Big reception planned for seasoned travellers

BY GEOFF GRIGGS
Last updated 11:43 23/07/2009

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By the time Pete and Melissa finally arrive in Wellington in mid-August, they'll have crossed Cook Strait about 120 times!

Since boarding the inter-island ferry Aratere on July 9, the pair have crossed the strait three times a day without a break. But Pete and Melissa aren't a couple of fame-seeking tourists trying to get themselves into the record books they're two wooden barrels of beer.

The plan was hatched by two beer-loving Kiwis Colin Mallon, manager of Wellington specialist beer bar The Malthouse, and Luke Nicholas, owner and brewer of Epic beer after a recent beer-hunting trip around the UK. In their travels, Colin and Luke visited several famous British breweries and met up with beer writers including Pete Brown and Melissa Cole. Hence Pete and Melissa!

Putting the two casks of beer aboard the inter-island ferry is Colin and Luke's attempt to recreate beer's most famous voyage. In the 1880s, strong, hoppy pale ales from Burton-on-Trent in England took about six weeks on tall ships to reach thirsty customers in India. That beer became known as India Pale Ale, or IPA.

British writer Pete Brown recently retraced the long journey that helped create the iconic beer style and subsequently chronicled his adventures in a book, Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer that Built the British Empire.

Returning to New Zealand with copies of the book, Colin and Luke were fascinated to read how IPA was brewed with extra hops and stronger than ordinary beer to withstand the rigours of the long sea journey across the tropics.

Hops were first employed as a natural preservative in brewing and the extra amount used in IPA, in conjunction with the beer's increased alcoholic strength, slowed the oxidisation process and prevented souring.

The beer maturing inside Pete and Melissa is Epic's latest seasonal brew, Armageddon IPA.

"I sourced two 20-litre new oak barrels and filled them with fresh Armageddon," explains Luke.

"I recently brewed a real ale in England for a huge British beer festival, so I knew Armageddon was not a million miles away from what a traditional pale ale would have tasted like. For a beer to stand up to the kind of treatment we have in mind, it has to be pretty robust. Armageddon is definitely big, strong and hoppy.

"The idea is to see what effect changes in temperature and constant movement has on beer stored in wood. Most pundits believe India Pale Ales benefited from the conditioning they received during their sea voyages."

So what will the beer taste like? Given the small size of the wooden barrels and the fact that they're brand new, I anticipate the beer will pick up a huge amount of vanillin and tannin and I wouldn't be surprised if it requires blending with unwooded beer to soften the effect.

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A ceremonial tapping of Pete and Melissa will be held at this year's Beervana, a series of public beer tastings being held in Wellington on August 28 and 29. Tickets are available now (at www.beervana.co.nz), so why not head to Wellington and sample the world's first I-IPA ("Inter-Island Pale Ale") for yourself?

Cheers!

- The Marlborough Express

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