I spent the majority of my years in Wellington in a wobbly office block on Riddiford Street in Newtown. Amid the constant threat of collapse in the event of a decent shake, one of the redeeming features of that block was its proximity to Good Beer Stuff. On the main street of Newtown lay the legendary craft beer joint Bar Edward – now called Moon – which made Friday-night work-drinks a joy; and Adelaide Road’s Brew House was a crucial hang-out in my early days of homebrewing.
But a solid stone-throw from the Brew House was the real reason that I loved working on Riddiford Street: Wellington’s preeminent bottle shop, Regional Wines and Spirits. Back then, Regionals would put-on an excellent (and free) tasting on a Friday evening; and the man who was invariably standing behind the tasting table is the star of this week’s Mixed Six.
I first met Kieran Haslett-Moore at one of those Friday night tastings: Kieran was the beer specialist for Regionals, and these tastings were just one of the ways that he was expanding the public’s knowledge about what beer could really be. The style on that particular Friday was Burton Ale – a boozy British bitter with oodles of rich malt character. Kieran started the tasting by introducing the international examples of the style; then, reaching from under the table, he produced a nondescript rigger. As he poured, he explained that this was Gone For A Burton, a collaborative brew that he had made with the good folk at Twisted Hop Brewery in Christchurch. (Tangential note: changes are afoot at Twisted Hop – search for them on Trade Me to catch what I mean.) The beer completely blew my mind: it remains one of the best-made beers I’ve ever had, and it directed me away from manic hop-philia down a pathway of malt appreciation.
Not long after that night, Kieran took the plunge into commercial brewing – opening North End Brewing in Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast a few years ago. (The beers I’ve had from North End have been excellent; Oud Bruin Flanders Brown is a personal fave.) For this instalment of the Mixed Six series, Kieran has very kindly dusted-off his beer-writing fingers – he used to have a regular column in the Capital Times – and jotted-down the six beer styles that he simply couldn’t live without. It’s a pearler list; and as always, the words are his own.
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Ordinary Bitter is the style that most often features in my dreams. The glorious, perfect, poised balance of sweet nutty toffee malt, earthy spicy hops and fruity warm yeast character. It’s actually a deceptively difficult style to brew well, the best examples are sessionable, complex and are interesting without getting in the way of sociability. A big part of my love for these beers is that they carry flavour without high levels of alcohol – I like to drink, so being able to drink multiple pints without falling over or falling asleep is a big plus for me. My blue print for the style and favourite example is Galbraith’s Bob Hudsons. I discovered it going on 20 years ago and it blew my mind. But I also pine for the beers of Fullers, Timothy Taylors, Harveys and Shepherd Neame. Cheddar, crusty bread, pork scratchings, pork pie, pickled eggs, pickled onions, pints eternal, thus heaven would be.
We probably brew as much Saison and Grisette as anyone else in NZ. The combination of attenuative spicy fruity yeast character with herbal hop character, an edge of wild yeast and perhaps a touch of bacterial acidity is super appealing. I have always come to beer from a food angle and these beers are perhaps the most food friendly of all. Terrine, cornichons and Saison hell yes, but also lamb stew and Saison, peppery smoked pastrami and Saison, Waterzooi and Saison, eggs Benedict and Saison… At the sessionable end I love De Ranke Saison de Dottignies while at the chest thumping end I love Dupont Avec les bons Vœux de la brasserie.
I love the reds and the browns of Flanders, however the browns are far more rare and so I think deserve their place here. The combination of rich dark malt, mature microbial fruitiness and cleansing firm acidity make these beers the perfect match to classic slow cooked beef of that same region. Liefeman’s Goudenband is the example by which all others are measured. It has however in recent years changed with less acetic notes and more fruit which I don’t think has been for the better. I also enjoy the Bacchus example which is at a more traditional lower alcohol level.
It’s interesting how Lager pops up time and time again in brewer top 6’s. Before my current profession I had about as much time for it as a Hobgoblin advertising campaign but now I love it. In part it’s the technical challenge, the simplicity of creating something perfect from one malt, one hop variety and a long cool ferment. It’s also that it is often the exact type of beer you want to drink at the end of a long brew day. I would give German examples but they are seldom in great nick down here in the bottle. When Tuatara’s example is in form I can drink it all day. Of course in practice I drink our own Pacific Blonde the most.
Perhaps Barley Wine is the absolute opposite end of British beer from Ordinary Bitter. Rich complex aged malt character, fruity fermentation, aged sherry like oxidation, and firm bitter hopping all combine to create a beer for savouring rather than sessioning. A glass of Barley Wine, a wedge of Stilton and a short path between arm chair and bed (or being a self-indulgent single man perhaps even consumed in bed) is the perfect end to a Sunday after the roast. I still have my lifetime supply of Thomas Hardy’s Ale, it is one of the greatest beers in the world. I also love the examples from Fullers, Golden Pride and Vintage Ale. Renaissance Tribute also needs honourable mention.
Those of us of a certain age all have tales of trying to take back/tip out our first experience with Lambic as we thought it was off. I get the feeling that drinkers discovering Lambic now often have much more info and guidance about what to expect which can only be good. Anyway it’s a beer style that I originally found to be a curiosity but now am obsessed with. Funky, tart and complex these beers fascinate me. Food wise I can never stray far from the cheese board and here a pungent washed rind with a tart funky Oude Geuze makes for an afternoon well spent. Cantillion is good no question, but I think Drie Fonteinen is my pick.
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So there it is: Kieran’s desert island mixed-six beer styles. It’s a superb selection, with possibly the lowest IBU of any list so far in this wee series: there seems to be a real dichotomy between the hop monsters that currently shift on the shelves and the palate of many of the brewers who are making them. I guess it’s like working at Subway; you can only eat so many meatball subs before you’re completely fu*king sick of them.
Things at North End Brewing are going from strength to strength: like all breweries around the country, they’re already gearing up for summer – and now that they’re exporting to the UK and Australia, the silly season is bound to be even sillier. There’s also a bunch of barrel-aged beers that are waiting to be bottled – a labour-intensive task that is surely fuelled more by passion than any hope of actually making a decent profit.
Kieran was once part of the new-school. He came up under the wing of guys like Richard Emerson, and spent years dedicated to learning the art and science of brewing. There’s no question that he’s now joined the table of New Zealand’s most influential brewers – producing excellent beer himself, and providing his services to the Brewer’s Guild as a top-notch judge, too. He’s come a long way from that tasting table at Regionals; and I for one am glad that he took a punt on himself and stepped into the breach.
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