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.
AT this time of the year it’s good to look back on the year that has been and think about what has happened before we get busy being embroiled in the events of the next one. As the quality part of the beer market grows, more and more seems to be happening each year, however it’s only when I stop to think about it now that I realise just how much.
2011 has been dubbed by some the ‘Year of the Saison’. Saison is a style of dry, spicy, hoppy Belgian ale that was originally brewed to be consumed by farm workers during the harvest. For most of the last decade Dominion Breweries held a trademark on the term Saison after releasing a hoppy lager called Saison in 2001. In 2010 DB relinquished their Saison as a result of the Radler dispute with SOBA and left the way open for NZ brewers to take on the style. Last year we saw Saisons from Invercargill Brewery, Yeastie Boys, 8 Wired, and Golden Bear.
Another phenomenon in 2011 was the advent of the extreme beer. While Invercargill Brewery got the ball rolling back in 2007 with the release of the smoked bock Smoking Bishop, at the time the most out there beer on the NZ market, it wasn’t until 2011 that extreme beers really took off. The NZ beer market has been enriched with 100% peated malt beers (Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude and xeRRex) super low alcohol India Pale Ale (8 Wired Underwired, Croucher Lowrider) coffee infused barrel aged super strong Imperial Stout (8 Wired Batch 18) coffee, fig and coconut infused imperial oat stout (Epic Epicurean).
2011 was also marked by a lot of collaboration brews where brewers teamed up to produce special limited release beers. Liberty Brewing Co’s Jo Wood was definitely the most promiscuous brewer collaborating with Mikes, Epic, Yeastie Boys, and Hallertau. Emerson’s have collaborated with both Geoff Griggs and myself. In the Northern City Galbraith’s Ale House teamed up with Tuatara, Emerson’s , Croucher and 8 Wired. The collaboration theme was taken to its natural climax by Epic who arranged the world’s biggest collaboration brew as part of their Mash Up internet TV series.
The craze for big muscularly hopped pale ales continued with Epic Hop Zombie showing just how drinkable a Double IPA can be. Two large batches of Hop Zombie disappeared in record time showing that the public thirst for highly hopped pale ales shows no sign of declining. At the truly micro end of the spectrum Liberty C!tra has grabbed drinkers attention and caused a stir.
It was during 2011 that Nano brewing entered our lexicon. Local start up The Garage Project launched their enterprise with 24 beers in 24 weeks brewed on a 50L brew kit, Kereru Brewing has launched in the Hutt Valley on a 50 Litre brew plant and Epic and Moa have installed 50 litre kits as promotion and research and development tools.
The rise in contract brewing grew into a gold rush with Parrotdog, Revolution, Golden Eagle, Dales, Adlib and Raindogs all launching. Contract brewing has also helped allowed a pioneering brewer from our past to return. Ben Middlemiss helped to put New Zealand beer on the map with his Australis beers in the late 90’s. Now he has used the contract brewing model to bring one of these beers back to life under the Ben Middlemiss brand. I hope more will follow over the next year.
Finally we had some great beers in 2011. My personal highlights have included Emerson’s Brownville Brown, Tally Ho! and JP 2011,Yeastie Boys Hud A Wa , Fools Gold and xeRRex, Dale’s Amber Ale, Twisted Hop Red Zone Enigma, and Townshend Sutton Hoo.
2011 was a great year to be involved in the Wellington beer scene. We saw a lot of new beers, breweries and trends take form. Brewing is taking off in Wellington. By this time next year we will have several breweries operating within the city. Who knows what I will be looking back on by then? Cheers!