St Luke promises to be a revelation

Luke Nicholas is celebrating 20 years as a brewer on January 17.
David Mackay

Luke Nicholas is celebrating 20 years as a brewer on January 17.

I was raised in a devout Catholic family … walking away from it all when I turned 18, much to my mother's distress, was one of the harder things I'd done at that short point in my life. After all, the church's modus operandi is to drill into you the fact you're hell-bound unless you keep up those rituals.

But a lot of the doctrine has stayed with me – including the names of many patron saints and the people, occupations or countries they advocate for. Most prominent in our house was St Jude, patron saint of lost causes – my mother was always praying to him. Then there was St Christopher (travellers), Francis of Assisi (animals) and our Lady of Loreto (aviators – my dad was a pilot).

But I was never told there were patrons saints of brewing. There's at least  five of them which just proves what a noble calling it is to make beer.

St Augustine I can understand – he being something of a wild drunk before his conversion; and St Arnold was a Belgian monk and brewer who saved his local parish during an epidemic by encouraging them to drink beer rather than infected water. There are others who claim the mantle of being a patron of brewers but most notable among them is St Luke, the same fellow who wrote one of the four gospels.

It's thought St Luke takes on brewery because he was a physician, and, you know, beer is healthy. Right?

Next week, a beer bearing the name of St Luke hits the shelves and it promises to be something of a revelation.

The beer has been created by Luke Nicholas of Epic Brewing to celebrate his 20 years of brewing. The release date is January 17, commemorating the day in 1997 when Nicholas started his first paying gig as an assistant brewer at the gone, but not forgotten, Cock & Bull chain.

St Luke is an amalgam of three famous beers, Monk's Habit, Epic Pale Ale and Epic Armageddon.
Epic Beer

St Luke is an amalgam of three famous beers, Monk's Habit, Epic Pale Ale and Epic Armageddon.

And the beer brings together three of the revolutionary beers Nicholas is best known for: Monk's Habit, Epic Pale Ale, and Epic Armageddon IPA.

Quite how Nicholas will bring together three beers into something of a holy trinity remains to seen, or tasted.

Kiwi beer aficionados get a little misty-eyed when they talk about Monk's Habit. It briefly started life as Belgian strong ale in the style of Chimay Blue but when Nicholas took over as head brewer at the  Cock & Bull he changed the recipe to an American-style hoppy ale inspired by Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale. That version of Monk's Habit was twice named New Zealand's supreme champion beer (1999, 2001), an honour that also went to Epic Pale Ale in 2006, while Armageddon remains New Zealand's most awarded beer.

Nicholas says St Luke will have some of the malt character from Monk's Habit, the citrus and rosewater character of the US Cascade hops used in Epic Pale Ale and some of the "secret" hops from Armageddon.

No matter how it comes together, it's sure to be tasty. That's the gospel truth.

CHANGING TIMES

 

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While Armageddon and Pale Ale are still the flagship beers in the Epic stable, Nicholas has been getting adventurous lately. First, there was the Stone Hammer series which delivered slightly sweeter styles (or at least perceived to be sweeter thanks to the avalanche of late hopping).

And his next off-beat project is a series of IPAs based around tweaking the Armageddon recipe. The Hysteria series is named for a Def Leppard album, and the first beer was Gods Of War, the title of a track off that album. So watch out for Rocket, Run Riot, Animal, Excitable and Pour Some Sugar On Me.

While the range will explore what can be done when you tweak a multi-award-winning recipe, Nicholas is committed to doing everything he can to get flavour out of hops, malt and yeast rather than play with adjuncts to create flavour. It's a simplicity he thinks will come back into fashion when punters get tired of various fruits and spices in their beer. 

"When I think back to 20 years ago when I started, it was all about making real beers … as opposed to, I won't call it chemical beer because that was such a dumb term, but beers made with processing aids and post-fermentation additives; industrial beers. Craft beer was about making it with malts, hops, yeast and water.

"Then people started adding stuff like grapefruit and chili … I don't know if that's sustainable or if it will last longer than a generation because it becomes too gimmicky and people won't want to keep drinking a mango-chili-pineapple IPA … yeah, it's nice but I don't want to drink it all the time.

"All those people looking for the next new thing and writing notes … and I know what it's like because I went through that phase myself … they will a reach place when they will ask themselves: 'hang on why do I do I drink beer?'. Yes, it's the taste and the flavour but more importantly it's the social factor.

"You drink beer with your mates … beer has always been a social lubricant, it hasn't been about ticking boxes and trying the next one. It's fallen out of balance and it has to come back. Yes, you can enjoy the beer but the point is not to sit there all night and pull apart your pint to work out the malt and hops … talk about that for a couple of sips but not for the whole pint.

"The point of beer is to bring us together to have a conversation and have some fun."

Nicholas can see a new wave of beer that "comes back to simplicity – not quite reinheitsbegot [German purity law] but beer made with the four basic ingredients."

As for Nicholas himself? Nothing's going to change: "I love IPA and I love hops. I want to be remembered for making IPAs. Good IPAs. And I want to keep that message simple and clear – Epic is a one trick pony but you know what the message is."

www.beernation.co.nz

 - Your Weekend

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