Saturday, December 3, 2011

CT Column 7/09/2011: Smokin Pioneer

BACK in 2008 Invercargill brewer Steve Nally made history by releasing New Zealand’s first ever widely available smoked beer. At the time Smokin Bishop was truly revolutionary and in some ways ushered in the era of boundary pushing extreme brewing that has since brought us smoked, coffee infused, shellfish flavoured, spirit barrel aged and most famously 100% peated malt beers.
Smokin Bishop is a New Zealand take on the traditional Rauchbier style that originates in Bamberg Germany. Rachbiers are made with malt that is cured over wood fires creating a complex blend of smoky campfire bacon like notes in the beer. Smokin Bishop takes this concept and gives it an NZ twist by using manuka to smoke the malt rather than the German beech wood.
What we didn’t know back in 2008 was that Steve was already preparing another move that would be equally pioneering. Six hundred litres of the 2008 vintage of Smokin Bishop were run into a tank and tucked away at the back of the brewery. Steve had read about how the Alaskan Brewery holds vertical tastings of their famous Alaskan Smoked Porter and thought he would really like to see how the smoke changed through the years. This year the 2008 vintage Smokin Bishop was bottled and has been released alongside the new 2011 vintage giving drinkers the perfect opportunity to see exactly how cellaring effects the beer.
Today the cellaring of beer by brewers is almost unheard of and I am sure this is the first time a New Zealand brewer has released two vintages of the same beer at the same time. This is a fantastic opportunity for those who lack the will power to run a beer cellar to experience a cellared beer.
The 2008 vintage has been notably smoothed its long slumber in the world’s southernmost brewery. The smoke character has mellowed and integrated with the rich complex malt character of the beer. The lightly fruity hops that usually share the aroma with the earthy smoke have retreated leaving a very rounded highly drinkable beer. The 2011 vintage on the other hand has a much more pronounced earthy heathery smoke aroma, alongside berry fruit hop notes, and some rich malt. In the mouth the beer is notably lighter in body, with fruity hop flavour vying with smoke for attention. As is always the way for small artisan producers the differences between the two beers are not just due to age. The process of smoking the malt is far from standardised and variations occur every year, also Steve tweaks the recipe every year in his pursuit of perfection. This year the malt bill was altered slightly to lighten the body a touch, something that I think has ended up emphasising the hop character. Both beers will make a fantastic accompaniment to salty antipasto foods, or if you want to compare the differences just try a glass of each with a little water in between to clear your palate. Cheers!

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