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!)

 

IPA – It’s worthy of having it’s own International Day. It truly is. Really.

Not too many sleeps left now! Click the pic...

August 4th is International IPA Day. For those who don’t know, IPA stands for India Pale Ale and is a style of beer that is often well-hopped. I’m not going to give you a history lesson on it. Pete Brown, Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson are the masters of that domain and I recommend you read some of their brilliant works.

Courtesy of Ron Pattinson

I love IPAs. My little story below is part of the reason why.

Share an IPA with someone. It may make them happy.

Courtesy of Martyn Cornell

I thought I was tasting my first IPA as a trainee brewer here in New Zealand. I’d worked hard, had a couple of science degrees under my belt and here I was in my first job. I was yet to become a beer adventurer, the guy who is sitting here now with thousands of different beers tasted and pondered. I was fresh and young and keen and was about to begin brewing the most well known IPA in New Zealand.

But it wasn’t. I didn’t.

The beer that has once been based on the famous East India Pale Ale, turned out to be a 4% alcohol, slightly sweet, brown New Zealand-style draught lager. Strangely I was fine with that. It was okay with me to be in a brewery churning out 100 000 litres plus of the stuff in a day. I was learning. I was building knowledge. I was running the microbiology laboratory whilst training as a brewer. I loved it. Every day was a new challenge. Troubleshooting micro issues that we had, routine testing and garnering an understanding. Doing weekly beer tastings with brewery management and developing my palate as I had been taught at university. Hunting through the delicate aroma molecules and perceived tastes and flavours starting to become second nature. Fridays spent throwing crates on to a conveyor belt with the people that became my friends. What was not to like.

Was this faux-IPA I was tasting every week filled with flavour? No, and I loved that. There was nowhere to hide for anything that shouldn’t be there. Slightly high in fruity esters. Why? A hint of wild yeast spice. How? The faux-IPA and its kindred schooled me in brewing practice and analysis. Sure, it could’ve been called something else instead of an IPA, but that was irrelevant to me then.

It allowed my curiosity to continue seeping, my love of food and aroma and flavour becoming more apparent to me with age and understanding. I knew I needed more of these things in the beer that I was to spend my life creating.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in Scotland. A craft brewery – my first job as a craft brewer with a brew volume that would take half a year to brew what my very first brewery could produce in a day. I worked for board and food and a bit of spending money and I fell in love over again with my chosen profession.

I was brewing, but this time it felt a little more real. Smashing up hops and burying my face into them, learning names that I’d only read in brewing books. Centennial, Chinook, Styrian Goldings – back then I was as familiar with the individual characters of these hops as my faux-IPA brewery was with hop character in their faux-IPA.

It was a brand new voyage of discovery. The myriad of malts, the heady intoxication of the heavenly hop cones. The hop-junkie journey was beginning and I was eager. It led me from the small slice of Scottish paradise to the picturesque Peak District. A grand Country House nestled in the rolling hills of Derbyshire, its behemothic presence softened by beautiful gardens and bubbling brooks.

I rediscovered IPA here. I joined the small brewing team of Martin Dickie and Stefano Cossi, a Scotsman and an Italian who were forging ahead and developing beers with flavour. Thornbridge called it a contemporary take on traditional thinking.

It was. Jaipur was big and bold and hoppy. It was smooth and drinkable and bitter. It was a giant, angry fruit machine spitting citrussy, grapefruity, tropical tumblings of aroma at me. All this from one variety of malt and two varieties of hops. I was impressed.

Martin left to join Brewdog. I remember my first brew day. I had been there for one week. Washing casks, asking questions. The annoying Kiwi constantly prodding the Italian and the Scotsman. Learning from them as they learnt from me. Bringing big brewery ways to their craft. Talking sanitation and procedures and analysis and flavours and aromas and mash temperatures. Brewer porn.

That first solo brew at Thornbridge was nerve-racking. Jaipur. A few days of watching the boys and taking notes. They were off to meet Michael Jackson in London. A visit that was to change a certain Martin Dickie’s life path and resulted in Brewdog. I held the fort with Dave Corbey, the guru brewing consultant that helped set up Thornbridge. I brewed my first IPA. Lashings of bright yellow and green hop cones. Steam, sweat, nerves. I was hooked, green-tinged hop-filled veins and all.

From the first IPA to the development of Jaipur over years as ingredients change and as perceptions alter. As the brewer strives to make every batch better than the last. The English style IPAs, the Imperial IPAs. It was exciting.

It still is.

I found myself back in the land where I first brewed (what I thought was) an IPA. They didn’t teach me a lot about beer styles at university. Lots of ethyl acetate and citric acid cycles and glycolysis and the advantages of darauflassen, but not so much about the classic beer styles of the UK. But I came back with some knowledge.

I’m brewing IPA again in New Zealand. Not so much the classic English, racked bright-jammed with hops-pitch lined barrel-in a boat-off to India for the troops version, but a modern take on the beer style that I love. Lots of American hop character, bright, shiny and fresh with a lovely caramel malt flavour and a palate impressing bitterness.

I shared this beer with my dad. He usually likes to drink the faux-IPA. Why shouldn’t he? It’s what he has drunk for years, he can buy it cheap and it’s easy to get.

“That has to be one of the best beers in the world”, he said*.

I am proud.**

* The beer in question is Epic Armageddon IPA.
** So proud that I will be celebrating International IPA Day on August 4th whilst at the BrewNZ Beer Awards Dinner and will then celebrate it again on August 5th. Because New Zealand is awesome and the first country in the world to see International IPA day, it just wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t celebrate it again when it is August 4th in places like the UK and the USA. Luckily I will be at Beervana, the New Zealand Beer Festival (held in Wellington on the 5th/6th). If you are going, it is essential that you hunt out IPAs, give IPAs to your friends that have never tried them before and sing lots of fun songs whilst replacing the lyrics with IPA.

Burton on Trent, for IPA Pilgrims?

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

NZ Craft Beer TV Hits Otago!

Our fantastic Christchurch run almost over, we popped in to see David Gaughan from Golden Eagle at his house in Rolleston. He showed us his incredibly impressive homebrew setup and the beginnings of his commercial brewery, which included a couple of fermenters and some lovely looking wood-clad vessels. For some strange reason I recognised the two vessels at the front of his garage and it dawned on me that they used to be mine! They were originally from the Victoria brewpub which ran in 1986-87 in Hamilton and myself and a friend had bought the setup a few years back when I was on the UK. They’d been in storage for a couple of years and we had decided to sell them. David was the proud new owner and I’m really looking forward to seeing what flavours he can tease from them.

We tasted a couple of his beers and were blown away! Old England, weighing in at 8.8% was a complex and smooth Old Ale and was tasting brilliant after a year or so in the bottle. The beer had been brewed in honour of his friend’s father, who had been a keen homebrewer back in the UK and loved the Feast and Firkin Dogbolter. He has definitely done the man proud!

We then tried a twist on the Old England recipe, this time with the addition of Peated Malt. This was perfect, the hint of ocean and iodine that peat gives, blending perfectly with the rich body and soft, warming alcohol. Definitely a brew for lovers of the peated character in Islay whiskeys.

We headed southwards and stopped off at Cuisine Magazine Restaurant of the Year 2010. Riverstone Kitchen is worth a visit just to check out the gorounds alone. The gardens are a greenfinger’s wet dream and perfectly cared for by Riverstone owners Bevan and Monique Smith’s mother Dot. Most of the vegetables and herbs are seasonally picked from their gardens and carefully crafted into world class food by the hard-working team. Even the chickens play their role and the Scrambled Eggs and Havoc Bacon I had are easily the best I’ve tried. The liberal dosing of fragrant Truffle Oil, it’s meaty, garlic-like ‘impossible-to-describe’ perfume lifting the rich creaminess of the eggs to the heavens, was out of this world good.

I quick drive-by of Oamaru, the Steampunk Capital of NZ, was awesome and we ogled the mad industrial inventions and the Jules Verne meets William Gibson and Bruce Sterling creations. Chopped up metal and macabre motorbikes and steam trains and insane imaginations abound.

My old university town, Dunedin was next and it was amazing to come back to the place that was my home for 5 years. We stopped off at the awesome craft beer bar, Eureka and were met by Tom “The Pom” Jone and his partner Vicki Purple. Tom did his time at Emerson’s and was a founder of Green Man Brewery in Dunedin back in the day before starting his company, Crafty Beers. Tom spends his life surrounded by everything beer with representation, sales and distribution for a bunch of NZ craft breweries as well as a load of beer education and beer and food matching.

Vicki is also heavily involved in this and as well as finishing her PhD in Nursing and being heavily involved in the development of unit training standards in beer for the NZ hospitality industry, she also has her own beer brand which is brewed for by Harrington’s in Christchurch. Her first beer, Beltane Maiden is a great Belgian Wit style and scooped a Silver Medal last year at BrewNZ. Vicki is also heavily involved in the Beer in the City initiative which is aiming to involve more women in craft beer. I don’t know where she finds the time, but powered by her passion alone, she is making an incredible contribution to our craft.

The bar where we chatted, Eureka is a craft beer lovers paradise and something I wished was there as a student. Dave Smith, owner, chef, beer connoisseur and craft-brewer-to-be is a wealth of beer knowledge and a great guy to have a chat to about beer and brewing. In fact, we spent a long time chin-wagging about both beer, rugby and mutual friends. A top man and a place definitely worth a visit.

The day was over, it was time to sleep.

Epic Halcyon goes on a journey

As you’ve probably read in my earlier blog, Epic Halcyon at Thornbridge, along with Luke Nicholas, one of New Zealand’s top craft brewers, we brewed a full-on version of our Halcyon Imperial India Pale Ale when Luke was over here brewing his Epic Pale Ale for the JD Wetherspoons International Beer Festival.

Luke unfortunately had to head back to New Zealand before this beer was ready to go, so we are sending him a couple of mini-casks that he is going to use for a tasting. You can attend this event here.

Here we have Thornbridgers Matt Clark and James Kemp getting the goods ready for it’s Epic journey! Hope it arrives safe and sound!!

Epic Halcyon at Thornbridge

Still all go and we’ve just finished an awesome collaboration with Luke Nicholas of Epic Brewing Company over in New Zealand. Luke was over here to launch and promote Epic Pale Ale which he had been invited to brew with Everards Brewery in Leicester as part of the JD Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival. Luke is a highly awarded New Zealand brewer with a vast amount of experience. He has twice brewed beers that have won the Supreme Champion Beer of New Zealand (including Epic Pale Ale, which won in 2006) as well as scooping Gold and Best in Class awards at the 2008 BrewNZ competition. Coupled with the fact that he has twice judged in the World Beer Cup (Seattle, 2006 and San Diego, 2008) you can see that he’s no stranger to both brewing and judging a beer!

epic-bottle

Although we are both from NZ, this was the first time our paths had crossed. You have to remember that everyone knows everyone else in NZ, so this was no mean feat! How can I describe Luke? He is very confident and oozes self-belief and passion. He has an intuitive understanding of the world of craft beer and has literally worked from the bottom up. He told me of how he used to volunteer his weekends at a local Auckland brewpub chain so he could learn how a commercial brewery worked (Luke was a passionate home brewer prior to this) until he was employed and gradually worked his way up in the brewing world. Commitment seeps from his every pore and the intensity with which he talks about beer and brewing is awesome. He is engaging, intelligent and the type of person that us Thornbridgers love to hang out with.

It was a big step to decide to collaborate with someone that we did not know. We hadn’t tasted his Epic beers or met him; however it was an opportunity not to be missed. In hindsight, I would have been gutted had we not brewed together. We had a great day and even got to try some of Luke’s beers, which were fantastic!

I met up with Luke the night before our brewday at the Chesterfield Arms in Chesterfield, where Everards were launching a Meet the Brewer evening and where Luke had a coveted mini-cask of the Epic Pale Ale that had been brewed with Everards. We sat down and had a few pints of the Everards beers and then got a chance to try the cask Epic. This stood head and shoulders above the Everards brews (which were all good pints nonetheless) with a dominant citrus hop character, a little grapefruit with some underlying caramel maltiness. Luke told me that Everards were shocked when he told them how much hops he wanted to put into the beer. I think he should have put in even more!

 

 

 

Kelly prepares a breakfast of malt porridge for the hungry Thornbridgers. Where's my spoon?

Kelly prepares a breakfast of malt porridge for the hungry Thornbridgers. Where's my spoon?

 

 

 

It was time for the brew and myself, Luke, Dave and Stef were ready for action. The mash in the mash tun and vessels cleaned and ready to go, we began the mammoth task of deciding what hops we were going to use. We worked our way through a load. New Zealand Hallertau, Pioneer, Cluster, Atlas and Liberty didn’t make the cut. Chinook, however with its wonderful resinous and citrus notes and a little pine and the ultra-intense Hallertau Magnum made the grade. We thought these two hops would provide a nice resin-pine-citrus backbone as both early and late additions and allow our other two hop choices to shine through. Centennial with its pungent orange zest and the unique New Zealand Nelson Sauvin (for a touch of home of course) with its mango and pineapple and gooseberry and grapefruit were the obvious pairing to give us a real New World character in what was to be a unique twist on our Halcyon Imperial IPA.

 

 

 

Hops anyone?

Hops anyone?

 

 

 

 

We cracked open a bottle of our Green Hopped Vintage 2008 Halcyon and started discussing bitterness. The bottled version has a touch more dryness and astringency due to a little more attenuation and a humungous amount of wet hops added at maturation, yet we thought the bitterness level (around 85 IBUs) was still well balanced by the residual malt sweetness. With this in mind and knowing that this was to be in the cask form only, we upped the ante. We went for over 100 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) in the hope that the slightly increased perceived sweetness that the less carbonated cask form would have, would then balance out the mouth puckering hops.

Because this had a bit of a New Zealand twist, Luke had the brilliant idea of bringing a little New Zealand water with him. Good Water is from Kauri Springs in Northland, above Auckland and is exactly as its name suggests! Once the brew was finished, Luke added the water to the finished brew. You can see that here!


 

We were also lucky enough to try a bottle of Luke’s NZ brewed Epic Pale Ale, which was absolutely beautiful. Reminiscent of some American Pale Ale’s I have tries. Quite light on the bitterness, yet retaining a lot of citrus and resin pine character. Nice carbonation and fantastic cold. No longer will I be reaching for an ice cold New Zealand lager after mowing the lawns when I’m back in New Zealand. From now on, it’s definitely going to be an Epic! Just when I thought that Luke’s Pale Ale was all that, then he brought out his Epic Mayhem. At 6.2%, this poured a nice dark orange/amber colour. The nose was amazing. Lots of sweet tropical fruits with a hint of pineapple and a floral and citrus background. I’ve always thought that Jaipur was extremely drinkable at 5.9%. Mayhem is of the same ilk. I polished off my taster quickly and instantly thought of the movie, Interview with the Vampire… I was the young child vampire Claudia after my first meal… “I want some more.” This was a ridiculously drinkable and extremely tasty drop. All I can say is well done!

Once the brew day was over, we all met up at the Coach and Horses in Dronfield for a few beers, a few laughs and some good kai (that’s the Maori word for food). We tasted the various Thornbridge beers (Luke described Kipling as being the best use of Nelson Sauvin on the planet) as well as some Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast, Birrificio Italiano Tipopils (one of my favourite beers ever), Port Brewing Hop-15, HaandBrygeriet Norwegian Wood (courtesy of Phil at BeerMerchants) a couple of HopDaemon beers (Green Daemon Helles and Skrimshander IPA) and my very own improvised lambic-style beer. As usual it was awesome fun and great for us all to talk about the different flavours and aromas we were picking up.

 

Spot the normal face...
Spot the normal guy…

We are beer nerds!

I love my job…

 

Epic + Good Water + Halcyon = ...

Epic + Good Water + Halcyon = ...

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