Brewers saying it with elderflowers
Every summer, during one of our trips over to Golden Bay or Kaiteriteri, we stop in at Monkey Wizard Brewery in Riwaka, and pick up a sample or two of their wares. If we are lucky there is a bit of his seasonal Elderflower Ale, an almost cidery wheat beer, perfumed with elderflowers.
Being raised in America, there wasn't a lot of elderflower cuisine. Elderflower wine or cordial seemed a quaint reference to English history for those of us who learned about the English from Monty Python and Blackadder. After a few years in New Zealand, we started to develop a taste for this seasonal flavour, alongside our love of feijoas.
Apparently, America has been missing out. Elderflowers and berries have been used medicinally for millennia. The cordial, a water extract of the fragrant blossoms, dates back to Roman times. And in addition to the flowers, the berries of the primary plant, Sambucas nigra, are used in Italy's Sambuca liqueur.
We are aware of a few other beers using elderflower besides Monkey Wizard. Cassels & Sons in Christchurch have Elder Ale, and the Dead Good Golden Ale is reputed to contain some elderflower extract.
At first, we had trouble pinpointing what the flowers were actually adding. Elderflowers have a delicate musky sweetness that is reminiscent of aromatic white wines, so they are typically used in lighter beers. Late additions preserve the aromas much as hop aromas are heightened through dry hopping or late kettle additions. Some products even add the flavour with elderflower cordial or extract after fermentation.
Of course elderflowers are suited to ciders as well. This week we happened to have two in the house: Apple Tree Apple and Elderflower from Tauranga, and Peckham's Elderflower Cider from Upper Moutere.
The two ciders are very different in style. Apple Tree is very pale, cloudy, and sweeter, offset by a distinctive tartness. Peckham's is clear golden and dry, and more wine-like. Both have lovely bubbles and a pleasing finish.
With ciders, it's all about the apples, and Peckham's utilises a blend of traditional cider apples, which give their cider a refined nature, a hint of tannin, and balanced acidity. The apples play a supporting role, with the elderflower producing an earthy floral character reminiscent of a sauv blanc or riesling.
The Apple Tree uses braeburn apples, which, along with the yeast, add a strong character that is accented by the elderflower.
On their own, we think Peckham's would be great as a starter, while Apple Tree is more of a dessert. That said, we found the Apple Tree went exceptionally well with creamy blue cheese.
As this summer winds down, elderflowers will slowly disappear and leave us waiting for next year.
Several local breweries are participating alongside the wine and food in Taste Nelson (tastenelson.co.nz) at Founders Park on Saturday March 2, proving beer is key to our local flavour.
Speaking of March 2, that's the last day to buy earlybird Marchfest tickets. If you have any doubts, go to Marchfest.com to see the amazing lineup of beers and entertainment. Several local brewers are playing at celebrity.
Food TV's Thirsty Work programme recently came through the region and visited "a bunch" of them for a future episode. Also, Jim Matranga of Golden Bear features in a new YouTube video (youtube/SRRbgvqkOMk) promoting New Zealand hops and revealing their newest product.