It would be hard to accuse Dave and Susan De Vylder of slacking. Since buying Wanaka Beerworks at the end of 2010 and taking over the day-to-day running of the brewery last July, the Belgium-born brewer and his Kiwi wife have been working flat out to crank up the business.
The most obvious example of this is Beerworks' ever-increasing beer range. For most of its 14-year history, the brewery has been known for just three brews – Brewski, Cardrona Gold and Tall Black – but, since the De Vylders took over, there has been a trio of new seasonal releases every three months.
Last October, three beers were released for springtime: Miere, a golden ale made with manuka and clover honey; Miners Galore, a hazy brown ale infused with rosehip tea; and Kauri, a chocolatey dark ale aged over kauri chips.
Then New Year was marked with the arrival of a trio of quenching summery wheat beers. These included Aoraki, a tart, citric-tasting yellow-gold brew; Sir Walter, a dry Belgian-style blond ale spiced with cardamom and coriander; and Lady, a pinkish cherry beer whose female-oriented marketing raised some eyebrows.
During a trip to Wanaka last month I caught up with Dave and Susan and was offered a sneak preview of their autumn creations. Launched on April 1, Beerworks' latest trio comprises Nun, Oompa Loompa and Jay Cee. All three are bottle conditioned so should be stored cool and decanted with care.
Over a glass of Nun (6.5 per cent), Dave explained that it is a rare example of a wheat-driven pale ale. Made with a grist of English pale ale malt, Canterbury-grown Pilsener malt and Australian wheat malt (around 20 per cent), it's then hopped with three New Zealand varieties – Super Alpha added early in the boil for bitterness (35 IBU), and Pacifica and Cascade added late, for aroma and flavour.
Pouring a deep golden to amber beneath a bright white head, Nun's aroma combines bready malt along with a suggestion of grassy hops and a distinctive tart, yeasty, fruitiness – the latter a result of warm fermentation (around 30 degrees Celsius) with an English ale strain.
In the mouth, the beer is smooth and creamy, with early sweet malt flavours soon giving way to a lingering dry, yeasty finish.
It's a characterful brew, certainly, but why the unusual name? It has "a nun-like serenity of flavour", Dave assured me. I'll take his word for that.
Named after the workers at Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the second beer, Oompa Loompa (7.5 per cent), pours an appropriately bright orange hue.
Made with an ambitious grist of Pilsener, wheat and Vienna malts and maize (polenta) and hopped with New Zealand Pacific Jade and Motueka, the beer is also heavily spiced. Dave reckons polenta helps give the beer a "shiny golden colour" and that coriander pairs especially well with the citrusy flavours of New Zealand hops, but he also uses saffron, cumin and caraway.
The yeast also adds to the beer's spiciness; the T-58 strain is known to contribute a peppery note.
To best appreciate the balance between the tartness of the spices and the soothing, sweeter caramelised flavours from the malts, Dave suggests sampling the beer cool, but not heavily chilled.
I found myself nodding when he warned that the beer tends to "creep up on you" and then told me some crazy story about a dwarf banging on your head with a hammer if you over-indulge. Happily I didn't, but sadly neither did I get to try the beer with his food recommendations; Indian curries and roast pork.
With a nod to the true meaning of Easter, the last beer of the three is called Jay Cee (7 per cent). Brewed with a grist of six pale and caramelised malts, a quintet of New Zealand hop varieties as well as thyme honey and lavender and then fermented with a trio of yeasts, Dave describes it as "a brewer's dream to please the seasoned beer lover".
The beer pours a hazy amber colour beneath a fluffy white head and is both fruity and herbal on the nose and palate. In the mouth the beer is soothing, creamy and rich, yet with a lingering tart yeastiness; the overall effect probably closest stylistically to a Belgian tripel.
Dave suggests pairing it with couscous or flan but, with such a broad range of aromas and flavours, I'd probably just enjoy the beer on its own.
Wanaka Beerworks' seasonal beers are available at Nelson City Fresh Choice or from the Hamilton-based online retailer The Beer Store (beerstore.co.nz). Or go to the brewery's own website (wanakabeerworks.co.nz) where, for $25, they'll send you a six-pack containing two 330ml bottles of each of the three beers.
- The Marlborough Express