Beer shows plenty of attitude
Every time I taste one of the Yeastie Boys' wonderful beers I feel a pang of guilt that I haven't written more about them.
Last weekend I was in Wellington and had the opportunity to try two new Yeastie Boys beers, so now I'm feeling doubly guilty.
The Yeastie Boys are Wellington home brewer Stu McKinlay and fellow beer hunter, Aucklander Sam Possenniskie. Although the two live at opposite ends of the North Island and have full-time jobs outside the brewing industry, they are close friends who share a passion for great beer.
Working together, the two discuss ideas for the beers, then Stu designs and test-brews them at home. Finally, when the recipes have been honed, they are handed to Steve Nally, who scales them up for commercial production at Invercargill Brewery.
The Yeastie Boys launched their first beer, Pot Kettle Black, in 2008 and have since delighted Kiwi beer lovers with a succession of interesting and flavoursome beers. Notable recent examples include Digital IPA and Gunnamatta, a beer that features Earl Grey tea.
Then there's Rex Attitude. Made with 100 per cent peat-smoked malt - and, as a result, reminiscent of a carbonated, top-shelf Islay single-malt whisky - Rex Attitude probably wins the award for New Zealand's most "hard-to-get-your-head-around" beer.
But if it's the only Yeastie Boys beer you've ever experienced and you're thinking the rest are likely to be equally challenging, you would be very wrong. For my money, Yeastie Boys produce some of New Zealand's most complex and interesting, yet balanced and drinkable craft beers.
The two new beers I tasted last weekend are a case in point. The first was brewed specially for the Wellington premiere of The Hobbit, where it was served at the post-screening party. Yeastie Boys Golden Perch is named after one of the hobbits' favoured inns, so it was appropriate that my first encounter with the beer also be in a fine pub, Wellington's Little Beer Quarter, albeit a long way from the shire.
As for the beer, Golden Perch offers a fusion of ingredients from around the world.
"It has an international character, just like our film industry, using German and British malts, American ale yeast and New Zealand hops," say the Yeastie Boys.
Golden Perch pours a bright-golden hue beneath a fluffy white head and offers a combination of lifted tropical fruit notes from the hops - the Nelson Sauvin variety is added liberally - and salty-sweet caramel-toffee from the malts.
At only 4.4 per cent, it's delightfully balanced and quaffable, but with enough character to draw you back to the bar for another glass. Sadly, aside from the premiere, where it was presented in bottles, Golden Perch will be available only on tap, probably mostly in Wellington.
Not so, thankfully, the second new beer from the pair. Yeastie Boys His Majesty was released on December 1 and is one of two seasonal beers (the other is Her Majesty) which are brewed each year to a different recipe and style.
Both are packaged in 750ml wine bottles and will reward careful cellaring.
Although His Majesty 2012 features a grist of six German malts and two New Zealand hops (Styrian Goldings and Southern Cross), the resulting beer is a marriage of Belgian and English ale styles described by the brewers as "an Abbey-style barley wine"
Even though it was fermented with a Belgian abbey yeast - in this case, the Rochefort strain - and is hopped modestly for bitterness (30 IBU), at this early stage in its development the beer's British heritage is most evident.
Stu explained that his choice of the Rochefort yeast was an attempt to avoid the spicy, clove-like phenolics commonly found in Belgian abbey-style beers. Instead he was looking for a softer, fruitier yeast character to allow the malts and hops to shine through.
He has succeeded in that aim. This year's His Majesty, the fourth vintage of the beer, is a gem.
Pouring an attractive rose-gold colour beneath a lingering pillowy white head, the beer is medium bodied and sweetish, with layers of biscuit, caramel and toffee flavours balanced by hints of citrus, tea and candied fruits.
There's never a clue as to the high level of alcohol (8.5 per cent) and the finish is a melange of sweet malt, tart fruit and a gentle dryness from the hops.
In a trade release announcing the new beers, the Yeastie Boys couldn't resist taking a jibe at those who have vowed not to drink Emerson's beers now that the famous Dunedin brewery has been bought by the Japanese-owned multinational brewer Lion.
They wrote: "Disclosure: TheHobbit movie is owned by an international conglomerate, so we thought we should let people know in advance in case they wish to boycott the beer".
I can assure you I won't be boycotting any of the Yeastie Boys beers this Christmas. In fact, I'm ordering some right now!