Thursday, June 7, 2012

CT Column 11/04/2012 : Fusion (unedited)

Last week I had occasion to visit Taranaki St cult beer bar Hashigo Zake. After a couple of beers I ordered myself one of the bar’s fantastic Beef Rendang Pies.  One of the party I was drinking with commented that the pie smelt amazing. When I told her what it was she replied that she didn’t believe in fusion cooking, pies should be mince and cheese and Rendang should come with rice. At the time I retorted that I thought it was admirable that Hashigo had taken the limitations of a small kitchen and had innovated using slow cookers and pie maker machines to craft tasty and appropriate bar snacks that work wonderfully with the beers they sell. But afterwards I began to mull over the implications of what she had said. Her opinion is one that you hear quite often, the argument goes that fusing different traditions results in the dumbing down of both.  It’s a position that gets argued in the world of beer as well as in the world of food and in my opinion is utter rubbish. For a start the foods we eat and the beers we drink didn’t just appear fully formed and ready to be defended as traditional and proper, rather they developed as a result of different traditions meeting and sharing ingredients and processes. Today that would be called fusion. For instance without the influence of South America via the Spanish, Italian cuisine wouldn’t feature tomatoes at all just as without the influence of the British maltsters who first created pale malt, European lagers would all still be brown. Neither is it the case that this fusing of ideas necessarily results in a dumb product. A skilled brewer , just like a skilled chef, can master different traditions and styles and then blend them in a way that creates something new, exciting and complex. At the moment the craft beer world is ripe with new styles of beer being created. American wheat beers are meeting American Pale Ales (8 Wired Haywired), Porters are meeting American Pale Ales (Croucher Patriot) Saison’s are meeting English Strong Ales (Yeastie Boys Red Rackham) and of course golden ale meets single malt whiskey (Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude). These beers are made by brewers who understand what the styles of beer they are fusing are about and use that knowledge to create something new. Incidentally the pies at Hashigo Zake are also skilfully crafted with a range of revolving fillings like pork and chorizo, venison vindaloo, Goat Panang, Moroccan Vegetable, and Thai Pork. There’s nothing dumb about them.   

CT Column 07/03/12: Destruction, Vitality and Rebirth (unedited)

Last week I travelled to Christchurch for the first time since the devastating earth quakes that have drastically changed the city. I visited the garden city to run a series of tastings and to work at the Great Kiwi Beer Festival that was held at Hagley Park. Like most recent visitors to Christchurch human nature led me to explore the edges of the devastated CBD. The suburban streets on the outskirts of the CBD resembled a city fallen on hard-times like Detroit, with every fifth property an overgrown empty section and every third or fourth holding wounded red stickered houses that are still awaiting their fate. Further in towards the Red Zone the scene becomes more like those from London during the Blitz. Piles of brick lie where buildings once were, office floors lay ripped open displaying desks, PC’s and filing cabinets to the elements, landmarks I once knew are now holes in the ground, tributes to the dead line the red zone barriers and makeshift outdoor congregations have been gathered together from picnic furniture and tents on the foundations that once were churches resembling scenes from 19th century missionary work. There are very few people around making the city eerily quiet however there is the constant sound of bulldozers and jackhammers as the demolition crews go about their work. The brewing community has not gone untouched with the Dux de Lux damaged and closed behind the Red Zone, the Twisted Hop sits stranded, visible from the barrier now an almost lone edifice amongst a bulldozed block, Harrington’s have lost one brewery and are going to have to relocate from their existing one. Three Boys also have a relocation on the cards as their building requires repair work that is worth more than the building itself.
All is not doom and gloom however, there is a lot of rebirth going on. The Cassel family has set up a thriving brewpub across the road from the Three Boys Brewery. The Brewery as it’s called is a hub of activity with a pizza oven constructed from an old brewing vessel , a wood fired kettle, fermentors and bar all crammed into one long thin space. I visited on a Friday night and the place was absolutely pumping. Cassels brew a range of English style cask ales and German style lagers, my picks would be the smooth Milk Stout and the Alchemist Golden Ale, a hoppy mid gold bitter that accompanied my salmon pizza perfectly.
Across the road Three Boys are contemplating their move which in the long run will allow them to expand their plant. A number of oak barrels are currently sitting in the brewhouse waiting to be filled by something tasty. Three Boys Brewer Ralph Bungard also gave me a taste of an amber ale that combined tangy Fuggels hops with complex dark malts resulting in a wonderfully tasty session ale that might be brewed for keg release soon.
Pomeroy’s Old Brewery Inn is located on Kilmore Street at the edge of the CBD. Pomeroy’s has the feel of an old English pub and combines the traditional services of serving good beer, good food and good accommodation. I stayed at the thriving Family run business while I was in Christchurch and trade was brisk all weekend. Pomeroy’s is located on the site of the historic Wards brewery. The earth quakes have destroyed the old brew house and maltings but the pub at the front stands firm. In a quirk of fate now that the old brewery has crumbled the Pomeroy family are reintroducing brewing to the property with the Four Avenues Brewing Company going into a shed at the rear of the pub. The brewery will primarily produce beers for contract brewers but will also produce beers under the Beer Baroness brand the creation of manager and owner Ava Brown.
While the original Twisted Hop sits stranded within the Red Zone, owners Martin Bennett and Stephen Hardman have managed to extract their plant and install it in an industrial unit in Wigram. The brewery is light and sunny and positively roomy compared to the cramped confines of the old Twisted Hop. New bars are planned for Woolston and Lincoln with both going into new purpose built buildings. A larger new brew plant is on its way and when it arrives the old Twisted Hop plant will go into the Lincoln pub which will brew some of its own beer.
One thing I noted everywhere I went was that people were friendly, enthusiastic and optimistic, Christchurch has taken one hell of a knock but the population seems to be all the stronger for it. The old Christchurch is gone but there is a bright new one coming.

CT Column 28/03/2012 : Suburban industry

Last week I wrote about my trip to the Taranaki as a guest of mikes brewery. While I was there I managed to pop in on the Naki’s other craft brewer Liberty Brewing Co. Liberty Brewing began as a Wellington based home brew supply company owned and operated by Yeastie Boy Stu McKinlay and Revolution Brewing Co founder Brendon Mackenzie. They sold the company to New Plymouth based Joseph and Christina Wood who built it up until they were able to enter the brewing industry.

The Liberty Brewery is located in the garage of the family home in a suburban street in New Plymouth.  Joseph’s 300L brewery is shoe horned into the family garage which conveniently had a vehicle inspection pit that was converted into a drain. When we visited, Joseph was away brewing a collaboration brew at Galbraith’s Ale House in Auckland so we were shown around by Cristina ably assisted by toddlers Jackson and Poppy. This was a brewery tour that perfectly summed up the cottage industry nature of the business.

Liberty has carved out a name for itself brewing strong flavourful beers that are either sold on tap or in large 750ml bottles with zorg stoppers. While there we tasted the dazzlingly hoppy double IPA C!TRA that masterfully matches a huge hop driven aroma of citrus, and tropical fruit with a palate that offers buckets of hop flavour without much obvious bitterness.

We also tasted a trial batch of a sour red ale that is perhaps one of the most exciting Kiwi beers I have had in a long time, sour, tangy and bursting with refreshing salty passionfruit acidity. I hope Joseph finds a way to produce it commercially.

Another Liberty beer that has me excited is the wonderfully named High Carb Ale. Combining rich raisiny malt, zesty tangy hop flavours and a long rich finish, High Carb Ale is the sort of beer that makes our early plunge into wintry weather worth it.  

At 300L the Liberty brewery is only just bigger than a home brewery and has already grown since launching last year. I suspect the real challenge will be when Joseph has to make the decision to either grow and give up his day job or cap production, something that will be hard to do at a time when demand for his beers is constantly growing. I hope he find a way to grow.


CT Column 22/03/2012: South of Cuba, north of Wakefield

I have always lived south of Cuba Street and north of Wakefield Park. I’m a Wellingtonian born and bred. However there are other places that tempt me. Nelson with its misty autumns and characterful brewers has a claim on my heart, Dunedin with its frosty winters and warm cosy ale houses could suit me to a tee, and Taranaki with its rolling west coast, stunning scenery and diverse brewers could easily feel like home.

It was in this last location that I found myself a fortnight ago. I was the guest of the White Cliffs Brewery which is more widely known as mikes. White Cliffs is one of the country’s oldest craft brewers having been brewing for well over 20 years. The brewery is set in an idyllic piece of country above a series of white cliffs just outside of Urenui, north of New Plymouth.

Brewery, function centre and organic avocado orchard are all owned and operated by the Trigg family who originally hail from South Africa. The relentless force behind the company is Ron Trigg, a South African who was built for either the rugby field or the savannah and has a seemingly inexhaustible passion and enthusiasm for his beers. In fact Ron’s dedication now extends to actually living at the brewery.

When Ron took over the brewery there were two beers, mike’s Mild Ale the company’s flagship and Mountain Lager. Ron has since rebranded the beers to the much simpler Ale and Lager and has set about adding a host of other permanent and seasonal beers to the portfolio including a range of collaboration brews with fellow Taranaki brewery Liberty. My picks are the flagship mike’s Ale, a smooth chocolate tinged mild ale that’s both highly drinkable and flavoursome at a modest 4%abv, and the rich smooth Imperial Porter that takes a similar flavour profile but turns the volume up clocking in at 8%abv.

Taranaki Pale Ale is a collaboration between Liberty Breweries Jo Wood and Ron and presents a huge blast of grassy exotic fruity hop character with a caramel accented malt backbone. While I was there I was lucky enough to taste very special vintage porter that Ron has been working on. The beer started out as a chocolaty espresso tinged porter before being aged in barrels containing the wild yeast Brettanomyces. The resulting beer is a delicate balance of sweet malt, soft soothing mocha and earthy tangy wild notes, in my opinion it’s a triumph, look out for it on tap in the near future!

CT Column 14/03/2012: Shifting meanings

IN the late 1970’s and early 80’s two American breweries pioneered a style of beer that would eventually take America and New Zealand by storm.
Fritz Maytag, a member of the Maytag washing machine dynasty who bought his local brewery rather than see it close, took a trip to England where he was exposed to the fruity bitter pale ale style. He decided to brew a beer based on the beers he tasted in England, but using local American ingredients and a higher strength. He used the newly bred citrus tinged Cascade hop variety along with the very biscuity American grown two row barley malt. The resulting beer was released in 1975 and called Liberty to celebrate the anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride in 1775. The result was paler and stronger than its English inspiration and accented towards hop flavour and aroma rather than the more yeast influenced English pale ales.
Several years later Californian homebrewer’s Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi cobbled together a micro brewery out of old brewing, dairy and soft drink equipment. In November 1980 the first batch of what was to become the company’s trademark Pale Ale was brewed. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale took influence from Anchor Liberty and used both local malt and Cascade hops resulting in a beer that combined grapefruit and floral notes with a caramel tinged malt profile. The beer was a huge hit and is now the second largest selling craft beer in America.
Sierra Nevada is now a very sizeable concern brewing over 90 million litres a year and the company has just announced that it is building a second brewery in North Carolina to supply America’s east coast.
Both Anchor Liberty and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale went on to inspire a raft of American hopped pale ales that became know around the world as the American Pale Ale Style or APA. Here in New Zealand the style was introduced by brewer Luke Nicholas with his Epic Pale Ale and by Richard Emerson with his seasonal American Pale Ale. As our craft beer culture developed brewers started to develop the style in uniquely New Zealand ways. The most obvious way has been to introduce New Zealand hops varieties, although New Zealand malts have also played their part. The result is a family of beers that are inevitably being referred to as APA’s, Aotearoa Pale Ale that is!
The newest one to hit the shelves is from an unlikely source. Martin Townshend has chiselled out a niche brewing a fantastic range of English style ales. Townshend Aotearoa Pale Ale, however, marks a significant change in direction. Pouring a sunny mid gold Townshend APA throws up a complex aroma of geranium, orange fruit, tomato vine and passionfruit. In the mouth the beer delivers a blast of green floral notes, bitter marmalade and caramel malt with a long drying bitter finish.

Pursuit of Hoppyness It’s all a matter of style – Barley Wine (unedited)

The relationship of writer and editor is often a fraught one. Here is my Barely Wine article from the current Pursuit of Hoppyness as it was meant to read.

 Style is incredibly important to the world of beer. While the world of wine hinges on grape variety in the beer world its style that communicates what one should expect to find when the bottle is opened. From the customer selecting which beer they want to purchase to the beer judge assessing a beer, to the brewer fine tuning their craft, style is what frames what we can expect to get from a beer. Our understanding of beer style stems from both the history of how different types of beer have developed and from an analysis of how beers are continuing to change and develop today. There are a lot of myths about the history of the beer styles we enjoy today. Until recently there has been a relative lack of serious academic interest in the subject and as a result beer writers have tended to pass on the same fables reinforcing often totally false ideas about the history of many beer styles. The recent work of beer historians such as Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson has done much to shine light on the mists of time. This issue I cover the style that at times has been so misunderstood that authorities have tried to ban its name, one which covers a relatively broad range of beers, which had its heyday in the jubilant extravagances that followed wartime austerity, and most importantly the style that makes the ultimate accompaniment to a slice of stilton, an open fire and winters night. This issue I look at Barley Wine.


The idea of Barley Wine as a style of beer is a relatively recent development dating from the late Victorian / Early Edwardian period. Up until then English beers in a range of styles were brewed to high gravities and were often referred to as Stock Ale. The term Stock Ale referred to the fact that these strong beers were kept ‘in stock’ to mature and ripen before being sold. Pale, Burton, and brown ale were all produced in a range of strengths with the lower strength versions sold ‘mild’ or young and the stronger ones sold ‘stale’ or old as stock ale. Burton Ale was the style Burton brewers were famous for before India pale ale took the nation and colonies by storm. It was a strong, dark copper to amber type of draught beer that was usually hopped enthusiastically, while also brewed to be sweet and malty and has all but vanished from today’s beer drinker consciousness. Examples still exist today but are branded barley wine, old ale, or strong ale. At the start of the twentieth century the term Barely Wine starts to creep into brewery advertising, describing strong beers in every style on the pale side of stout and porter. Before this the term barley wine does appear but only to describe beer in general, rather than to describe strong beer. In 1870 the British Medical Journal referred to Bass Barley Wine. Martyn Cornell believes this to be a reference to Bass No 1 Burton Ale, the strongest Burton Ale that the large Burton brewer regularly produced. By the mid 1900’s the brewer was advertising No 1 as a Barley Wine. Bass was not alone; the other Burton brewers also started to promote their strongest burtons as barley wine. Brewers in other parts of the country started to brand their strongest products as barley wine. Despite the challenges posed by the First World War most English brewers in the 1920’s and 30’s still produced one or two strong beers. The Second World War again brought taxes and raw ingredient shortages which made strong beer production impossible. This wartime austerity however, made for what Martyn Cornell has argued was the golden age of barley wine. The post war period saw a proliferation of pale, strong , malt accented beers that were marketed under the barley wine label. At this period there was a general move towards paler beers. Golden lager was taking Europe by storm and in England dark mild was giving way to pale ale and brewers obviously saw strong, rich pale ale as having potential. A survey in 1956 found nearly seventy different barley wines and strong ales being brewed in Britain. One of this new breed of pale barley wine to come from this period was Gold Label Sparkling Barley Wine from Tennants in Sheffield. In 1961 Tennants was acquired by the national brewer Whitbread and Gold Label became a national brand with the marketing slogan of “as strong as a double scotch and ½ the price!” something which might cause more than a little controversy today! I await the next Moa press release with interest! Gold Label is still available today although it has a reputation as a bus stop beer, and has suffered from the constant reorganisation of Britain’s national breweries by the global brewing corporations. It is the pale barley wines from this period that have most influenced our contemporary understanding of the style, with many of the dark ones being categorised as Old Ale another ‘catch all’ style that includes beers from a range of historic traditions which I will look at in a future issue. From the late 1960’s on, barely wine numbers started to decline as brewery mergers and buyouts resulted in consolidation and an increasing focus on core mass market products. Incidentally this period of decline coincided with the advent of Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy’s Ale, for me the absolute classic of the style. By the 1970’s, when Michael Jackson started to document the beer styles of the world, there were a handful of examples left from Regional Brewers and national brands Bass No 1 and Whitbread Gold Label. The 1980’s brought the micro brewing revolution. However British micro brewers were slow to take to the style concentrating on lower strength draught beers. This was no doubt in part due to their lack of bottling lines, but also in part to the fact that strong beer in Britain had by this time firmly become a niche product.

English Barley Wine

Barley wine is today still a niche product in the UK. This is in part due to Britain’s drinking culture that still favours drinking draught beer in licensed premises rather than drinking bottled beer at home. It is also due to a taxation system that, like New Zealand’s, progressively penalises strong beers encouraging brewers and punters alike to favour moderately alcoholic beers over strong ones. That said England is still home to the majority of the world’s classic barley wines. Britain has just increased excise tax on beers over 7.5%abv and has reduced excise on beers under 2.8%abv, what this will do to the British barley wines is yet to be seen. English barley wines tend to be richly malty, full bodied, with earthy hop character playing a supportive role to complex fruity, vinous, warming fermentation characters and complex caramel and toffee edged malt flavours. For me the classic example is Thomas Hardy’s Ale. Originally brewed by Dorset brewer Eldridge Pope in 1968 to commemorate the anniversary of the writer Thomas Hardy’s life and the refurbishment of one of the brewery’s flagship pubs, the beer was regularly brewed until Eldridge Pope ended production in 1999. Four years later after a series of disastrous business decisions the brewery left the brewing industry to concentrate on its pub business. By this time Thomas Hardy’s Ale had a cult following in the U.S., and American beer importer, Phoenix Imports, purchased the rights to the recipe and name and contracted Devon based micro brewery O’Hanlon’s to produce the beer. O’Hanlon’s Thomas Hardy’s Ale was then produced from 2003 until 2008 when the global economic crises caused O’Hanlon’s to give up the contract in the interests of the company’s survival. Hardy’s Ale is an incredibly complex and rich example of the style with a huge potential for aging in the cellar, I was lucky enough to sample a 1979 bottle on my 30th birthday. When young, the beer has an almost meaty, creamy, mature cheddar like maltiness to it, with an assertive fruity orange hop character and a smoky edge. As it ages the beer becomes leaner, with all sorts of Madeira and sherry notes, pineapple, raisins, prune like characters and a nutty Bovril note. I raided the cellar for this article and tasted every vintage from 1999 to 2008, never let it be said that I don’t suffer for my readers! Another classic English Barley Wine producer is London brewer Fullers. Fullers produce an impressive 2 different takes on the style, the pale filtered Golden Pride, and a bottle conditioned version Vintage Ale. Golden Pride is very much in the tradition of the barley wines of the 50’s and 60’s , pale, fruity and relatively hoppy. At 8.5% its perhaps at the lower end of the spectrum for the style but it makes up for it with plenty of rich pale malt, the Fuller’s signature marmalade and ginger loaf yeast character and a tangy hop finish. Vintage Ale is brewed to the Golden Pride recipe but uses single origin ingredients that are deemed to be the best of that year’s harvest by the brewing team. Vintage Ale is bottle conditioned rather than filtered allowing it to be cellared.

American Barleywine

American started its love affair with Barleywine on the same trip that saw Anchor Brewery owner Fritz Maytag discover pale ale brewing. Fritz tasted English barley wines on his seminal tour of Europe in the early 1970’s. In 1975 Anchor released Old Foghorn a beer that took its lead from the malty fruity beers he had encountered in England. Just as he was doing with the pale ale style Fritz added fruity piny American hops to the beer and unlike the English versions that had inspired him he added them to maturation as well creating a much more hop accented type of barleywine. A problem arose when it came time for Anchor to get permission from authorities to sell the beer. American authorities decided that for a product to bear the word wine it would have to have grapes in it. Maytag responded by naming the beer Old Foghorn 'Barleywine' style ale. The term has stuck and while in rest of the English speaking world we call the style barley wine in America it is barleywine. The style took off, albeit as a niche. Sierra Nevada soon followed with their even hoppyier Bigfoot . There are now hundreds of barleywines produced in America. Unlike Britain and New Zealand, America taxes beer at a flat rate regardless of alcohol. American barleywines tend to be fermented with more neutral yeast cultures than English barley wines leaving more room for assertive hop aromas and flavours to stand out.

 New Zealand Barley Wine

 Barley wine hasn’t been a common style in New Zealand however as our craft brewing industry ages, more and more are appearing. Shakespeare King Lear Old Ale was the first strong ale brewed in New Zealand in the modern period and vaguely fits into the Burton Ale descended dark barley wine style. The first really striking pale barley wine came from the now defunct Limburg brewery in Hastings. Brewer Chris ‘Father’ O’Leary was inspired by Sierra Nevada Bigfoot although the resulting beer seemed to be more English in style . He set about creating a New Zealand equivalent and in 2004 brewed a 10.5%abv barley wine heavily hopped with New Zealand grown styrian goldings. The resulting beer was called Oude Reserve and was so massive that it was undrinkable for the first 3 months of conditioning. In the end it received a full 40 weeks maturation on lees before being released at the 2005 BrewNZ week. Many of us still remember cupping brandy samplers of it straight from the 1C tap at Shed 5 which served as its brand HQ that year. Oude Reserve was bottled and still lives on in a select number of cellars around the country. I was lucky enough to sample one recently and I can tell you it’s still going strong with rich toffee accented malt, a deep savoury note, ripe orange fruit, and a firm long lasting finish. It’s pretty clear to me that Oude Reserve will be going strong on its 10th birthday! More recently The Twisted Hop brewpub in Christchurch started to produce a barley wine under the name of Epiphany until it was discovered that New Zealand’s other real ale brewpub, Galbraith’s in Auckland had produced a beer under that name. The Twisted Hop changed their name to Enigma. The Twisted Hop took the wine part of barley wine one step further than most aging Enigma in a pinot noir barrels giving the beer a big tannic woody fruity finish that brought grippy shiraz to mind. A subsequent batch was aging in stainless when the February earth quake hit and was left stranded in the Red Zone for months. The beer never had the barrel aging treatment and the prolonged conditioning resulted in a fantastically smooth rich fruity beer with notes of leather, apricot, rich malt and a long warming finish. At the start of last year Renaissance Brewing in Blenheim brewed a massive 10.8% abv barley wine under the name Tribute. The beer was aged extensively before being released and revealed a Vogel’s bread like maltiness and marmalade note when young. As the beer has aged it has developed dark dried fruit notes and a liqueur like spirity character. It has a lot of aging potential and is definitely one for the cellar. Interestingly Renaissance had to battle some of the same bureaucratic issue that anchor did 35 plus years before after a public servant objected to the use of the word wine without grapes. Luckily the issue was worked out amicably and the beer carries its correct style written the correct way. Finally Liberty Brewing in Taranaki has developed two barley wines already in its short history. There is eccentrically named MMMMoMMftCHv3 is a black barley wine , sort of a new fusion style of imperial porter and American barleywine and the Debilitated Defender a chest thumping 11%abv monster of an American style barleywine.


 At its essence the barley wine style is a relatively modern catch all style or family of styles that along with Old Ale take in the range of strong English style beers that aren’t stout or porter. That said it is definitely a family of beers that are deserving of recognition and protection from both the overzealous attentions of labelling officials and the threat posed by excise increases. After all there are few better accompaniments to a slice of stilton, an open fire and a winter’s night! Next issue I will look at stout and porter.