I’ve spoken before about how beer can change over the years. I don’t really know a lot of brewers who develop a beer recipe and then stick with that exact recipe forever without ever taking into consideration any changes with raw materials. Maybe they do exist and I’d be curious if anyone out there knows of any brewers who adopt the “one recipe forever” philosophy.

My time in the world of beer has definitely taught me a thing or two about recipe development and the importance of raw material selection. Taking cues from what nature provides us means that we have to bend and twist our recipes and processes to be able to continue producing the beer that we have in our mind’s eye. I love the first sniff of a new season hops and the way that the brain takes that combination of aromas and builds a convoluted pathway that slowly morphs into how those wonderful smells will translate into a finished beer.

The same goes with the rush of saliva that accompanies that mouthful of dry, crisp biscuity malted barley. Almost as if those enzymes want to begin smashing up all of the starch granules the minute they hit your tongue (did you know that one of our salivary enzymes and one of the enzymes responsible for breaking starch down into more simple sugars in barley – amylase – are forms of the same enzyme?).

When it comes to a beer like Epic Pale Ale, we are constantly aware of the ingredients that we use. This beer uses only one hop variety, Cascade from the USA and because it is reliant on this for all of it’s hop character and bitterness, we find ourselves engaged in a month-by-month repartee with this enigmatic flower. The thing with hops is that they change. The changes may be subtle and impossible for most to detect from batch to batch, but they nonetheless occur. Whether it is the usual seasonal variation that occurs with almost every plant due to things such as rainfall, ambient temperature, the mineral content of soil or even external attacks on the plant from pests or diseases weakening the bine.

The other things to take into consideration include storage conditions of the finished hops and the hop chemistry of the varietals you are using in a brew. Let’s have a little look at hop storage. Alpha acids, the group of compounds known as humulones are responsible for the bitterness of a beer once boiled. They’re not the most stable of compounds meaning that after harvest, these alpha acid levels begin to fall and this can be exacerbated by storage temperature and the way in which they are stored. Different varieties tend to store differently with some seeming to lose more of their bittering potential over time. Hop aromatics can also change during storage, with some decreasing and others actually increasing in aroma potential.

Would you like some malt, water and yeast with that?

In our experience, US Cascade has tended to throw out a hint more grapefruit peel as it ages and the wonderful rosewater/Turkish Delight note that I instantly recognise as one of the main characteristics of Epic Pale Ale tends to dissipate slightly over storage. We store our hops at 1-2°C and because there is only one harvest per year, we have to be very aware of these changes, responding to them as soon as we can. There is a brilliant table in the book by Ray Daniels, Designing Great Beers, that shows figures from analysis of alpha acids in US Cascade after one year storage at varying temperatures. At 20°C, only 35% of the total alpha acids remain in the hop, at 1°C, 65% of the alpha acids remain, at -7°C, 74% remain and at -15°C, 81% remain.

My advice? Keep your bittering hops in the freezer if you can!

Our malted barley is another area in which we find it necessary to step in and alter the process when necessary. Using malts from as far away as the United Kingdom and Germany in our Pale Ale means that sometimes we may need to change our maltster based on what our malt importer can get in. With a change of maltster can sometimes come a change in malt characteristics. For example, going from Baird’s Caramalt to Thomas Fawcett Caramalt may mean there are slight alterations in malt flavour and colour contributions due to the degree of crystallisation or caramelisation during the kilning process. This has to be addressed as it happens so that we can maintain consistent colour and flavour in our beer. Sometimes however, it’s important to play a little and experiment with grist bills (and hopping rates) to ensure you can get the best results possible from your ingredients. If you can potentially make your beer taste better, then there’s only one choice really!

Which brings me to 2012 and our Epic Pale Ale. We’re patiently waiting for our new shipment of US Cascade hops to be packed up and shipped off, so there are a few months until the new season’s stuff arrives. When it does, this will see more reformulation as we look at blending the remainder of last season’s hops with the new hops resulting in tasty awesomeness (this is a technical term…). Our rebooted Pale Ale has had a few tweaks to it’s malt bill as well as an emphasis on bitterness from late/aroma hopping in the whirlpool and a bit of an increase in our dry hopping rate. Well, a bit more than “a bit”… we’ve increased the dry hop by a third!

If you’re curious in seeing if you can spot the difference between batches, any 500 mL bottles that have a Best Before date of 21.12.12 and any 330 mL bottles that have a Best Before date of 13.01.13 include our tasty rebooted Pale Ale. Also, we’ve just started releasing our kegs of this, so come February, all keg Pale Ale will be rebooted!

Larger – An Imperial Pilsner

Person Number 1: “You spelt it wrong, it’s l-a-g-e-r.”

Me: “No, I didn’t. It’s Larger. It’s like a lager, but it’s bigger.”

Person Number 1: “Oooooh, I see what you did there!”

Me: “Yes, yes you did and I am funny.”

Person Number 1: “No, you’re not. Puns are never funny.”

Me: “I’ll have to agree with you. They’re not funny… they’re punny.”

Person Number 1: <Punches Kelly>

Me: “Ouch. Did you just punch me because that action includes the word, pun?”

I was going to leave this blogpost at the above conversation, but thought the avid readers out there would want a little more information about our new beer, Larger and were less concerned at the fact that someone hit me for using puns. So, I’ll do what I always do and tell you a little story about how this beer came to be.

Our pretty new label...

Often here at Epic we get enquiries via email asking what beers we have, sometimes it may even be a sales order and sometimes, there are spelling mistakes. It’s most likely that the word that is spelt wrong is lager, where an erroneous “R” makes it’s way in. So, it made sense that if we were going to brew a big Pilsner-style beer, that we would annoy everyone out there and call it Larger.  This now means we’re likely to get a load of people ordering the wrong beer at bars, bottle-stores getting confused and generally, a bunch of folk being miffed at us. Which is why it meant we had to make this beer taste awesome enough, that people wouldn’t worry about it’s slightly frustrating name.

So how does one go about doing this? I’ll be honest. My lager-brewing skills are somewhat limited. Sure, the first two years of my brewing career were spent with DB Breweries, pumping out hectolitre upon hectolitre of bottom-fermented lager-style beers and in my time at Thornbridge, we worked together with Birrificio Italiano and brewed a Pilsener called Italia. Here at Epic we brew our nice dry-hopped Epic Lager, but apart from that, my knowledge was sparse. The best thing to do in such a situation is taste beers similar to what you want to brew and read as much as you can about the brewing techniques.

Thornbridge Italia (courtesy of Leigh from

If we bounce back a bit to February 23rd of this year… Myself, Luke from Epic and a very important chap who ferries super-fresh bottles of beer from the USA to our own doorsteps, Dave “The Beer Mule” Summergreene sat down and tried a Port Brewing Panzer Imperial Pilsner. It had a big, rich malt backbone, quite sweet in character with a touch of caramel to help fight back against the huge noble hop character. It was big, bitter, balanced and beautiful. We were all super-impressed with the brew and pretty much decided there and then, that we wanted to do an Epic Imperial Pilsner at some stage. Dave had met Julian Shrago, Head Brewer and Owner of Beachwood BBQ Brewery in Long Beach whilst in Los Angeles and put me in contact with him. Julian had originally been a US National Homebrew champion with one of his IPAs. Obviously knowing his hops extremely well he then teamed up with the Port Brewing crew and they brewed the Panzer Imperial Pilsner as a collaboration. Julian told me how he’d been inspired by the Samuel Adams Imperial Pilsner back in 2003 and based on his knowledge of Double IPAs, went about creating the brew based on big hopping rates, but went with German Pilsner malt, German hops and a German Lager yeast strain. With that advice on board, we began thinking of a recipe…

Our inspiration! (Pic courtesy of

April rolled around and The Beer Mule arrived with another selection of fine beers. We sipped our way through Uinta Brewing Company’s Tilted Smile and Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Whistler Imperial Pils. I remembered back to a year before, drinking an Odell Double Pilsner that Doug had delivered to Thornbridge when working on a collaboration with us. They were all great beers and had seemingly taken the Double/Imperial IPA model and modified it with the use of cool fermentation, bottom-fermenting lager yeast strains and a big whack of hops more typically indicative of German and Bohemian Pilsner/Pilseners.

It was time to develop the recipe. We contacted Wyeast to discuss the possibility of getting a decent amount of Bohemian Lager Yeast sent over for us to grow up in a batch of our Epic Lager. We usually use California Lager Yeast in Epic Lager and were really interested to see how this strain would effect the flavour profile in this beer, as well as it being an essential part of the process in which we got a pitchable quantity of yeast for the Imperial Pilsner. The Bohemian Lager Yeast brewed Lager showed a slightly cleaner, crisper finish, a touch more bitterness and the tiniest amount of sulphur throughout fermentation. Although it was a longer fermentation and maturation with this yeast than it was with the Californian Lager strain, I was personally impressed with the characters that this yeast had brought to the beer. It probably wasn’t enough to make a considerable difference to the overall character of Epic Lager, but it exhibited characteristics that we knew would be perfect with our Imperial Pilsner.

The wonderfully fragrant, and lightly biscuity Pilsner Malt

For the grist, we decided on Weyermann Pilsener malt as our base. We wanted a nice, clean malt grain character and the German malt was perfect for this. It makes up part of our grist in the original Epic Lager (along with Bohemian Pilsener malt), so we knew how it behaved in a brew and were pretty pleased with it’s flavour profile. The aim for this beer was to hit around 8.5% alcohol by volume with an Original Gravity of 1.077 and a Final Gravity of 1.012-1.013. This would mean we’d need some good attenuation from the yeast to get the beer as dry and clean as we wanted it. I was nervous about this… the last thing we wanted was an underattenuated strong lager!

The bitterness we were aiming for was quite high at 70 IBUs, but this was tempered by the fact that we chose one of my favourite bittering hops, Pacific Jade. This hop exhibits an intense Noble hop character in that it is very low in a hop alpha acid called Cohumulone. This alpha acid is often responsible for a harsh bitterness, so a low level can give a softer perceived bitterness in the finished beer and in my opinion, Pacific Jade is one of the best at giving a well-utilised, soft, clean bitterness.

This little guy helps us with some nice, soft bitterness at low levels

Pacific Jade was paired throughout the brew with three hops of German parentage. Liberty and Santiam, both grown in the US and the hops used in our Epic Lager, were used liberally throughout the flavouring and aroma additions, their Hallertau ancestry lending well to the character we were after in this brew. These were joined by US Tettnang, another of the noble hop varieties and finally finished off with some Kiwi-grown Kohatu. The blending of US and NZ hops had worked well for us in our earlier Hop Zombie, so it made sense to do something similar with Larger. The plan was also to do a massive dry-hop with Larger, using Liberty, Santiam, US Tettnang and Kohatu over a number of dry hops based on how the flavour of the beer was progressing during the lagering process.

When it came to water chemistry and the mash regime, it was all down to compromise and trying to coax as many fermentables as possible from the grains. The temperature-stepped mash started low to really work the maltase, peptidase and β-glucanase enzymes and this was followed by an increase to push the proteases and β-amylases. The majority of the mash rest was done at 66°C to favour α-amylase activity and limit dextrin content. The grist itself was mashed quite thin, emulating the type of liquor:grist ratio that is used in continental decoction mashing (even though this was solely infusion). This thinner grist was chosen as it helps to aid amylase heat resistance at the water mineral content we were looking at using. Because Auckland water is very soft (in fact it is quite similar to the water profile of Plzen), it was decided to use only a small amount of Calcium Sulphate in this beer. The lower calcium concentration was part of the reason a thin grist was used and hopefully the low level sulphate ions would bring some crispness and dryness to the finish.

Just like the blog before this one, we now wait for our beer to be finished. It is sitting patiently in tank, exactly one month from brewday today and developing the flavours that we want. It’s slowly picking up the aromatics from the massive amount of dry-hopping. The finish and bitterness are exactly where we wanted them, the lower alpha acid hops are working in a different way than the big high-alpha beasts we used in Hop Zombie, providing us with something big, yet refined. The body is perfect, nice and light and summery, which is convenient considering this is to act as our Christmas release beer from now onwards!

Less than a month to go…

Our keg tap badge... who will be the lucky recipients of our small number of kegs??

New Zealand Brewing Dream Team – The Thirst XV – The Loose Forwards

Loosies, the speedy ball-hungry virtuosos of the forward packs. The players that love to tackle and to win the ball whenever and however they can. Hunger in their eyes. Determination. Success is in their hands.

The tight five have been revealed already with Tuatara’s Carl Vasta, Emerson’s Chris O’Leary and Liberty’s Joseph Wood in the front and a locking combination of Cryermalt’s Dave Cryer and Three Boys’ Ralph Bungard. Bring on the loose forwards!

Number 6 – Blindside Flanker

With a mane of hair that is only rivalled by Captain Cryer, the blindside position would have to be filled by none other than New Zealand Hops‘ very own Doug Donelan. An import from across the other side of the ditch, the former Malt Shovel Brewery‘s Head Brewer would be the perfect blindside flanker. His Australian pedigree means the hunger for success and victory would result in him putting his body on the line. Snaffling up the loose ball, putting in the big hits and giving the odd facial to any opposition players at the bottom of a ruck. Not just any facial, mind you… Donelan’s trademark would likely be a pocketful of NZ Super Alpha hops, ready to be rubbed in the noses of anyone on the end of his merciless tackles.

His uncanny ability to offload the ball anywhere on the field being demonstrated at The Malthouse

Number 7 – Openside Flanker

Openside flankers have to be as hard as nails. They would probably need an upbringing on the Waikato, with it’s impressive rugby pedigree, would need to have worked on some great breweries around the world, Sharp’s in Cornwall springs to mind (where another hard as nails rugby player and UK Brewer of the Year, Stuart Howe, would have been his boss) and  would be able to wear real proper Craft Beer sweatshirts like this…

Craft! Bear! Get it?!?

Yep, we’re talking West Coast Brewery‘s very own Dave Kurth. A utility forward with the ability to smash people in the front row as well as sprint around the field like a brewing version of Richie McCaw, eating opposition players for breakfast and using their shredded rugby jersey’s as toilet paper, Kurth would bring the thing that all team’s need. Hardness with a little sprinkling of mongrel. I imagine his ability to cut down even the biggest people in their tracks would give him legendary status. The type of fella that doesn’t speak much, but when he does, you better listen, otherwise you may find yourself on the bottom of the mash tun at 6am in the morning, wondering why there is 75 degree celsius foundation water and milled barley malt raining upon you from above.

For training, The Hardman tackles those vessels behind him tho the ground. Then picks them up again. By himself.

Number 8 – The Number Eight

Brutish size, hands like dinner plates and forearms like Popeye as well as a blistering turn of pace are attributes needed for this position at the back of the scrum. The ability to tackle players so hard that an archaeological excavation crew are needed to pull the poor sod from the Earth’s outer core are also a benefit. Who in New Zealand brewing could we liken to the legendary Wayne “Buck” Shelford? It would have to be Invercargill Brewery‘s Steve Nally. This tough Southern Man is used to getting results and success is his middle name. With beer’s like Pitch Black, it’s evident that there is one thought going through Nally’s mind as he jogs on to the field. He tackles to knock the opponent’s lights out. Not only would his ability around the pitch be awe-inspiring, it’s likely that he would be able to lift the entire front row in the line out. Now, that would guarantee a win of the ball!

Nally wrestling the ball from his strength training coach, Murray Cleghorn (former holder of The World's Strongest Hand title)

Up next? The pretty boys of the Dream Team… you guessed it… the Backs!

Something’s wrong with the world today, I don’t know what it is.

It’s been a while between rants…Read today that a beer had been banned by a distributor due to it’s name. Flying Monkey’s Smashbomb Atomic IPA is apparently far too risque for the world we live in. Here’s the article

Giving me the urge to smash, bomb and atomic everything in my sight. You, too?


And another more indepth look at it by the Torontoist’s John Semley here.

It makes me wonder… why has beer been targeted for this? Is it going to be a trend we see more and more? Is it going to be something that permeates popular media not just in North America but even down here in little ol’ New Zealand? Even throwing a word like “breakfast” around when describing a beer captures the attention of the world media as has happened recently with Moa Brewery (making me confused as to why the rest of the world has ignored the 84 or so other beers that have been brewed that contain the word ‘breakfast”).

I know that censorship and prohibition are a part of life, but it just so happens that I saw this review when checking out the daily newspapers today… A game name is very different to a beer name, right. I mean, a beer is made to be drunk by adults and a video game played by children, teens and (maybe) older folk. I’m pretty confused. You can actively market something that is named God of War, Bulletstorm or Manhunt and it can appear in any shopping mall or store, yet the minute you combine this with an alcoholic product, then the thought police crack the whip.

I was in the UK when the Portman Group and Brewdog had a bit of verbal and legal biffo and know that the trend is there, but is anyone else getting sick of being thought of as a complete idiot when it comes to alcohol and labelling restrictions and requirements.

I am scarred for life. How can I ever happily watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas again after seeing such a label?


It makes me rage like a bitch. Are there any more recent cases such as this that you know about?



Is the “Return to Session Ales” a mere figment of the beer-writer’s imagination?

Big versus Small?


A question.

Luke and myself are sitting here chatting, I caught up on a few blog posts over the weekend and it seems the beer blogging and writing world are obsessed with this theoretical trend reversal from big, bold-flavoured, hoppy or extreme beers to the ubiquitous session brew.

Ask yourself. For those that have tried hundreds of different beers, all sorts of flavours, aroma, brewing techniques and styles, is it not inevitable that the drinking circle rotate back to session?

How about the uninitiated. Those that have never tried an American-hopped IPA or Belgian Dubbel. Their first taste. The look on their face. The classic line… “I don’t like beer, but I really like this!”.

A lot of session beers are unable to deliver this. They may be too close in character to what the uninitiated craft beer lover is used to supping. I’m sure a lot of you out there tried something unique or bold in flavour and had that moment.

When we write of the about-turn to session beer, are we only writing for the intended beer-geek audience?



After multiple days of rubbish weather, the drive from Invercargill to Queenstown was amazing. The sun was shining and for the first time since Christchurch, the temperature even got into the twenties. It was time for singlets, stubbies and jandals! For those non-Kiwis out there, singlets are tank-tops/vests, stubbies are short shorts and jandals are flip-flops/thongs (no not that type of thong…)

The scenery leading into Queenstown is incredible, following Lake Wakatipu in gave us an amazing vista of the Remarkable mountain range and with the meraldd-green lake at their base, it was easy to see why so many people come and check this place out!

We ended up at the camp ground in Queesnstown, which, crazily, is the same one I had stayed in as a child in 1986! I remembered our family having signed a big boiler that was in the reception and went to have a look. The fact that thousands have since signed it meant  that our mark was no longer there, but my memories as an eight year old in this place were (surprisingly) still with me. Proof that beer doesn’t dull the memory perhaps?

We went into town and checked out Atlas, where we had a great hop-laden pint of Emersons 1812 India Pale Ale. Hunger drove us to the impressive Fergburger where we all went for the recommended Cock-a-Doodle-Oink-Oink, a massive creation of chicken schnitzel, bacon, avocado and all the trimmings. Why we decided to get fries and onion rings with the burger, no one knows (it was a seriously BIG burger)and as for the sun-struck, skunky Peroni that we purchased to wash it down… a fatal error and proof that Fergburger really needs to get craft beer into their place. Fergburger, I hope you’re reading this!

The sun woke us the next ay and we took the short trip to Arrow Brewing in Arrowtown, where we met up with brewing industry consultant/engineer John Timpany, who is their brewer and director, Darryl Jones who is responsible for the seriously impressive graphics and branding that the brewery has. The brewpub itself has an awesome bar, all leather seats and big gas fire, with a plan to put in more handpulled ales to accompany the great bunch of draught taps they have. John uses a plethora of different hops for his various styles which range from a big, crisp, lemon-sherberty and properly bitter Pilsner, through to a delicious English-style ale, Tobins, which is destined to to used on handpull alone as a cask ale.

It is the experimentation that really fascinated me with this brewery. John not only built the well-engineered kit, but also devises all of the brewery’s recipes. Their catch phrase is “Sufficiently Bizarre” and they enjoy playing around with barrel-aging, different herbs and spices, and even producing their own wine, grappa and maybe even some other spirits in the future.

The Christmas Ale that John produced was the best spiced beer that I’ve ever tasted. It was like liquid Christmas cake, big wafts of cinnamon and candied peel and even hints of marzipan icing impressed the nose and the balance of spice, alcohol and intense fruitcake character coated the mouth and filled the mind with images of Christmas Pudding and sweet brandy custard sauce. Luke threw drunken fruit into the mix, a perect descriptor for this truly decadent beer.

Thoroughly impressed with the Arrow setup and ethos, we moved on, picked up a bunch of ridiculously sweet, juicy Central Otago stonefruit, chowed down on apricots, nectarines, plums, cherries and succulent peaches and hit Wanaka Beerworks.

Californian native Dave Gillies met us at Wanaka Beerworks, which is attached to the Aviation Museum, the site of the amazing Warbirds over Wanaka airshow. Dave founded his brewery in the late 90s and came to quick fame with his flagship Pilsener, Brewski which took out Supreme Champion Beer of New Zealand back in 2000. Brewski, his Vienna Lager, Cardrona Gold and his Schwarzbier/Dunkel/Stout Tall Black are all brewed with the characteristic New Zealand Saaz hop and are great exponents of this variety. Brewski in particular had big notes of chamomile

His 600 litre DME-made brewery’s copper is still gleaming and working well for him and the brewery itself has certainly been keeping both locals and tourists alike happy and sated. Dave has done his time though and just sold the brewery to a Kiwi/Belgian couple who are to take over in 6 months. It will be interesting to see which direction the brewery heads and we are all really curious to see what calibre of Belgian-style beers come out of the heart of Otago in the future. Thanks Dave for your fantastic contribution to NZ Brewing!

With spectacular views of Lake Wanaka and Hawea, we climbed over the ranges and through the prehistoric Haast region. Ferns and Podocarp forest aplenty, it was easy to imagine Moa and giant dragonflies lurking in the dense rainforest just out of sight. A surreal and beautiful place.

The rugged mountain landscape continued as we reached our destination, Franz Josef, the glacial ice stretching over the pate of the mountains and glowing white-blue in the fading sunlight. Our campsite, The Rainforest Retreat was exactly as the name suggested – a series of campsites, cabins, treehouses and van sites filled with tourists young and old enjoying the ambience of the bush that encompassed the area. It was the next morning however that was magic. We got up just after 5am so as to make the next leg of our trip. The dawn chorus was astounding. Tui, Bellbirds (Korimako) and other winged forest denizens incessantly chatting and calling their territory and hollering for mates. What a way to start a new day.

NZ Craft Beer TV in Christchurch Part II

After another late night earthquake, another Christchurch day dawned, albeit a little cooler than the balmy thirty degrees day that we had arrived to. Polar fleeces and jeans donned, our first port of call was the Dux de Lux Restaurant and Brewpub. Running since 1978, these guys definitely know how to crank out a good beer and the brewery was in full swing when we rocked up in the camper. We were met by brewer Paulie Rutledge, a Portland, Oregon native who has been pumping out Dux beers since 1999. The mash for the Black Shag Stout was settled in the mash tun and the first thing that was evident was the size of the brewery. Every conceivable space was packed with brewing vessels and pipework and filters, with an equally small coolroom filled with conditioning and bright beer tanks. 

These guys do something a little bit different in that they do high gravity brewing. This means brewing wort to a higher gravity (amount of original fermentable sugars) and then liquoring/diluting down the finished wort to the correct amount of sugars for fermentation. The reason Dux de Lux do this is related to their equipment and brewery size. Their mash tun can only hold a certain amount of malt grist, so this allows them to get a larger amount of beer than usual on a small brewery.  Paulie enthusiastically filled us in on the brewery and their beers until head brewer and brewing industry legend Dickie Fife arrived. Dickie is a dervish of energy, animated and excited and full of passion and excitement for not only the craft beer industry, but for drink, food and anything New Zealand. His past training as a chef has helped him to develop some great beers, full of flavor and character and as interesting as the man himself. We started off with a taste of their Ginger Tom, an incredibly spicy ginger beer with a great warming aftertaste attributed to the fresh Queensland ginger root that is liberally used in the brewing process. This is the type of beer that would work in either summer or winter. The great thing about ginger is that it can be both refreshing and warming. A great beer.

We then headed into the bar itself and Dickie poured us a Black Shag Stout. The first nitrogen-dispensed beer of the trip and probably the only that is brewed by the NZ craft scene, this was incredibly smooth and rich with lovely hints of roast coffee, chicory and hazelnuts. The finish was long and slightly bitter. You knew you’d drunk this beer and it’s a great example of how a nitro-brew should taste. The nitrogen itself helps the beer form a tighter, finer bubble, hence the impression of velvety goodness that the beer had.

Next on the agenda was Three Boys Brewing, so we headed through the city to Woolston to meet up with head brewer and owner, Dr. Ralph Bungard. Ralph was originally a plant scientist and fell in love with craft beer when working at the University of Sheffield in England. We asked Ralph about his brewery name and he told us that he had two sons, so his wife had three boys and he also had two brothers , so had grown up as a three boy family as well. My theory that it was named after Alvin, Simon and Theodore from Alvin and the Chipmunks was incorrect. They were chipmunks, not boys.

His 2000 litre brew kit stood resplendent in the building and while staff were hand labeling, Ralph showed us around. We went through his range of beers that were all top examples of their individual styles. We started with his Pils which shone with slightly floral, noble hop characters from New Zealand Saaz. Interestingly, we tried a sample fresh from his lagering tank against a bottle that was a few months old. The fresh sample had a more pronounced NZ hop character, reminiscent of fresh grass and subtle tropical fruit, whereas the bottle had a more European hop character to it. Both samples had a beautiful, crisp bitterness and it was interesting to chat to Ralph and Luke about the New Zealand Pilsener style, which we all thought was showcasing some great beers across the country.

Ralph’s Wheat is based on the Belgian Wit style and is up there with one of the best wheat beers I’ve ever tried. Ralph does a slight acidification of the water for brewing and uses 50% wheat malt. He then does something interesting and uses local lemon peel and Indian coriander seeds to provide a touch of citrus class to this incredibly refreshing beer. Usually wheat beers aren’t Luke or my favorites. We appreciate good ones but prefer the hop bombs! This however was a changing beer for both of us. If I ever see Three Boys Wheat in a pub or bottle shop, I’ll be buying it without even thinking!

Three Boys Golden Ale was a real taste of England for me, reminding me loads of one of the past beers I brewed, Thornbridge Kipling. The Golden Ale was an ode to the characteristic Nelson Sauvin hop and screamed big tropical fruits, lychees and ruby grapefruit. The finish was slightly malt sweet and absolutely delicious. From there we went to his IPA which again was a bit of a taste of the UK. Instead of the intense US hop style, this was decidedly more British in it’s hop-malt balance. There was some great fruity hop on the nose, but the mouth showcased some full toffee and caramel malt characters. Orange marmalade was also dominant and this beer had me thinking of Worthington’s White Shield and Thornbridge Seaforth in it’s complexity and balance and lovely edgy bitterness.

Finally we had a taste of the delectable Porter, all chocolate and massive drinkability. This was a beer that we discussed a lot. We were all in agreement that drinking this beer cold out of the fridge was as refreshing as any IPA, Pilsener or Wheat Beer on a hot summer day. The quality of all five of Ralph’s beers was second-to-none and massively impressive!

 From Three Boys we headed to one of Christchurch’s newest breweries, Cassels & Sons. These guys are doing something really unique and pretty special. Their goal is to be as sustainable and environmentally friendly as they can. They use refillable swing-neck bottles which are sold locally in handmade wooden crates and the team their are firm believers in local produce. Their 600 litre plant has been specifically made with the Eastern suburbs of Christchurch in mind, providing beer for local people. Owner and director, Alasdair Cassels has some awesome plans for the brewery and surrounding buildings. The beautiful red-brick building next to the brewery, a former tannery dating from back at the turn of the 20th century is in the process of becoming a brewpub and series of bars and is a really exciting prospect for the area. Head Brewer is ex- Wanaka Beerworks and Twisted Hop Brewery’s Nigel Mahoney. Nigel is really keen on sustainability and tries to use as much local organic Canterbury malt as possible in his brews. 

One of the coolest things about this brewery is that the brewing kettle is wood-fired. This is unique to New Zealand and only a couple of breweries around the world in places such as Belgium and Germany still use wood-fired coppers. Nigel only uses sustainable Pinus Radiata grown here in NZ and due to the fact that it is grown this way, means that the boiling process is carbon neutral. Nigel loves the chaos that the wood-fired process brings to the boil and upon firing it up, we saw what a challenge it was to balance the heat from the fire to get a rolling boil. This definitely brings another element of craft to the art of brewing and the beers we tasted were testament to the care that Nigel takes.

 We started on the easy-drinking Lager and then moved on to the Pilsener which was another brilliant example of the NZ style that is dominated by the citrusy, fruity New Zealand hops. The finish was remarkably clean and the top palate bitterness was pleasantly cleaning and pushed you towards another sip. We then tried the Elder Ale, which is produced with locally picked Canterbury Elderflowers. Nigel did a lot of research into the flowers and found that the best time to pick them was early in the morning, before the heat of the sun had pushed out their perfume and attracted insects. The unique floral aroma wafted from the nose of the beer and followed through into the mouth. A great example of this style and an ideal summer refresher. The 5.5% ESB was an impressive example of the style and stood up to and surpassed many an ESB that I have tasted in the UK. The nose showed some nice spicy and slightly earthy hop characters. Juicy, toffee and light milk chocolatey malt blended seamlessly with a great bitterness and made this beer incredibly quaffable. I really wanted to reach for more. I did 🙂

Last up was their Medicinal which uses local Elderberry juice. Alasdaid and Nigel are both firm believers in the antiviral and antioxidant properties of those little black berry and told us of it’s use in fighting the flu virus. The dark ale showed us it’s complexity and pushed out fruitcake and chocolate notes, making it a great warming beer.

While there, it was great to see the comings and goings of locals, returning their re-usable bottles (which the give a $1 refund on) and buying new bottles. It’s so exciting and invigorating to try such good beers from a new brewery and see the plans that they have for the future. Christchurch is a pretty cool place to live if you’re a beer lover. If you’re not, then now there’s no excuse!

Finally we popped in to see Ally McGilvray from Golden Ticket Brewing and his cool little homebrew setup. He trials his beers on this system before getting them brewed at Invercargill Brewery. We tasted a couple of his brews which were tasting great. This guy really knows how to use hops, Centennial in particular and we even tried his third ever homebrew. He’d brewed this with malt extract and loads of hops, aged it for two years and it tasted surprisingly awesome! Well-integrated alcohol blended with rich fruity, marzipan notes and the similar to dessert sherry were definitely there. The big hops followed through into the finish and again this showed us how accomplished some of the young brewers of Christchurch are.

The day over, we hit Pomeroy’s for a couple of beers, had a chat to the ever gracious host, Steve and had a couple of great pints of Mussel Inn Captain Cooker. A great drop. Already we were looking forward to the rest of the trip!

NZ Craft Beer TV hits Christchurch!

Christchurch is epic. Camper van all sorted and awe-inspiring with its bells, whistles (and more importantly a fridge for the beer), we hightailed it to meet Craig at BeerNZ. Craig handles distribution for 24 NZ craft breweries, so is a massively important link in getting what we brew to the the people who want to drink it!

We had a chat and a look around his coolstore and warehouse and then headed to Pomeroy’s pub. What an amazing place. Owner Steven Pomeroy and his family have been running the place for 10 years and have done an incredible job at developing a great centre for locals and the community to relax, eat and enjoy each other’s company. Chatting to Steven is great. He epitomises the passion that is so often seen in the industry. His heart, soul and most waking hours have been poured into the place and the lovely bed and breakfast next door. It’s so important for great pubs to have great personalities and this definitely delivers. Ava manages the pub, doing a great job as hostess and the staff are knowledgeable and inviting. Christchurch is a lucky city! With 20 plus tap beers to choose from, including a handpull for cask ale, it’s definitely beer heaven.

We met up with Ally from Golden Ticket Brewing and David Gaughan from Golden Eagle Brewery, chatted to them about their brewing experiences and tasted a couple of their beers which included a delicious session stout hopped with Centennial from Scotsman, Ally and a luscious, full, rich 6.2% Coal Face Stout from UK born and bred Gaughan (originally from Rotherham in Yorkshire). David told me about his trip to Thornbridge Brewery a while back, which I remembered and that he had recently opened a bottle of Thornbridge Saint Petersburg! Small world is the brewing one!

A night of beverages ensued and we met up with various beer lovers and brewers. Fraser Kennedy, president of the Canterbury University homebrewer’s club (and barman at Pomeroy’s) pulled out a delightful Feijoa Pilsner that he had brewed on his homebrew kit. Beautifully perfumed, the fruit was subtle and well integrated into the beer. The finish was slightly dry and not in the least bit cloying. Fraser plans to go on and study through the Siebel Brewing Institute in Chicago and is definitely a keen and eager young brewer to keep an eye on.

The next day dawned with a nice 5.1 earthquake at 6am. For some reason… perhaps the fact that the beer was far too tasty and needed to be sampled until at least 3 in the morning, Luke and I slept through it! Our film and sound crew, Scott and Jacob didn’t and ran out of their rooms screaming. They are young Aucklanders and it was their first earthquake. Poor souls. The footage we got on camera that day was a bit shaky. I’m guessing their nerves were a little frazzled. Or maybe I just lie…

The first brewery we visited was Wigram Brewery. We were eagerly met by the guys behind the beers who I designated The Two Pauls (Paul McGurk and Paul Cooper). Both of their names were Paul. Hence my decision. We had a look around their cool 600 litre brewery. They have a pretty smart setup, using fermenters/conditioning tanks on wheels so they can move them into their cold store. We tasted a couple of their beers including a bitter and a pale ale, both with great clean bitterness and joyfully balanced brews. The standout for me though was their Imperial Stout which was a rich, chocolatey 8% treat. Top stuff! Paul Cooper is a great guy to talk beer and brewing with. Being involved in brewing over here since the 70s, this guy is a wealth of information and has acted as a consultant for a number of breweries.

From Wigram, we stopped in to see student Fraser as he was bottling a Plum-infused Black IPA he had brewed at home. It was pretty awesome to see a student flat again and cool to catch brewing at the other end of the scale on camera.

Twisted Hop in the city was next and we met up with expat Brit and owner, Martin Bennett.  These guys are pretty unique in that they are one of the few breweries and bars in NZ that produce cask-conditioned ales. The brewpub is right behind the bar itself and the six handpulls were all go with beers ranging from 3.7% to 6.4%. From the citrusy Goldings Bitter to the lemon and pepper goodness of the Challenger, the beers were in great condition, all smooth and lightly carbonated and a pleasure to drink. The best beer of the lot though was the 6.4% India Pale Ale which screamed big tropical fruit notes and grapefruit bitterness and is definitely up there with the greatest cask IPAs I have tasted.

Martin then pulled out a couple of bottles. Nokabollokov, an incredibly rich and complex Imperial Stout had bold, bitter coffee notes with an amazing caramel and chicory nose and even hints of hazelnut. Brilliant. Even better was the Enigma, an incredibly rounded 11% barley wine that had coconut and toffee up front and a smooth, rich mouthfeel, almost sherry like. We tried it with a couple of pieces of Blue Windsor cheese and the match worked perfectly.

We finished with a palate cleansing Sauvin Pilsner which did exactly what it said on the tin. Hints of the characteristic Sauvin hop in the nose and a nice dry finish, this was a great brew.  If you’re ever in Christchurch and you don’t visit this place, then it’s a pity. It’s brilliant.

We made it back to Pomeroy’s where I had the best ever pub burger. I’m a bit of a pub burger fiend and really enjoy rating a drinking establishment based on the quality of the burger.  This Scotch Fillet, bacon and garlic butter packed taste sensation is now my official number one best bar burger experience ever. A big call, but a true one. A couple of pints of Epic/Dogfish Head Portamarillo washed it down and it was off to bed and ready for our next day in Christchurch. Earthquakes and all!

(Sorry about no photos, will stick some in at a later date… am currently typing this on my lap in a campervan outside the Dux de Lux Brewery!)

Why Cask Ale Rocks

Cask ale is important to each of us in very different ways. Here myself, Mark (homebrewer), Mark (beer writer), Shea (young female drinker) and Glyn (bar manager) say why it’s important to us.

I brew ale and love what I do. What other job exists where you can be part-Alchemist, part-Scientist and part-Artist. Brewing is an act of creation and a job driven by passion for great beer. It is such a social profession, especially in this country where the pub and having a pint are tradition and part of a proud culture.

I am lucky to be involved in both brewery and pub. Waking hours are spent brewing and managing and looking at processes and calculating and general left hemisphere action. This blends perfectly with pulling recipes from that cerebral right hemisphere. Then at nights it’s home to the pub, where I live upstairs and can see my ales in action. Pulled at the bar and served with a smile, the locals having a laugh and chatting about sports, work and beer. I have many a warm, fuzzy moment getting home and watching people enjoy the fruits of many hours of labour.

The same applies to the burgeoning world of social media. Checking Facebook and Twitter and even emails that wax lyrical about the flavours and aromas and drinkability of something that I was a part of creating. It makes me proud and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

But it’s the brewing that always captivates. From tasting the water when I arrive at the brewery, to crunching merrily away on a handful of the finest British Maris Otter malt that money can buy, brewing is a series of tests. Whether they are sensory or based on science, technology and compromise, it is these little things that make brewing great.

This country is so lucky to have such a unique climate with regards to growing barley and hops and providing  us with the perfect brewing environment. There are only a handful of places that can grow hops in the world, part of the reason why the brewing tradition is so strong here.

It is hops that I love the most and ale is the perfect vessel for big, bold hoppy flavours. Sourced from the great hop-growing countries of the world, aromas and flavours of pine-needles, grapefruit, strawberries, sandalwood, chamomile, citrus fruit and herbal, grassy goodness abound. Blending the right hop varieties and characters together is where the art, the craft is greatest. Melding the chosen aromas with the malty, roasted and biscuit-like characters that the grains provide allows our artistic side to come through. Part-imagining and part-experience, brewing is the art of science.

If there was one thing I could change in the UK, it would be for people to understand what actually goes into beer. To see the effort and the unseen and often unknown amount of work that is behind that quenching liquid in your glass in a pub. To understand the almost religious fervour that brewers have when it comes to their craft. To know about the ingredients that have been used, chosen from the finest. We are artisans and scientists. We can wake up in the middle of the night, dream-flavours on our tongue, a beer concept fresh in our minds. We can create that beer and have it in a cask within a month. That is something that inspires me. Beer is awesome.

The Handover Post

As some of you now know, I’m leaving Thornbridge in search of the greener hops of my New Zealand homeland. There’ll be a few little changes at Thornbridge and this will include our social media side. I’ve managed to convince the rest of the brewing team to join in on the fun and frivolity that Twitter, Facebook and blogging can provide, so you’ll be hopefully be hearing regularly from them.

I'll now just get angry with hops in New Zealand

Just in case you aren’t aware… our Facebook page is called The Thornbridge Brewers, so you can join up with this and see what’s happening on a day-to-day basis with regards to what’s brewing and what the brewing team are up to.

As for tweets, @thornbridgekel will eventually change to something else… what yet, I don’t even know, and the new Twitter name for everyone will be a collective @thornbridge. The whole team will be involved in using this and tweeting anything interesting that is happening as well as informing you guys on the random happenings at the brewery and beyond. I’m sure you’ll get a few insights into what everyone is drinking at random times as well!

Finally, of course, there’s this new blog. All of the brew team will hopefully have a go at posting something about their jobs or their days or their interesting insight into the world of beer and brewing. They know a lot, I just need to get them all writing it down!

If you follow my blog then don’t worry as it’ll still be going strong. But if you’re keen to check out what the Thornbridge brew crew are doing, then will be the go to place!

Cheers and beers,

Kelly Ryan, Brewery Manager, Thornbridge 2006-2010

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