I must admit that until a few days ago I hadn't even heard of the Asia Beer Awards. But now, thanks to Google and the internet, I know that the competition has run for the past three years and is based in Singapore.
Why the sudden interest? Well, it's just been announced that a New Zealand-brewed beer, Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black, has beaten 360 other entries to take the supreme champion award at this year's competition.
Pot Kettle Black is one of a new breed of style-bending beers that come under the name hoppy porter, or black IPA. When creating the beer, The Yeastie Boys, Stu McKinlay and Sam Possenniskie, designed a porter and then imbued it with a hefty dose of citrusy New Zealand hops. The end result is a wonderful combination of roast, chocolate and orange flavours that reminds me of Jaffas, or a rich chocolate and orange cake.
Although Yeastie Boys beers aren't currently distributed in Asia, the win has brought Stu and Sam some valuable media coverage. Since pairing up and forming Yeastie Boys in 2008, the duo, who describe themselves as "two of New Zealand's leading beer activists", have become darlings of the craft brewing movement, wowing beer lovers both at home and overseas with left-field but always deftly balanced beers.
Yeastie Boys is a smart operation. Sam and Stu don't own a brewery; instead the beers are designed and test-brewed by Stu at his home in Wellington, before being scaled up for commercial production at Invercargill Brewery. With none of the costs associated with owning and operating their own brewery, the pair have been free to experiment with innovative and radical styles that might otherwise be too risky for a commercial brewery. Sam and Stu know that if their latest creation fails to woo consumers, they've only got one batch to sell before moving on to something else. It's a credit to them that none of their beers has yet failed to impress New Zealand's ever-growing band of craft beer lovers.
In just four years, the Yeasties have garnered a reputation for producing some of New Zealand's most exciting, innovative and challenging beers.
After all, who could possibly forget Rex Attitude, the world's first beer made using entirely peat-smoked malt – the kind of malt that's usually associated with whisky-making? If you've tasted the beer and know your whiskies you'll recognise the familiar smoky intensity and iodine-like phenolics that are usually associated with Islay's finest single malts.
If you're into craft beers you'll probably be aware of the current trend of brewing beers with flavourings such as chocolate and coffee. For their latest creation, the Yeastie Boys looked to another well-loved beverage.
"I just got fed up with chocolate and coffee beers being the trend du jour and thought it was time to put tea into the limelight," Stu explains. Brewed in the style of an India pale ale, Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta is infused with earl grey blue flower tea.
Working with Wellington-based tea company t Leaf T, Sam and Stu sampled a range of potential teas and tisanes before making their final selection.
"We ended up choosing earl grey blue flower for its pungent perfume of citrus and floral notes, knowing immediately that this would work brilliantly in the type of base beer we had in mind," Stu says.
Gunnamatta was first brewed for last month's Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular, where it beat beers from 60 other breweries to be crowned people's choice at the Melbourne event. The beer has a strong Australian connection. "It's a beach break on the southern coast of Victoria's Mornington Peninsula, and it inspired a Paul Kelly song of the same name on his 2004 album Ways and Means. As the beer was initially developed for an Australian-based beer festival, we wanted it to be inspired by Australian music in some way. We took some wild conceptual rides before Gunnamatta's surf rock left us with a vision of surfing, good friends, a few beers and lots of cups of tea."
I haven't yet had the chance to taste the beer, but my good friend and fellow beer writer Kieran Haslett-Moore has. He describes it as "a dazzling and seamless integration of exotic tea flavours with fruity New Zealand hop character".
"Gunnamatta (6.5 per cent) offers up a startling aroma of floral scent, fresh citrus, exotic fruit and a hint of muscatel raisins before finely balancing floral spicy fruit, malt sweetness and tannic dryness on the palate."
Gunnamatta has been brewed as a limited seasonal release on tap and in bottles but there are no plans for it to join Yeastie Boys' regular range.
"We're quite sure its popularity is linked to the transit of Venus. We'll brew enough to last us through to spring, and then we'll think about releasing it again in 2117," Sam says.
It's good to see brewers with a sense of humour – and a taste for good tea.
- The Marlborough Express