Reflections on beer from an advocate, retailer, brewer and drinker.
I am the Beer Specialist for Regional Wines and Spirits one of the most comprehensive and unique liquor retailers in New Zealand. My background is as a cheese monger and I have an all round passion for fermented foods. I have a particular passion for English beer styles and I run a 60 litre real ale home brewery.
I stand at the end of the bar, sipping my pint of mild and nibbling on a piece of crunchy home baked pork rind. The pub has a warm cosy vibe tonight, a refuge from the darkening winters night outside and a bustle of workers making their way home. Richard enthuses about his handiwork and quiteright to, the mild is 3%abv, tawny and absolutely bursting with flavour and body, I could drink it all night. I watch down the bar , the handpumps are working hard, May is Handpump Festivalat Albar, the pump closest to me is dispensing my creation. I watch as punters order pints, real pints imperial pints not like the ones up north, sniffthe voluminous sparkler driven white foam (that will not adorn my pint when I get to ordering it) and then sip deep. They seem to like it, I like it, all is well.
I was recently interviewed for an article on homebrewing for the Domion Post . One of the questions put to me was whether I thought homebrewing was an inherently male preoccupation or if I thought the rising numbers of Female beer drinkers, and female professional brewers would result in the more female homebrewers. The question got me thinking, I had already been mulling over some similar concepts after reading Claire Monk’s blog about the sexism she faces in the UK being a female brewer (I hope things are different here in our more enlightened corner of the south pacific for our female pro brewers) . I said I thought the numbers of female homebrewers would increase even though I currently know of less female homebrewers than I have fingers. The reporter said how another local beer personality had described homebrewing as baking for blokes implying that it’s a male past time. There certainly is an element of blokes pottering in sheds about homebrewing. I would love to hear opinions from any female homebrewers out there.
Kiwi’s are always incredibly keen to achieve world firsts. We flew first, we climbed Mt Everest first, we stepped onto Antarctica first, we gave women the vote first, we made the first commercial bungee jump and now we have brewed Rex Attitude, the world’s first 100% peated malt beer. With some of these acts we were just way ahead of our time; with some of the others we were riding the line between recklessness and bravery. Time will tell which category Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude will fall into. Either way everyone who tries Rex is left with the very definite impression that they have tried something unique.
Last year Yeastie Boy head brewer Stu McKinlay came up with the idea of brewing a beer with the peated malt that many Scottish whiskey distillers use to make whiskey. Peated malt is cured or kilned over peat fires which impart all sorts of smoky, earthy, spicy characters to the malt. Peated Malts are occasionally used in beers but usually in very small amounts. When Stu was told that 5% was the absolute maximum amount he should consider using he decided he would in his own words “ignore the wowsers” and start with 100% and scale it back from there if he felt the need. Stu combined the peated malt with Willamette hops and a clean subtle American ale yeast. Upon tasting the beer Stu was convinced it was the best thing he had ever brewed, 2 tonnes of peated malt were ordered from Scotland and a full production batch of the beer was produced.
Last week the beer hit the market. The real test came at the launch party when the first unsuspecting member of the public came into contact with one of the most ‘out there’ beers ever produced anywhere. Local beer photographer Jed Soane was in attendance to capture what he calls The Rex Attitude, the moment when people put the glass to their lips and are totally shocked-surprised-delighted by what they encounter.
So what does this totally unique beer taste like?
Rex Pours a light shade of gold with a tight white head and positively broadcasts aromas of deep earthy smoke, some light heathery kipper notes, and a spicy slightly ashen note. In the mouth light fruity citrus tinged hops make an appearance before big earthy smoky slightly medicinal peat character kicks in and slowly fades. Rex Attitude is a hugely complex beer that will change significantly as it ages, it has already changed a lot over the fortnight I have been tasting it.
Rex Attitude is available at Thorndon and Island Bay New World, Rumbles, Moore Wilson’s, Regional Wines, Hashigo Zake, The Hop Garden, and The Malthouse.
LAST Friday’s Royal wedding should really have been a celebration of everything that England does well. Unfortunately instead it turned into a shining example of how the English can denigrate and disregard the very things they excel at. A week before Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding it was announced that beer would be banned from the reception. An insider was quoted as saying, “Let’s face it, it isn’t really an appropriate drink to be serving in the Queen’s presence at such an occasion.” So apparently despite the fact that beer is Britain’s national drink, one of it’s few surviving manufacturing industries, one of the icons that people think about when they think of Mother England (the Royal family being another!) and an industry that has a long and proud association with the Royal family, it is not appropriate for it to be consumed in the Queen’s presence. There is of course no evidence that the Queen holds these views. Her mother was an enthusiastic drinker and was often photographed pulling and drinking pints of ale at ceremonial occasions, Prince Charles has his own brand of beer that uses organic barley from his own estate and one of the ways the Royal family marked the birth of William was to brew a celebratory ale! In 1982 Earl Spencer , William’s uncle travelled to Burton Upon Trent to brew Princes Ale to mark the birth of the new heir to the throne. So what has happened? I suspect as so often happens with the Royal family, the spin doctors have got it terribly wrong. It would have been bad enough for Britain’s national drink to have been omitted from proceedings but they have gone further than that by describing beer as being inappropriate for the occasion, a huge slap in the face to the English brewing community and one that comes after breweries throughout the UK have been brewing Royal Wedding Ales to mark the occasion and wish the couple well. English beer writer Pete Brown called on those brewers to re-brand their wedding ales with republican motifs and for pubs to not play the wedding coverage. A sad state of affairs and one that as a self professed anglophile makes me cringe. On a more positive note closer to home the world’s first 100% peated malt beer, Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude was released with much Scottish fanfare last Saturday. More on that next week! Cheers.
WITH winter on its way it’s now the season when many brewers start to release their big rich winter seasonal brews. It’s now an understood convention that the biggest most intense example of a beer style gets labelled ‘imperial’. The term comes from the strong intensely roasty and hoppy stouts that were exported from the UK to the Russian empire in the 18th century. The myth goes that Catherine the II of Imperial Russia took such a liking to these strong export stouts that she imported them for consumption in her royal court and accordingly they became know as Imperial Stouts. Whatever the truth it makes for a good story. Right now we have two locally produced beers that broadly sit in the Imperial stout family. Out as a very limited tap only release from Taranaki’s mike’s (small m) brewery we have Imperial Porter. Clocking in at 8%abv mike’s Imperial Porter is the base beer that goes into whiskey barrels to make mike’s Whiskey Porter. With a complex aroma of milk chocolate, toasty malt and a hint of savoury meatiness and a smooth rich rounded cocoa tinged palate mike’s Imperial Porter is the perfect antidote to a southerly blast on a chilly autumn night. From Blenheim’s 8 Wired we have the 2011 vintage of i-Stout at the appropriately warming 10%abv. Pouring a rich viscous black hue with a voluminous tan head, i-Stout offers up a complex aroma of hop driven stonefruit, light espresso, and chocolate caramel. In the mouth the beer is warming, with more stonefruit, cocoa, roasted malt flavours and a long dry finish. Both these beers will make a great accompaniment to berry based deserts, and sharp aged cheeses. Cheers
CALL me jaded, call me spoilt, call me hard to please, but it’s not often that a new beer comes along and really gets me excited. Last week I tried a beer that truly got me going, Such was the intensity of the aroma I knew it was going to before I even got the glass to my nose, and then once I had sipped it I knew I was going to have to tell everyone about it. The beer in question is fittingly called Nota Bene which is roughly Latin for ‘take note’ , and take note I did. Nota Bene is a rich golden coloured Belgian style abbey ale that treads a similar path to the Trappist classic Orval although controversially I think it does a better job, achieving a deft balancing act that leaves the beer both complex, challenging and incredibly drinkable. The beer combines a firm malt character with some spicy hop notes, and a dazzlingly complex range of fermentation derived flavours and aromas from the special range of yeasts that are used to ferment the beer to its 8.7%abv strength. One of the yeasts is a wild strain called brettanomyces which most brewers go to great lengths to keep out of their beers. Brettanomyces gives the beer a slightly tangy, funky, aniseed tinged, wild character that adds a huge amount of depth and complexity to the beer, if it was a wine it would be described as being ‘rustic’. Nota Bene is brewed by veteran New Zealand brewer Ben Middlemiss. Back in the late 1990’s Ben brewed a very similar beer called Australis Benediction that captured the imagination of the beer writer Michael Jackson. Jackson ended up selecting it to feature at his World Beer Showcase at the University of Philadelphia in the year 2000 and included it in his influential Great Beer Guide. At the time this was a huge achievement and one which means Benediction is still in high demand in the United States. Benediction ceased to be when the Australis Brewing Co closed down. Now Nota Bene is here to continue the theme. The funky Belgian rustic character of Nota Bene makes it a perfect match to pungent washed rind cheeses, which is exactly how I intend to enjoy my next bottle! Ben Middlemiss Nota Bene is available from Hashigo Zake, The Malthouse , Regional Wines and online retailer The Beer Store.
Modern New Zealand history is a most finite commodity. While in the UK there are breweries that can trace their history back hundreds of years, here, brewers who date from the 1980’s are seen as the old guard. There is one New Zealand brewing dynasty however that can trace its history all the way back to the 1850’s. The Duncan family are currently the driving force behind the Founders Brewery. Founders was formed in 1999 but various generations of the family have been brewing in Nelson since 1854 when Duncan family ancestor Joseph Dodson, bought into the Hooper & Co Brewery. Hooper & Co was eventually renamed J R Dodson and Sons, then Nelson Breweries, before being sold to Dominion Breweries in the 1960’s. As a mark of respect for where they have come from, Founders have just released the first two of a new range of revolving seasonal beers called J R Duncan and Sons. First up Nelson Pilsner is a fruity and zesty New Zealand Pilsner late hopped with NZ Cascade, and dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin to create a big aroma of tropical fruit with a hint of grassiness. Also under the J R Duncan and Sons banner we have the excessively named ‘Surprise Me AKA AK 4.7’ or AK4.7 for short. AK 4.7 is a hoppy amber ale which was brewed for the Marchfest that happens in Nelson’s Founders Park each March. Now that the festival is over the beer has been released into the Wellington market. AK 4.7offers up a big fresh New Zealand hop character, alongside a firm toasty malt body and is perfect for the cooler nights of autumn. As AK4.7 was brewing John Duncan came across a label in the provincial museum from 1945 for a beer brewed by his ancestor called J R Dodson & Son A.K. Brilliant Ale. A coincidence? Or blessing from the ancestors? Cheers.
Craft brewing and craft beer consumption is at an all time high and happens in places you would never have found it a year or two ago. Last week I attended a Tuatara beer and food matching evening held at the Zealandia Wildlife sanctuary. The evening was held to celebrate the birthday of the first Tuataras to be born on mainland New Zealand in over 200 years and to raise money for the sanctuary’s 500 year vision. It goes to show how far things have come that what until recently would have certainly been a wine tasting is now a beer and food event. The evening was hosted by former Tuatara brewer Dion Page and Zealandia Ranger Russ Drewry. After an explanation of what beer is and how it is made plates of food and Tuatara beers were brought out. Rata Café Chef Craig Dunshea had crafted a menu to match the Tuatara beers and managed extremely well considering it was his first attempt. For me two matches stood head and shoulders above the others. Vietnamese summer rolls with coconut marinated fish were matched with Tuatara Pilsner. The assertive fruity hop character of the Pilsner blended seamlessly with the fresh mint of the summer rolls while it cut the richness of the marinated fish as well as any lime or lemon could hope to. Herb crepes stuffed with warmed Chevre goats cheese matched with Tuatara Hefe was another winner. The tangy richness of the Chevre was perfectly cut by the overt fruit and spice notes that stem from the yeast strain that Tuatara use to ferment the Hefe, while the assertive carbonation of the beer cleaned the mouth coating richness of the dish. The event attracted a crowd not normally seen at beer tasting events and served as a great introduction to craft beer for the uninitiated. The evening closed with a promise that while it was the first Zealandia beer and food matching it would certainly not be the last. I will certainly drink to that! Cheers
‘Give a man a beer and he will waste an hour, teach him to brew and he will waste a lifetime’ or so the saying goes. However for some of us learning to brew beer at home, it has been anything but a waste with many of the craft brewing industries key players having started out as amateurs. Luke Nicholas of Epic originally started homebrewing while at University in 1989.Invercargill Brewing’s Steve Nally gave homebrewing a go after reading about it in the Listener. Richard Emerson still counts a homebrewed batch of beer, the majority of which he tipped down the drain before it had matured, as his best batch ever. More recently, contract brewers like Yeastie Boys and 8 Wired have blurred the lines between amateurs and pros. The one thing that all of these brewers, and incidentally myself, have in common is that we all started out our brewing careers using canned homebrew kits of the sort that you see on the shelves in supermarkets and homebrew stores around the country. These cans of hopped malt extract present a very simple way for a homebrewer to create beer of moderate quality. One of the downsides to these kits is that the evaporation process that allows 20 litres of beer to fit in a small can ends up knocking out many of the volatile flavour and aroma elements resulting in a dull but convenient product. Last year Jim Matranga of Mapua’s Golden Bear Brewing came up with an idea that could help his small brewpub use its brewing capacity and help entry and intermediate level homebrewers to brew better beer. The result has been coined “wort in a bag” and consists of a box and bladder much like a cardboard wine cask that holds unfermented beer, or wort as brewers call it, from the Golden Bear brew house. The homebrewer then pours the wort into a fermenting bucket and adds yeast to ferment the beer at home. More experienced brewers can add extra hops, spices and select particular yeast strains to ‘make the brew their own’. Because the wort is not evaporated it retains much more flavour and complexity than traditional homebrew from a can. I recently tried out the wort in a bag system and the results were fantastic with the resulting keg of fruity pale ale disappearing rather quickly. Time will only tell how many of tomorrow’s professional brewers will start out using Jim’s invention. Golden Bear Fresh Wort Kits are available from online retailer Liberty Brewing and from the Golden Bear brewpub itself at Port Mapua, Tasman Bay. Cheers.
AUTUMN in Wellington tends to arrive first with a thud in the form of an icy southerly front followed by a relapse into ‘Indian summer’ and then an inevitable descent into winter. Unlike the majority of the population I relish autumn as it marks the start of the cooler months which I far prefer to the muggy heat of summer and the windy fury of spring. For me the start of autumn is always marked by the release of Emerson’s Taieri George. Taieri George is brewed by Richard Emerson each year to honour his father George who helped to set up the historic Taieri Gorge railway which stretches into Otago from Dunedin. Taieri George is a spiced dark ale that combines cinnamon, nutmeg and organic clover honey with a range of dark biscuity malts and the Emerson’s house yeast to create a distinctly spicy and complex beer that is often compared to hot cross buns. This year’s vintage is particularly floral, a character that perhaps stems from the honey, with a well integrated spiced character and a suggestion of cola alongside the characteristic hot cross bun effect. The beer matches well with hot cross buns but is excellent alongside a spicy Moroccan Tagine, a perfect match for cool autumnal nights. Another beer that I often find myself drinking as the weather turns is Fullers 1845. Fullers brew a range of fruity and malt accented ales on the road to Heathrow airport in London. 1845 is a rich tangy strong ale that combines toasty caramel malt flavours and a ‘sherbety’ marmalade accented yeast note with an earthy English hop character. The result makes a fantastic accompaniment to roast lamb, slow cooked beef, or a nice sharp traditional English cheddar. And finally on the topic of autumn beers Founders will have a limited release autumn ale available on the taps around town at the start of next month.