Epic Win (for Thornbridge, too!)

I’ll be honest. I’m struggling. Nine fantastic days in Wellington spent judging at the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards, hanging out with brewers and beer-lovers alike, attending a fantastic awards ceremony and hanging out at Beervana have all taken their toll on me.

But it was well worth it!

I’ll keep it short and sweet as this blog is a blatant brag :)

An IPA wins on International IPA Day!

Epic Armageddon IPA took out the trophy in the US Ale Styles class after picking up a Gold Medal.

Our NZ Craft Beer TV Mash Up took out a Silver Medal in the New Zealand and International Ale Styles class. Who said 44 breweries couldn’t work together?! Not us!!

Epic Thornbridge Stout Brewday (courtesy of Jed Soane http://www.thebeerproject.com)

Epic Thornbridge Stout, brewed in February last year when I was working at Thornbridge took out a Bronze Medal in the Speciality/Experimental/Aged/Barrel & Wood Aged Styles Class. Epic Barrel Aged IPA also did the deed with a Bronze Medal in the same class. The barrels that had been used initially for the IPA then went on to a second fill with the Stout. This beer… our Oak Barrel Aged Epic Thornbridge Stout ended up picking up a Silver Medal! We’re pretty stoked that we decided to call this a Vintage Ale on the label… age has obviously done some great things to this beer as it failed to medal as a younger product in 2010.

First Fill... new oak being filled with Armageddon IPA (photo courtesy of Jed Soane http://www.thebeerproject.com)

A beer that is becoming more of a favourite for me in the Epic range, our Epic Lager also picked up a Silver Medal in the International Lager Styles Class. I was so stoked with this. Due to the dry-hopping, bitterness and big hop notes that this beer has, it’s tough to categorise. I’ll admit that some brewers don’t brew beers according to exacting style characteristics and this is one of them. It makes it a real challenge to get your brew into the correct style category so that judging can be done with similar beers, but we must have nailed it!

Fast becoming my favourite!

Last but not least, the beer that started it all, Epic Pale Ale picked up a Silver Medal in the US Ale Styles class.

Thanks loads to Steam Brewery for looking after our babies so well. A massive congratulations to Søren from 8 Wired Brewing in Blenheim for picking up New Zealand Champion Brewery. Very well deserved!

The secret to Søren's success! (photo courtesy of Jed Soane http://www.thebeerproject.com)

 

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?

A Close Encounter With The WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery

Technology is a great thing. It has driven brewing practice through the modern era and in turn technology has been honed and perfected because of brewing. Refrigeration is the first thing to come to mind. Essential in brewing due to the fact that when fermenting, the yeast metabolism produces heat and also for the cool conditioning or lagering stage, we take for granted the fact that we have access to refrigeration systems.

Did you know, however, that it was breweries that were the first commercial users of refrigeration in the 1860s and 1870s? No more harvesting ice from icebergs and dragging it from Arctic climes to aid in lagering. It was brewing supporting new technology and I’m sure their support helped lead to even more innovation.

The malting process is another fine example. The development of coke/anthracite-fired kilns for the drying of malt during the Industrial Revolution was instrumental for the applied control of heat during this important stage. Coal had the potential to release arsenic when burnt… not too good to have in your pint pot and wood-fired kilns generally led to brown, smokey malt. Another example of technology driving brewing – in this case allowing production of malts of varying colours and roasts, something that led to the development of lagers and ales that had a golden hue.

What do you mean, "No pale ale malt"?

The modern era has brought about the industrialisation of brewing. Many a beer advocate thinks this has been a negative thing with breweries being run by bean counters, ingredients scrimped on and beers generally tasting like soda water with a dash of alcohol that has had the chance to have a brief kiss with some grains and hops, their perfume still fresh on the insipid beverages lips. Often quality is forgotten about. The fact that industrialisation has driven consistency and beer quality, minimising infection and oxidation, perfecting brewing techniques, carbonation, fermentation control, yeast management… The list is long.

Sure, we would have all loved the Brettanomyces character of those slightly sour brown malt-rich Porters of London’s yestercentury as did the folk of the day, it’s what they knew, but the modern beer movement needs to be thankful for the role technology has played in brewing.

Yesterday, the Epic Duo (Luke and myself) went along to meet Ian Williams, the brewmaster behind the WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery. Ian has a fascinating history in brewing, starting out with DB Breweries at Tui in Mangatainoka as a Trainee Brewer (just like I did… we even lived in the same brewery house!), becoming New Zealand’s first ever Brew Master (completing the Institute of Guild and Brewing Diploma – now, the Institute of Brewing and Distilling), brewing in China, Japan and Denmark along the way and then spending seven years of his life working on the WilliamsWarn.

The Beer Thinkers

We went to his newly opened showroom in Penrose, Auckland to check out this revolutionary piece of technology. Ian talked us through his museum which included the machine’s prototypes and we tried the Blonde Ale which had been a can of hopped extract, some dried malt extract, water and dried yeast only a week earlier. Ian oozed the type of excitement and passion that was to be expected when 7 years of stress, torment and decision-making had culminated in such a sleek bit of kit and the beer was all the proof that I needed.

Ian chatting about the WilliamsWarn as Luke live streams it on UStream* video

It was clear, it was clean tasting and it was better than any extract kit beer brewed by a novice brewer that I had ever tried. If I had my beer judging hat on, I would say that there was a slight honey character (not indicative of oxidation), a hint of powdery astringency and maybe the tiniest side palate dusting of acidity (acetic just on the verge of my taste threshold), but that is nit-picking. This kit had brewed a decent, remarkable drinkable ale in one week. It had taken less than a couple of hours to go from a bunch of ingredients to wort dosed with yeast and it had not made any mess at all.

Ian was unashamed in his description of the WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery. He touted it as the world’s first brewing appliance and was openly hurt at the scathing comments made by home brewers (mostly) around the world. Comments by many a home brewer on many a forum, where they have boohooed the invention, ranging from people stating it’s just a mishmash of different technologies to the fact that it takes the fun out of building the brewkit after spending days and weeks scouring stores for the right pieces of equipment at the cheapest prices.

69 litres of beer...

Technology has driven brewing, brewing has driven technology. I’m sure these same home brewers don’t bemoan their state of the art smack-packs using advanced laminated foil, the most modern of yeast cultivation techniques, hours of time spent in laboratories isolating colonies and cultures and calculating the optimum nutrient rates to allow the yeast to give the minimum of lag time when placed into the home-brewers wort. They don’t harumph the fact that the hydrometers that they use have been expertly blown and weighted using balance scales capable of measuring to numerous significant figures to ensure they get the most accurate reading of their wort or fermenting beer’s gravity. They don’t boohoo the latest iPhone app that enables you to figure out wort colour or the amount of grain needed and the various hop additions to brew the ultimate IPA in their nice shiny stainless steel 304 brewing saucepan, heated using natural gas sourced using the best technology has to offer… seismic surveying, computerised valve systems, the lot.

I don’t think this system has been developed with the advanced home brewer in mind. It has been developed for all of those home brewers and interested beer suppers out there that have had a go at extract, now have a small plastic fermenter sitting up in the rafters of their garage and still remember the headache they got from the out-of-control fermentation that got up to thirty degrees celsius and half stewed the brew. Saying that… as a brewer and as someone who loves to experiment, I see HUGE potential in this piece of kit. The more WilliamsWarn kits that are sold will mean a more affordable (well, to some) price due to the economies of scale. It will also mean that there is the chance that they will advance this idea even further. Who knows… there may be an option to incorporate something like the Speidels Braumeister (an automated all-in-one version that allows mashing, lautering and wort boiling) with the WilliamsWarn. At the end of the day, this is a fascinating invention made right here in New Zealand and thought up, developed and realised by a couple of Kiwis who not only absolutely love beer but see how an appliance such as this can help with the education of the beer-drinking public.

When I first posted about this on my Facebook page, one of the first comments was along the lines of being amazed at how many beer styles there were. Straight away someone learns something about beer. That’s freakin’ awesome.

On that note, I may have to go… I need to prep my water-wheel to run the millstone to grind the wheat that I have just reaped from a nearby field so as to make flour to add water to to allow it to slowly begin fermenting and acidifying so as to develop it’s own natural wild yeast microflora and then wait 7 or so days for the culture to be at a high enough level for me to add more flour to so I can knead it and then proof it and then place it in my wood-fired oven so I can get some bread. Hang on… they developed machinery for that!

*You can check out the UStream footage here

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!

What Kelly? Another Collaboration!

Yes. That is correct.

My first six weeks of work at Epic Brewing have been exactly what the name of the company I am working for would suggest. Day one consisted of flying south, jumping in a camper van and beginning a trip to visit the great breweries and bars that make up the New Zealand craft beer scene. What more would one want in a job!

Luke takes the campervan cross country...

As we went around the breweries of NZ, we chatted to the brewers and asked them what they thought made up the essence of craft beer. Our goal was to encapsulate this and end up with a brew that reflected the passion, terroir and craft that has resulted in some freakin’ awesome beers. We ended up with a bunch of concepts and ideas. From Canterbury artesian water, through to New Zealand Hops, organic ingredients, New Zealand Malt, offers of help with label and graphic design, the beer began to take a rough shape in our heads. Yet another concept was to help us bring this beer together, coming from 8 Wired’s Soren Eriksen… “No compromise”.

The Three Boys Brew Crew meticulously labeling their bottles

Who is this beer for? I’m going to say everyone, even though this is an impossible statement. The thing with doing a beer like this is that every person has individual tastes. Some like malt or dark, sweet, rich beers. Others prefer the fruity, estery drinkability of Belgian-style beers. Others want a hop-punch. Bitter and massively aromatic and flavour intensified. It was going to be a tall ask for us to please everyone, so we decided on a style that is probably going to do two things. One, it’s going to make some of  the beer cognoscenti around NZ moan about being narrow-minded and spout the usual “one-trick-pony” comments that I seem to have picked up on in my short time here (a shame really, beer and brewing is about getting a family together, something talked about by John Duncan from Founders, and as we all now, every one of our family members brings something different to the mix) and two, it’s going to reflect a modern trend in NZ brewing and that trend, like it or lump it, is Pale Ale.

Mmmm... Pale Ale...

Why did we decide to make a Pale Ale? Apart from the aforementioned reason, we really wanted to showcase New Zealand hops and a Pale Ale is a great vector for this. We could have gone a beautifully subtle NZ Pilsener (think Tuatara, Mike’s or Three Boys Pilsener) or light, malty, quaffable Bitter with subtle hop undertones. NZ hops make amazing examples of both, but tough decision made we stuck with it! I think this is something to think about when you try this beer (either that, or think nothing at all, just enjoy it!).

Hops from around the world generally have their own characters. The earthy, spicy, citrus and marmalade notes form British hops. The pungent, resin, pine and citrus characters of American hops. The delicate, noble notes from German hops. Then there are Kiwi hops. You have to remember that we’ve been growing hops here for 150 years, ever since the first British immigrants brought the beloved plant here to continue the brewing of the ales of their forefathers. New Zealand is where the first triploid cultivars were developed. Triploid cultivars contain three instead of two sets of chromosomes and are seedless (some brewers dislike the impurities that seeds can attribute to their beers due to the presence of oils and fats) which is of a great benefit to commercial brewers. The NZ HortResearch Centre and NZ Hops limited have been working for years and developing new varieties of hops with various characters that suit the brewer and beer. With this development has come fascinating flavours and aromas that I think are unique to New Zealand hops. Then of course there is the disease resistance. This means we don’t need to use any pesticides and a number of varieties are certified organic. Chatting to hop farmers, it seems that even the non-certified varieties are closer to organic than not!

Hops growing in Wakefield, Nelson

Let’s take the Nelson Sauvin hop as an example. Into its 11th year of production, this hop has big Sauvignon Blanc characteristics. From gooseberries to lychees, from cat-pee and passionfruit to grapefruit. It’s character is diverse and fascinating and is still only just begun to be shown off to its full potential in beer. From the early days when Lion Breweries were using it (now still used to good effect in Macs Hop Rocker) through to Twisted Hop’s Sauvin Pilsener, 8 Wired’s Hopwired and Yeastie Boys’ Europa, the hop is used to great effect and is very close to my heart (this was used in Thornbridge Kipling in the UK and won us many awards). The US have also become interested in NZ hops and are using them to great effect in their beers, notably Sierra Nevada’s Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale that uses Pacifica, Motueka and Southern Cross (they want them so fresh, that they even fly the hops over straight after harvest!).

With this in mind, we decided on a few hop varieties. First up, we thought of Riwaka, with its citrus, grapefruit and floral notes, this has always reminded me of Nelson Sauvin’s younger brother. Originally developed from Saaz parentage (and previously known as Saaz B), I have noticed a sweaty, turpentine/kerosene note when overused, but when balanced out with other hops or used delicately in a subtly flavoured brew, this is incredible.

We also decided on NZ Cascade. Cascade is originally an American hop released commercially in 1972 and is the aroma hop that has helped the amazing Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Little Creatures Pale Ale become the success it has. Closer to home, Epic Pale Ale has also made a point of showcasing this complex and fascinating variety. With citrus as it’s backbone and a combination of gentle spice and floral rose-water characters, it’s a fantastic hop and I was excited at smelling the NZ-grown variety. I was amazed at the similarities between the US and NZ versions, similar citrus and floral, with the NZ variety maybe showing a slight hint of Nasturtium flower, a tiny bit of mown grass, maybe a little more green-ness. Either way this is an impressive hop and I was looking forward to the contribution it would make to the brew. Another reason we chose this hop was because of the diversity we have in NZ with regards our brewers. With Dave from Wanaka Beerworks being originally from California, Paulie from Dux de Lux from Portland, Oregon and the Renaissance* duo, Andy and Brian also from the West Coast, it seemed a logical choice.

Finally, for use as a bittering hop and for a welcome addition to our dry hop concoction, we decided on the NZ Southern Cross hop. I’d used this back in the UK in a collaboration brew with Dark Star Brewery called ThornStar in which we took their American Pale Ale recipe and twisted it around, using solely NZ instead of US hops and then playing around with the grain bill to change its colour from pale to black (but in doing so, trying to impart as little dark malt flavour as possible). Luke had also had some experience with this in a collaboration brew with Dogfish Head in the UK called Portamarillo, but we were both curious to see how the lemon and spice character would come through and whether the low cohumulone content would soften out the bitterness.

A crazy looking hop growing at Mike's Organic Brewery in Taranaki

Hops sorted, we sat back and thought about what malts we could use that would help us define what NZ craft beer is about. With a style in mind and some impressive beers tasted throughout our travels that had been using some local malt, we thought that using some Canterbury-grown Gladfield ale malt would be a great idea. Talking to brewers that have been using Gladfield malt for a few years, it was evident that the maltsters had gone from small scale with the odd inconsistency that can come about from this, through to a much higher quality, consistent malt. Some of the lagers and ales we tried had fantastic malt characters to them, making the choice to use some NZ malt an easy one. We also wanted something that would reflect on the number of British brewers that are resident in NZ and making some amazing beers. Martin from the Twisted Hop, Martin from Townshend Brewery, Matt from Monkey Wizard and those who spoke of the huge influence the British brewing scene had on their choice to get into brewing – Carl from Tuatara, Keith from Galbraith’s, Chris from Rooster’s, Dave from West Coast Brewing, Richard from Emerson’s*, Ralph from Three Boys. You get the picture. So we also chose some Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter Pale Ale malt, grown in East Anglia and floor malted in North Yorkshire. It just seemed right to give this nod to the country that is responsible for so much diversity in our brewing.

As for the brew day and the beer itself… will fill you in tomorrow!

*Unfortunately the guys were a bit busy for us to get there and film them. Love their beers!

 

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 – Through the Land of the Hurricanes*

As seems to be the case when you make a decision to drive 2000 kilometers (1242 miles) in 5 days, we found ourselves up bright and early for an interview with journalist Hadyn Green who was interested in the technology angle of NZ Craft Beer TV, our use of social media and the format that we were looking at for the show. We chatted and sipped juice and enjoyed our bacon and avocado rolls before heading off to Hashigo Zake to do a couple of interviews.

Wellington, the unofficial Craft Beer capital of New Zealand seems to have more and more bars that have a craft beer range popping up here and there. With less than two years under its belt, the Japanese themed Cult Beer Bar was launched by Dominic Kelly in response to his passion for craft beer. Having lived in Japan and enjoyed all that the vibrant East Asian craft beer scene has to offer, he saw an opening in Wellington with regard to the obvious love the capital city dwellers have for their great beer. He set up Hashigo Zake, which means “liquor ladder” and is a colloquial term for bar-hopping and the rest, as they say, is history.

The bar itself is impressive, set underground with Japanese prints, imagery and styling and the beer range is fantastic with a bunch from Japan’s Baird’s Brewing, a great range of New Zealand craft keg beers and a couple of hand-pumps for the pulling of traditional-style ales. The fridges also contain an impressive collection of foreign craft beer. From Mikeller through to Flying Dog, Rogue, Green Flash and Beer Republic, they know their bar and have even helped put a bunch of other bars by importing a refrigerated container of craft kegs from abroad and spreading the beery love.

We chatted a bit about the state of the industry and shared the common dream where every New Zealand city would develop a culture such as this. Nelson, Christchurch and Hamilton were following suit… here’s hoping other cities would to!

Stu McKinlay, one half of the impressive Yeastie Boys, rocked up with his turquoise trousers and t-shirt combo. Labelled New Zealand’s first ultra cool, post-modern brewers of leftfield ales. Stu and the other half of the creative partnership, Sam Possenniskie formed the brewery after years of home brewing and beer tasting. They wanted to brew without style guidelines holding them back and Stu passionately tells us of his inspirations. Being a big muss muso, he tells how music inspires him to brew. When he listens to certain songs, they remind him of flavors and aromas and he goes about creating the beer on the back of this in his 50 litre setup at home. Once pleased with the recipe, it is then brewed down at Invercargill Brewing and the kegs, casks and bottles of the brew make it nationwide.

It’s evident how much Stu loves beer. He talks animatedly about the beers as we taste them and we discuss the flavors and aromas and brewing techniques like old friends. Something I notice and have noticed throughout our travels is the advantage that home brewers often have over those that have trained in-house at a large brewery. The home brewers have had years of practice with different yeasts and malts and hops. They have been able to experiment on a small scale and taste the subtle differences that a slight change makes to their beers. They have the ability to coax characters from ingredients and processes through familiarity. Stu shows these skills in the beer we taste.

We crack into Europa and Rapture. The first a Kolsch-style ale and the second the exact same recipe but brewed with a Belgian yeast. Served on handpull, the temperature is perfect and it pushes the hops out of Europa. But the different yeast in Rapture has held the hops back and the estery, spicy nature of the yeast has come to the forefront. Refreshing and animated, a fascinating insight into the nature of yeast and the effect they can have on beer. We then try the beautifully bottled His Majesty 2010 and Her Majesty 2010. Stu changes these beers for each vintage based on his inspiration of the moment. The 2010 His Majesty touts Belgian complexity on the nose with hints of fruit cake, then comes through with hints of light caramel and luscious hop character, integrated into a smooth, lightly carbonated character. This beer drips with complexity. Stu mentions that the Majesty range seem to be best drunk within 6 months. I would still love to lay one of these babies down for a couple of years though.

Her Majesty 2010 moves away from the hops and heads into the land of yeast and malt. A waft of Belgian yeast character, all spicy and alluring balances in with a banana-caramel note. Spice, velvety fruitcake and sweet malt, it hints at a rich, creamy porter and a Belgian Dubbel at the same time. A mishmash of flavours and styles, this is a perfect example as to why this should be done more often!

Wellington complete, we headed north towards Waikanae to check out Tuatara Brewery in Reikorangi. Tuatara are an impressive setup. Head Brewer Carl Vasta and wife Simone set up a 1200 litre brewery on their farm after Carl had stints as brewer for the Parrot & Jigger and Polar Brewing as well as acting as a brewery consultant. Ten years later, Tuatara is growing at an amazing rate. 2007 saw the installation of a German designed brewhouse and 2010 will see their capacity increased, enabling them to brew up to 10 000 litters per day.

Carl came into brewing as a trained electrician and built the first brewery by hand. A massive help to a working brewery, his practical skills have obviously been put to use, with tanks squeezed in to every available space in the buildings and a bottling line tucked into the old coolstore. Tuatara’s new brewer, Mike Neilson is also as passionate as his boss. Mike came into brewing an extremely talented home brewer. He won 5 medals in the first NZ Homebrew Championships he entered and he has that gleam in his eye that brewers seem to have. It’s evident that he is helping Tuatara push the boundaries with regard to the quality of their beer and production potential.

We sat in front of Carl’s house in the brilliant sunshine with Mike, Carl and Tuatara director, Sean Murrie and cracked their Pilsener. This is one hell of a beer. A beautiful balance of malt and hop, a bold, assertive, persistent mouth bitterness that jolted the tastebuds from their peaceful slumber. A drinkability that wowed me. This beer was superbly crafted, the malt used added body and richness and the NZ hops came through with hints of grass and flowers. This was perfectly executed and the ultimate beer to sup in the heat. We then had their new APA. Originally a seasonal release but due to popularity, likely to be seen a bit more often, this 5.8% Pale Ale is a hop bomb! An ode to the American-style Pale Ales, this makes the most of the resinous, citrus intensity of US hops. They literally jump out of the bottle and into your nose. The mouth fills with grapefruit, pine and tropical fruit character, the malty body balances out the big bitterness and to put it bluntly, this beer rocks! It’s great that Tuatara have such awesome market penetration as this allows beers like this to get out there to customers that might not have tasted them before. I really look forward to seeing more Tuatara beers out there in the future!

We headed up the West coast towards perhaps the mightiest province of them all, Taranaki (a little writer parochial bias there, perhaps?). Time wasn’t on our side and we arrived close to 8pm to catch up with home brewer extraordinaire, Joseph Wood. Jo and his wife, Christina run Liberty Brewing, an online homebrew supply service that has seen great success through providing high quality raw materials to avid brewers around the country. Jo is as passionate as hell, even if he can be a little self deprecating about his beers. To put it bluntly, the series of Belgian-style Tripels, Imperial Stouts, barrel-aged Flemish sour beers, Double IPAs, Witbiers and his latest Summer Ale were all either world class or bordering on world class. This guy can brew and every new bottle he pulled out wowed us more.

The good thing is that Jo has just built and installed his own 200 litre system in his garage, and is selling his beers through Hashigo Zake in Wellington and Hallertau Brewbar in Riverhead in Auckland. I urge you to go and try them, they’re amazing.

Jo cooked up a feed of fresh Paua (abalone) he had gone snorkeling for and we chatted away until late in the night. It was then off to park the camper at my Mum and Dad’s and another day was over!

*Hurricanes makes reference to the Wellington Hurricanes, a Super Rugby team made up of players from (amongst other provinces) Wellington, Horowhenua-Kapiti and Taranaki

NZ Craft Beer TV – Hawkes Bay to Wellington

The long and winding road head southwards to more wine country. This time it was the Hawkes Bay that beckoned, with its Art Deco and golden sands and fields resembling fruit bowls, bulging with cherries, nectarines and apples ready to pick. It’s not just wine that ‘The Bay’ is known for though, we were here to check out a couple of iconic breweries.

We woke to a crisp morning and headed to our first port of call, Hawkes Bay Independent Brewery (HBIB). We were met by General Manager, Greg Forest and he enthusiastically talked us through the history of the brewery. It had begun with a bunch of mates getting together. Disillusioned with the stranglehold the brewing duopoly had on the country, they decided to build their own brewery, which originally focused solely on draught (keg and tanker) beer. The brewery continued to grow and they had an opportunity to move sites. The close-by Ballydooley cidery, which took advantage of the glut of great local apples and produced (and still does) top quality ciders had potential to be extended. HBIB approached them, eventually got incorporated into the site and has just recently acquired the cidery.

The great thing about HBIB is that it has a great bar/tasting room (The Filter Room) right next to it that is also used for functions. They have the full range of their beers on tap, along with ciders, a ginger beer and sparkling apple juice. You can order a tasting tray, sit back in the Hawkes Bay sunshine and know that what you’re drinking is made a stone’s throw away. With that in mind, we popped in to the brewery itself to meet brewer, Howie Parkinson. Howie has been in the industry for 21 years, with the last six spent toiling away making great beers at HBIB. It’s obvious he loves what he does. Nothing is too much trouble and he talks passionately about the brews and the recipes and the process. He jumps away to check the sparge and the first runnings of the wort, then bounces back full of enthusiasm. It’s great to see.

We taste a few of the beers with Howie. The Pilsner is crisp and bitter and again shows why the NZ Pilsner style is so popular. It has hints of floral and citrus and the characteristic NZ Saaz nose that we are becoming accustomed to. It’s well balanced with a little biscuity malt and if it hadn’t been 8.30 in the morning, I would have easily finished the glass. We then tried the Amber Ale. This was more malt-led. It wasn’t in your face, but a subtle push of light toffee and dried fruit. It was also generously hopped with more floral and berry hop notes floating around the top of the glass. The finish was dry and slightly roasty. Another quality beer.

Howie gave us a taste of the ginger and honey infused Summer Ale, a popular beer in the warmer months with a little sweetness and big, perfumed notes. It was the Black Duck Porter though that stole the show for me. I have had this beer before and was really impressed with it. It was still brilliant. A hint of smoke and chocolate on the nose, a lovely, rich full body and smooth aftertaste. Fantastic. Howie explained that they also do a series of beers called ‘From The Wood’ that they only showcase at The Filter Room next door in small quantities. A few weeks earlier I had tried an impressive wheat beer there and this time they had a big, strong, heavily hopped IPA on tap. This was something fun for the brewers to play around with and get customer feedback on. A great innovation!

We headed towards Hastings and Rooster’s Brewery. We were met by owner, Chris Harrison and head brewer, Darryl Tong. Chris set up Rooster’s after a career in winemaking. He wanted a country English-style pub for the workers in the area and went about building the large, barn-like building and putting the brewery in. As time has gone on, Rooster’s has almost doubled the number of taps they have, including the classic British handfuls on their bar. They also do a small lunch trade and the rustic feel to the place is very charming and welcoming. The enclosed courtyard outside is sheltered and perfect for wasting the hours away with conversation and great beer.

The beer is exactly that! Head brewer, Darryl has an impressive brewing pedigree, having worked for Kea Breweries Limburg Brewing Co. prior to Rooster’s. He’s really energetic, friendly, enthusiastic and as keen as hell when it comes to making and talking beer and this is reflected in his brews. We talk about the NZ malt he uses, which he raves about and have a look around the brew-kit. We head back towards the bar to taste a couple of beers. The Draught had a good hop presence and great drinkability and the German-style Lager showed some great NZ hop characteristics coupled with a rich, malty character. The Pale Ale delivered yet again on the hoppy front and the hand-pulled Irish Red Ale was as good as any I had tried in the UK – big, caramel character, a tight, creamy head and a lovely orange sherbet hop character.

We finished up with the Haymaker. This was an amazingly balanced strong lager. At 7%, this is one they only sell in flagons to be consumed in the (car-free) safety of your own home. After a sip, I can see why! This drinks like a 5% beer. It’s clean, crisp, the alcohol is completely masked and the finish oozes drinkability. Darryl can definitely brew! We chat more to Chris and learn that he also runs a full time winery, Beach House. Chris is as passionate about wine as he is about beer and we chat about flavors and the effect of different types of oak on wine and beer characteristics. These are two guys that are great fun to chat to about what we love and we could have spent hours there! Darryl had filtering to do and we urgently needed to head south, so we reluctantly hit the road to continue the adventure.

The next stop was to see Rhys Morgan, who runs Peak Brewery just outside of Carterton. Rhys spent a considerable time living in both Scotland and Germany and it was in these places that he absorbed the beer and brewing culture. As someone who loves homebrewing, wine and mead making, it is obvious why he took the leap and went into commercial production. As well as the brewery, he also plays around with fruit wines and is growing his own grapes. He keeps himself busy! His beer range is named after a series of mountain ranges and peaks in the countries where his beer style originates. We began with the Alb Weisse, a clovey, banana-ester filled hefeweizen with a hint of wheat sourness and moved on to the Drachenfels Lager, a solid interpretation of the German style on which it was based. Cornhill Porter, named after the highest hill in London was next with a tingly carbonation pushing out lots of smooth, roasty notes.

We moved on to the Monkey Point IPA which Rhys had aged in an ex-Pinot Noir barrel. He served this through a hand-pull and the result was a complex mixture of slightly tart, oaky character, hoppy bitterness and solid malt. We chatted about the success of his bottle beers at the local beer market, with locals giving him a lot of support. It’s great to hear stories like this and I’ll always applaud communities who get behind local producers. We all need to do a lot more of this!

We were running behind schedule and needed to get over the Rimutaka Ranges to interview the guys at Malthouse as well as leading beer writer, Neil Miller and the man behind nzbeerblog.com, Martin Craig. We said our farewells and were on the road, yet again!

For those who don’t know, The Malthouse is a craft beer institution in Wellington. Originally on Willis Street, Sean Murrie realized there was a lack of craft beer in the capital and went about supplying locals with something different. He became a big outlet for Gisborne Gold, Mike’s Mild Ale and the Pink Elephant range of beers back in day and from there the craft range just kept growing. Sean had a plan to open up a little brewpub with one of the large NZ breweries, but when this fell through and he became increasingly frustrated with the quality of some of the beers he was receiving, another idea was born. As well as The Malthouse, he was a founder of Tuatara Brewery.

The Malthouse moved to Courtenay Place a few years back and has gone from success to success (under the watchful, passionate eye of manager, Colin “The Handsome Scotsman” Mallon, bringing great craft beer, not just from New Zealand but from across the globe to keen and interested beer drinkers. It’s something Wellington should be proud of! We met up with Neil Miller, freelance journalist, beer writer and beer educator and talked about the state of the craft beer industry, Neil’s beer epiphany (when he moved away from being a staunch mainstream beer brand supporter to finally understanding great beer) and the Wellington beer tours and beer events that Neil organizes. He lives and breathes beer and is self-deprecating in his knowledge. He tells us that he just wants to let people know what’s out there and explains what a lot of us already know… give someone a taste of great beer and they will be a convert. The toughest part is getting people to give it a go!

We finally have a chat to the animated and enthusiastic Martin Craig of nzbeerblog.com. A retail analyst and writer by day, he has been captivated by his love of beer and with an experts eye, follows what is going on in the NZ beer scene, giving a thoughtful insight into what is happening. We chat craft beer, have a few laughs and finally call it a night. Well, I say we call it a night… there was Epic Armageddon IPA and Tuatara APA on tap and we were all pretty thirsty! Hops beckoned!!!

 

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!

 

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