Last Friday I went with a group of friends to Blenheim's Dodson Street Beer Garden to attend the official launch of a new beer from Renaissance Brewing Company. After a glorious Marlborough summer day we were all looking forward to relaxing in the late afternoon sun in the garden, and trying a new brew.
When we arrived at the bar a tap, complete with a smart new tap badge, confirmed the beer's presence, but the staff weren't aware of the launch, or if tastings were being offered.
After a few words of clarification from a passing brewer, we headed out into the garden with samples of the new beer, and soon several of Renaissance's brewing team joined us.
Set up in 2005 by Californian brothers-in-law Brian Thiel and Andy Deuchars, over the years Renaissance has employed more than its fair share of non-Kiwi brewers.
With no less than four Americans and one Englishman currently taking turns in the brewhouse - and a certain well-known Danish brewer making occasional appearances - the brewery has gained a reputation for producing a broad array of styles.
Following on from Black the RIPA (a black, rye, India Pale Ale), The Great Punkin (a pumpkin beer) and San Diego Pale Ale (a heavily hopped, Southern Californian-style, pale ale), the new beer, White As, is the fourth in Renaissance's seasonal "Enlightenment" range. It is one of New Zealand's first commercial examples of a white or wheat IPA.
Pioneered in 2010 by craft brewers in the United States, the white IPA style flies in the face of conventional brewing practice. When fermented, pale wheat (either malted, or raw) tends to contribute a crisp, balancing, tartness and fruitiness to beer, so in most traditional wheat-driven styles the use of hops - beer's traditional bittering and aromatising agent - is kept to a minimum. But for the white IPA style the Americans have thrown the rule book out the window and used large amounts of both wheat and hops. The resulting beers are typically flavoursome, but often uncompromising. As Renaissance head brewer Andy Deuchars often says, the American philosophy on craft brewing is: "If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing!"
While American-brewed white IPAs tend to be over-hopped versions of the cloudy, coriander-spiced, Belgian wheat beer (witbier) style, the new Renaissance beer is unspiced. A strong, cloudy, wheat ale, White As is the brainchild of assistant brewer Jason Bathgate. Having trained as a chef in Vermont, his home state, Jason brings a natural talent to the Blenheim brewery for marrying flavours.
By combining Pilsener malt (60 per cent) and pale wheat malt (40 per cent), several generous additions of hops, and fermentation with a "clean" American ale yeast, Jason has produced an enormously crisp and quenching, if potent, brew.
At 7.4 per cent, Renaissance White As pours a hazy amber hue beneath a bright white head. The beer's aroma combines dry cracker-like malt with a hint of vanilla and a strong, mineral, yeasty note, and it's much the same on the palate, where hop bitterness and tart spritzy yeast flavours easily outflank the malts to produce a surging dry finish.
In terms of food matching, given its austerity, White As probably works best as an aperitif, or when paired with rich, fatty dishes. On Dodson Street's Teutonic menu, I'd be tempted to try it with the Hühner Leber Pastete (chicken liver pate) or the Eisbein (pork knuckle).
Still on the subject of Dodson Street Beer Garden, the recent installation of 14 new taps brings the Blenheim bar's total number to 26, giving it probably the largest range of craft beers and ciders on tap in the South Island. Congratulations to Dietmar and his team for their commitment to craft beer.
Marlborough is also the place to be for craft beer this coming weekend. After Saturday's Blues, Brews & Barbecues at Blenheim's A & P Park, top-of-the-South brewers Renaissance, Moa, 8 Wired, Sprig & Fern, Brew Moon, Dale's and The Mussel Inn will be gathering to pour their beers at Summer Beerfest at Drylands Restaurant (237 Hammerichs Rd, Rapaura) on Sunday, February 3.
The festival runs from 11am-7 pm and entry is free.
- The Marlborough Express