Home brew countdown time again

The annual SOBA National Home Brew Competition is coming up fast.

Entries close Saturday 22 October, so it’s time to get brewing now. Details are available here.

This year the event is judged in Christchurch, for the first time in five years of competition. The organisers include at least one respected commercial brewer, so this is a unique opportunity to present your brewing talents to the industry.

NB – do not on any account enter a commercial beer just for the craic. That is against the rules. Rule number two to be specific.

Good luck!

Fresh really is best

Earlier this month I was one of the judges for Consumer magazine’s latest beer review.

The results will be published soon, so I’m not going to scoop them here. But one of the most obvious trends was that beers we know and love off the tap let themselves down when served from the bottle. Many tasted tired, some were obviously oxidised, and one or two were probably light-struck. One gushered on opening.

Consumer magazine buys its test goods from retailers, just as consumers do. For this test, the beer was purchased at Wellington supermarkets that have good beer ranges. In the past, some wine competitions have been scammed by fraudulent winemakers submitting entries that were not available commercially. Consumer’s system avoids this scam.

One of the great pleasures in visiting a brewery is tasting the beer at its freshest. Even the most ordinary beers can taste great straight out of the brewer’s tanks. The difference isn’t simply the result of aging – it is also the result of bottling, transport and storage.

Bottling is one process the brewer has some control over. The Consumer test results suggest bigger, more modern bottling plants produce better results than some of the smaller or older plants.

Transport is another significant factor. Don’t assume the beer you buy at the supermarket has been delivered straight from the brewery. Supermarket chains like to centralise stock deliveries, and this could mean the beer is trucked to a large distribution centre in Auckland, then trucked to you supermarket. Ironically, if you’re looking for beer from a local brewery, it might have travelled twice as far as a beer produced near the distribution centre.

Poor storage can also damage the beer. The best way to store beer is to keep it in my garage, where it’s dark and cool all year round. Just drop it off at my back door and I’ll look after it for you. Unrefrigerated storerooms and supermarket shelves do the product no favours, and storage under bright fluorescent light causes light-strike.

So what can we do as buyers to ensure we get the best quality for our beer-buying buck? One obvious solution is to support good bars serving craft beer on tap, and help them to ensure the stock is turned over promptly. It’s the same with bottled beer – buy from a busy store with fast stock turnover, and don’t be afraid to check for best before dates to get the freshest stock available.

And don’t forget that good beer can be delivered straight to your door, either from breweries or from specialist beer traders. If there’s no good beer retailer in your town, check out some of the links on the right and deal directly with someone who treats beer with respect.

Brewers have a part to play too. Their products’ reputation and sales depend on competent delivery and storage, and retailers should be educated about how to look after beer and sell it at its freshest. Supermarkets all accept direct delivery of bread, for example, and those that accept direct beer deliveries will have superior products to those that insist on centralised deliveries.

Let me know your experiences and recommendations for good and bad beer retailers. Have you ever returned a bottle of beer because it wasn’t up to scratch? What sort of response did you get?


© Martin Craig, August 2011. Reproduction with permission.

Confessions of a Beervana volunteer

Like many other NZ beer fans, I spent much of last weekend at Beervana in Wellington.

I’ve been going to Beervana and its precedents for nearly ten years now, both as a punter and as a member of the news media. This year I also volunteered and spent the busy Saturday night session manning the Festive Brews bar.

Volunteering is a great way to get behind the scenes at our bigest beer event. Although you also get a free session, volunteering isn’t just an easy way to blag a free ticket. From my experience,it’s hard work, standing on hard, slippery concrete for four hours while pumping out prime craft beer as quickly as possible.

The theme for the Festive Brews was ‘Let’s Go…Black!’, to coincide with the forthcoming [MAJOR_SPORTS_EVENT]. Fittingly, most of the entrants were strong too.

This meant we were very busy when we opened, as visitors wanted to try the limited-edition Festive Brews before they ran out. We had a quiet spell in the middle as our high alcohol beers encouraged punters to pace themselves, then a strong finish in the final hour.

Some of the crowd favourites were Sale St Brewery’s Nana Bennett’s Xmas Ale, with its distinct Christmas pudding flavours; Goldent Ticket Brewing’s The Emperor Strikes Black (my favourite too); Three Boy’s All Black Balls Stout; and Tuatara’s XI which was quite possibly the strongest beer in the room at 10.5% abv.

8 Wired’s Festivus 2011 was the most popular beer at our stand, a fitting favourite as 8 Wired won the Champion New Zealand Brewery at BrewNZ (a very popular decision).

Other impressions:

  • About a third of Saturday night’s visitors were women, with many younger than 30. This certainly wasn’t happening at beer events five or ten years ago.
  • Brewers were less visible this year, possibly due to Beervana’s new business structure. This is a shame, as meeting brewers has been a highlight in previous years.
  • I sold a highly-collectable NZBeerBlog t-shirt! I might even get paid for it!
  • Beer is lovely stuff when its presented in a crisp clean glass. Otherwise it is sticky, slippery and very heavy.
  • No, we don’t have a lager.
  • A half-glass cost 1 token, and a full glass of stronger beers cost 3 tokens. No, I don’t know why. Yes I do know 1+1=2.
  • Fifty people wearing matching yellow t-shirts with big question marks look disturbingly like the Riddler’s henchmen.

Beervana will be around in its new format for a few years yet, judging from the obvious investment in new signage, furniture and bar fittings. Volunteer next year if you want to get involved and gain a behind-the-scenes view of the action.

Thanks to David Cryer for running the event and to Steph Coutts for her efficient volunteer co-ordination.


Copyright Martin Craig, August 2011. Reproduction with permission.
Twitter @nzbeerblog

Craft beer census – draft results

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the craft beer census. We have had good returns from around the country, with an exceptional commitment from the Nelson crew.

The results to date are available here: Draft beer census

The craft beer industry is growing fast, and this census will give us a benchmark to track the growth into the future. The goal is to identify every non-Lion/DB beer tap in bars and cafes in New Zealand. NB – that excludes private venues such as RSAs, sports clubs, fishing clubs, messes, staff clubs etc. The final results will be made public at no cost – this isn’t a commercial venture.

While the response has been great, I know these draft results are not complete. If you know of a bar or cafe serving craft beer on tap, please get in touch with me by email.

Bar owners, brewers and distributors – let me know what’s available and I’ll add it to the list.


Martin Craig martin@nzbeerblog.com

Twitter @nzbeerblog

Emerson’s Dark Beauties – 2011 Master Class

Richard Emerson and Geoff Griggs gave their annual Master Class at Regional Wines a few days ago.

This has become one of the highlights of this beer fan’s calendar for a few years now. In the past Richard has taken a Willie Wonka approach to the Master Class, and given us an insight into techniques and ingredients used in some of the experimental and seasonal Emerson’s brews.

This year it was a different tack, as we were taken through some of the dark beer styles from the Emerson’s range, matched with different foods.

We got off to a mild start with the limited-release Emerson’s Dark Mild. Although it’s made with Belgian pale yeasts malts, wheat, carapils and chocolate malt teamed with New Zealand hops, this is a loving take on the traditional English mild. This one impressed the Prisoners of Mother England in the room, and it’s on tap a few lucky venues right now.

Regional Special Bitter was next, the second batch of the collaboration brew made by Emerson’s and Regional Wines and Spirits own Kieran Haslett-Moore. Kieran is an accomplished brewer (and blogger) who appreciates English styles. Made with East Kent Golding and Styrian Golding hops, and served off the hand pump, this one has a spicy nose and marmalade citrus flavours underlying a rich toffee sweetness. Kieran is a former cheesemonger and paired his beer with Barrys Bay Mature Cheddar – my pick of the food pairings.

My pick of the brews was Emerson’s Southern Clam Stout. This beer is the only one in the world to use Otago Harbour cockles in the kettle boil. It is black and briny, with smokiness and charred burnt flavours. Try it head to head with Three Boys Oyster Stout.

The full menu was:
Emerson’s Dark Mild (3% abv)
Regional Special Bitter (5.2%) with Barrys Bay Mature Cheddar
Emerson’s Dunkel Weiss (6.3%) with pears
Emerson’s Weizenbock 2010 (8%) with spicy pork
Emerson’s London Porter (4.9%) with Whittaker’s Dark Ghana chocolate
Emerson’s Southern Clam Stout 2010 (6%) with smoked mussels
Emerson’s trial Dubbel (8%) with green grapes
Emerson’s JP 2009 (8%) with pineapple lumps
Emerson’s Taieri George 2011 (6.8%) with dark fruitcake

As I said last year, the Master Class is a great event and you should get there if you can. It is always good value for money and an entertaining afternoon, especially when Richard in is Willie Wonka mode and revealing an experiment or two.

See you there next year.

©Martin Craig, July 2011 martin@nzbeerblog.com
Twitter @nzbeerblog

How SOBA won the Radler case

There has been a lot of anguish and hand wringing over the IPONZ Radler decision released last week. One SOBA committee member described the decision to me as ‘a bad day for New Zealand”.

I disagree. SOBA did extremely well out of the decision and won everything it could expect to win.

Point One: SOBA has generated national and overseas interest in the matter, and almost all of the feedback has supported SOBA while criticising both IPONZ and DB. Achieving publicity and support is a win.

Point Two: SOBA survived. This was not guaranteed and I don’t think most SOBA members and supporters realise how much was at stake here. DB generously chose not to require SOBA to meet DB’s legal expenses, which could have cost us $10,000-$15,000+ depending on how lawyers charge their time.

SOBA started this fight. DB trademarked Radler with no objections. It later asked a competitor to recognise its trademark, and the competitor did so. SOBA then took on one of the most powerful corporations in New Zealand. SOBA knew the stakes and knew DB could seek legal costs. This was a bold move for a small, not-for-profit society. SOBA’s continued existence is a win.

Point Three: This case effectively prevents any other beer styles from being registered trademarks. DB’s case, which IPONZ accepted, was based on a general public ignorance of the radler beer style. SOBA has sent a powerful signal to IPONZ that beer styles are not acceptable trademarks and any attempts to register one will be challenged. IPONZ and potential registrants will have noticed SOBA’s position and we won’t see any other styles successfully trademarked. This is a win.

Point Four: This decision has no effect on the beer styles available to New Zealand drinkers. While it ridiculously prevents radler imports, the reality is that radler is a low-alcohol style that will not travel well.

Similarly, every New Zealand brewer is free to add fizzy to its lager and sell it as shandy. This won’t breach the trademark, and it will be better recognised by customers. There are few, if any, craft shandies available in New Zealand, and this shows the decision does not restrict consumers’ choice.

For the record, I think IPONZ’s decision was plain dumb. Basing trademark validity on consumer ignorance is bad logic and bad practice. Few Germans will have heard of a hangi, but we would be upset if it was trademarked there and a New Zealand business was asked to stop using the term, especially if the German used it to sell kangaroo burgers. IPONZ’s ‘regulation through ignorance’ policy has potential to put overseas investors off our business environment.

DB played it straight and trademarked what it could. It protected its trademark against a competitor. In doing so, it damaged its brand immeasurably. Monteiths was portrayed as DB’s contribution to the craft beer scene, with a hint of the West Coast Larrikin. DB has destroyed that image and proven Radler and its mates are just brands in a corporate portfolio. Its miner’s spade logo should be replaced by a law book and a calculator.

DB is still vulnerable to the risk of a consumer law case, challenging the accuracy of its labelling and the ethics of promoting a full-strength beer as a low-alcohol style. Perhaps a case could be made through the Fair Trading Act and Consumer Guarantees Act.

So all up, well done to SOBA and its volunteer advisors. You didn’t get everything you hoped for. But you achieved everything you realistically could, and survived at considerable risk. You put IPONZ on notice that its silly-buggery will not be tolerated in future. Your position has been widely publicised and you have lots of support.

Well done guys. Cheers!

Declaration of interest: I am a SOBA member. This post is entirely my own opinion. It does not reflect SOBA’s position, and it has not been show to any other SOBA members before posting.

View the full decision here.

IPONZ wants your feedback here.

DB wants your feedback here

© Martin Craig July 2011
Intermittent and confusing tweets are available @nzbeerblog

Free Beervana tickets available now!

It’s not too late to score your ticket to Beervana, New Zealand’s bestest indoor craft beer event.

It’s on next month on 5th and 6th August at Westpac Stadium, Wellington.

Beervana volunteers get a free ticket, Beervana T-shirt and souvenir glass, and a food and beer allowance.

On top of that, you get to spend another session representing a Beervana exhibitor, serving excellent beer, and passing on your passion for great beer. Trust me, you’ll be popular.

Beervana operates over four sessions on the Friday and Saturday, and each volunteer session earns you one free session. Volunteer spots are still available at most sessions, but be in fast.

To signup go here.

I’ll see you there.

Martin Craig

The rights and wrongs of contract brewing

Contract brewing has been raising waves across the Tasman. The debate started at Australian Brews News, and contract brewing was one of the topics that inspired This Way Up to look at New Zealand craft brewing last month.

Much of the Australian discussion centred on McLaren Vale Beer Company. McLaren Vale is in South Australia, and McLVBCo.’s beer is contract brewed in Sydney while a brewery is being built in McLaren Vale itself.

McLaren Vale is a wine producing region, and is named after the international motorsport team founded by New Zealander Bruce McLaren. Not everyone knows that. As a wine producing region, it jealously protects is labelling, and some have seen McVBCo.’s approach as being deceptive.

I struggle to have any problem with McVBCo.’s contract brewing. For one thing, the place where a beer is made has little influence on its taste. I’m much more interested in where the ingredients come from. US, English and New Zealand hops, for example, are all very different and don’t we love them for it. A beer made in New Zealand with US hops can accurately call itself an American Pale Ale – the fact it isn’t made in America does not make the label misleading.

I think there are some cultural differences between New Zealand and Australian beer fans, because I just don’t see any ethical problem with contract brewing. Perhaps it comes from parochialism and loyalty to their state, but I suspect there are factors to this debate that we don’t know about over here. Speaking personally, I think of all New Zealand craft brewers as being interesting. I don’t favour, say, North Island brewers over South Island ones just because I live on the North Island.

Here in New Zealand we have a healthy tradition of contract brewing in the craft beer industry. Yeastie Boys may have started the trend, and I’ve never heard anyone complain that their product is actually made in Invercargill and not in Wellington.

Contract brewing allows brewers to make use of spare capacity and get access to new ideas and recipes. It allows the contractors to brew in bulk and take advantage of the brewers’ commercial experience.

The only catch I can see is commercial, rather than ethical. Contract brewing works by paying a fee to the brewer – somewhere between 25c/l and $2.50/l depending on the deal, according to those in the industry. As production increases, it can reach a point where it would be cheaper to own your own equipment and get some economies of scale.

Rather than arguing over ethics, New Zealanders have been rushing to get into contract brewing this year. One of the most popular beers at the Matariki Festival was the contract-brewed Brewaucracy’s Punkin’ Image Ltd. Parrot Dog Brewing has just put down its first batch, contract-brewed at Mikes in Taranaki. Mikes has also linked up with Liberty to produce the very excellent indeed Taranaki Pale Ale. And of course, Yeastie Boys, 8 Wired and Epic have been using the contract brewing model for years.

Collaboration brews take contract brewing a step further, and this is a growing trend here too. Various star brewers have been visiting Galbraith’s brewery in Auckland to produce special one-off beers collaboratively, and Rescue Red is a charity fundraiser collaboration between Yeastie Boys, 8 Wired and Renaissance.

I like our approach here. The craft beer industry is too small for cutthroat competition, and collaborating to make better beer while growing the overall market is the way to go.

© Martin Craig July 2011
Twittering @nzbeerblog

Choose one – but don’t choose the Chosen One

It would have been difficult to miss the Independent Liquor’s ‘Chosen One’ campaign. Large newspaper ads and a heavily promoted website invite beer drinkers to register as one of 999 lucky beer fans who get to choose Independent’s new craft lager.

Just for the record, I didn’t register. The sample pack arrived unsolicited, with a covering letter telling me “we have for you a Boundary Road Brewery tasting pack so you can pass judgement on our beers and let us know the brew you think should go on sale as The Chosen One.”

Some beer fans have been cynical about the campaign, but, as I wrote when I received the sample, any exercise that gets people thinking about beers, and acknowledges drinkers can discriminate between them, is OK with me.

There’s no point in simply ranking the three beers against each other – I wanted to know how they rated against other beers of the same style. So I organised a blind tasting with fellow beer blogger Phil Cook and included three other lagers in the tasting.

Our six test beers included other Boundary Road Brewery products and one craft lager:
Boundary Road Chosen One batch A
Boundary Road Chosen One batch B
Boundary Road Chosen One batch C
Boundary Road NZ Pure Lager
Boundary Road Ranfurly Frontier Lager
Mussel Inn Golden Goose Lager

One beer was easily our preferred lager and was far above the others. All other five beers showed serious flaws. The flaws include oxidation, diacetyl and acetylaldehyde, and it was difficult to distinguish any real preference between these five.

Our blind rankings were:
1st Mussel Inn Golden Goose Lager
Slight haze; dry, grassy aroma; balance of malt and hops with malt sweetness in aftertaste; rich mouthfeel for a lager. A clear preference in this group.

2nd Boundary Road NZ Pure Lager
Clear appearance with white head; malty nose with hint of diacetyl; toasty malt tending towards NZ Draught flavours, some acetlyaldehyde; thin mouthfeel.

3rd Boundary Road Chosen One batch B
Clear, white head with good retention; some sulphur on nose; flavour of sugary sweetness overlying acetlyaldehyde.

4th Boundary Road Chosen One batch A
Clear, while head; solventy, vegetal aroma; flavour thin and metallic; watery mouthfeel with coarse carbonation.

5th Boundary Road Chosen One batch C
Clear, white head; Unpleasant fumy, sulphurous aroma; flavour oxidised, thin, sour.

6th Boundary Road Ranfurly Frontier Lager
Golden yellow, white head; aroma of sulphur and damp newsprint; flavour thin and sour with low carbonation.

So there it is – of the three Chosen One samples, batch B was our preference. But that beer rated third out of six, and was beaten by Independent Liquor’s own NZ Pure Lager. None of the Chosen One samples was much good and I believe you will be able to get better value for your money when the chosen beer is launched in August.

Independent Liquor refers to The Chosen One campaign as “launching our new craft range”. It will be disappointing if beer buyers taste any of The Chosen One products I tasted and think they are representative of craft beer. The samples I was given showed fundamental flaws of the kind I experience when judging home brews.

Anyone who pays good money for The Chosen One will come away thinking craft beer is nasty stuff that gives a mean hangover, and the overall craft industry could suffer from this false impression.
©Martin Craig June 2011
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NZBeerBlog Radio

Last week the RadioNZ National show ‘Ths Way Up’ took a look at the spectacular success and growth of the craft beer scene in NZ. Inverviewer Simon Morton spoke to me about the scence, with an emphasis on contract brewing.

You can here the piece here.

NB – I got it wrong on the costs of contract brewing. I said it cost 2.5c/l to 25c/l, but I’m told I’m being too cheap. Stu McKinlay tells me it costs 25c/l to $2.50/l. The error is entirely on my part and sorry for any confusion.


Martin Craig

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