Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CT Column 15/02/2012 : Misguided Purity

THERE are several myths that pervade the world of beer. Top of the list is the idea that ‘all malt’ beers are naturally better than beers which use some refined sugar. One of the reasons for this view is the Reinheitsgebot. Often referred to as the ‘German Beer Purity Law’ the Reinheitsgebot could more accurately be described as the ‘Bavarian bread purity law’. In 1516 the state of Bavaria introduced a law that specified what ingredients could be used to brew beer. The chief aim was to stop the brewers from using precious wheat and rye. Wheat and rye were ideally suited to baking bread while barley was reserved for brewing. The law was a pragmatic way of divvying up the resources between industries and served a purpose at the time. The Reinheitsgebot specifies that only water, malted barley and hops may be used in brewing beer. The omission of the all important yeast stems from the fact that the law predates our understanding of how fermentation works. In more recent times the Reinheitsgebot has been used as both protectionist tool and as a way of asserting Bavarian dominance over the rest of Germany. It offers a very one dimensional ‘vanilla’ view of beer and brewing. In 1906 when the law spread to all of Germany several styles of spiced beer were instantly eradicated, and more recently some East German beers disappeared when Germany was reunified. While the Germans make several styles of beer to a high standard the Reinheitsgebot prevents the diversity and creativity that you find in Belgium or England. Refined sugar is often regarded as a dirty word by many beer drinkers and that is sad. Refined sugar, either from sugar cane or from sugar beet, plays an important role in at least two of the world’s great brewing traditions. Belgian brewers use a sugar called ‘candi sugar’ that is refined from sugar beet as an extra fermentable. Refined sugar will ferment much more completely than malt derived sugar and therefore makes for much drier more drinkable beers. The Belgians use ‘candi sugar’ to boost the alcohol of their beers while keeping them perilously drinkable. Try Chimay White the most widely available Trappist Tripel at 8%abv or the classic Belgian Golden Ale Duvel at 8.5%abv, highly drinkable where a German beer would be heavy and viscous. English brewers who brew for a market that drinks by the imperial pint also use sugar to add drinkability to their ales. They also traditionally use sugar to add interesting flavours and aromas to their beers. English brewers traditionally used a range of sugars called ‘invert’ that were known in ascending number (#1 #2 #3...) these sugars got progressively darker and added more character to the final beer. Good examples of English brewers using dark brewing sugars to create interesting flavours would be the complex blended Greene King Strong Suffolk and the ever popular Theakston’s Old Peculier. Of course sugar can be misused. New Zealand has a long tradition of brewing beers with a high percentage of cane sugar in the fermentor resulting in thin beer that is then ‘fattened’ up with more sugar after fermentation is over. The result is less than ideal. However just because sugar can be misused doesn’t mean it has to be. Cheers!

CT Column 08/02/2012 : Project going to the dogs

8/02/2012 10:57:00 a.m. WELLINGTON is very quickly going from a city of craft beer drinkers and purveyors to a city of craft beer brewers. When Lion decided to move production of the Macs beers from the Shed 22 brewery and call time on brewing it seemed like the end of an era for the Wellington beer community. While the capital had a growing market for craft beer it also had steep rents and a paucity of suitable sites for brewing in the central city. That was 2010 and it seemed that with the exception of contract brewers like the Yeastie Boys the Capital was destined to play the role of drinker rather than brewer. Things have changed rapidly. Wellington is now on the cusp of having a brewpub and two decent sized production breweries opening within the central city limits. Over the past six months a very idiosyncratic contract brewing company has been trading its wares around town. Parrotdog Brewing Co was formed when Matt Warner and Matt Kristovski began home brewing while studying at Victoria University. They found success with their hobby and decided to take the plunge and enter the world of contract brewing. They were joined by, you guessed it, Matt Stevens and began brewing an IPA under the edgy moniker Bitterbitch at Taranaki’s White Cliff Brewery. The three Matts have been encouraged by the Capital’s response to their beers, so much so that they have taken a huge leap. Parrotdog have secured premises in Vivian St, and have ordered a 2500 litre brew plant from China. The boys decided they would only be young once and if they were going to do it now was the time. All things going to plan they should be brewing in the Vivian St premise by April. However things in the world of brewing don’t always go to plan, if they did Wellington’s new brewpub Fork and Brewer would have been brewing for over a month by now. The project was first faced with a major setback when new Christchurch influenced earthquake provisions meant they had to rearrange the brewing vessels along a steel girder and reinforce the floor. Then came the bombshell that their Chinese made boiler wouldn’t be certified for use in New Zealand. Last reports were that a second-hand boiler had been sourced and hopefully brewing will commence soon. In Aro Valley some very exciting things have been going on behind the roller door of the old Aro St petrol station. Back in June I reported on The Garage Project, a venture devised by brewer Pete Gillespie, his brother Ian Gillespie and video game designer Joss Ruffell. Through the end of last year The Garage Project brewed 24 beers in 24 weeks on a tiny 50L brew plant and released them at Hashigo Zake. This was in some regards a market R and D exercise as well as a reaction to council limitations placed upon them as the building they were in was in the process of being rezoned. With rezoning sorted the brewery has been able to move forward and an American made plant is built and waiting to be dispatched once the floors and drains have been prepared. In the meantime The Garage Project is doing contract brews in Christchurch at the Three Boy’s brewery. The next few months are going to offer plenty of new beers from our new breweries, a very exciting prospect for the Capital’s craft beer drinkers, and obviously for me!

CT Column 01/02/2012 : Ales by Dale

THE rise of contract brewing has resulted in the democratisation of New Zealand’s brewing scene. By that I mean that home brewers from all walks of life have been able to enter the beer market. Once it was only those with the drive, means and blind determination to enter the precarious world of small business that could produce beer for sale. When once one required the capital to set up a brewery and operate a business now all a home brewer needs is enough money to fund each batch of beer and a willing brewery to produce it. One of these new contract brewers is Nelson based Dale Holland. Dale is an IT systems specialist by trade but in the late 90’s he was bitten by the home brewing bug. After brewing some mixed results he gave up the hobby to concentrate on his career. Then in 2009 with the renaissance of craft brewing in full swing Dale decided to have another go at home brewing. Impressively just a year later Dale took out the Champion Beer award at the SOBA National Homebrew Competition with an original take on the Belgian Pale Ale style. Dale’s Belgian Pale Ale creatively blended an aromatic New Zealand hop character with the spicy yeast profile of a Belgian yeast. Dale’s prize was to have the beer commercially produced by Nelson’s Sprig and Fern brewery. Encouraged by the public reaction Dale enlisted Westport’s West Coast Brewery to produce his beers and entered the beer business. Dales Brewing Co launched at the end of last year with his flagship Belgian Pale Ale and an American Amber Ale. The Belgian Pale Ale blends zesty passionfruit and citrus from Motueka hops and clove and bubblegum notes from the Belgian yeast. The result is a highly drinkable complex Belgian/New Zealand hybrid. Dales American Amber combines three different American hop varieties Amarillo, Cascade and Columbus, with a clean neutral American ale yeast and a range of European malts. The resulting beer offers up aromas of grapefruit, apricot, tinned peach and resiny pine before displaying a rich rounded caramel and toffee malt character in the mouth and a lingering firm bitter finish. Both beers pull off the trick of being complex and at the same time sessionable being designed for afternoons in the pub with friends, unlike some of the more extreme ‘rock star’ beers that are appearing from other contract brewers. The first batch of each beer has already sold out in keg form but bottles have only just been released and should be popping up around town. Cheers!

CT Column 25/01/2012 : ‘I’m strictly a broccoli man’

This week’s column title comes from a quote by the Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont. In short Stephen likens beer drinkers who will only drink the one brand or type of beer to people who would only eat one vegetable “No thanks, I’ll pass on the mashed potatoes, carrots, bread and roast beef. Me, I’m strictly a broccoli man.” However its not only traditional beer drinkers who fall into the trap of identifying themselves too tightly to one type of beverage. Time and time again people come up to me and say ‘I tried beer X it’s amazing! but I don’t like beer, I’m a wine person’. Just as our big brewers have successfully instilled the idea in many that it’s part of their identity to drink just the one brand of uncomplicated golden lager, the wine industry seems to have successfully instilled the idea that to drink wine says something positive about your class and status. The fact that they really enjoyed ‘beer X’ seems to threaten that positive wine identity. So rather than taking this as a sign that the world of beer is more varied than the one type of golden lager they have so far experienced, they write the experience off as a one-off phenomenon and return to their comfort zone. From my point of view this seems rather unfortunate. The late Michael Jackson, the beer and whisky writer not the one gloved pop singer, summed it up when he wrote “Whatever is argued about other pleasures, it is not necessary to be monogamous in the choice of drink”. I couldn’t agree more, while beer is most certainly my first love in the world of fermented foods, cider, port, sherry, single malt whisky, rum, calvados and cognac all pass over my palate with varying regularity. The world of fermentation is infinitely varied and it seems very sad to limit ones self to just one small part of it. Cheers!

CT Column 18/01/2012 : Year in Beer

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!