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.