My 2011

2011 was a great year. After 8 years abroad and living in South Korea and the United Kingdom, it has been great moving back to New Zealand and living again in this little slice of paradise. I thought I better put together a little precis of what I found great about the last year…

NZ Craft Beer TV award for yummiest Kiwi brews

This one is pretty easy. When Luke and I were touring the country and filming for the Craft Beer TV series, we were blown away by the quality of the beers we tried up and down our fair isles. It was Dave Kurth of West Coast Brewing in Westport’s creations that had us seriously impressed. His International Pale Ale is my favourite NZ beer of the year. He also has the coolest sweaters/jerseys of any NZ brewer. Kudos.

He looks all innocent in his rugby shorts and workboots, but his brewing prowess is impressive!

Ted DiBiase award for Sleeper of the Year

Known for his awesome “Million Dollar Dream” followed by ramming a US $100 bill in his opponents mouth, Ted DiBiase was a wrestler of the 80s that would nullify his opponents with his aforementioned sleeper hold. The brewery that I think deserves this is Sprig and Fern in Nelson. Sure, they’re not really a sleeper in the sense that they’re super successful, running some brilliant pubs in Nelson and the surrounding area (with a new one due in Tinakori Road, Wellington in the coming months). Couple that with the fact that they won a truckload of medals at the 2011 BrewNZ awards (10 in total) and you can see why I think these guys may just be the ones to watch in 2012. Brewing legend and owner Tracy Banner heads up the brewing team and constantly delivers precisely brewed, flavourful beers that put a smile on my face every time I try them. Respect.

I reckon Tracy and her team have a lot more than malt hiding in those bags. One to watch for 2012!

The Ben Stiller Character out of that Mystery Men movie who is Angry all the time Award

Ben doing his angry face (and looking forward to some comments below)

I’ve been told in the past that I’m sometimes too positive when it comes to the craft beer industry. So I’m about to shock you all by posting something negative. Close your eyes and scroll down if you don’t want to read it!

The thing that has annoyed me about coming back to New Zealand is the contrariness of regionalism when it comes to brewing and breweries. I know that it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek and that banter between provinces (and especially banter between anywhere else in NZ and Auckland) is part of our culture, but would be great if we started seeing New Zealand as exactly that when it comes to our impressive array of breweries and beers. I’m not fond of the separatism that comes about from hailing one place as being the greatest and others inferior. It smacks of the Tall Poppy syndrome that reigns supreme over here. Sure… stand up and be proud of the great craft beer selection in the pubs and bars of your city, but as you do that, remember that it was not always so. Don’t complain if you can’t find craft beer in your local or your town or your area. Politely ask operators about stocking products you enjoy. That way we can create Craft Beer New Zealand. Country by country… :)

Those smaller ones will catch up eventually!!!

The Kelly Ryan Award for Employer of the Year

You’ve probably figured this one out by now, but I’ve had an incredible year working with Luke from Epic. Tweaking our current recipes to get them exactly where we want them, developing five new beers from brew process through to final packaging, touring the country with NZ Craft Beer TV, launching our new brews at pubs throughout NZ (and a couple in Australia), fiddling around on ePICObrewery - my first foray into homebrewing (I think my first ever brewday as a trainee brewer saw the production of around 100 000 litres of wort, so brewing 30 litres at a time has been lots of fun), supping loads of beers with The Beer Mule, it’s been busy and fantastic. (For the record, my undisclosed award for 2006 was joint win for Fyne Ales and Thornbridge Brewery and from 2007-2010 it was Thornbridge Brewery. I have a feeling that you, the intrepid reader may begin to notice a trend developing…)

Cheers, Luke!!!

The Bruvinity Award

Okay, I mashed together poor spelling of the word “brew” with the word “divinity” as I couldn’t think of a witty title for this award. I know that Søren isn’t actually the reincarnation of a Scandanavian god, but he does seem to be omnipresent at most brewing events, holds down not only his job as Renaissance brewer but also as Head Brewer of NZ’s Champion Brewery, 8 Wired Brewing and presents himself as one of the more passionate brewers I have met. He’s also a bloody nice guy and I imagine that if I was to ever meet a god, he wouldn’t talk with a New Zealand accent (I’ll admit that I keep thinking of Neil Gaiman‘s brilliant book, American Gods as I type this). I wonder if he has special names for his brewing tools… that rubber-headed mallet isn’t called Mjölnir by chance is it??

I'm sure there's an eight-legged horse around the corner (original photo from Jed Soane's wicked http://thebeerproject.com)

Blegendary Blumberjack Blogging Award

Alice Galletly of Beer for a Year has taken on the behemoth task of trying a beer a day for 365 days, keeping us entertained and updated on a (mostly) daily basis about the different brews she tries. She shoots from the hip, tells us exactly what she thinks and through her blog it’s great to see someone’s voyage of discovery. It’s not shrouded in technical jargon (as I know this blog is prone to be!), it’s full of amusing metaphor and more importantly, it makes me want to try some of the brews she describes. Nice!

Is it perspective or is that a large platter... :)

The DeLorean Future Brews

I pull out my Mayan Calendar/Nostradamus Prophecies/Harold Camping Malarkey

There are a couple of these. When they are released, I’m sure you’ll all be shocked and impressed by my amazing predictions and the said brewers will curse me and try and sue me for industrial espionage. Little do they know it’s because of my converted Mazda 6 (with a DeLorean chassis) and the magic speed of 88 kilometres per hour (because 88 miles per hour is naughty and that really stupid ad on tele about Mantrol alludes that it’s not cool to drive your car at 141 km/h). Here they are…

A 2.7% mild hopped at around 17 IBU by Epic

A collaboration Imperial Mexican Lager between Three Boys Brewing and The Four Horsemen named The Seven Rancheros.

A beer made solely with peat by Yeastie Boys. Each bottle comes with a miniature peat spade to aid ingestion.

DB Breweries develop a new craft range beginning with a 9% Double IPA. Joseph Wood from Liberty Brewing acts as consultant.

In fact, I’m sure you’re all pretty adept at coming up with some Delorean Future Brews yourselves… any suggestions??

All the best for 2012! Kelly

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)

 

NZ Craft Beer TV – Nelson, Blenheim and Circumnavigation

It wasn’t quite over for the breweries of Nelson and the following morning we packed up and headed to Founders Brewery. Situated in Founders Heritage Park, a small village showing what the Nelson of yesteryear would have looked like, it is a picturesque little building and brewery tap offering great coffee, food and pizza from a wood-fired oven. We are met by owner and head brewer, John Duncan who eagerly tells us of the history of his family, the brewery and his beers.
Founders Brewery is the first in Australasia to be certified organic and is also vegan and kosher, making it unique in its offering. John, a fifth generation brewer and his sons, Matt and Callum, head up the brewing and manage to tease a plethora of flavours and aromas from the slightly more limited variety of organic ingredients available to New Zealand Brewers. With the sixth generation working hard and constantly bouncing ideas off each other, it’s easy to see why the Duncans have such a loyal following. Their year-round brews and seasonal specials are all perfectly executed by a talented team.
It was 1854 when John Dodson first arrived in NZ and began brewing. For the next 115 years, the family owned and operated not only the brewery but also maltings and hop farms. It’s great to see such a dedicated family provide so much to NZ brewing history.
We were joined by son Matt and went through the beers. John recommended we try the Long Black first. Usually we had gone from light beers through to dark when tasting, but John didn’t want the hop characters from his lighter brews to mask the malty notes from the others. Long Black was a German style Schwarzbier filled with subtle roasted characters with some mild coffee in the back of the mouth. It hinted at milk chocolate in the nose and was clean and faultless.
We tried the Generation Ale next. This was the first brew that John and the boys had done together and was a nice, malty brown ale with subtle hints of hop. The Red Head, named after how the beer looks, was a great example of a Vienna lager. Amber in colour this had a lovely light biscuit malt character which filled out the mouth with subtle sweetness and was followed by a wonderful hoppy bitterness. Tall Blonde was a malt-rich golden lager with wonderful NZ hop notes and great drinkability. My favourite brew was the Fair Maiden which Matt described as a New Zealand Pale Ale. This was his take on an American Pale Ale and the hop nose showed wafts of pine resin and tangerine, reminiscent of the Cascade hop variety. A big malt sweetness fills the mouth as well as a bunch of hop fruit notes and then the frisky bitterness follows through and balances the beer out. Wonderfully crafted, this is drinkability and flavour at its best.
Founders is definitely worth a visit. The history of the brewery and the surrounding buildings is great, from pieces of old brewing equipment outside, through to having their own Cooper (wooden-barrel maker) on site, this is both a step back in time and a step into the future of NZ brewing.
We headed over the hill to Blenheim to meet up with one of New Zealand’s leading beer writers, Geoff Griggs. A British ex-pat, Geoff has been involved in NZ beer writing for close to two decades and is a bastion of knowledge of everything beer. We chatted away in the beautiful gardens of Ye Olde Malthouse on Dodson Street enjoying a couple of pizzas and discussing the past, present and future of New Zealand craft brewing. Geoff told us of the history of the pub. It was originally a malthouse owned by Founders Brewery’s ancestors and had been through many incarnations until finally being revived as a place of great beer. It serves as the brewery tap for the adjoining Renaissance Brewery and 8 Wired Brewing, so is the ideal location to enjoy fresh beer from these guys! Our interview with Geoff over, we met up with Soren Eriksen.
Soren, originally from Denmark, joined Renaissance as an assistant brewer back in 2008 after a successful career in Biochemistry and a love of homebrewing. As well as brewing the Renaissance beers, he also wanted to do his own thing. Using their spare capacity he developed 8 Wired Brewing and went about creating immense flavoured and incredibly drinkable beers. His flagship IPA, Hopwired is an incredible drop, it screams big, bold New Zealand hop characters with gigantic tropical fruit character and an awesome slightly dry, bitter finish. One of his latest brews, Tall Poppy is Soren’s interpretation of an India Red Ale, again a big, fruity hoppiness jumps out of the glass, well balanced by rich, caramel-like malt characters and a nice, lasting bitterness.
Maybe it’s the fact that Soren has been New Zealand Poker Champion for a couple of years in a row, but Soren isn’t afraid to take a calculated risk when it comes to his brewing prowess. Soren believes that poker is a game of skill and I can see that this approach flows through to his brewing. He is a master of flavour and has a great understanding of both brewing technology and the characters that different approaches bring to his beer.
We went through a couple of his special brews, including a big, hoppy Saison, which had a phenomenal yeast nose and blended in with the hops perfectly and also a barrel-aged imperial stout which is slowly undergoing aging in a series of American oak barrels that Soren got from Luke after he had barrel aged his stout and IPA. Soren also pulled out a 2% alcohol brew that he has been working on for a while. This was fantastic and proof that you can get great flavour, alcohol and body in a small beer.
Soren is definitely one of the definitive big-flavour brewers in New Zealand. He brings not just power in aroma and character to his brews, but also balance and drinkability. It is evident that he thinks long and hard about every move that he makes. I definitely wouldn’t want to be sitting over a poker table facing him!
We quickly popped into a fantastic little bar in Blenheim called The Secret Garden. Aptly named, we walked through the small entrance, Fuller’s London Pride signage standing proud above us, and were amazed at the large, private garden bar that stretched out before us. Geoff Griggs has been working with manager, Frank Walker on developing the fantastic beer menu, including a bunch of great NZ craft beers and even Fuller’s London Porter, my favourite porter in the world! They’re even working with a Nelson sausage maker who specialises in German-style sausages and looking at getting a beer and wurst matching menu going. This bar is a must visit if you’re in Blenheim and want to visit a great freehouse.
With the Moa and Renaissance Brewery guys away for the weekend it was time to finish the circumnavigation of the South and get back to Christchurch.
Around 11.30 we rocked up to Pomeroy’s, I had an Epic Pale Ale to celebrate and a few hours later we were tucked up in bed. We’d made it.

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