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??

When Dark Star met Thornbridge

I have a small wine-tasting glass sitting in front of me. In it is a light copper-orange liquid. A small gathering of tiny white bubbles huddled off to one side. I smell it. Big perfume hit. A little caramel and toffee, like one of those hard chocolate-coated caramels from the chocolate selection box. Fruitiness begins to come forward. Light, estery pear-drop notes, some prunes and figs soaked in sherry, a hint of ripe, green apples, not too much though.

I take a sip and wonder what the yeast have been doing over the last 20 months. Subtle toffee and fruits meld together in my mouth, I get the faintest savoury autolysed note balanced by a lovely sweetness and a bitterness that tickles the roof of my mouth. A lovely subtle warmth follows. So clean and made for slowly sipping.

Myself, MarkStar, Matt, Stef and Dave at the end of Coalition Ale Day

This is our Coalition Ale that was brewed back on the 25th February 2009 with the amazing Mark Tranter from Dark Star Brewing in Sussex. It’s hopefully sitting around 7.3-7.4% at the moment and is going through a slow steady refermentation process in the brewery changing rooms. We would have usually put it in our warm store, but this is being refurbished to allow us to use it as a dual warm and cool store. Needs must!

We put our heads together many moons back and decided we’d do our own version of an Old Ale. We threw ideas back and forth, looking at various hops, what type of beer we wanted to brew, and whether we wanted to do anything interesting post-fermentation. We thought of various concepts including aging on sour cherries and even doing an Orval-style Styrian Goldings dry-hopping followed by a Brettanomyces bottle refermentation.

A recipe finally agreed on, Mark came up from Dark Star and the brewday commenced! We mashed together the finest Maris Otter Pale Ale malt with a small portion of Crystal malt and a very low liquor treatment profile consisting of a dash here and there of calcium, chloride, sulphate, sodium and bicarbonate ions. We were going to be aging this baby for a while and new that mellowing of palate, through bitterness and through softening of any astringency, would occur over time. To aid the fermentability we also used a small portion of Demerara sugar which was added throughout the runoff from mash tun to copper every 6 minutes. Let’s call it the continuous sugaring technique. We were hoping some of the rich, brown sugar-esque creaminess would find it’s way into the beer.

We used Atlas, Aurora and Liberty to hop the Coalition Ale and made a decision that if this was to be a beer made by Thornbridge and Dark Star, that we wouldn’t be shy. Again, this was a tough decision. We didn’t know how kind time would be on the hop profile, but we did want there to be a ghost of bitterness left in the final beer. I’m actually sitting here now looking at the brewsheet. It’s great to look back on our records and read the small notes Stef and I have made throughout the fermentation. I mention the delicious fruity character at the beginning of fermentation, backed up by Stef a few days later taling of peaches, fruit and raisins. After 5 days we chilled the beer down and transferred it to a maturation vessel where it sat doing it’s thing for 20 or so months.

Coalition Ale is now in a bottle below my feet. This is what it looks like as the little yeasties weave their magic.

Refermenting Coalition Ale - Is there a more exciting photograph anywhere?

I’m not likely to be in the UK when it’s released, but hopefully we’ll put it out to sale at two years old. An Old Ale not just by name!

We had a load of fun with Mark, so it would have been rude not to head down to Dark Star and complete the collaboration circle. I was lucky enough (well, when I say lucky, I mean I put my name forward and closed the ballot before anyone else could) to get down South via a speedy train trip after the British Guild of Beer Writers Style Seminar. Welcomed by MarkStar at the train station, it would have been rude for us not to head to the Evening Star for a quiet beer with Matt and Karen Wickham, publicans extraordinaire! The Dark Star beers were tasting cracking, but it was the American Pale Ale that I was most interested in. We had decided to Kiwi this recipe up a bit. Instead of the usual Chinook, Centennial, Cascade combo, I thought it was time to introduce Mark to the joys of New Zealand hops.

Pacifica (formerly Pacific Hallertau), the incredibly aromatic and alpha-acid filled Pacific Gem and the resinous, lime-juice and peppery Southern Cross were chosen as replacements for the American hops and we decided to go a step further and use a portion of CaraFa. This is a really interesting roasted malt. It is de-husked and gives a lovely deep-brown hue to the beer without contributing the characteristic roastiness that other dark malts provide. It is CaraFa that has aided and abbeted the style known as Black IPA or India Black Ale or whatever else you want to call it.

I find this type of beer fascinating. By nature we tend to eat and drink with our eyes. It is not until you get the chance to be involved with a sensory evaluation complete with red lights and black drinking glasses that you realise how important your eyes are when it comes to flavour perception. Sight can trick us and make us think strange thoughts and taste and smell unusual things. It has even been known to fool the unsuspecting pubgoer who awakes in the morning to find a naked, scary troll in their bed… a troll that was ludicrously beautiful/handsome after a mere six pints the night before. Never trust sight…

If you take a big, hoppy beer… generally something the average person imagines to be a pale beer and twist around it’s colour, straight away people think it’s going to taste roasty or like coffee or chocolate or be extremely strong and rich. When JK first came up with Raven, the Black IPA we brew at Thornbridge, I’d often ask customers to close their eyes and give them a sample of the beer at the Coach. “Pale and Hoppy”, would be the general consensus and the surprise when they saw the beer was always great. I really think brews like this are a great way to educate people. They teach us that all is not what it seems in the world of brewing. A dark beer doesn’t have to taste big and roasty and malty!

The DarkStarShip Enterprise

With this in mind, we kicked off the brew, mashing in at around 68-69°C and transferring the mash straight to lauter tun. The smell was fantastic with the Maris Otter, Caragold, Munich and CaraFa filling the brewhouse with a incredibly rich maltiness, all HobKnobs and Digestive biscuits and other fine McVities products.

Happiness is a Lauter Tun

We eagerly waited time for runoff, glasses poised under the sample valve to taste the first runnings. Deep black and as malty as the aroma suggested, we were two happy brewers!

A Blacker Shade of Pale...

A change in the late hopping regime was made to really bring out the intensity of the Kiwi hops and the final wort was wonderfully bitter and rich, with wisps of spice and tropical fruits. We were stoked! Matt and Karen from the Evening Star had also come along to help out and ably assisted by Dark Star Brewer, George Juniper we found some time to sample a few of the Dark Star beers in tank and cask.

The still fermenting American Pale Ale blew me away with it’s intense elderflower and passionfruit aromas but it was Mark’s new Green Hop beer that really blew my mind. Target was chosen as the freshly picked hop to season this Simcoe-fuelled beer with and it definitely delivered with it’s heady mix of pineapple, pine and orange peel. Even the tank and fittings that Mark had designed to help capture the green-hop character looked like something from a Mad Max movie…

MarkStar and his HopGun 3000

The intensity of the Green Hop still on my lips, we headed into the cellar and popped open a cask of Mark’s Triple. Originally formulated as a Belgian-style IPA and fermented with Ardennes yeast, this beer is hugely hopped with big American beasts… Warrior and Columbus being among them. But it it the yeast that has the starring role in this beer. Even straight from cask, the head was rich and tight and foamy, peaks and troughs like an Arctic landscape, it had me smacking my lips in anticipation. The mouth was smooth and creamy and built to an intense, yet integrated bitterness, the hop flavours melding perfectly with the Belgian yeast character. This was heaven and proof that Dark Star are one of the best practitioners when it comes to translating different beer styles to the cask.

The next step for Mark is to dry-hop the beer and we decided on Southern Cross and Nelson Sauvin to do what they do best.

Almost enough hops for 12,780 pints of beer!

The brew has been christened ThornStar (no, not Porn Star) and I can’t wait to try it! Keep an eye out at places like the Sheffield Tap and the Coach and Horses and any of those fantastic drinking establishments in Sussex that stock Dark Star beers!

The Totally Awesome New Zealand Craft Brewing Scene Part 2

So I left off in one of the better bars I’ve been to for ages, The Malthouse in Wellington, talking about the joys of the hop-bomb IPAs, Epic Armageddon and 8 Wired HopWired. Brewers Luke Nicholas and Soren Eriksen had proven that they were Hop Magicians but I was ready for something else to tantalise my already tingling tastebuds.

A couple of Moa beers appeared on the table (don’t you love how that happens!) and we cracked them open. Earlier in my trip I’d tried one of Moa’s brews called Weka Lager.

Kind of like the NZ bird of the same name, but wetter and maltier

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t massively impressed by this beer, even though it was well-made. It poured a hazy yellow-brown and had the tiniest hint of vanilla on the nose with a bit of toffee and caramel in the mouth. The bitterness was light, but persistent and there was quite a bit of top-palate dryness, something I recall from the Moa Original that I tried on my last trip home. The Weka was a decent malt-led lager but I just wanted a little more hop, there was the smallest hint of orange there, but it wasn’t the greatest lager I tasted on my trip home.

Saying that though, Moa seem like a pretty cool brewery and are doing some fascinating stuff. The Moa range uses quite a unique process for their bottle refermentation. Usually bottle conditioning results from residual yeast in the bottle fermenting out residual (or added) sugars in the beer, providing natural carbonation. Josh Scott, Moa’s Head Brewer (and a winemaker to boot) does a standard refermentation, but then utilises the technology that is used in Champagne production, freezes the yeast plug (that accumulates in the neck of the bottle when upside down), pops it out, re-caps it then it’s good to go. This means you get all the sensory pleasure that the subtle, smooth natural carbonation gives without the yeast in the bottom of the bottle. How cool is that!

I’d heard that Moa beers were getting better and better, so was super excited that the two beers that had appeared on my table at the Malthouse were Harvest Moa and 5 Hop Barrel Reserve Moa. The Harvest is described as a wheat beer based lager and a natural cherry extract is added to give it a hint of fruit. The brew gave off a lovely perfumed, almost shampoo like aroma followed by a massive intensely floral hit. This was followed by a little mixed berry character and the tiniest hint of sulphur, which was nice. It was extremely clean in the mouth with a touch of mineral and little discernible malt (not necessarily a bad thing, as this was a great drinking beer). It finished really clean with the slightest hint of astringency. I was happy!

I was even happier after trying the 5 Hop Barrel Reserve! This poured a light copper colour and had a lovely tight, white foam head. The nose showed some similar mineral character that I had picked up in the Harvest but this was overpowered by some lovely dry fruit and rich coconut when in the mouth. It finished with some well integrated light vanilla subtleties and a touch of white chocolate. At 6% it showed little alcohol in the finish and just the smallest amount of acidity. It was a well balanced acidity nonetheless and something I sometimes notice in barrel aged brews.

My vision was beginning to blur slightly by now, so my camera sympathised...

Yeastie Boys’ Stu McKinlay then appeared with a glass of Invercargill Brewery‘s Smokin’ Bishop. Holy guacamole, was this a good beer! Gentle smokiness wafted from the glass and I was amazed at the sheer smoothness of the beer. Bourbon notes, all rich and caramel were followed by a slightly biscuity finish and just like that, I was in love. A 7% Bamberg style smoked bock from NZ’s southern-most brewery had won me over… I always have been a sucker for a dark malty brew though.  The Malthouse’s Colin Mallon then appeared with a couple of bottles of Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black, a beer I’d heard loads about and was eager to try. It was brilliant! A slight yet smooth citrus hop character, decadent caramel undertones and more smoothness, all mellow and gentle and luscious in the swallow. Stu brews this porter at then Invercargill Brewery and it did make me wonder if there’s something in the water down south, as both beers I’d tasted from the brewery were wicked!

My night of beer over, it was off for a late night kebab (something I’d never done in NZ before!!) with my mates and home for a kip in preparation for my flight south to Nelson in the morning.

To me Nelson means one thing and that is hops. So following that reasoning, I hoped that with hops would be beer and I wasn’t to be disappointed! Upon arriving and being picked up by Catherine’s brother we cruised to one of the Sprig and Fern taverns. Brewed just out of Nelson in Richmond, the Sprig and Fern do a great range of beers, from Pilseners to strong lagers to pale ales to bitters to stouts and porters, even Doppelbocks and ciders! The Milton Street pub was fantastic, it’s interior akin to a light, sun-filled, airy house, a super-relaxed yet buzzing Friday afternoon atmosphere and a great line-up of draught Sprig and Fern beer on the bar. I cracked into a 6.5% Tasman Lager and was instantly impressed. Hints of fruity, almost Nelson Sauvin-like hop, impressively clean and crisp with just the tiniest touch of that fresh sweat/gooseberry goodness that you can also find on the regions Sauvignon Blancs. The mild finish tantalised with a lick of bitterness and suddenly all was good in the world. I had a sip of Cat’s Ginger Lager, all buckets of earthy ginger root with ginger everywhere… in the swallow, in the burp, the works! It helped by not being too sweet and the flavour kept developing long after the swallow which was cool. Their Pilsener was nice and clean, not too much hop on the nose though with some nice biscuity and dry malty notes and a hint of caramel that worked well. A hint more bitterness wouldn’t have gone astray but another well built brew. Next I had a quick sip of Cat’s brother, Craig’s Three Berries Cider. It was delicious with buckets of boysenberry character on the sniff and a lovely apple cider mouth. They’re talking about 2010 being the Year of Cider in NZ and with brews like this one, I think they might be right!

With a surname like Mueller of course they're gonna love those European style beers!

Last up Craig and I went for an 8% Doppelbock and it was divine. Deep brown with a light tan head. Rich malt, chocolate and caramel perfume, smooth, and nutty in the mouth, lashings of molasses and the tiniest touch of liquorice. This was delectable and velvety and finished slightly sweet with a little hazelnut and a touch of grassy hop. Definitely one of the best I’ve tried. It sure put a grin on my face!


We decided to bust a move over the hills from Nelson to Takaka to head to the beach, check out a couple of brewpubs and somewhere inbetween catch a salmon at a little salmon-catchy place where the kind folk then fillet and smoke it for you while you wait . Yeah, I know… it’s not the challenge of river fishing, but it was bloody tasty!

Before twisting our way up the Takaka hill, we passed fields and fields of my favourite plant in the world… hops!

Hundreds of flowers waiting to martyr themselves in the name of their god.. the Pint

We headed to the famous Mussel Inn as I was keen to try their well-known Captain Cooker, a beer brewed using the leaves of a small native New Zealand tree called Manuka as part of the process. It was a beautiful day and this hazy copper brew went down a treat with it’s herbal Manuka and lavender character dominating the nose and refreshing the mouth, followed closely by a distinct all-mouth bitternes. The Manuka slightly number my tongue and their was a bit of lemon and propolis lozenge character in the finish. It was a unique and interesting beer. Their Golden Goose was a nice lager with a touch of kiwifruit and gooseberry with little flecks of caramel and honey. It was a tad on the dry side and it’s lack of bitterness made for great drinkability. More gooseberry came through in the finish and then a touch of residual sweetness appeared out of nowhere which was nice.

We also checked out the sacred Te Waikoropupu springs where some of the clearest water in the world erupts from underground springs. It was a fantastic place with tourists everywhere and some big happy brown trout lazing around in the pools. The water itself is tapu (sacred) and reputed to have healing properties. I reckon it would make a fantastic beer!!!

I reckon that watercress would go well with some pork bones in a good ol' Kiwi boil-up!!

Things had almost begun to get a little un-beery until Craig surprised me on the way home with a little side trip to Mapua in Golden Bay (just out of Nelson) where we visited the Golden Bear Brewery and had a lovely American-inspired pint of a 5.85% Patriots Pale. Run by Californian expat Jim Matranga, I was expecting big things with this beer and it didn’t disappoint. He used Sticklebract and Nelson Sauvin as well as hop extract in the brew. It poured a deep red-brown colour with a thick, creamy white head. Hints of passionfruit came through with a little lemon, some sherbert and a finishing nuttiness. The bitterness was long and lasting. I’ve written in my tasting notes that it was lush… and it was! I love brewpubs!

How's that for a cool looking brew kit!!!

Our trip South almost over, we prepared ourselves for our flight back to the North Island and our drive up to the Hawkes Bay. But that, and my trip to Auckland, an Epic brew day and some great fishing up North can wait for another day!

Hop to it!

Thornbridgers like ourselves love spring. No longer do we have to throw steaming hot water onto the external pipes so we can pre-rinse our dirty casks. No longer do we have to waste time plunging our bright red hands into a bucket of warm, soapy water just to keep them warm instead of washing barrels. Toes like ice-cubes nestling in our Wellington boots, in my case with my possum-merino blend socks on, wondering why we didn’t put two pairs of socks on that morning whilst cursing the chilly snow.

Couple that with the bustle of activity as the dormancy of winter dissipates, buds opening, spring blossoms blooming, insects and birds and animals emerging and you can see why it makes a brewer happy. Yet beyond all of the Pantheistic worship is the most exciting thing that spring offers the Thornbridgers. You guessed it… the new seasons hops have all arrived at our hop suppliers!


Stefano, Dave and Matt all left early on Monday morning to make the trek down to Newland, a small town close to Malvern in Herefordshire where Charles Faram & Co Ltd, our hop suppliers, run their hop warehouse. Myself and Catherine were both already in London, so we also headed over and had planned a night in a local pub called The Talbot at Knightwick, which (oh, so conveniently) happened to have a little brewery attached called Teme Valley Brewery as well as a great selection of local sourced food.

Stef, Dave and Matt met up with Charles Faram hop legends Paul Corbett and Will Rogers, both veritable black belts in the art of Hop-kido. They all went off to visit Mark Andrews who had grown the delicious fresh Target hops that we had used in our 2008 Green Hop Vintage of Halcyon (our Imperial IPA). I met up with them upon their return and we got into some serious hop sniffing!

We started with the more delicate hops then moved right through to the pungent beasts, and I thought it would be a good idea to put a few aroma descriptors next to each… you never know if any budding home brewers are going to be reading this blog! So here goes…

Sovereign – Similar to Fuggles/Goldings with good pungency and floral notes

Saaz – Hay, dried apricots with hints of spice

Lubelski – Smokey, slight oxidised character, some spice

Crystal – Noble aroma, Cascade-esque character, mango and stone-fruits with some citrus

Mount Hood – Perfume and wood, quite delicate

Sterling – Old lemons and some lemon dishwashing liquid

Santiam – Lots of pineapple, clean character

Sladek – Mint, spice, hardwood

Aurora – Biscuit, slightly cheesey with some mint

Atlas – Hint of lemon, wood with some patchouli

Savinski – Lemon dishwashing liquid with some root vegetable character

Bobek – Fuggles like with some more lemon

Celeia – Styrian Goldings like but more intensity with a little lemon zest

Sorachi – Lemongrass, pineapple, mouldy citrus (but in a good way!)

Bramling Cross – Grapefruit, passionfruit and some berry characters

Pilgrim – Very pungent with some almost dairy characters

Willamette – Mango, peaches, ribes (blackcurrant)

Marynka – Banana, shoe polish, slight vegetable character

Northern Brewer – Intense hop pungency

Ahtanum – Delicate citrus, fresh cut hay

Cluster – Pine, citrus some bubblegum

Galena – Pineapple, pine needles, oriental wood

Herkules – Intense hop pungency. Hard to characterise

Chinook – Pine, citrus, grassy

Centennial – Orange zest, pungent

Amarillo – Grapefruit, floral with some sweetness

Simcoe – Sage, slightly balsamic, citrus and some rubber/sulphur

Cascade – Citrus and tropical juice, good pungency

Challenger – Green peppercorns, chocolate, some cheddar

So I suppose you could call this list a beginners guide to the 2008 crop of hops! It was amazing to smell the difference that the hops would have from farm to farm and really highlighted how important it is for us as brewers to nose the hops before every brew to ensure we’re getting consistent aroma and flavour characteristics into our beer.  It also works as a fantastic brainstorming session as we begin to build beers based on the hops we are nosing. Needless to say, we have a few already! The other fun part of testing the hops is how stupid we look doing it! Catherine took a few photos, so I thought it would be a good idea to put some in…


Noses at the ready...
Noses at the ready…


Dave gets amongst it... Paul loses his favourite hop!

Dave gets his nose dirty. Paul loses his favourite hop! Dave???

Do you want any?

Do you want any?

Dave's had too many...

Dave's had too many...

So has Stef!

So has Stef!

Paul, Matt, Stef, Dave, Kelly and Will. We ain't seen no hops!

Paul, Matt, Stef, Dave, Kelly and Will. We ain't seen no hops!


Next stop for Catherine and I was the Talbot where we managed to plonk ourselves down in front of the massive open fire and get down to some serious card playing! It was really cool for us to actually be staying in a pub where we didn’t have to run downstairs all the time! We decided to start snacking and because the bar menu had so many great meals on it, that’s what we ended up doing all night! We started off with some pheasant giblets on their toasted homemade bread which were awesome and then went for an amazing prawn and crab bisque. The bisque had been made with the crab shells as a stock and was intensely aromatic and took me straight back to growing up on a beach in New Zealand and getting crabs with my family every low tide. We also went for a beautiful pigs-head brawn which was amazingly fresh and full of pieces of pork, fat and wonderful natural gelatine. A little later we shared a baked Chaser cheese with yet more freshly toasted bread, olives and sundried tomatoes. It was awesome! To top it off, a little rhubarb crumble and fresh custard made us the happiest New Zealanders in the whole of Worcestershire! The food went well with the selection of Teme Valley ales that they had on tap, all full of delicious locally grown English hops with names such as This, That and T’other… This was my favourite though.

Cat chilling by the fire

Cat chilling by the fire

The English breakfast the next morning was a show stopper! Eggs, bacon, black pudding made on site, kidneys, mushrooms, baked beans, tomatoes, fried bread and probably one of the nicest sausages I’ve ever had in the UK, made by Parsons Nose, a local supplier. In fact the Talbot’s breakfast was officially voted the best pub breakfast in the whole UK by the British Pork Executive!! Coupled with their home preserved apricots, rhubarb and marmalade, this place is well worth a visit! They even make their own fruit liqueur which they put in your room as a nightcap! And because of my love of traditional food (and the fact I spotted the menu below as we left), I’m definitely going back!




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