Bock. This was heading more down the pale strong lager route than the rich, caramel bock path, but was a stunning beer. In no way, shape or form did this force it’s 7.1% AbV down my throat. The alcohol was well-masked and the hop and ester combined to give a bit of citrus and grass with a pinch of spicy, white pepper. Best of all was the crisp, dry finish. So smooth as well. My beer of the trip!

Six beer bottles hanging on a wall...

Six beer bottles hanging on a wall...

The next day dawned, a lot of snow had fallen, yet the sun tried it’s hardest to give us a winter-tan. It failed, yet gave us just enough time to sneak into a beer-tent on the slopes where I tried a Schneider Weisse. The waitress rinsed the tall glass with a spurt of fresh water, then gently poured most of the beer into the glass. I sat there stunned! This wasn’t the Schneider Weisse I knew was it? The beer poured a rich orange colour and was as clear as the most filtered of cheap, crap lagers! Where was my yeast! Where was my dosing of turbid, hazy wheat proteins! Would I have to have a good steak tonight just to make up for this lack of amino acids in my diet?

My panic was short lived. With a flick of her shapely wrists, she swirled the remaining portion of beer in the bottle and topped up the glass – a swirling dervish of yeast and protein made its way to the bottom of my glass, allowed the thick, white head to claw its way to the rim and looked me straight in the eyes. It said “Drink me, I am a perfect glass of beer.” I did. Divine as usual, caramel with a touch of spice in the middle and some very subdued wheat beer yeast characters. The yeast provided a little mouth-dryness though the softness of the wheat came through in the swallow, all full and fruity and magical. I looked out of the beer-tent at a vista of Alps. I like Europe…

Three Boarders, Two Scheiders, Two Bitburgers and a Radler. Oh yeah, and a skier...

Three Boarders, Two Schneiders, Two Bitburgers and a Radler. Oh yeah, and a skier...

The next night saw a few more beers sampled. Body sore, yet spirit fighting against being broken by the snow that seems so soft when it’s falling; I soldiered on and forced the liquids down my gullet all in the name of research. It can be a tough job this brewing thing… A Schloss Eggenberg Premium Bier at 4.0% was first. Some caramel and a bit of egg yolk on the nose. A nice rich, golden colour, some clean hop though not much bitterness and some metallic hop in the aftertaste. This was pretty average really, not a lot of character though this was drunk quite cool, so this may have subdued some of the flavours. I needed something a bit more exciting!

Would Zillertal Schwarzes, a 5.2% Schwarzbier live up to its label and be Premium Classe as indicated? Very sweet in the mouth with a touch of treacle and a little metallic, golden syrup tin character. This had very little perceived bitterness but some dry astringency from the roasted malts that helped balance the sweetness. Some cardboard in the finish didn’t bode to well and turned this from okay to average.

I’d been holding this beer back for no other reason than the fact that it had the word “Bio” written on it. Weitra Brau Hadmar Bio Bier from Bierwerkstatt Weitra Brau (it took me about a minute to write this sentence) poured like a standard lager with a lovely dark, burnished gold colour. It had some initial sweetness and a malty, almost toffee-like flavour. Apple and fruity hop danced across the nose with a distinctive green sultana character coming through as the beer warmed slightly. It also finished with a maltiness that reminded me of both Sam Adams Boston Lager and of Brooklyn’s lager. This was a surprisingly good beer!

I can't read the label!

I can't read the label!

Due to my earlier love of the Zipfer beer, this time I went for a Zipfer Marzen to finish the night. 5% and full of esters in the mouth (some slightly gluey) and a spicy, almost ginger character in nose. This showed a little bit of dryness and an almost residual bitterness that doesn’t quite do any favours to in balancing the sweetness. Not bad, but definitely nothing on their Stefani Bock! I will admit though, that the sugary, lemon juice and beer blends known as Radler did help to slake the thirst as well!

The week saw a few more beers tasted and a few more tumbles on the board, but I really loved Austria and would go back again in a heartbeat! The more I read about its breweries and beers, the more I want to travel there and find some hidden craft-brewed gems. I think next winter is as good a time as any!

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