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!

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 goodpeopleeats.blogspot.com)

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 fullpint.com)

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 Halves

The pretty fellas. The ones that always have a tube of moisturiser in their after-match bag and often tend to have some sort of aftershave spray that they insist they put on in the changing rooms so that the forwards can get together and punch them.

While the forwards are the guys that do the hard yards up front, it is the responsibility of the backs to pass, catch and kick the ball in the hope of scoring loads of fabulous points so that their team comes out victorious. While there are 8 forwards, there are only 7 backs, most probably because the forwards always want to win if they have to ever fight the backs…

I digress…

Number 9 – Half Back

The most raucous member of the team is usually the link player between forwards and backs. The ability to ferret in, throw forwards out of the way, snaffle the ball, question every decision the ref makes, show disgust at the dodgy calls and scream adulation when the team does well are all attributes well sorted to the feisty scrum half. I’ll be honest, this decision was a tough one for the Thirst XV selectors, and the other candidate will be named in the reserves (as a super-sub of course) but the player likely to be wearing the mighty Number 9 jersey on the pitch is none other than Luke Nicholas, Mr. Epic Beer himself. Never afraid to stick his head out of the gopher-hole and with the knack to make an underhopped lager blush with shame, Nicholas would bring a great set of skills to the team. Antagonising opposition players and fragmenting the refs calls would be his strong points and I imagine post-game, Nicholas would lather himself with pure lupulin glands instead of the standard “soap-on-a-rope” option. Great players that spring to mind? A cross between Graeme Bachop and George Gregan…

 

"Product placement? I don't know what you're talking about..."

Number 10 – Fly Half/1st Five Eighth

The playmaker and clinical to a tee, this position is one of the most important on the field. The ability to make or break a game with a deft chip kick, ninja-like offload of the ball or a low, hard tackle mean there is no room for error. None other than Tracy Banner, Sprig and Fern Brewer extraordinaire could fit into this role. Originally from football territory in the north of England, a cool demeanour and a scientific eye would make Banner an unstoppable tactician on the field. With her brewing prowess encompassing a range of 18 or so beers and ciders as well as a handful of pubs, the ability to analyse play on the field would be a walk in the park. Those early days surrounded by Everton and Liverpool supporters would also pay off with Banner’s boot being one of the more formidable in the game. Kicking goals from anywhere on the field would be a breeze for her and her skills at reading play on the field would mean that hardly a player would get past her text-book tackles. Carter and Wilkinson… beware!

Super skills - The ability to pour 8 pints of beer whilst showing how to execute the perfect spin pass is a walk in the park for Banner

 

Coming soon – The formidable Centres!

New Zealand Brewing Dream Team – The 1st XV – The Front Row

Whilst at Beervana in Wellington a month or two back, I got chatting to Brendan McKenzie from the newly formed Revolution Brewing. We sat at The Malthouse watching a rugby match between New Zealand and Australia, got chatting about our time in Dunedin, rugby and (of course) brewing. Brendan began chatting about a New Zealand brewing 1st XV, so I thought I’d scrap one together…

Number 1 – Loosehead Prop

Carl Vasta – A veritable hulk of a man, this West Coast powerhouse would be ideal in the front row. The head honcho of Tuatara Brewing could be a bit of a challenge to topple over and I imagine his turn of pace would be similar to another legendary rugby Carl… Carl Hayman, All Black extraordinaire (albeit a tighthead specialist). His welding skills already legendary up and down this Land of the Long White Cloud, who else to act as the man who could potentially hold this team together.

Vasta - Foregoes soft feather pillows and sleeps with the rugby ball

Number 2 – Hooker

This would have to be none other than the nuggety Chris O’Leary of Emersons. The man behind the now extinct Limburg and (along with Richard Emerson) brewing some amazing beers down in the Deep South, Chris would be the ideal man in the front row. Precision in both brewing and throwing the ball into lineouts. Smashing! The role model for the younger members of the team, Father O’Leary would be as cunning as Sean Fitzpatrick with the skills to boot. Can’t you see him sneaking out there on the wing ready for the match-winning try?

Warming the ball up over the kettle... a technique extremely helpful on those frosty Dunedin days (photo courtesy of Jed Soane of the awesome http://www.thebeerproject.com

 

Number 3 – Tighthead Prop

With the height and power of Vasta on one side of the front row, there can be only one choice for the other lad that is to prop up the mighty O’Leary. Joseph Wood of Liberty Brewing is definitely the man for the job. Unprecedented prowess with sideburns that could trip up Jonah Lomu, Wood would have both the aggression and the smarts to turn even the toughest scrum. Ball in hand would be a formidable sight as the gentleman of the NZ brewing scene would definitely take it “up the guts”. I imagine Jo “King” Wood would be akin to All Black legend, Richard Loe. The gentlemanly version…

Imagine this powerful chap chasing you down the sideline wearing that t-shirt. Brewing legend!

 

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I will unleash the New Zealand Brewing Dream Team Tight Five!!

IPA – It’s worthy of having it’s own International Day. It truly is. Really.

Not too many sleeps left now! Click the pic...

August 4th is International IPA Day. For those who don’t know, IPA stands for India Pale Ale and is a style of beer that is often well-hopped. I’m not going to give you a history lesson on it. Pete Brown, Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson are the masters of that domain and I recommend you read some of their brilliant works.

Courtesy of Ron Pattinson

I love IPAs. My little story below is part of the reason why.

Share an IPA with someone. It may make them happy.

Courtesy of Martyn Cornell

I thought I was tasting my first IPA as a trainee brewer here in New Zealand. I’d worked hard, had a couple of science degrees under my belt and here I was in my first job. I was yet to become a beer adventurer, the guy who is sitting here now with thousands of different beers tasted and pondered. I was fresh and young and keen and was about to begin brewing the most well known IPA in New Zealand.

But it wasn’t. I didn’t.

The beer that has once been based on the famous East India Pale Ale, turned out to be a 4% alcohol, slightly sweet, brown New Zealand-style draught lager. Strangely I was fine with that. It was okay with me to be in a brewery churning out 100 000 litres plus of the stuff in a day. I was learning. I was building knowledge. I was running the microbiology laboratory whilst training as a brewer. I loved it. Every day was a new challenge. Troubleshooting micro issues that we had, routine testing and garnering an understanding. Doing weekly beer tastings with brewery management and developing my palate as I had been taught at university. Hunting through the delicate aroma molecules and perceived tastes and flavours starting to become second nature. Fridays spent throwing crates on to a conveyor belt with the people that became my friends. What was not to like.

Was this faux-IPA I was tasting every week filled with flavour? No, and I loved that. There was nowhere to hide for anything that shouldn’t be there. Slightly high in fruity esters. Why? A hint of wild yeast spice. How? The faux-IPA and its kindred schooled me in brewing practice and analysis. Sure, it could’ve been called something else instead of an IPA, but that was irrelevant to me then.

It allowed my curiosity to continue seeping, my love of food and aroma and flavour becoming more apparent to me with age and understanding. I knew I needed more of these things in the beer that I was to spend my life creating.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in Scotland. A craft brewery – my first job as a craft brewer with a brew volume that would take half a year to brew what my very first brewery could produce in a day. I worked for board and food and a bit of spending money and I fell in love over again with my chosen profession.

I was brewing, but this time it felt a little more real. Smashing up hops and burying my face into them, learning names that I’d only read in brewing books. Centennial, Chinook, Styrian Goldings – back then I was as familiar with the individual characters of these hops as my faux-IPA brewery was with hop character in their faux-IPA.

It was a brand new voyage of discovery. The myriad of malts, the heady intoxication of the heavenly hop cones. The hop-junkie journey was beginning and I was eager. It led me from the small slice of Scottish paradise to the picturesque Peak District. A grand Country House nestled in the rolling hills of Derbyshire, its behemothic presence softened by beautiful gardens and bubbling brooks.

I rediscovered IPA here. I joined the small brewing team of Martin Dickie and Stefano Cossi, a Scotsman and an Italian who were forging ahead and developing beers with flavour. Thornbridge called it a contemporary take on traditional thinking.

It was. Jaipur was big and bold and hoppy. It was smooth and drinkable and bitter. It was a giant, angry fruit machine spitting citrussy, grapefruity, tropical tumblings of aroma at me. All this from one variety of malt and two varieties of hops. I was impressed.

Martin left to join Brewdog. I remember my first brew day. I had been there for one week. Washing casks, asking questions. The annoying Kiwi constantly prodding the Italian and the Scotsman. Learning from them as they learnt from me. Bringing big brewery ways to their craft. Talking sanitation and procedures and analysis and flavours and aromas and mash temperatures. Brewer porn.

That first solo brew at Thornbridge was nerve-racking. Jaipur. A few days of watching the boys and taking notes. They were off to meet Michael Jackson in London. A visit that was to change a certain Martin Dickie’s life path and resulted in Brewdog. I held the fort with Dave Corbey, the guru brewing consultant that helped set up Thornbridge. I brewed my first IPA. Lashings of bright yellow and green hop cones. Steam, sweat, nerves. I was hooked, green-tinged hop-filled veins and all.

From the first IPA to the development of Jaipur over years as ingredients change and as perceptions alter. As the brewer strives to make every batch better than the last. The English style IPAs, the Imperial IPAs. It was exciting.

It still is.

I found myself back in the land where I first brewed (what I thought was) an IPA. They didn’t teach me a lot about beer styles at university. Lots of ethyl acetate and citric acid cycles and glycolysis and the advantages of darauflassen, but not so much about the classic beer styles of the UK. But I came back with some knowledge.

I’m brewing IPA again in New Zealand. Not so much the classic English, racked bright-jammed with hops-pitch lined barrel-in a boat-off to India for the troops version, but a modern take on the beer style that I love. Lots of American hop character, bright, shiny and fresh with a lovely caramel malt flavour and a palate impressing bitterness.

I shared this beer with my dad. He usually likes to drink the faux-IPA. Why shouldn’t he? It’s what he has drunk for years, he can buy it cheap and it’s easy to get.

“That has to be one of the best beers in the world”, he said*.

I am proud.**

* The beer in question is Epic Armageddon IPA.
** So proud that I will be celebrating International IPA Day on August 4th whilst at the BrewNZ Beer Awards Dinner and will then celebrate it again on August 5th. Because New Zealand is awesome and the first country in the world to see International IPA day, it just wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t celebrate it again when it is August 4th in places like the UK and the USA. Luckily I will be at Beervana, the New Zealand Beer Festival (held in Wellington on the 5th/6th). If you are going, it is essential that you hunt out IPAs, give IPAs to your friends that have never tried them before and sing lots of fun songs whilst replacing the lyrics with IPA.

Burton on Trent, for IPA Pilgrims?

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