NZ Craft Beer TV – The ‘Naki to the ‘Tron

A huge feed of local bacon, eggs from the chickens outside, black pudding and sausages under our belts (thanks, Mum and Dad!), we were on the road again. We headed north of New Plymouth until we saw the tell-tale sign… “Brewery, 200 litres ahead”. We arrived at the picturesque grounds of Mike’s Organic Brewery (on the White Cliffs Estate) and were met by Ron Trigg, brimming with enthusiasm and energy as he began talking us through the brewery and beers.

 

Ron and his parents (including father , Mike… aptly named) took over the brewery almost four years ago. The family is originally from Zimbabwe and moved to New Zealand for a better life for themselves. They chose Taranaki as their new home and went about setting up an organic farm close to the brewery. When it came up for sale, they jumped at the chance of taking on the now 21 year old business, taking the organic philosophy to another level and broadening the range of beers. With a beautifully refurbished ex-school hall as their new brewery shop, an avocado orchard framing the site and extensions to the brewery itself, including more vessels and equipment, Mike’s has seen a big increase in sales due to the hard work the family have put in.

 

We head to the shop to taste a few of the beers and notice the great 10 litre keg dispense units that are lined up on the bar. Sourced from Germany, these really look great, kind of espresso machine-like in appearance, with the Mike’s fantastic new branding in a light-up display on the front, these wouldn’t look out of place in any nice bar or restaurant. The great thing about the units is their ease of use. You get the keg, you put it into the machine and the unit controls temperature. You don’t even need to clean any beer lines, as they all come with a one-use disposable dispense system that is replaced every time a new keg is put on. This means you have a closed system that keeps the beer in perfect condition (the gas unit doesn’t even put any extra head-space pressure in the beer in the keg, hence carbonation is accurately controlled).

 

As if to prove the machines are worth their weight in gold, we go through the line-up, beginning with the impressive Strawberry Blonde. Made with fresh organic strawberries, this is unlike some of the sweet fruit beers you often find. It pours pale, with the faintest hint of pink, an almost Rosé wine strawberry note on the nose. Expecting sweetness, this spritzy beer is the opposite in the mouth. Delicate, refreshing and palate-cleansing, it has the berry perfume without the sweetness, finishing dry and remarkably crisp. This is a real gateway beer. White and Rosé wine lovers and mainstream lager drinkers and those that don’t appreciate the subtle nuances that a delicate craft beer can have should try this, it’s great.

 

We then tried the Organic Lager. This is another gateway beer, appealing to those stoke on the bland stuff for most of their lives, but lifting it up a notch. It’s well executed with juicy malt characters and the faintest touch of light citrus and fresh-cut grass from the hops. It finishes smooth and goes down too easily. Another great beer served at the perfect temperature and carbonation and as fresh as can be. The Organic Pilsener is up next. The aroma blows us away, big aromatic hops, wonderful body and a persistent mouth-filling bitterness put this Pilsener up there with some of the best we have tried on the trip. The past four years have seen these guys working hard and this beer sums that up. Ron looks on like the proud father he deserves to be. A lovely drop.

 

We try the brewery’s most famous drop next. Mike’s Organic Ale is a bit of an institution and even appeared in Michael Jackson’s (the Beer Hunter, not the pop star) book as a rare example of an antipodean mild. It has a nice maltiness on the nose, is smooth and flavourful with undertones of rich toffee and roasted malt in the mouth and finishes slightly nutty and dry. It’s how I like a brown beer to taste. It’s how a brown beer should taste. And the best thing is… it has hops. They dance around the nostrils as you sniff the glass and follow through with the faintest hint of berry and citrus in the mouth. This is a great beer and is as good, if not better as I remember it tasting many moons ago.

 

As we entered the building, we couldn’t help but spot the myriad of ex-whisky barrels lined up on the porch, filled with porter and slowly ageing away. Mike’s Whisky Porter deserves the People’s Choice award it got at last year’s BrewNZ competition. It is rich and chocolaty, with lovely wisps of whisky and oak. It drinks like a rich, decadent, fruity port with an underlying Sherry character, heading towards Amontillado. It is a beer to drink when it’s cool and you want something hearty, but equally when it’s hot as hell and you have chilled it down in an ice bucket. We also try the big, hoppy, rich India Pale Ale. The big bottle looks the part. These are both beers to be savoured and talked about. The hops in the IPA leap from the glass, their American citrus and pine and fruit influence flooding the senses.

 

Mike’s have done good!

 

We reluctantly leave, knowing we could stand around and chat beer and brewing and flavours with Ron until the wee hours. Hamilton beckons and we head northwards towards Shunters Yard Brewery on the outskirts of the ‘Tron. Set up by avid homebrewers, Peter Mckenzie and his mate, Dave, this brewery smacks of the type of thing that we love to see. Peter is a mechanical engineer and Dave has spent the majority of his life working in the food/dairy industry so these two are a match made in heaven when it comes to the brewery and the processes. From air conditioning units modified and fitted to heat exchangers to act as cold liquor cooling, through to stainless steel ion exchange chambers modified and used as brewing vessels, they have managed to make an extremely efficient, energy conscious brewery at a minimal cost. They have a couple of old railway carriages outside on a pair of tracks and the quirky bar has a great old-world feel. It’s a great mix of country and industrial excellence. Pete and Dave chat away like excited schoolkids. It’s so obvious that they love their weekend hobby and the fact that they both hold full-time jobs and are able to produce 600 odd litres of beer a week make it all the more impressive.

 

We head outside into a stinking hot Waikato day and stand around perhaps the only wedge-wire table I know of. The guys give us a glass of their Number 7 Pilsener. Naturally carbonated, this is the closest to a European style Pilsner we have tried on the trip. The hop is more grassy and tends toward noble character than the NZ Pilsner style brews we have tried. The malt is dominant in the mouth with a hint of breadiness and a big, bold Czech-style bitterness that coats the mouth and brings instant refreshment. The light carbonation helps a lot. This is drinkable and delicious. It quenches perfectly.

 

Their dark beer, Midnight Special is up next. It has the same drinkability with dusty, roasted malt characters and a nice dry finish. The mouthfeel maintains smoothness and it’s impressive to see these two doing such good things with their beers. We really hope to see more from these two innovative, enthusiastic brewers!

 

Our last stop of the trip is to the impressive House on Hood in Hamilton. A large house, it’s grey visage dominates the street, but is open and inviting at the same time, with people sitting outside enjoying the craft beers on offer on the large tabled balcony. We catch up with Greig Mcgill from SOBA (The Society of Beer Advocates) and discuss what they are about over a delicious glass of Invercargill Brewery’s Pitch Black. SOBA is all about “Beer for the right reasons”. They are advocates for the promotion of the flavour and diversity that beer offers and are big at promoting all that beer offers while protecting the rights of the consumer. They are also available as an educative tool and a beer resource, helping out wherever they can with beer tastings, beer events. food and beer menus and sourcing beers for pubs and bars that are interested.

 

Greig loves beer. It’s so obvious when he talks and tells us of his story and journey from mainstream beers to the appreciation he now has. It began with homebrewing and a solid friendship with James Kemp, ex NZ Homebrew Champ/Thornbridge Brewer/All Round Beer Ninja and ex-workmate of yours truly. From small seeds and all that, but Greig is now up there as one of the authorities on New Zealand beer and is a huge supporter of the burgeoning craft beer scene that Hamilton has. Good on ya, Greig!

 

Our last meeting of the day is with brewing consultant and stalwart of the New Zealand craft brewing scene, Graeme Mahy. Graeme has been involved in craft brewing for years and given a truckload of his spare time to helping out breweries and guiding them with the knowledge he has acquired from his time brewing in prestigious breweries throughout NZ and Australia. Another guy whose love of beer is evident, he tells us excitedly about potential future plans for a brewery in the area. We know of his love of big, Belgian style beers, so can’t wait to see what magic he manages from the mash tun.

 

With both the film crew and ourselves waning after an epic 2000km in five days, we decide to forgo a night in Hamilton for a sleep in our own beds up in Auckland. We hit the road, put the last one hundred or so kilometres behind us and head home. It’s been a trip and we still have the Auckland and Northland breweries to come!

 

 

The Totally Awesome New Zealand Craft Brewing Scene Part 1

Sleep deprivation + cool beer + hot weather = Happiness

For the last three weeks I’ve been back home in New Zealand doing the Best Man thing for my little brother’s wedding, having a bit of a holiday, drinking loads of awesome craft beer, meeting heaps of cool brewers and beer folk, checking out some great breweries and even brewing New Zealand’s first ever international collaboration beer with Luke Nicholas of Epic Brewing.

The trip began at the end of January in the Coach and Horses in Dronfield. From there it went something like Chesterfield train station, London St. Pancras, Heathrow Terminal 4, Kuala Lumpur, Auckland and finally New Plymouth on the west coast of NZ’s North Island. As we got off the plane at the international terminal in Auckland I joked to Catherine that we hadn’t seen anyone we knew yet. A 10 minute walk to the domestic terminal and I saw my best friend’s brother, a guy I used to play rugby with and the mother of a guy who went to my primary school. Big place is New Zealand…

After 2 days of solid travelling, the first thing to do was have a beer. I’d put in a bit of a pre-order with my Dad and he had a cold Epic Lager waiting for me (see the ghoul-like dude in the picture above). This was my first taste of Epic Lager and it was lush! A crisp, perfumed hop nose with an almost Saaz-like Noble hop character. A touch grassy, citrus, lemon and the tiniest hint of fruity bubblegum. It finished clean and had a well attenuated dryness. If this was what the beer was going to be like the whole trip, I was going to be a happy lad! After a delicious meal of New Zealand fish and chips with not a mushy pea or a piece of Atlantic Cod or Haddock in sight it was lights out though.

The next few days, or beers as I liked to refer to them (as that is how I have recorded this holiday on my iPhone… through beer tasting notes and photos of bottles… geek!) were great. Temperatures in the 20s, some awesome homec00ked food, fresh eggs from the chickens outside, fresh mutton from the sheep in the fields around our house and a beer or three in the name of research.

White Cliffs Organic Brewery just out of New Plymouth have always been well known due to their flagship Mike’s Mild Ale. This dark mild was toasty and nutty with a good roast malt bitterness and some nice roast barley astringency in the finish. It oozed cleanness and still managed to have a nice body, even straight out of the fridge. Mike’s Lager was a little more reserved and had the tiniest hint of dimethyl sulphide (a little cooked vegetable) with a few ale-like ester notes, but other than that was a decent organic lager. The breweries new packaging and logo also looked pretty cool.

Mike hiding in the garden...

Just to prove it wasn’t all beer, I indulged in some awesome NZ delicacies when home. Fresh tender abalone steaks (or Paua as we call them), rich, decadent, sweet whitebait fritters (different to British whitebait which are young herring, in that NZ whitebait are the fry of small native trout and caught in rivers and river mouths at specified times of the year, selling for around £50-60 per kilogram), Greenlip Mussel fritters, my Dad’s speciality, Rock Lobster (or what we call crayfish) and lots of raw (and cooked) freshly caught fish.

Whitebait before...

Whitebait after... egg whites, salt, fry pan, butter, lemon juice, yum!

Crayfish are one of my favourite things to eat (after raw New Zealand Bluff Oysters). The best way to eat them is to steam the whole crayfish, wait for it to cool, then crack open the tail, carapace and legs, get all of the meat out and have it on freshly buttered bread. The key ingredient however, is what is referred to as mustard by crayfish lovers. This is a yellow-brown mustard coloured “sauce” that you find in the carapace. Spread on the bread it is as close to the taste of heaven as a Kiwi seafood lover can get.

Crayfish before...

Crayfish after... well after a couple of bites anyway 🙂

Having already had an Epic Lager or three, it was definitely time to crack into the Epic Pale Ale, Luke’s flagship beer. I had first tried this when Luke was here in 2009 collaborating with us on our 7.7% hopped to hell Epic Halcyon Imperial IPA. The Pale Ale was ridiculously drinkable and screamed hops, balance and a nice subtle bitterness. This time around it was as great as I’d remembered. It poured a hazy copper with a nice white head. Pineapple, gooseberry and hints of hoppy resin floated around the glass and it was nice and dry with just a hint of grape skin dryness and hop astringency. The bitterness continues into the aftertaste and the 4 pack soon disappeared (drunk responsibly of course) . Epic was already living up to it’s name!

It's just good beer!

From Epic it was on to another NZ craft brewery, Green Man. I brought both their IPA and Celt from the local bottle store and was impressed by their packaging and the blurb on the labels. One thing about craft beer in New Zealand is that it’s not cheap, neither should it be. There is no Progressive Beer Duty in NZ as there is for craft brewers in the UK, which means they still have to pay loads of taxes and there is still seemingly an idiotic neo-prohibitionist bent against beer, even when you’re paying between $4 and $12 NZD per bottle. I do wonder if the wine industry in New Zealand comes up against similar hurdles.

The IPA wasn’t as hoppy as I was hoping it to be. It weighed in at 5.5%, had lots of initial caramel character and an interesting top palate bitterness. The hop aroma wasn’t at the forefront (maybe it was an old bottle) and after about half of the bottle, I did wonder if I got some butterscotch as well as the caramel maltiness. The body however, was great for a sub 6% brew but again the hop finished quite grassy and unbalanced. More late hop addition or dry-hopping and this could be a good beer though.

Love the label!

Green Man’s 6.5% Celt proved a more interesting beer and was just one of the many examples of NZ craft beer experimentation that seems to be cranking down under. Having been aged in barrels, this showed initially with a good punch of oak on the mose, followed by some woody acidity in the mouth and the smallest hint of yeasty cloves. Chocolate malt undertones came through with the slightest hint of a thinnish whiskey character and even the smallest hint of salty brine. More body would have been great, but such is the challenge of wood aging… you never quite know what is going to happen!

Before I knew it, my time at home with the Whanau (that’s family to you none-Kiwi readers) was at an end, but not before we went fishing in my Uncle’s awesome 6 metre SeaLegs amphibious boat. This thing was crazy, it has three large quad-bike style wheels and you simply drive it from your garage onto the beach and into the water. The wheels then come up on a hydraulic system, the 140 hp motor kicks in and you’re good to go! A bit different than having to time the waves like we used to with our little 14 foot dinghy, push like crazy between sets of waves, usually get hammered on the way out and have to bail like crazy and then do the same on the way back home! Was a good day out, my feet remained completely dry and our haul of 7 Gurnard, a Kahawai and 3 Snapper wasn’t too bad.

The best Sashimi you can get!!!

There was still (of course) time to visit the White Cliffs (or Mikes) Organic Brewery and I was eagerly shown around by their new brewer, a Massey University Food Technology graduate, Thomas Sowerby. Having visited there 2 years earlier it was amazing to see the progress they had made, evident by the number of times I saw their beers in various bars, cafes and liqour outlets around the province. The brewery had grown, as had their range and Tom gave me a taste of his fantastic Mike’s Pilsener, definitely the pick of the Mike’s stable with it’s delicate floral and grassy hop characters, brilliantly clean finish and simple, yet defiant bitterness. Fermenting at a lower temperature definitely paid off with this beer. Their brewery shop setup was also fantastic, especially their benchtop keg dispense units that both refrigerated and poured the beer in perfect condition.

Forget benchtop Espresso, benchtop keg dispense is for your kitchen of the future!!!

The little brewhouse that Tom had modified to improve runoff

My brief sojourn in the mighty Taranaki over, I flew down to Wellington to do a bit of a Thornbridge tasting at the fantastic Malthouse, THE bar to head to if you want to be blown away by the variety of wicked beer that NZ has to offer. Fridge after fridge jam-packed with bottled beers (both local and from abroad), an absolute myriad of local brews on keg and even a couple of handpulls, which were brilliant to see. Eagerly met by Scotsman and Malthouse head honcho Colin Mallon and a bunch of keen NZ beer lovers including beer writer Neil Miller, Yeastie Boys Brewmaster Stu McKinlay and beer afficionado and super-keen homebrewer Kieran Haslett-Moore the tasting kicked off well with a great selection of Thornbridge bottled beers, some of them the last of their kind! These included Bracia, Halcyon Green Hop Vintage 2008, Alliance PX Reserve, Alliance Madeira Reserve, Saint Petersburg in all three of it’s Whiskey Barrel Matured guises – Speyside, Highland and Islay, Jaipur, Kipling and a hand-bottled Raven (our Black IPA) courtesy of our brewer, JK. The beers went down a treat and it was great to have a chat to some super-enthusiastic Kiwi beer lovers. In fact, Kieran has done a bit of a write up on it here. Another of NZ’s foremost beer writers, Geoff Griggs, was definitely gutted he couldn’t make it… you can read about that here.

In full swing at the Malthouse tasting

Tasting aftermath with empty bottles and Yeastie Boy Stu

Some seriously fantastic beers were supped at the Malthouse with two hop-monsters in particular standing out and making my tastebuds pirouette with ecstasy and joy that NZ is finally up there with that king of hoppy brews, the USA. It was my first beer upon arrival at the Malthouse that blew me away and that was Epic Armageddon IPA. 6.66%, jam packed with resiny, citrus-filled US hops and proof in a bottle that Luke Nicholas knows his hops. Masses of tropical fruit, lots of citrus and pine and mango and sappy goodness. A good uvula-punch of bitterness and fantastic drinkability, this brew was only rivalled by the exquisite HopWired IPA from 8 Wired. Brewed using all NZ hops and malt, this screamed passionfruit, gooseberry, that Sauvignon Blanc cat pee character, limes, sweet oranges and brilliant drinkability with slightly less bitterness than the Armageddon.

A bunch of other beers were also sampled but I think I’ll save those, my trip to the South Island and adventures back up in the North Island for part two!

Catch you then!

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.