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!
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”.
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.
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!
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.
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!