Fritz and Maria's Beer Column
It is to be expected, we suppose, that people who aren't very familiar with craft beer and homebrewing mistakenly assume that we are professional brewers. But more than a few of our beer and brewing friends also assume that we have brewed commercially or are working toward that.
We usually end up explaining that we wouldn't want to ruin a perfectly good hobby by trying to be successful at it.
In the past few weeks, however, we have made our first small step across that line. Just like last year, Beervana (the big annual August beer fest in Wellington) is holding a Media Brew competition.
They invite members of the media to pair up with craft brewers to brew special beers together. The beers will be judged publicly during the festival.
The process started with picking a brewer – the organisers were happy for us to choose from the many great Nelson brewers available.
We both instantly thought of Martin Townshend, and were pleased that he was keen to play along. He wanted us to pick a recipe, let him know what to buy, let him know when. And he downright terrified us when he said this would be a commercial-sized brew.
Our thought was that most breweries would make small test batches, with the plan to scale up if they won.
Under pressure, we struggled to agree on a beer style, let alone a recipe, until we bumped into Martin at The Free House and shared a few beers while discussing options.
Once we learned that Martin had just ordered a series of Belgian yeasts, we both realised we could make the style we enjoyed last year during our trip to the United States.
Knowing it was one of the hot new styles in the US but not yet seen in New Zealand, we figured it might give us a competitive edge. Martin liked the idea, and so we set a date.
On Saturday, we arrived at the brewery at 8am with a few special ingredients and plenty of warm clothes, ready to learn. Martin had already done the cleaning and prepped the equipment. He gave the recipe one last run through – recommending water chemistry adjustments and challenging our hop assumptions based on his considerable experience. We reached agreement, and began weighing and milling the grain.
As soon as the grain was ready and the initial water was waiting in the mash tun, the brew itself began.
First was the mash, making a grain porridge, then waiting an hour, and rinsing (lautering) the sugary wort into the kettle. Then came the boil, and the four additions of hops filling the brewery with aromas of citrus and pine.
A quick run through the chiller and into the fermenter left us with the final cleaning chores and a day done at 2pm.
It was great to see someone like Martin balance creativity and efficiency as he explained the process he uses. His customisations, and of course the pumps and valves, turn professional brewing into a much more efficient process than our pots on the barbecue.
As our day ended, we enjoyed sampling a few of Townshend's newer products. Martin has been slowly expanding his range, venturing into hoppy territory well away from his usual balance of English malt and hops.
Martin also has a couple of surprises stashed away in barrels. One of them is a Number Nine Stout that will be back blended with a beer he is brewing in coming weeks to create an authentic foreign extra stout.
Our own brew, dubbed Pure Trouble, is a hoppy hybrid. From a Belgian base, we have added, in Martin's words, "enough hops to survive a trip to India".
After years of critiquing other people's creations, we have a new appreciation of the stress involved in brewers putting a bit of themselves on public display.
After its Beervana debut, Pure Trouble will be distributed along with Townshend's other kegged products, and hopefully it will show up at local outlets. Martin tells us it is tasting great. We can only hope others will agree.
- © Fairfax NZ News