Saturday, March 19, 2011

Return to the brewhouse

Well it has been awhile since I have done an actual blog post rather than just reproducing my Capital Times columns. A lot has been happening over the last few months. We have bought a piece of land, a bach and an imitation railway caboose sleep out up the coast at Waikanae which will hopefully at some point include a small cider orchard, but for now will make for a fantastic venue to drink beer. The decision has been made to brew R.S.B. again. This year my collaboration with Richard Emerson will be a 1200 litre batch and will again be an ESB with a few tweaks to the recipe. Last Sunday I brewed the home pilot batch. I invited photographer Jed Soane around to document the brew and in true sods law fashion managed to sleep through my 5.30am alarm call, something that never happens on brew days! And left him waiting on the doorstep for 20minutes. Regardless the brew day went well and the beer is currently cold conditioning.
I have also embarked on a new series of articles for SOBA’s Pursuit of Hoppyness. Following the end of my beer and cheese series I am now doing a series on beer styles beginning with some of the New Zealand styles that have developed before our eyes.
Hopefully it won’t be as long till the next blog! Cheers

CT Column16/03/2011: Tastes like communal spirit

IN the wake of the Christchurch earthquake many of us have been scratching our heads about what exactly we can do to help.
A week ago those of us in the craft beer community came together to do what we could. A series of fundraising events around New Zealand and Australia were organised by consumer group the Society of Beer Advocates and the Brewers Guild. In Wellington, the local beer community gathered at Bar Edward in Newtown to hold a charity auction and drink from a charity bar. Brewers from around the country donated beer that was sold across the bar while other items were auctioned off with all takings going to the Red Cross appeal. There were some fantastic items donated including a day brewing with Carl Vasta at Tuatara, a beer matched bistro lunch at Logan Brown, tickets to Nelson’s Marchfest, rare bottles of beer, and most poignantly a bottle of Three Boys Aftershock.
Aftershock came about after last year’s 7.1 quake when that one knocked out power to Three Boys Woolston brewery. Brewer Ralph Bungard saved a brew of Three Boys Golden Ale but after being interrupted by the power cut he decided to change the beer and release it as an earthquake themed one off release. Aftershock sold like hot cakes and is now very rare.
The silver lining to this disaster has been the way the community has pulled together and it was great to see that this was true of the beer community just as it has been true of the wider community. The single 330ml bottle of Three Boys Aftershock fetched a staggering $325 while the event as a whole raised over $6300.
While Christchurch brewed beers may be scarce over the next few weeks the best way you can support these businesses is to keep buying their beers. Cheers.

CT Column 9/03/2011 : Underwired

BREWERS often set themselves technical challenges. Sometimes this takes the form of nursing their yeasts to achieve high alcohol levels, sometimes it consists of using unusual ingredients, and in several cases I know of it has involved creating a beer with a very low carbohydrate level, a dubious if highly marketable goal.
Last year 8 Wired brewer Søren Erikson decided he wanted to take up the challenge of brewing an aromatic and highly flavourful beer but at an alcoholic strength that would allow it to fit the legal definition of ‘low alcohol beer’. To hold a liquor license in New Zealand a bar or restaurant must provide a beer with 2.5% alcohol by volume or less. Søren decided he wanted to brew a low alcohol version of a hoppy American style India pale ale, a style that usually uses a relatively high alcohol level to deliver big flavours.
Brewing lower alcohol beers usually means adding less malt, Søren decided to take a different tack by adding a large percentage of an unfermentable type of malt called Crystal Malt. Crystal Malt tends to give the beer it is used in nutty, caramel flavours and helps to give body. Usually brewers use 10 to 20 percent, Søren decided to use 66% meaning that the resulting beer did not ferment out to a high alcohol level but did retain enough body and malt character to balance out the big hop flavours and aromas that Søren packed into the beer.
The result was named Underwired as a humorous reference to Søren’s 7.3%abv assertively hopped IPA Hopwired. The resulting beer offers up a big fruity aroma with some floral notes and a distinct whiff of grapefruit. In the mouth Underwired is fruity and hop accented with just enough body and caramel malt character to balance the hops. While the beer is definitely on the thin end of the spectrum it’s highly drinkable and infinitely more satisfying and characterful than the other low alcohol beers on the market. Cheers!

CT Column 2/03/2011: The quiet revolution

RECENTLY, I have been lucky enough to dine at several restaurants which have put substantial thought into the beers they serve.
Beer advocates sometimes labour the point about beer and food matching. We do this in part as a reaction to the prejudices shown in certain sections of the food writing world that says wine is the only drink worthy of the dinner table, and as a reaction to the incredibly limited range of beers that have traditionally been offered in our restaurants. However the real process of change seems to have been led by customers demanding better beer and restaurateurs responding to the demand. It wasn’t so long ago that almost any expensive restaurant offered multiple varieties of wine but beer was represented by the one generic ubiquitous golden style of lager.
Ambeli in Mt Victoria has recently opened for lunch and I was lucky enough to sample some seriously tasty well crafted food alongside the best craft beer NZ has to offer. I tried charcuterie, chilled almond soup, smoked paprika ceviche and marinated olives accompanied by a glass of the extravagantly hopped 8 Hopwired IPA; then battered Medjool Date, Cumin Goats Cheese & pickled orange salad with a glass of Mussel Inn Captain Cooker; Sherry braised free range pork belly, roasted pear and fennel salad with a glass of Three Boys Wheat; and finally sauteed prawns feta risotto and lemon sauce with Emerson’s Weiss beer. Each dish was as expertly crafted as the beer that it was matched with. I should add that my partner Sarah was accompanying me lest the reputation for gluttony that my Christmas columns have earned me grows.
Another place to find the best of beer alongside the best of food is Wellington’s newest beer outlet The Hop Garden. I was one of the first customers to dine in the newly opened restaurant which successfully straddles the line between restaurant and pub. Here pork belly and smoked potato was accompanied by the fruity yeasty Coopers Sparkling; citrus-spiced zucchini bruschetta with crumbled goat’s cheese found a zesty companion in Twisted Hop Sauvin Pilsner, and salmon and caper berry croquettes with a fennel citrus salad was accompanied by the fruity rounded Three Boys Golden Ale.
Finally towards the end of last year I dined at the Ortega Fish Shack. I must declare an interest here as I helped Davey McDonald formulate the beer list when they launched a little over a year ago, we can’t have done too bad a job as Ortega won the Beer and Brewer award for best beer friendly restaurant. Ortega’s list has four descriptive sections, Light and Crisp, Zesty and Full, Dark and Roasty, and Rich and Rounded. These descriptors help diners choose the beer that will suit the food they order and with 30 beers across a broad range of styles there definitely is something for every dish.
These are a few Wellington restaurants with serious beer lists and we should count ourselves lucky for that. It has been said that the best beer and food match is the one in front of you and with options like the ones available at these restaurants that is certainly true.
On a more sobering note, as I write this the aftermath of the second Christchurch earth quake is slowly becoming clear. This time it seems the city’s craft breweries have been extensively damaged with expletives used to describe the state of some of them. Thankfully, at this point, the brewers and their families all seem to have survived.

CT Column 9/02/2011 :Flaming beer from the other capital

HERE in Wellington we like to think of ourselves as the beer capital of NZ. We have some pretty good evidence to back this up.
Not only does our city boast an excellent range of dedicated craft beer bars and quality retailers but increasingly our ‘middle of the road’ restaurants, cafes and bars are stocking a craft beer option and often a wide selection. We also, of course, have one large regional craft brewery Tuatara, and one contract brewer Yeastie Boys. The Wellington craft beer market is lucrative and many breweries from around the country do a large amount of their business in this town.
There are however pretenders to the throne. Nelson has a claim. The town is poised on the edge of the hop growing fields with a large number of breweries and a handful of lovely bars and pubs in which to drink. Nelson is a lovely place but the word capital really doesn’t spring to mind when you visit. I would describe it more as the ‘workshop’ of New Zealand Craft beer.
Further south Christchurch also has a claim. The town is home to a number of important New Zealand craft breweries, in large part due to the untreated artesian water that runs free through its municipal water system and the abundance of affordable industrial real estate. In addition to some of the big names of NZ Craft brewing like Three Boys, Twisted Hop and Harrington’s counting Christchurch as home there are a whole raft of new start up breweries.
One of these breweries is Cassels and Sons. Located in Woolston, a stone’s throw from the Three Boys Brewery, Cassels and Sons is a brewery with a very unique piece of kit. Modern breweries use electricity or gas to heat the kettle that boils the extracted malt sugars with the hops. At Cassels and Sons they have decided to heat their kettle with a log fire much as breweries would have before the industrial revolution. While many in the brewing world have met this news with raised eye brows, brewing is hard enough with out adding an un-necessary variable into the mix being the common sentiment, everyone I have talked to has been dying to see it in action!
The brewery is currently brewing a pale lager, a New Zealand Pilsner, a dark Dunkel Lager, a fruit beer and my favourite an Extra Special Bitter. The beers are currently only available in Christchurch and the brewery is attempting to work out how they can increase distribution without over extending themselves. There will however be a chance to try one of the Cassels and Sons beers along side a whole host of other beers from Christchurch brewers both new and established at a tasting I am arranging at Regional Wines on the 24th and 25th of this month.
As for where exactly the beer capital of NZ lies, for me it’s pretty clearly our own fair city, but then I’m biased. Cheers!