Good

Wow. I think that’s the one word that sums up the last year of my life. From leaving Epic Brewing in Auckland to moving down to Raglan and taking on the head brewer role for Good George Brewing to heading to Fiji and Canada to help out with some brewery consulting to judging at the World Beer Cup in San Diego, the NZ Brewing Awards back home and the excellent National Homebrew Competition held here in Hamilton to running the brewery here to hiring the fantastic Nate Ross (ex Kernel Brewery in London and Renaissance Brewery in Blenheim) as my assistant brewer and being in the process of hiring yet another great assistant brewer, Jean-Baptiste Martineau from France (whom due to the colour of his locks and Heriot-Watt training, I have dubbed French Martin Dickie from Brewdog) to now heading over to the UK to brew 40 000 litres of a nice, hoppy black ale called Pacific Pearl (at Batemans Brewery in Lincolnshire) for the JD Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival.

Image

That’s why I decided I needed a long sentence. It’s been a busy and brilliant year.

Good George has taken off with a hiss and a roar! In just three weeks of production, we hit our capacity and were able to look at getting in new tanks and kegs, which have just arrived. We thought that we’d grow into our capacity over the first year, but far out have we been surprised! There has been some fantastic feedback from customers and the odd lukewarm response from beer-geeks and die-hard “cheap beer” fanatics, but I’ll get to that a bit later…

So what has been happening here in the little suburb of Frankton? I’ve been working hard on our core group of beers and ciders, never quite 100% happy with each batch, but that’s what been a brewer is all about, right! I’m a massive believer in continuous improvement and this also ties in a lot with taking our customers on a bit of a journey, which is definitely one of the things I truly believe in and am hopefully achieving.

The original range of our White Ale, Sparkling Ale, IPA and Amber Ale as well as our Cider, Drop Hop Cider and Doris Plum Cider have all been tweaked at every brew which has been great fun. I love experimenting. There is an important reason behind this. To begin with, the majority of people who visit Good George and have become our regulars haven’t had a lot of experience with craft beer. They may have tried the odd bottle or pint, but I keep noticing that the majority of folk would rather start off in their comfort zone and learn a little before venturing into this large, unknown world of different flavours.

Image

Nate Ross and Nathan Sweetman try out our White Ale Beersicles that we dreamed up for our Waitangi Day celebration

I suppose it’s quite interesting that our little brewpub used to be The Church of Saint George. The beers that we brew here are about conversion. Moving people away from the cheapest 24-pack of bottles they can get at the supermarket, realising that craft beer isn’t necessarily just about big, bitter beers (which can be quite scary and shocking for those new to the world) or thick, rich coffee and chocolate stouts (which again can be a bit flavour-forward for a lot of people who are used to drinking relatively flavour-neutral brews). I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. I’ve spent a lot of my brewing past making bigger flavoured brews and love doing this, though the more I work and play in this industry, the more I realise that there are a heap of people out there that just don’t really know where to begin. They may pick up the odd bottle of craft at the supermarket to give it a go but are put off by the flavour or bitterness or sheer intensity! These are things that a lot of us craft beer lovers and beer-geeks strive for in a brew, but we’re a minority. Luckily though, we’re a minority that wants to turn the world of the uninitiated into a world of great beer lovers. That’s a special place to be and that’s always in the forefront of my mind.

I think back to a question from a great NZ brewer who came to visit soon after we opened. He tried the beers and looked at me quite quizzically. “You wouldn’t have brewed these types of beers before, would you?” he asked. By this, he was referring (well, hopefully!) to easier drinking brews with a little more balance and subtlety than others I’d done before. “Of course!” was my reply. I told him of the wonderful Fyne Ales brews… Highlander, Piper’s Gold, Maverick, Vital Spark. Of Thornbridge with it’s Hopton, Lord Marples, Brock, Wild Swan, Jaywick, Ashford and so many more. Beers that were lighter in strength, were rounded and full of flavour and balanced and drinkable. Each with their own personality and enough accessibility to allow those that don’t know a lot about the flavours and aromas of craft to appreciate them and begin them on the road to being a beer-lover.

Image

Sure, there are nay-sayers and there always will be in this sometimes dichotomous world of brewing and beer. There are always those that want more. More flavour, more hops, more body, more esters, more acidity, more malt, more richness, more roastiness, more intensity, more drinkability… you get my drift. There are also the others. The classic “that beer is crap” folk. They taste a beer with a little more character than usual, think about the beer that they drink every day, possibly bought in a crate of 745 mL bottles or on super-special at the liquor store and insist that it tastes like mouthwash, dog’s arse (yes, that has been said and we have queried how someone knows what that tastes like!) or something else that they draw from their vast experience of beer tasting. I’m not saying they’re wrong for not liking it of course! I’d be surprised if everyone liked every single beer they try and everyone is entitled to like or dislike what they want. I honestly think everyone is entitled to an opinion about beer, but only as long as they can argue that opinion… with me… 🙂

Image

Crate! (Image from http://www.connox.com)

The other great thing about brewing beers and ciders that appeal to a good cross section of people is that it helps us to grow the business. The great thing about growing a business is that it then gives you the resources to do more fun things. Interesting, eclectic beers, barrel-aging programmes, experimenting with different yeasts and bacteria and having the staff and time to do these things. We’re getting closer to this point and this is another source of excitement!

We’ve just had a bit of a play with something a little different… Nate and I sat down with a selection of hops, got our noses primed and decided on what we think is a great combination that we’ve put into our 5.5% Black Pearl, a hoppy black ale that is a bit of a brother brew to Pacific Pearl that I’ll be brewing in the UK.

Black Pearl used a combination of Pacific Jade, Pacifica, Amarillo, Admiral and NZ Chinook to give a decent level of hoppiness without being massively over the top. I really wanted this beer to have a nice, rich maltiness without being over-roasty or too chocolatey. It had to dance gracefully with the hop bill and with 55 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), the bitterness had to also be soft and gentle in its intensity. I see this beer as a little bit of a stepping stone. It begins to take people out of their comfort zone slightly. It always surprises me how many people think that darker beers are instantly more “heavy” or “a meal in a glass”. To have explained to them that they still use the same ingredients, they still contain the same amount of water and they aren’t like that old, skewed memory of their first pint of Guinness (which I have never really found to be heavy but I know that people drink with their eyes!). This is important. The act of getting them to close their eyes and have a sip. To have a second sip to allow their palate to get used to the initial bitterness. To ask them if they find an ice chocolate or an ice coffee or a coolish glass of red wine or a mug of iced tea to be heavy because they are darker in colour. To get them to think a little about what they’re drinking. That’s the first step. It’s not being disappointed that they don’t appreciate the nuances that the brewer has worked hard to get into the beer. It’s just the first step on the road of appreciation. Beer as a refreshment is a given, as a craft brewer I love watching that voyage of discovery for the new craft beer drinker. That conversion

Image

So it’s a countdown now until England beckons again. I’ve missed the wonderful world of cask ale, I still nod disappointedly at the generic Kiwi terminology for British Ale… “That’s that warm, flat stuff isn’t it?” In fact I really hope we can get a good cask ale programme cranking here at Good George… one for the future I think and I’m looking forward to it!

Image

Teaming up with Bateman’s is really exciting. I’ve been working closely with their Head Brewer, Martin McCullimore on getting this recipe exactly where I want it. Pacific Pearl is going to be jam-packed with some of New Zealand Hops’ finest… Pacific Jade, Pacific Gem, Pacifica and because it’s truly Pacific (and I can’t source any NZ Chinook in the UK), we’ll even throw in some US West Coast Chinook to bring in a hint of piney intensity. We’re dry-hopping this brew, it’s going to be rich and bitter and I can’t wait to brew it (though a 6 am followed by a 5 am start after 40 or so hours of flight and travel is going to be a good challenge). If you’re in the UK and are close to a Wetherspoon’s pub in April, please go and try it and let me know what you think of it!

Because I’m travelling all that way, I’m also going to team up with my great mate, Mark Tranter, the (soon-to-be) former head brewer and wizard behind the fantastic Dark Star Brewery in Sussex and head to Somerset to put down a brew with that whacky, wild duo of Brett and Andrew at Wild Beer Co. It seems fitting with Good George being on Somerset Street here in Hamilton that I do something fun with them!

ImageAnd fun it shall be… I can give you a few hints on what has been going on in our twisted brewing minds… Think Hibiscus, Passionfruit, Pink Peppercorns, Barrels and Brettanomyces and you’ll begin to form a picture of what is going to be an extremely exciting beer!

I’m also going to head up to the SIBA Beer X in Sheffield for a day to catch up with lots of brewers hopefully as well as pop in to my old home of four years, The Coach and Horses in Dronfield, to catch up with all of my great friends and locals there. Hopefully some of the Thornbridge crew as well!

So that’s where I’m at.

Good?

Hell, yeah!

Codex Fermentarius

Tomorrow we begin to move our tanks into our new brewhouse in Somerset Street, Frankton in Hamilton. The building itself is a deconsecrated church. It got me thinking about what the Brewer’s Ten Commandments could be. Add some more and I’ll pick a few great ones for the ultimate list. Also, I’ll tell you the name of the brewpub in a few days with a bit of luck. Excited? Yep!!!

Codex Fermentarius

Thou shalt not covet another brewers’ kegs or casks.

Honour thy other brewer’s recipe choice.

Rejoice to thy daughter yeast and thy mother yeast.

Thy glass shalt always be full. Never half full. Never half empty.

Remember thy first brew day. And keep it holy.

Thou shalt not steal another brewer’s hop combination. This is hopdultery.

Thou shalt not covet another brewery’s name. Or beer name. Especially if it is that of a German cyclist.

Seven days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work. Thou art a brewer. Drinking is work.

Taste thy water, taste thy malted grains, taste thy yeast. Don’t taste thy hop flowers.

Thou shalt not drink false beverages. We know what thee are.

Give me some more great Brewer’s Commandments!

The Road to Building a Brewery…

Three months now since I left Epic and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind…

I moved here…

Image

This is a view from the balcony of my place on the mighty West Coast of NZ called Raglan. It has black sand, which is the proper colour of sand as every honourable Taranaki denizen will tell you. It has amazing surf and I seriously need to get a board and see if I can remember how to stand up and more importantly, it has a nice sheltered harbour which is perfect for me to go kayak fishing in!

I can be in Hamilton in around 35 minutes which is handy as this is where I’m going to be working in a new brewpub on Somerset Street in the suburb of Frankton. But more about that a wee bit later…

The last few months have seen me clock up a few air miles and head across the globe to help out a few breweries. Our brewery is coming from a company called DME who are based in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island which was quite fortuitous as my first offshore job landed me in Charlottetown!

I spent 2 1/2 weeks at Prince Edward Island Brewing Company/Gahan House Brewery helping the team out. As with the majority of craft breweries across the globe, the team were a brilliant bunch and we had some fun (and long) hours spent commissioning new fermenting vessels, double and triple brewing, counting yeast cells by the million and commissioning a new canning line!

Image

This picture shows PEI brewer, Bryan Carver, checking out their awesome DME brewkit. Interestingly, one of the laws on the Island involving brewing is that no commercial beer can be brewed over 6.5% alcohol by volume. You can probably imagine how restrictive that is for a bunch of passionate and creative brewers and I really hope that this law is overturned and the guys can push out some big Imperial Stouts or Barley Wines!

PEI was also pretty cold. After a couple of weeks there I was definitely keen to head back to warmth. It’s not often that a Kiwi sees ice on a beach. Walking along the shore and seeing a load of razor clam, clam and oyster shells made me pretty keen to get a feed but the fact that it was only about 2-3 degrees celsius made that pretty damn unlikely! Lucky the local restaurants did incredible food and I was lucky enough to head along to Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar and have an incredible local lobster and some aged PEI beef which is up there with some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Image

Contrast is a pretty cool thing and my next port of call was Nadi in Fiji. I spent a couple of weeks at Island Brewing Company, the home of Vonu Lager and had a great time with their brewing team. Aisea, Soneel, Ashweeta and the rest of the team run a fantastic setup and it was cool to come in and work on some of their processes and make some improvements. It’s not often a brewery has a full laboratory setup and designated staff for the roles and this definitely makes a big difference with regards production. Another thing of interest is the fact that most of the brewing staff have scientific degrees and have all completed qualifications with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in the UK. It’s just the little things, but these all add up to make a real difference in a brewery.

Image

This is a picture of Soneel working hard on the DME kit in Fiji. Needless to say, the brewhouse got pretty warm…

Most readers will know of the legendary hospitality of the Pacific Islands and it was no different when we were there. Heading out to the brewery manager’s house for dinner, learning how to cook various curries, make roti bread and some seriously delicious dahl, or getting a delicious meal of mud crab, cassava and ota fern (similar to the New Zealand Pikopiko) dropped off by the brewery staff (thanks Etuate!). I can’t forget the big banquet that the staff put on for me on my last day either. No one knows hospitality like the Fijians!

Image

It was back to NZ for a couple of days or so to continue the process of getting everything sorted for the brewpub that is going in and then it was off again! This time it was to San Diego to judge in the World Beer Cup, the premier international beer competition that I was lucky enough to be invited to again. The WBC occurs every two years and with almost 4000 beers entered for judging, this was the biggest one yet. It coincides with the Craft Brewers Conference which we also attended. This is jam-packed with loads of seminars ranging from sustainability right through to brewing Berliner Weisse or using social media in beer marketing and has something for everyone within the industry. As well as that you get to rub shoulders with some of the world’s greatest brewers which is good if you have a few questions for them!

I was stoked to see a few mates from Australia pick up medals in the competition, super pleased with Lovibonds (from the UK) taking out a Gold Medal in the Barrel Aged Sour category and stoked to see the old crew from Thornbridge pick up a Bronze Medal for their Black IPA, Raven.

Five points if you can tell me who this bona fide HOPHEAD is in the picture at Lost Abbey brewery in San Marcos, California

So now I’m back in New Zealand and we’re all working hard at getting everything organised for the arrival of our brewery. As some of you out there know, it’s no easy task to get everything organised and I’m learning something new every day. It’s fantastic! The site is coming along slowly, we have a brewhouse wall (see picture below) and the floors are going to begin to be poured this week, meetings with suppliers and everyone in between are becoming commonplace. I am becoming a spreadsheet master at organising incoming quotations for all matters of equipment and the day where that first brew goes down is drawing ever closer.

Image

I’ll keep on posting here when I have the time and if you’re lucky I may even post a few pics of my super awesome engineering drawings. Let’s just say I should stick to brewing…

It’s been Epic!

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!

Photo from http://www.thebeerproject.com (Jed Soane)

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.

Victoria from Dish Magazine hard at work

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…

Pretty sure my photoshopping skills won't be missed!

Epic – Thanks Luke and Wendy, I’m gonna really miss the place. Thanks also to the Steam Brewery team. It’s been great fun!

Blog at WordPress.com.