It’s official. I have just one week left with Epic Brewing Company before moving on to a Head Brewer role at a new brewpub in Hamilton. Changing jobs is always a tough decision and none have been more difficult than this one. My 13 months with Epic have been fantastic and filled with more beery highlights than ever:
NZ Craft Beer TV – This was an incredible project to be a part of. Capturing a moment in time in Kiwi brewing, combining the musings of brewers and developing a beer and getting a bit of content on to the internet. I learnt loads, got to meet some fantastic people and was instantly mesmerised by the quality of the NZ brewing landscape.
Mash Up – How to capture what we thought was a representation of New Zealand beer in a manner that all involved brewers would agree on? Writing a recipe and getting out there for discussion was the first step and it worked out pretty well! I’m really proud of this beer and think the brewers of NZ should be as well. Kudos to you all! We did slightly tweak the final batch, but I reckon it’ll get a Gold instead of Silver in the BrewNZ awards now :)
Hop Zombie – This is one of my favourite beers of all time. Working with someone like Luke means that you don’t really have to worry about the cost of hops per litre of beer or anything like that. It’s about delivering an experience, so we worked on doing just that. We only had enough hops to do 2 brews in 2011, which was a shame, because it was a popular beast! The first brew needed tweaking. We wouldn’t be brewers if we didn’t work hard to realise our dream beers. The second batch was exactly where we wanted it. I’m really going to miss this beer!
Barrels – Always fun to play with! I remember coming over at the beginning of 2010 to brew the Epic Thornbridge Stout and seeing a dozen or so brand new American Oak barrels that Luke was planning to fill with Armageddon IPA. I’d never seen or heard of new oak being used for beer ageing (though I’m sure it had been by many brewers). The beer turned out brilliantly, winning a Trophy at BrewNZ that year and the resultant Stout that was aged in them was brilliant and is still tasting amazing. Luke took something, turned it on it’s side and rolled with it. That’s cool! We had just as much fun in 2011 with the Barrel Aged IPA, this time blending it with fresh Armageddon to get the oak/hop balance exactly where we wanted it.
ePicobrewery – I was never a homebrewer. I went straight into a trainee brewer role with a couple of science degrees under my belt and was armed with the knowledge that the late Jean-Pierre Dufour (my professor at Otago Uni and an amazing brewing scientist and educator) had given. I knew about metabolic pathways of yeast, the flavour chemistry of esters and higher alcohols and how fantastic Duvel and Chimay were (JP was Belgian, so we would do sensory analysis on Belgian beers in our lab classes) yet I’d never physically brewed a beer before my first job. This is where Luke’s 50 litre trial brewery came in to play. Luke and his father-in-law had lovingly built this up over the years and it had seen many a barley kernel and hop cone over the years. I got to have a lot of fun with this, pushing out a dozen or so brews over the year and figuring out what certain hops would do or how certain recipes for the Epic beers could be developed or improved. From Coffee & Fig Stouts to new hop varieties to experiments with Brettanomyces and malt varieties I’d never used before, it was such fun!
Flying Nun – Being approached to do a beer by this iconic New Zealand record company was super exciting. We got to develop a new Pale Ale, using a couple of hop varieties I’d only ever used in trial on ePicobrewery and work on getting something out there that was about aromatics, drinkability and focusing on a nice, dry finish. It was destined to be concert beer, so we were stocked that we got its “quench factor” exactly where we wanted it. I was probably a little young to know some of the earlier Flying Nun music, but as a student, bands like Head Like A Hole, Headless Chickens and Garageland were always listened to. I’m still stoked that we got to do their 30 year anniversary ale. It was a coincidence that Luke and I have been in brewing for 30 combined years as well!
Judging – I’ve always enjoyed beer judging and been really lucky to have been involved in both SIBA (The Society of Independent Brewers) and CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) competitions, the International Beer Challenge, World Beer Awards and World Beer Cup with my judging hat on. 2011 saw me get the chance to judge at the BrewNZ competition. It’s always great sitting down with a bunch of brewers and beer experts and analysing beer after beer. Fingers crossed I get to do it again! (Picking up 7 medals in a Trophy for Armageddon was pretty awesome as well!)
Epicurean Coffee & Fig – I’m a big coffee fan and got to play around at Thornbridge with a Coffee Milk Stout, using locally roasted coffee from Sheffield roasters, Pollards. It was a great experience and I loved the process of transforming something that people just think of as beer into a brew that was similar to a cool, slightly sweet black coffee, with a nice, creamy head to boot! Based on that, we had loads of fun working with Victoria Wells of Dish Magazine developing the beer and putting it through it’s final permutations on ePicobrewery before brewing it on a large scale. I’m stoked with how this beer came out. It was a lengthy process, but it’s always worth it when you see someone try it and get their mind blown.
LARGER – I’m no expert on the masterful craft of brewing lagers and have been an ale man for the majority of my brewing career. Luckily, I’ve been involved in brewing a few though, so it was an amazing experience to take something like an Imperial Pilsner (or strong lager or whatever you want to refer to them as) and get it exactly where we wanted it. We were as nervous as hell with regards the amount of yeast we pitched (considering the strength of the wort) but it all worked out and we got something that I reckon is the perfect Summer treat.
Auckland – I’m a Taranaki man. Whenever the mighty Amber & Blacks would come up against the blue Aucklanders in rugby, it was always a mighty clash with us wanting to win. Generally, Kiwis are of the mentality that Auckland is rubbish and where they live is a zillion times better. After a year or so here, I’m gonna miss the place. Great people, a burgeoning craft beer culture and heaps of stuff always going on. It’s fun, vibrant and the traffic is nowhere near as bad as I anticipated. It may be due to my commute to work (I walk downstairs from apartment to office/warehouse), but who am I to question this minor fact…
Epic – Thanks Luke and Wendy, I’m gonna really miss the place. Thanks also to the Steam Brewery team. It’s been great fun!