Blaming your beer-making tools

A good tradesperson never blames their tools.

I am no builder/carpenter/constructor of useful objects, but I know that is nearly always the case.

But what if the tradesperson makes their own tools for years, has been using them to build some of the best houses in recent history, and then has trouble using a new tool he bought? 

In that case, I think they would be justified to mutter a few expletives before throwing their new hammer into the nearest bin.

And while Carl Vasta may be a big man - large enough to spawn Game of Thrones references - the staff working at Tuatara Brewing on Monday last week must have be glad he is not strong enough to throw 500L copper tanks across rooms.

Monday was the day when he and I were to brew our media brew for Beervana: a beer that would be pitted against others made by journalists and professional brewers across the country, in something of a libatious Anchorman-like newsroom battle.

I had spent the day before pillaging The Esplanade for our compulsory New Zealand-native ingredient, which would compliment the flavours of our spring-themed beer.

After an early morning drive to Paraparaumu and a cup of coffee, we started brewing.

And it all turned to crap within an hour.

After milling our grain - a base of pilsner malt complemented by rye and wheat - we mashed in.

Mashing in is like making porridge: mix grain with liquid and leave at the right temperature until the starches turn into sugars.

Usually you would mash at about 65C, but rye and wheat are notorious for turning what should be a thick-but-porous mash into an unpassable gloop.

However, this can be countered by slowly raising the temperature of the mash from 40C.

Instead of brewing a typical Tuatara-sized batch of beer - 8000L - we were working on the newly-purchased 500L pilot brewery.

Almost all breweries worth their salt have a smaller setup, which they will use to experiment with new flavours and techniques, but this was the first time it was being used to raise the temperature of a mash.

A stirring arm should have kept the mash moving as it heated, preventing it from sticking to the bottom.

But, in short, we burned the porridge; the stir arm did not work as it was supposed to, and we were left with no choice but to dump the batch.

''I'm very critical of set-ups,'' Vasta said at one point before it all went south.

He has every right to be. After all, he is famed for using his engineering skills to build big chunks of the brewery at its former site in Reikorangi.

It was there he grew Tuatara from a home business into one of this country's most respected beer brands, capable of brewing 4 million litres of beer per year.

But instead of throwing a hissy fit, he as good as shrugged his shoulders, said we would dump it and planned give it another go the next day.

And he did, sans me, and it worked out great.

Well, great so far.

To find out if our beer turns out well in the end, head along to Beervana next month.

Alternatively, if you're lucky, a keg may pop up at your local after the festival.

Manawatu Standard