My 2011

2011 was a great year. After 8 years abroad and living in South Korea and the United Kingdom, it has been great moving back to New Zealand and living again in this little slice of paradise. I thought I better put together a little precis of what I found great about the last year…

NZ Craft Beer TV award for yummiest Kiwi brews

This one is pretty easy. When Luke and I were touring the country and filming for the Craft Beer TV series, we were blown away by the quality of the beers we tried up and down our fair isles. It was Dave Kurth of West Coast Brewing in Westport’s creations that had us seriously impressed. His International Pale Ale is my favourite NZ beer of the year. He also has the coolest sweaters/jerseys of any NZ brewer. Kudos.

He looks all innocent in his rugby shorts and workboots, but his brewing prowess is impressive!

Ted DiBiase award for Sleeper of the Year

Known for his awesome “Million Dollar Dream” followed by ramming a US $100 bill in his opponents mouth, Ted DiBiase was a wrestler of the 80s that would nullify his opponents with his aforementioned sleeper hold. The brewery that I think deserves this is Sprig and Fern in Nelson. Sure, they’re not really a sleeper in the sense that they’re super successful, running some brilliant pubs in Nelson and the surrounding area (with a new one due in Tinakori Road, Wellington in the coming months). Couple that with the fact that they won a truckload of medals at the 2011 BrewNZ awards (10 in total) and you can see why I think these guys may just be the ones to watch in 2012. Brewing legend and owner Tracy Banner heads up the brewing team and constantly delivers precisely brewed, flavourful beers that put a smile on my face every time I try them. Respect.

I reckon Tracy and her team have a lot more than malt hiding in those bags. One to watch for 2012!

The Ben Stiller Character out of that Mystery Men movie who is Angry all the time Award

Ben doing his angry face (and looking forward to some comments below)

I’ve been told in the past that I’m sometimes too positive when it comes to the craft beer industry. So I’m about to shock you all by posting something negative. Close your eyes and scroll down if you don’t want to read it!

The thing that has annoyed me about coming back to New Zealand is the contrariness of regionalism when it comes to brewing and breweries. I know that it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek and that banter between provinces (and especially banter between anywhere else in NZ and Auckland) is part of our culture, but would be great if we started seeing New Zealand as exactly that when it comes to our impressive array of breweries and beers. I’m not fond of the separatism that comes about from hailing one place as being the greatest and others inferior. It smacks of the Tall Poppy syndrome that reigns supreme over here. Sure… stand up and be proud of the great craft beer selection in the pubs and bars of your city, but as you do that, remember that it was not always so. Don’t complain if you can’t find craft beer in your local or your town or your area. Politely ask operators about stocking products you enjoy. That way we can create Craft Beer New Zealand. Country by country… 🙂

Those smaller ones will catch up eventually!!!

The Kelly Ryan Award for Employer of the Year

You’ve probably figured this one out by now, but I’ve had an incredible year working with Luke from Epic. Tweaking our current recipes to get them exactly where we want them, developing five new beers from brew process through to final packaging, touring the country with NZ Craft Beer TV, launching our new brews at pubs throughout NZ (and a couple in Australia), fiddling around on ePICObrewery – my first foray into homebrewing (I think my first ever brewday as a trainee brewer saw the production of around 100 000 litres of wort, so brewing 30 litres at a time has been lots of fun), supping loads of beers with The Beer Mule, it’s been busy and fantastic. (For the record, my undisclosed award for 2006 was joint win for Fyne Ales and Thornbridge Brewery and from 2007-2010 it was Thornbridge Brewery. I have a feeling that you, the intrepid reader may begin to notice a trend developing…)

Cheers, Luke!!!

The Bruvinity Award

Okay, I mashed together poor spelling of the word “brew” with the word “divinity” as I couldn’t think of a witty title for this award. I know that Søren isn’t actually the reincarnation of a Scandanavian god, but he does seem to be omnipresent at most brewing events, holds down not only his job as Renaissance brewer but also as Head Brewer of NZ’s Champion Brewery, 8 Wired Brewing and presents himself as one of the more passionate brewers I have met. He’s also a bloody nice guy and I imagine that if I was to ever meet a god, he wouldn’t talk with a New Zealand accent (I’ll admit that I keep thinking of Neil Gaiman‘s brilliant book, American Gods as I type this). I wonder if he has special names for his brewing tools… that rubber-headed mallet isn’t called Mjölnir by chance is it??

I'm sure there's an eight-legged horse around the corner (original photo from Jed Soane's wicked http://thebeerproject.com)

Blegendary Blumberjack Blogging Award

Alice Galletly of Beer for a Year has taken on the behemoth task of trying a beer a day for 365 days, keeping us entertained and updated on a (mostly) daily basis about the different brews she tries. She shoots from the hip, tells us exactly what she thinks and through her blog it’s great to see someone’s voyage of discovery. It’s not shrouded in technical jargon (as I know this blog is prone to be!), it’s full of amusing metaphor and more importantly, it makes me want to try some of the brews she describes. Nice!

Is it perspective or is that a large platter... 🙂

The DeLorean Future Brews

I pull out my Mayan Calendar/Nostradamus Prophecies/Harold Camping Malarkey

There are a couple of these. When they are released, I’m sure you’ll all be shocked and impressed by my amazing predictions and the said brewers will curse me and try and sue me for industrial espionage. Little do they know it’s because of my converted Mazda 6 (with a DeLorean chassis) and the magic speed of 88 kilometres per hour (because 88 miles per hour is naughty and that really stupid ad on tele about Mantrol alludes that it’s not cool to drive your car at 141 km/h). Here they are…

A 2.7% mild hopped at around 17 IBU by Epic

A collaboration Imperial Mexican Lager between Three Boys Brewing and The Four Horsemen named The Seven Rancheros.

A beer made solely with peat by Yeastie Boys. Each bottle comes with a miniature peat spade to aid ingestion.

DB Breweries develop a new craft range beginning with a 9% Double IPA. Joseph Wood from Liberty Brewing acts as consultant.

In fact, I’m sure you’re all pretty adept at coming up with some Delorean Future Brews yourselves… any suggestions??

All the best for 2012! Kelly

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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!

NZ Craft Beer TV: Nelson – Beer Heaven!

Far too soon, dawn was upon us again and we crawled out of our cramped camper cabin and readied ourselves for the crawl over the Takaka hill back towards Nelson. We were heading towards Golden Bear Brewing in picturesque Mapua, just out of Nelson. This stunning brewpub was set up by Jim and Anne Matranga, originally from California and also offers Mexican food which Jim told us he really missed from his homeland.
Being from California, Jim is a massive fan of big flavoured IPAs and his beers certainly reflect his love of these. His standout brew was Anniversary Ale at 6.26%, a lovely hoppy pale ale, formerly known as Patriot’s Pale. The Graf Vienna was also a great example of this type of lager and Jim’s use of hops was perfectly executed.
Jim’s brewhouse blew our minds! This has to be one of the coolest looking breweries in the country! Engineered by Chris Little, this is stainless steel porn. At 1200 litres, the brewhouse is compact and has great little features such as a window in the mash/lauter tun, an underback and a great rake. Hehe.
Jim is also doing something pretty cool with wort that he brews on his kit. He hot-fills plastic bladders with the wort and boxes them up to be made available to homebrewers. This saves homebrewers from having to boil up extract or do full-grain mashes. All they have to do is add their own strain of yeast, ferment out, condition then keg or bottle. An awesome, innovative idea that will hopefully help with the popularity of homebrew. Even cooler is people can buy these wort kits online through companies like Liberty Brewing.
I was pretty excited about the next brewery we were about to visit. I’d heard a lot about Tracy Banner over the recent years and was lucky enough to have tried some of the Sprig and Fern Brewery range on a previous visit to Nelson. Back then, the beers had really impressed me and with Tracy’s brewing pedigree and the joy she seemingly had when we chatted to her about making beer, it was easy to see why. Originally from Liverpool, Tracy has spent close to three decades brewing beer, so definitely knows her stuff!
The Sprig and Fern range is diverse, running from berry and apple ciders through to porters, IPAs, and ginger lagers. Tracy proudly told us that they have a range of 18 products and have never run out of any. That’s a mean feat for any brewery, especially a craft brewery the size of this. A testament to her brewery management skills.
We were short of time, as we always seem to be on this trip, so quickly went through a couple of her recent award winning brews. Tasman Lager was first up and Luke and I were blown away by this superbly crafted 6.5% lager. Hops dominated the nose, hints of Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka in all of their passionfruity, tropical goodness. The balance in the mouth was exquisite, the hop bitterness and alcohol/malt sweetness accompaniment was definitely one that would help you tap into your inner air guitar. This was beyond drinkable and easily one of the better lagers of the trip.
We went dark and tried the Scotch Ale next. This rich mahogany brew had big caramel characters and a lovely, clean malt sweetness. Again, at 6.5% it was tough to find any big alcohol notes, making this a pleasure to drink and better than any Scotch Ales I have tasted whilst living in the UK. It was the next beer though that I had been dreaming about for almost a year. The Sprig and Fern Doppelbock was one of the standout beers of my trip back to NZ in February 2010 and I was stoked to find out that it wasn’t just a seasonal release, but a regular brew. At 8%, the promise of flavour is instantly apparent. A rich, cereal malty aroma comes from the nose and once the dark liquid hits the tastebuds, the mixture of caramelised malts comes alive with hints of dark fruity malt and alcohol sweetness combining to create a smooth, silky taste sensation. I love this beer. It’s great to see the sparkle of excitement in Tracy’s eyes as I tell her how awesome it is. She’s proud of what her team has achieved and it’s great of her to bring that to our attention. She doesn’t ever talk of her beers, she talks of her team’s beers. I think this is something we forgot about at times when it comes to brewing. It’s not just one person that makes a beer, but a bunch of them. It’s awesome that Tracy reminds us of this.
Dick Tout is a real character. A smile from ear to ear and a big, manly handshake greet us as we arrive at Lighthouse Brewery in Nelson. The first thing Dick asks us is if we want a beer or a hot drink or a refreshment of some kind. There must be something in the water because Dick also has a real gleam in his eyes. His passion is instantly recognisable and straight away it’s apparent how much Dick loves his job. This is one of the smallest commercial breweries in the country and with a brew kit size of only 200 litres, I’d love to know how many times Dick has brewed on it since beginning in 1996.
He chatted away about brewing, his beers, car racing and his classic cars and boats. A former mechanic, Dick was as passionate about cars and his restoration of a couple of old boats as he was about brewing. We tucked in to the first beer, Summer Breeze, a well-hopped NZ style pilsner with a lovely Saaz hop edge and the finest hint of diacetyl. Dick told us of his worry with the diacetyl that his kit seemed to give the beer but Luke and I disagreed. This was just on flavour threshold and actually added something to the beer. I’m really sensitive to diacetyl, so it was interesting that I really liked this beer. Something about the balance of freshness and bitterness and the tiniest hint of toffee/butter added complexity to this great drop.
Dick’s Cheeky Little Lager was up next, a great, easy drinking example of the style and we sipped our way through his 5.5% Victory Ale with its English character prominent and Dick’s Dark, a rich, malty 4.5% beer with hints of chocolate and equal parts of floral hop and slight roastiness. The great thing about Dick is that he also loves cooking. As he described each beer he told us of his experience of drinking it at home with a meal and discovering how well it worked with the food. From salmon steaks, to Nelson Scallops in garlic butter, through to peppered steak and beef mince dishes, Dick was a wealth of knowledge, interspersing his chatter with jokes and cheeky quips.
My favourite beer of Dick’s was the Classic Stout. This 5% rich, dark, creamy stout had lovely hop notes and had massive flavour for a beer of this strength. Wafts of chocolate were abound and it was an amazing beer to finish the tasting on. Reluctantly we left Dick and continued our journey.
We arrived at Bays Brewery and were met by Peter McGrath. Peter was another energetic Nelsonian who told us of the history of the Nelson Bays Brewery and how it began back in 1993 to provide an alternative to the mainstream beers that were available then. Bays has a roaring flagon and rigger trade and the entire time we were there, a constant flow of people arrived to get their Friday and weekend beers. They also produce a range of pre-mix drinks, an alcoholic lemonade and a cider, which are all popular products.
We met up with brewer Jeff, another of the many brewers that had learnt their trade under the original Mac’s Brewery setup and talked through the beers. Their most popular brews were the Bays Gold Lager and Bays Draught Ale and it was also interesting to note that their Bengal Bitter, an IPA, was one of the first new world IPAs to be pushed out into the craft market back when it was released. The also brew the rich, sweet, malty Exclamator Doppelbock which drunk smooth and with little alcohol character coming through.
Jeff talked passionately about the beers and brewing processes and was quick to point out that they are trying to achieve drinkability and balance in their brews. They’re not huge hop bombs or diverse styles, they’re beers to drink.
Time flying by, we parked up the camper at Tahunanui and headed to one of Nelson’s newer craft beer bars, the Freehouse. In a converted church, this is filled with beer lovers young and old. The large grassy yard outside was covered with relaxing, chatting people. Sitting on the grass and at barbecue tables with a myriad of different craft beers, it’s great as a brewer to see people enjoying the beer in such a setting. When we make beer, this is what we imagine.
The range of beers was brilliant and I tried the Dead Good IPA, one of the house beers developed by the Freehouse landlord, Mic Dover, a British ex-pat with a love for great beer. With three handpulled cask ales as well as the great tap range, it’s easy to see why this bar does so well. We caught up with beer writers, beer lovers and New Zealand Hops Chief Executive Doug Donelan, a legend in the industry and a brewer with an impressive pedigree, having headed up Malt Shovel Brewery in Australia for some years. We shared beers and chatted hops and caught up with friends. It was a great finish to the day.

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