Garage brewer of big beers

FRITZ KUCKUCK AND MARIA GRAU
Last updated 13:56 20/04/2012
Joseph Wood
JOSEPH WOOD: Partial to American hops but not against the home-grown kind.

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Joseph Wood is mad about beer. He brews it, he sells the ingredients online, he tweets about it, he chats about it on realbeer.co.nz, and he drinks it as though he were collecting the experiences. He also has a day job, but beer is more than a hobby.

Since his first attempts in 2002, Joseph has moved from a home brewer to running the small-scale Liberty Brewing Company in the garage of his New Plymouth home. While living in Auckland, he would have competitions with his older brother to see who could make the best kit brews. One day his brother bested him, by adding extra hops to the kit, and a love affair had begun.

Inspiration also came from a trip to Bavarian Haus, Surfer's Paradise. There he discovered Schneider Aventinus, a dark wheat bock. Failing to secure a suitable kit, he immediately moved to all-grain brewing. "The shops said I possibly could mix a wheat with stout."

In 2008 he bought a home-brewing supply business, Liberty Brewing Company, from Stu McKinlay and Brendon Mackenzie, each of whom were on their way to founding their own beer labels. He kept his day job at the port in New Plymouth, but prided himself on stocking every malt type available in New Zealand, along with 30 types of hops.

The supply shop funded his brewing hobby, which eventually became a garage brewery. Most of his initial 140L system was random equipment he had made or scavenged. In his first year he brewed 35 batches, distributed by Dominic Kelly, of Hashigo Zake, Wellington.

From the beginning Liberty has specialised in big beers, full of alcohol and flavour. Joseph figured these types of beers were more stable, and might even improve with age.

The imperial stouts and barley wines and a double IPA came on to the market just as New Zealand craft-beer drinkers were falling in love with flavour, and hops in particular. From the start Liberty has had trouble keeping up with demand.

Joseph is partial to American hops. His most renowned beer, Citra, is a 9.5 per cent double IPA featuring the citrus punch of Citra hops. He has also featured Summit, Amarillo and Simcoe hops in his brews. Even the name of his brewery, Liberty, is an American hop varietal. He isn't against New Zealand hops and has made a Riwaka version of his West Coast Blonde, a golden ale he uses to showcase different hop varieties.

You won't find flowery descriptions on his bottles. Says Joseph: "I don't describe my beers. Why should I tell you what you are drinking? I don't have your tongue in my mouth."

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Collaboration is all the rage at the moment in the brewing industry, and he has worked with Hallertau and Epic in Auckland, and Mike's in Taranaki. He and Stu McKinlay, of Yeastie Boys, brewed two "monster beers" in 2011, exploring the differences between American and New Zealand hops.

For Joseph, New Zealand punches well above its weight in the craft-brewing world. "We are definitely in the top five ... Denmark, Norway, the States, and New Zealand. So many brewers here are pushing boundaries."

An upcoming secret project is his Belgian IPA. "It is all about the hops, but not spicy, a very fruity traditional American Belgian." He is also working on a sour beer, using Epic Brewing's old barrels. At 300L per batch in his upgraded system, Liberty Brewing will continue to be a small producer of big beers.

Beer news

This season's fresh hop beers are coming onto market, with the award-winning Harvest Pilsner released into Sprig and Fern taverns. Our Wellington readers might find it a good excuse to check out the new pub in Tinakori Rd.

Epic Brewing has released a new IPA – Zythos. Its new commercial blend of American hops is designed to tide the world over until supplies of popular varieties increase. The beer is full of pine flavours and has a lingering bitterness that will appeal to hop lovers.

- Nelson

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