What the hell was Tuatara thinking?

The past week should have been a very good one for Tuatara Brewery. They won a swag of medals and trophies at the Brewers Guild of New Zealand awards, took out Champion Brewery, and no doubt celebrated like champs on the night. All this after a tough period during which someone they contract brewed for called them out (in a polite way) for their brewing practices.

Unfortunately, those happy, happy days did not last. In fact, it all went a bit crap. The positive media stories and social media attention soon flipped, and they were trying to cure a headache far different from the ones staff members possibly had the morning after the awards. And while the causes of said headache are different from each other, they are also very closely related.

Firstly, everyone I talked to after the awards was wondering the same thing – what the hell are these beers Tuatara won all these awards for? I had never seen Mot Eureka, Weiz Guy or kAPAi anywhere, and neither had anyone else. Beertown.nz overlord Martin Craig’s calculated guess, at them being new names for old beers, was confirmed by Tuatara a day later. In the next few weeks you will see a refresh of Tuatara’s brand – the same branding the company has used since I was serving its range in a restaurant a decade ago is going.

I am all for rebrands. Townshend’s label update was desperately needed, while the recent changes on Emerson’s bottles and tap badges move the same way – taking a dated, English-looking-in-a-boring-way brand in a modern direction. But, to quote Martin Craig, “a rebranding should improve recognition of your beers, not create confusion”. Both the Emerson’s and Townshend’s rebrands kept the same beer names, but improved the look.

But Tuatara is taking a different route. The company is going full-on Prince/ Prince logo.svg, right down to the ‘artist-formerly-known-as-Prince’ bit. The website proudly touts the beers: Mot Eureka Pilsner (known as Bohemian Pislner); Weiz Guy (known as Bavarian Hefe); Helluva Lager (Helles Lager). Ugh. It all got more cringe than a series of the British version of The Office.

If Tuatara wanted a good example of a rebrand done right, they should have checked out ParrotDog’s latest work.

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Exhibit 1: Old dogs

See Exhibit 1. ParrotDog’s name is nice and big, and so are the beer names. But, honestly, who is going to know the difference between a BitterBitch and a DeadCanary if they know almost nothing about brewery?

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Exhibit 2: New tricks

The rebrand still shows all the beers are from ParrotDog, and has the names on the front. But the emphasis is now directly about telling people exactly what they are getting. If I’m ordering for my friends at a pub, I don’t ask “do you want a DeadCanary or BitterBitch?”. I ask if they want a pale ale or an IPA. Why? Because they know what those things are. For me, that has always been the strength of Tuatara’s brand and beer names – they do what they say on the tin/bottle/keg/tap badge.

The fact is, Tuatara has effectively already conceded the rebrand is a stupid idea. On this webpage I keep hyperlinking, they say they are going to “put some stickers on to make sure you can still find your fav!”. (Yes! Your fav! Not your fave!). Pro tip: people are lazy. If they can’t find what they want, their “fav!” they will probably give up and buy some Panhead Supercharger instead.

So why is Tuatara rebranding? Maybe they did some market research. Maybe they got bored. Maybe, as one person close to the industry suggested to me, they wanted to have trademarkable names. Which is rather ironic, as an attempted trademark is what really got Tuatara’s reputation in a bad place this past week.

Tuatara made applications recently with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand to trademark all their new beer names – and fair enough. You have to protect your brand early on, or you end up with Radlergate 2.0. While the Society of Beer Advocates has a decent pot of cash lying around, I imagine they have better things to do with it than fight trademark battles for the good of the New Zealand beer scene.

Anyway. It all hit the fan for Tuatara when a former SOBA president tweeted what a few people in the beer industry had figured out/been informed of.

For those that do not know, Amarillo is the name of a hop variety. I have had a go at people trying to trademark hop varieties before. That ended well, with the brewer withdrawing the trademark application. And I can forgive them, because they were being benignly ignorant. But Tuatara engaged the services of AJ Park, an intellectual property law firm, to make their applications.

(Now, I have a soft spot for lawyers. I see them every day undertaking stressful work, like bail applications. Some lawyers simply do not do their job well enough, and end up shocked when they get told their client has 20 previous convictions for breach of bail. But then there are the ones who open their submissions with “I have been instructed to apply for bail”. They know it is a lost cause before they have started. In legal parlance, it is referred to as ‘throwing yourself at the mercy of the court’.)

Things went rather predictably. People got angry, social media got a bit feral, and Tuatara backed down, withdrawing the Amarillo application. They also withdrew the application they had made for Tomahawk – another hop variety – despite nobody getting up in arms about that, so kudos to Tuatara where kudos be due.

But the heat is still being applied.

Yes, Tuatara are trying to trademark Kapai for kAPAi. The issue is Aotearoa Breweries – you know them better as Mata – has made a beer called Kapai for quite some time.

The best thing Tuatara can do about the Kapai situation is withdraw its application. Mata had its Kapai first, and even manged to get its trademark application in a few hours in front of Tuatara’s. It’s just the nice thing to do, ya know?

And if Tuatara is worried about anything – the cost, the need to find another name and/or design, or whatever – then its bosses should look towards one of its major competitors: Moa.

Moa has undertaken a media campaign for the launch of its first canned product, a session pale ale. And the cans look great!

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But remember back when Moa initially wanted to call the product Paradise Pale Ale, despite the fact McLeod’s had the trademark on Paradise? Well guess what? The session pale ale is not called Paradise. There was a bit of social media beef about it at the time, but it appears Moa and McLeod’s sorted things out.

I believe New Zealand’s beer industry is made up of people who, by and large, what to work together to create a “rising tide raises all boats” environment. Tuatara is one of the biggest boats out there, firing great products out at a very competitive price point. But doing stupid things – stupid is the only word I think sums it up properly – undermines the great work Tuatara does. It makes them look silly, and makes people say silly things about them.

Further reading:

*Moa’s cans fit well with its move away from the myopic misogyny they were famed for, to a friendlier ‘outdoorsy’ look. Graphic designer Todd Wilson was behind the move, which was featured on Design Assembly recently. His CV reads much like most New Zealand freelance journalists’ – work for company, leave company, get freelance contract with that company.

*I wish Shane Cowlishaw would spend less time walking around decommissioned prisons and more time writing about beer. I also wish for world peace, a 1960s Fender Bass VI and a fridge full of Hallertau Funkonnay magnums, but none of that is happening anytime soon. Anyway, his recent piece on New Zealand brewery rebrands is a good read.

*If Martin Townshend is thinking about another rebrand, (by my calculation, it would be his fifth), this student submission into the Best Design Awards looks sharp.

Soundtrack:

*Het played their debut set at Palmerston North all-ages venue The Stomach recently. The debut album provides an excellent soundtrack to morning dog walks, cooking tofu, and punching through writer’s block.

Beervana nirvana: the outtakes

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So you may have seen I got shouted a trip to Wellington to write a preview article about Beervana. Yes, it was all paid for. Yes, it was fun. Yes, I had to write an article for work in exchange for all the free stuff. Call it ‘sponsored content’ or ‘a famil’ or ‘a junket’ or ‘a perk of the job’ – it is what it is.

But I had so much more I wanted to write about than I could fit in 2000 words. Heck, I’m surprised they ran the full 2000 words in the newspaper. I figured some of the stuff was too interesting to keep to myself, so I’ve decided to put it all here. Think of this like the outtakes from a Jackie Chan movie, but with far less swearing, fewer broken bones, not as many laughs, and no one getting paid.

*Go to Salt and Wood Collective. Eat the brisket. But be different –  match it with something Belgian. I’m sure North End head brewer Kieran Haslett-Moore will love you for it.

*A conversation with Kelly Ryan of Fork Brewing is always a good time, especially when he starts geeking out about beer. Our chat started (over a pint of his D.R.A.F.T ) with the sour beer explosion. He reckons we’ve only scratched the surface of what brewers will do with sour styles. “It took people a long time to make a good IPA in a lot of countries. The same thing is happening with sour beers. We’ve probably all had the experience when they’ve not been what we thought they would be when we brewed them. It’s a road of discovery.”

It was also a great chance to try his Tainted Love and Yogurt & Bruseli side-by-side, and have him talk about about how different kinds of acids (citric in the former, lactic in the latter) and alcoholic strength impacts how sour beer is perceived on the palate. I couldn’t get over how much more face-puckering Tainted Love was, even though Yogurt & Bruseli has a lower pH.

We had a good yarn about how science can seem a bit dull to high school students, until they know what you can actually do with it (e.g. make crazy beer). Science was always a bore me in high school, hence why I dropped it as soon as I could to gain more time in the music department – although I did sit maths all the way to Year 13/Form 7. But having someone like Kelly, who studied food technology, come along and speak about applied science could have seen me take a completely different career path. It is something he appeared passionate about and keen to do, but he doubts schools would ever let him go in to talk about his job due to the societal stigma around anything involving both alcohol and young people.

*Want an awesome black IPA? Go to Black Dog and get a pint of the latest batch of Pango Kuri. They call it an American stout, but the glass I had while paying them a visit was hoppy as fuck.

*Have you seen ParrotDog’s branding recently? Their products now pop off the shelf like zits on the end of a nose. I thought their RareBird series looked great, but they went next level with the Flora range. However, it is the tweak of the core beers which left me the most impressed. A few simple touches (swapping the position of the style & beer names around, the plain white background, making things simpler) made the bottles easier to read, easier to see and more attractive to the eye. 

Oh, and the beer is tasting awesome. I still can’t get over how big their mini-APA ClippedWing feels. I wasn’t surprised when Wattie Watson said it had been sent away for testing by the judges at the AIBAs after taking out best in class. The results came back at exactly 3.5 per cent ABV.

*Go to Tuatara Brewing. Do the beer and cheese matching. Ask for the match they do with Sauvinova.

*I knew almost nothing about Duncan’s before I paid company overlord George Duncan a visit at his house in Raumati Beach. Sure, I had seen his beers on the shelf at my local bottle shop, but I had never even picked them up before. But I’ll be drinking those beers much more often now, if only because George is one of the coolest people I met on the trip. He just had this infectious laid-back excitement about everything. It’s hard to explain, and probably experienced best in person.

His story from student to contract brewer is a bit of a random ride. “I was studying music at Vic and needed and extra paper to complete my degree. So I took on a first-year chemistry paper. A bio-chemistry friend tutored me, and he was also a beer brewer.”

A year living in Canada, and some quick stops over the border into the USA, showed him just what beer could be. “I was into beer before going to North America, but drinking craft beer there really got me into it.”

The Raumati Social Club soon heard he was making beer at home, and invited him to put a keg on. So, two years ago, he put down his first brew at Massey University’s brewery in Palmerston North. From there, he has contracted at various locations, with his latest batches of pilsner and pale ale brewed at mike’s in Taranaki (although how long that will last is anyone’s guess at the moment).

Brewing fits in perfectly with George’s ethos of making things and sharing them with people, and his love of keeping busy. He works in construction, runs Duncan’s, home brews, writes music, renovates his house, cooks meals for all his mates and makes his own charcuterie. Others would call that really bloody busy, but he just laughs it off with his trademarkable massive grin.

“I’m the sort of person who just likes doing lots of stuff.”

Guest blog: Cheers, Panhead

 

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When I got offered this from a fellow Palmerston North beer nerd, I figured saying no would be unchur. So, here it is.

By Jason Franssen

As I sit here with a can of the best pale ale in New Zealand right now, I reflect on the news that has come from one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing breweries.

If you have been living under a rock, Panhead Custom Ales announced this morning they have joined Lion, alongside Emersons, Little Creatures and other such crafties that have seemingly ‘sold out’ to Lion, which I might add are the current champion brewery of New Zealand.

Before I carry on, I have no affiliation to either side in this and would like to put on the record that I think Mike Neilson’s decision to become part of one of the biggest beverage manufacturers in the southern hemisphere, with one of the biggest distribution arms, is AWESOME. Well done on expanding your brand, expanding where people can get your beer and making a few coins in the same instance.

I have read some pretty scathing comments today both on social media and on a particular news site – and wow. Can people not be happy that someone in little old New Zealand has actually done something really good for the beer and brewing scene? Can we not be happy they have taken on a new exciting chapter in their business? Why do we think that said business belongs to us?

FullSizeRender (4)In speaking with other home brewers (and a contract brewer) it was put to me that (Hat Tip, Garth from Big Growler) when a brewery “sells out” it’s much like Nirvana when they signed up to their big label and released probably their best known album, Nevermind. They were given creative licence, capital and access to a bigger market. Is that not what has happened to fellow Priders, Emersons? What about that new purpos-built brewery they have, all paid for by “selling out”? What about being able to go into your local Lion-tied bar and have a decent beer, like an 1812? Or Bookbinder? It’s pretty awesome, right?

Add to that the staples from Panhead: Supercharger, Port Road Pils, Johhny Octane or Vandal.

‘What about recipe changes?’ I hear you say? Really? How often do breweries change their recipes to accommodate changes in their base ingredients, grains, hops or water. How about Supercharger being a different beer from when it was first released? Or how about the best known IPA in the world (Ballast Points Sculpin) being different from when it was first created on a home brew scale?

Stop being afraid of change. Embrace it. It’s really not that bad.

This malarkey of ‘selling out’ needs to stop. Being successful isn’t a bad thing. Being able to grow the market for decent beer in an ever-growing market is a good thing. Surely having more access to decent beer is a good thing.

Cheers to you, Mike and Panhead. I’ll still buy your cans of Supercharger and enjoy every single last drop. I’ll still look forward to your new releases. I’ll still come see your stand at beer festivals. I’ll support you for having the balls to be one of the ones to go with what makes sense to you and the Panhead brand.

Cheers to you, and taking that step to help grow beer in New Zealand. Cheers to spreading your brand and beer to more places than you could have by yourself.

*Jason Fraansen is commonly known as ManawaBrew on social media, and has recently taken on the role of Overlord of the Palmersotn North chapter of SOBA. All opinions are his. 

Moments

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Sometimes in life, there are moments when the only right thing to do is lean against a wall, look at what is in front of you, and smile. They are the moments when you forget about the rubbish weather, that bill you know is coming in the post, the fear of business happenings impacting your job, and instead take solace from the clusterfuck life can be by embracing the beauty of little things.

I got the opportunity to run a beer tasting for Beer Without Borders at The Celtic Inn in Palmerston North last night, the first of what will hopefully become a monthly happening. (Disclaimer: I got paid). Twenty-ish people got to enjoy seven beers, as long as they could put up with me jabbering about them for a minute or so. Beer events are thin on the ground in the place colloquially known as Palmy, so many of the local beer nerds turned out. There were also a few I had never met, including a couple who said they used to be regulars at the Regional Wines and Spirits tastings Geoff Griggs is often called in to run. A move to Palmy for work put the kibosh on them attending those tastings, so a tasting at an Irish pub run by someone with not even a modicum of Geoff’s knowledge and talent was the next best thing.

The beers were great, ranging from Ballast Point Mango Even Keel to the 2012 vintage of Green Flash’s barleywine. A couple American-brewed IPAs, a barrel-aged Belgian brown thing, and a milk stout were also in the mix – all beers I expected the crowd to love – so it was a pleasant surprise when Bellerose Bière Blonde Extra was the people’s pick of the night. I have been a big fan of it for a long time, so was glad to see a few more people jump on the same bandwagon.

But it was about five beers in, when everyone was cradling their glasses of barleywine, when I had my favourite moment of the night. I had talked to a few people about what a barleywine actually was, taken a quick toilet break and finished tidying up the area where I was keeping all the beer. I kept off the barleywine (a responsible thing for someone who was driving home), but got myself a nip of Bellerose and watched. Complete strangers talked to each other, all the while enjoying some great beer in a Lion-tied bar, in a city almost anyone would say was not the place to go if you wanted to expand the beer-orientated parts of your mind. I honestly never expected to see something like that happen in Palmy; previous beer festivals in the city, which aimed to push the responsible drinking of lots of different types of good beer, have often turned into parties where punters simply sink gallons of That Thing You Always Drink. But not last night.

I leaned back against the wall. Took a sip of beer. Everything else in life – the storm raging outside, the bill, the job – did not matter. It was a simple. Enjoyable. Beautiful, in it’s own beery way.

And I smiled.

What the hell happened to Boundary Road?

 

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Who remembers Brian “Spike” Buckowski? You know, the guy whose serious approach in this YouTube video was well at odds with the ‘take the piss’ voiceover. It seems so long ago, those days when his mug was emblazoned across the beginning of any video you tried to watch online. He was there because he was working with New Zealand brewing company Boundary Road Brewing on a series of beers, released under the moniker The Resident.

Boundary Road was in the news relatively recently, but not for a good reason. In an announcement to the NZX, Moa Brewing Company proudly touted it has knocked Boundary Road – the brewing arm of booze giant Independent Liquor – off its perch as the third-biggest “craft beer brand” in New Zealand.

Never minding the bollocks about what makes a brand “big” – a safe punt would be supermarket sales data – the question needs to be answered: how did such a big brand get its market share gobbled up? Because, by some accounts, Boundary Road were doing everything a craft beer brand should be doing.

Boundary Road properly hit the market in 2011 when it decided to undertake “an aggressive market entry” into the “retail tap market” – in English, supplying bars with money/equipment/stuff in exchange for exclusive pouring rights. While that was the target for the products it brews under licence, like Kingfisher and Carlsberg, it also launched a dizzyingly large range of beers targeting the same people who would buy Mac’s and Monteith’s.  RateBeer shows at least 20 beers were released under the Boundary Road brand, ranging from a spiced rum ale to a IIPA. That does not seem too weird, as RateBeer has 8 Wired have releasing 63 beers and Yeastie Boys having 74 to their name.

Another similarity Boundary Road had to those two darlings of the New Zealand brewing scene was collaboration. I was hoping The Resident series would become a regular thing after Spike’s work. Sure, the beers were not amazing. But I remember the red rye IPA being better than anything Boundary Road had already released. If they could get other brewers to join in, it could have been a good experience for Boundary Road, the brewer and drinkers in New Zealand.

Now Boundary Road grew fast. Backed by the big bucks of Japanese brewing giant Asahi, its beer started turning up everywhere. Bars stocked it. Cafes stocked it. Supermarket shelves were packed to the proverbial rafters with cans of Mumbo Jumbo, 500mL bottles of Stolen Base and 12-packs of The Chosen One. It was no surprise they quickly shuffled into third place in the Who Sells The Most race.

So, why did it all not catch on for Boundary Road? Why could they get into third so quickly, yet have now dropped off the podium? Surely a big range, clever branding and a programme of collaborations would see them rise above Mac’s and Monteith’s?

The problem, in my opinion, is very simple. It all comes down to that classic economics indicator – the benefit-cost ratio. Now I know the good Doctor of Journalism once said ‘don’t judge a taco by its price’. However, Cheap will usually be Shit. There are outliers – I have a weakness for 500mL cans of DAB at $2.50 a pop – but Boundary Road’s 500mL bottles are not in that category. I would rather eat a soggy taco than have another bottle of Stolen Base (my opinion on the beer is a smidge more negative than Greig’s). Benefit-cost is the reason I will happily buy a six-pack of Mac’s great Green Beret IPA at $11 a pop over the $22 boxes of Panhead Supercharger if I am heading to a party – #partylikeajournalist – and why I will pay $9.50 for a pint of Emerson’s 1812 at my local instead of getting a Guinness for $8.50.

And no doubt it is at least part of the reason why people will buy a 12-pack of Moa Lager for $24 instead of a 12-pack of Boundary Road The Chosen One for $22.

Postscript

In case you have not heard, Beer Without Borders are bringing their tasting programme to Palmerston North – and they have asked me to help. The first tasting is on Tuesday, and will feature some 2013 Green Flash barleywine (as rare as a Jehovah’s Witness without a Sign of the Times magazine) and me talking smack. Pick up a ticket here.

Further reading

*Phil Cook’s look at that time Boundary Road/Independent Liquor got into the beer importing game is good. And yes, do read the comments. It is interesting to now see that BrewDog is being imported by Beertique, and Samuel Adams is nowhere to be seen.

*Michael Donaldson has a good look at Moa’s recent business dealings here, including the quiet decision to shuffle away from the For The Boys marketing scheme to an outdoors-aligned image. I am all for them moving away from sexist schlock to something less aggravating. It is just a pity it appears they may have breached a trademark when naming its latest offering.

Soundtrack

*I have been a fan of Louis Knuxx’s flow since seeing him play at Great Job! to support @peace. His latest album Tiny Warm Hearts is perfect for those cool rainy May Saturdays. His great korero with RNZ’s Music 101 is also worthwhile listening.

It’s the end of the world…and I feel fine

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“I know a good hoppy beer when I drink one” – Luke Nicholas.

By now, you may have read the results for the 2016 New World Beer and Cider Awards. While the awards are surely, at some level, a ploy to make money, it is also great to have more things which can spark conversations about beer. Awards attract media attention, which presents people in the beer industry with a great chance to share the passion they have for beer with the wider public.

There has been an interesting trend in beer awards lately, which was continued with the New World awards. It seems that, no matter what competition it is, Epic Brewing Company overlord Luke Nicholas will walk away with the Champion IPA trophy in his hop-lined jacket pocket.

Take this for example:

  • BEST IPA – Brewer’s Guild of  New Zealand Awards 2015
  • BEST IPA – Australian International Beer Awards 2015
  • BEST IPA – Stockholm Beer & Whiskey Festival 2015
  • BEST IPA – New World Beer and Cider Awards 2016

He has won all of them in the past year with his 6.66 per cent ABV Armageddon IPA.

I called him for an interview a few days before the New World awards were announced, oblivious to the fact Armageddon had netted a fourth BEST IPA award within a year. Then he told me he had won, and his thinking behind netting four awards in less than a year.

“It has to be becoming a bit ridiculous, or it actually is a really good IPA,” he says.

“There are some days I drink Armageddon, and it’s so well balanced you can’t pick it apart. Not like ‘there’s the sweetness, the bitterness, dryness’. It’s just one whole experience on your palate from start to finish, and it’s pretty joyous. I just want people to enjoy it and it be really complex and seamless. Just one joyous experience.”

Armageddon first hit the market in 2008, and was put into bottles about a year later. But its genesis goes back further than the birth of its younger sibling, Epic Pale Ale. The first award-winning hop-driven beer Luke produced was Cock & Bull’s Monk’s Habit.

Monk’s Habit is confusingly labelled as a Belgian IPA by some, thanks to it allegedly started life as a Belgian-style abbey ale. But Luke describes it as being closer to an American amber ale, or a red IPA. Either way, it was damn good, winning the Supreme Champion award at the New Zealand beer awards twice.

“Armageddon has been around in 2008…but go far back enough and I was making the biggest, hoppiest beers in New Zealand back in 1999,” Luke says. “That’s a whole chapter that has been forgotten, or is not talked about, or is not known. I have had people saying Epic Pale Ale is a mainstream beer; ‘it’s always been around, so I’m going to be drinking new beers’. And people say, ‘I had Armageddon or Epic Pale Ale for the first time in ages, and it’s still great’.

“I have seen a number of brewers who seem to get the hops they have got, put in a hand and pick them out at random. They are not thinking about the flavours that marry together, but come up with one that work against each other and are quite unpleasant.

“Just because it’s new doesn’t make it good. I know a good hoppy beer when I drink one.”

Just like many beer drinkers, Luke graduated through a range of ever more hop-driven beers. While Sierra Nevada’s gorgeous Pale Ale – a brilliant showcase of US-grown Cascade hops, just like Epic Pale Ale – was the first hop-driven beer Luke tried, it was the same brewery’s Celebration Ale that really got him going.

“There was a lot more caramel sweetness, but it had that big burst of American resinous hop character. That had a big influence on Monk’s Habit and, years later, Armageddon.

IPA was not the insanely popular beer style it is now when Luke was first getting into brewing beers like Monk’s Habit and Epic Pale Ale. He says there were 199 beers entered into the New Zealand beer awards when Monk’s Habit took home a trophy under his brewing stewardship. However, there were 213 beers solely in the IPA category at the 2015 Australian International Beer Awards (which, FYI, included IPAs from Ballast Point and Lagunitas).

“Everyone wants to be making IPAs. It has the most entries in all the competitions you enter. To win that, it’s a big fucking deal.”

Luke has a rather interesting analogy for how his IPA brewing methods evolved – extreme sports.

“You can probably compare it to skateboarding or BMX or motocross. Until someone has done that triple flip, it hasn’t been done before. You’re the guy going up and down the ramp and then woah, someone does a 360 or 720.

“Over time, hops became more and more important. Now, it’s just stupid.”

But the key to a good IPA has not changed over time for Luke.

“Probably one of the things I learned very early on, back in 1999, was that the feedback [on his award-winning hoppy beers] was ‘very balanced’. It is not about ‘let’s make it brutally bitter’ or ‘massively alcoholic’.”

The other way to make a good IPA is really rather obvious.

“Just use the best ingredients you can. A lot of the time, that means you are going to have to pay a bit more. You can’t make good wine if your juice is crap to start with. It is the same with beer, and I think a lot of people get caught up with the romance of certain types of malt and hops. They have brought into it for whatever reason, but is that the best ingredient they can use? Do you want the cheapest or the best beer? If you want the best, why would you even make mediocre? I want to make the best, and if it’s going to cost more then that’s it. At this price point, I can hopefully provide your value.”

If a single beer like Armageddon keeps cleaning out awards, despite the fact those awards are being won with different batches of that beer, and you can pick it up for less than $10 a bottle, it appears you are getting good value for money. But there is one award Luke has yet to grab – a gold medal at the World Beer Cup. Unlike most beer competitions, which award multiple bronze, silver and gold medals depending on how beers conform to style guildelines, the World Beer Cup runs like the Olympics of beer: one gold, one silver, one bronze.

Luke is hopeful of a medal at the World Beer Cup, for the only beer he can realistically enter – Armageddon.

“All my other beers come back too hoppy for style, but if put above or beside that style, it’s not enough malt or ABV or something. Armageddon the only one in the sweet spot for the style we make.

“It’s probably got a chance, but a long shot. It is a 1-in-500 chance.”

 

He also points out the fact the Armageddon which will be judged in late April/early May will have been brewed in January. It then had to be shipped to Australia, then sent to the United States, then held until it is sent to the location where judging takes place. Luke acknowledges packaging is probably more important than brewing skill at that point.

But for him, it seems making delicious, hop-driven beers is his goal, regardless of whatever medals or trophies he wins along the way.

“As long as you are doing something you are passionate about, you are going to succeed. And I Just love pale ale and IPA.”

Further reading

*A Cock and Bull Story is a good place to discover the depressingly Capitalistic reason why you can no longer drink Monk’s Habit.

*This piece by former Epic Brewing brewer Kelly Ryan (now of Fork Brewing fame) gives a great insight into how important it is to pay attention to how a beer – Epic Pale Ale in this case – can change over time.

*luke.co.nz is the place to keep up with anything Luke Nicholas thinks is worth reading about.

Southtrack

*It’s The End Of The World by R.E.M. gave me the title of this blog. Get it? End of the world…Armageddon…I feel fine…because Armageddon is yummy…yeah. It’s also a banger of a tune.

Pilsner? Pale ale? Yeah? Right.

Godzone-PortRd

In the age of Twitter, being outraged has never been easier. Copy link, bash the retweet button a few times, use 140 characters to say FUCK YOU BRO and you are done. If everyone else on your feed seems to agree with you, you are vindicated. (Never mind the fact that you probably don’t follow people who enrage you). Back to scrolling the timeline, looking for another digital crusade, ready to retweet a loltastic gif.

It is easy, too, to get on The Right Side of almost any debate in the beer world. It is a community of people who tend to agree on almost all beery issues: misogyny sucks, open your wallet when friends need help, etc. The Kiwi beer community in particular appears has a rather good bullshit radar, which, combined with a low tolerance for anything that shows up, makes for mostly-justified social media pile-ons lively debate.

One issue that gets kicked every so often, like the tyres on the neighbour’s rust bucket that is slowly decaying on their front lawn, is DB’s continuous bullshit-slinging that is Tui – East India Pale Ale. It is the East India Pale Ale that is the issue, since Tui is always winning medals in the New Zealand Lager class at the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards. As much as I find it mildly entertaining to read reviews from people who drink it thinking it will do what it says on the tin, and using Tui’s tagline against it can still get chuckles from certain groups of people  (“East India Pale Ale? Yeah right.”), the joke became cringe-worthy long ago. The kicker is the fact Tui is a New Zealand Draught – a beer described in most judging notes as being similar to a sweet amber lager. But Tui is easy to go after, both because it says it is one thing when blatantly is another, and is made by a company with a track record of doing stupid things – most noticeably That Radler Thing.

At the 2015 Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards, a beer brewed with an ale yeast won the New Zealand Lager category, and a beer brewed with a lager yeast won the Pale Ale category. Since the awards, I have had a question banging around in my head: how the hell does that happen? It did not really make sense to me. Lager uses lager yeast, while ale uses ale yeast. That is how it works, right?

Well, no.

North End Brewing’s Kieran Haslett-Moore is doing great things with barrels and wild fermentation, but is also one of many brewers using an ale yeast strain – White Lab’s WLP001 California Ale – to make both ale and lager styles. He does it for three reasons: logistics, speed and taste.

“From a logistical point of view, it’s easier for breweries to use less strains of yeast, just for yeast management. It’s much easier to keep track of one strain or, in our case, two strains [American and English ale]. There’s only two beers [a lager strain] would be used for.”

While Kieran says the length of time it takes to make a beer with lager strains is often overstated, an ale strain is quicker. But it is his view on flavour – it is the main reason you drink beer, right? – that is most interesting.

“A certain brewer originally used a lager yeast, then went to a house ale yeast. I thought the beer improved a lot. Then they changed their mind and went back to lager yeast, and I didn’t like that beer for quite a while. Then they swamped back to the ale yeast, and suddenly won a big award with that beer.”

The fact Kieran finds it hard to name New Zealand breweries using lager strains to make pilsners, but spits out half a dozen using ale strains with no issue – he also laughs after saying “I don’t think there’s any problem with using a lager strain for a NZ pilsner” – shows many brewers think along the same line. But does that simply mean they are making New Zealand golden ales?

There is a distinct difference between the two, Kieran says. “Pilsner is going to be a wee bit drier. Maybe a little less emphasis on the dry hop character.” New Zealand pilsners are also stronger than golden ales, with the analysis done to create the style putting them as strong as 6.5 per cent ABV. Kieran says a good bridge between the styles is Three Boys Golden Ale – “super pale, one base malt, same colour as a pilsner” – but too weak to fit into the New Zealand Pilsner style.

“Emerson’s is obviously the classic [New Zealand pislner]…and they have always used house yeast for it. It was created to try and fill the void left over summer…when they couldn’t get Maris Otter, so couldn’t brew their golden ale [Maris Gold]. It was made to fill the slot of a golden ale that over summer they couldn’t produce, which was a big mover for them.

“Golden ales were brewed by English brewers to replace lagers, and then NZ pilsner, in some regards, was created in order to replace golden ale.”

The thing that makes it possible to make lager styles with ale yeast is, well, the yeast. Brewing yeast breaks into two general families: top-fermenting strains, know as ale yeasts; and bottom-fermenting strains which are often dubbed lager yeasts.

WLP001 is technically an ale strain, due to the fact it ferments on top of wort. However, it shares 70 per cent of its genetic makeup with lager yeasts. And it shows in the brewing process. Kieran says WLP001 and similar yeasts tend to behave like lager yeasts – “neutral, not much ester development, sulfur” – so they are a natural fit for a brewer wanting lager-like beers without the fuss of mucking around with various kinds of yeast.

“Historically, ale breweries used open fermentation and dish-bottom or flat-bottom vessels, while lager breweries used the conical tanks that we use now. We sort of brew all our beers like their lagers. Yeast reacts to the environment that it’s in. If we had it in open ferments and scraping the top so yeasts rise again…it’s going to react really different than if we put it in a conical, which encourages the yeast to drop out to the bottom of the tank. We force these yeasts to behave more like lager yeasts

“I think that’s what’s confusing about ale and lager. It’s both yeast strain species dictated, but also process. So it’s the process plus the strain makes a lager as opposed to an ale.”

But what if you flip this on its head, and get a brewer making award-winning pale ale with a lager strain? Well, you get Kelly Ryan of Fork Brewing making Godzone Beat. In a world where it seems everyone is sticking with some derivitive of WLP001 as a house yeast, he is using a California Common yeast – a bottom-fermenting strain which does not give off lots of esters at higher temperatures.

To him, the argument about yeast is mostly stupid. Case and point is the brewer Kelly knows who uses a Belgian-style yeast to make a clean lager.

“We don’t bat an eyelid at someone using New Zealand hops in a British IPA. For some reason, yeast is a little bit more sacriligious. It all comes down to that term ‘lager’. It’s only a type of beer because non-German markets decided it.

“The yeast strain doesn’t make the beer. It is how you, as a brewer, manipulate the variables you need to get beer with flavour and aroma you want. Everyone has their own modus operandi.”

At Fork and Brewer – the brewpub behind the Fork Brewing brand – people will come in wanting someone like Panhead Supercharger APA or Epic Armageddon IPA. Kelly says he makes beers similar to those (Base Jumper, Base Isolator, Godzone Beat, etc), and no one comments about the fact his beers were fermented with a lager strain.

It is much the same at beer competitions, which Kelly is often called to judge at. “When judging, we never talk about the yeast. It’s about flavour, aroma, bitterness, and certain specifics. It’s not about what was used to make the beer.”

A flick through the style guide for the 2015 Brewers Guild of New Zealand shows yeast is not an essential factor in almost all styles. There are mentions of esters, phenolics, farmhouse- and  Brettanomyces-type characteristics. But, apart from sake-yeast beers, there is never an expressed requirement for a beer to be made with a specific kind of yeast.

Fermentation temperature, how aerated the wort is, how much yeast is pitched – Kelly says they all play a part in getting the yeast to behave in a certain way, which will hopefully create the desired result.”Yeast is the workhorse, and the brewer can manipulate it.”

Kelly sure has created the desired result with Godzone Beat. At least, that is what a bunch of judges, and my own tastebuds, tell me. If his means, and those of many other brewers, are well justified by the ends, then we all may as well just keep happily drinking said ends.

Further reading

*’Do Beer Drinkers Get What we Pay For?from Martin Craig – now found at Beertown – is more of a rant about Tui. But this is a case where you should read the comments.

*’Trophies and truth-telling is, quite simply, Phil Cook doing what he does best.

Soundtrack

Severe by My Disco. You will either get it, or tell it to get in the sea.