Home-brewed beer moving upmarket

DENISE IRVINE
Last updated 10:24 24/03/2014
	 homebrew
Peter Drury/Fairfax NZ

IN THE BUSINESS END: Tim Cursons moving the malts at the warehouse.

homebrew
Peter Drury/Fairfax NZ
DECENT BREW: BrewShop warehouse manager Tim Cursons offers a taste of his porter beer.
homebrew
Mark Taylor/Fairfax NZ
HOBBIEST AT WORK: BrewShop owner Peter Moorfield doing the boil for a Belgian beer in his home garage.

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It's a standard suburban Hamilton garage, but amid the paraphernalia of bicycles, a kayak, pumpkins in storage for winter and whatever, there's a large pot boiling vigorously over a camping gas hob.

This is the garage of Peter Moorfield, an "all-grainer", who is making home brew beer from scratch with bags of malts rather than a handy kit that does most of the work and thinking for you. Moorfield's brew today is a Belgian Saison, a pale Belgian beer with spicy notes, using 80 per cent pilsner malt, plus wheat malt, aromatic malt from Belgium, and caramel malt from Germany.

The bubbling pot contains the liquid (or wort, to use its technical name) that's been drained and filtered from the malts. The residual mash - which looks a bit like porridge - will make good compost.

It's getting to the end of the boil, Moorfield's carefully adding the hops, the distinctive aroma fills the air. Soon he'll rapidly cool the contents of the pot with a nifty copper gizmo called a wort chiller that he's made, before transferring the wort to a fermenter. The yeast will be added later in the evening, after another four or five hours of cooling. It'll be drinking in about a month.

This is time-consuming brewing, but Moorfield relishes the challenge, the science of it, the steps involved, the constant tinkering with recipes and flavours. Even the home-handyman nature of it. He's converted a chest-freezer into a "keezer" which has five kegs (each of them 19 litres) of his beers on tap. The keezer is parked in another corner of the garage.

Moorfield offers a couple of his finished products for tasting, a fresh, lively pale ale made with New Zealand hops, and a richer, more malty German ale. They're good, clearly made by competent hands.

Moorfield, 40, is more than just your average hobby beer-maker. He's turned his hobby into a beer supplies outfit, catching the wave as home brew moves upmarket, on the back of the surge of interest in commercial craft beers.

Moorfield runs a Hamilton web design company, V02 Ltd, but beer now occupies a lot of his time as well. When he started down the all-grain path a few years back, he was frustrated at the lack of gear and variety of ingredients available to him. He scoured around for products, the next thing he knew he was getting stuff for other people as well, and BrewShop, his online home brew supplies business, was born.

It has ballooned beyond expectations as more and more people have got into the craft beers, and all-grainers and others have been drawn to his website.

Moorfield started making beer as a 14-year-old with his Fairfield College mates. They went shares in a starter kit. "Split three ways, we didn't drink a lot," he says.

He spent some time overseas, he sampled excellent beers in the UK and Europe, came back to Hamilton eight years ago, and a little later thought he'd get into home brewing.

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As a teenager, he'd used a pre-hopped home brew kit ("cheating"). Basically you choose a kit to suit your palate, put it into a fermenting barrel, put the yeast in, and boil it.

Doing it from scratch, he says, gives you more control, more chance of creating your own craft beer flavours, working with the raw materials of malts, hops, and yeast, perfecting the cooking techniques and the mix of ingredients to achieve the desired effect.

Moorfield says it generally results in beers superior to any other method and is the closest a home brewer can get to commercial beer quality.

Where Moorfield once struggled to find what he wanted, now there is a decent variety of items and ingredients to choose from. It's not just the variety, he says, but there are a lot more knowledge and expertise about how you use the items, whether you want a bitter beer, or soft beer, whether you want coffee notes, maybe something chocolatey or a hint of caramel.

His customers aren't necessarily interested in making cheap beer; rather, they want to perfect their styles, to change the old-school perceptions of brews based on bog-standard beer kits.

Four years ago, Moorfield and wife Rachel Ball were operating their fledgling business from home with boxes all over their hallway, grain-crushing on the back doorstep until midnight, packing parcels at night while trying not to wake their kids with the noise of tape dispensers.

They moved the operation to a warehouse, and recently to a much bigger space in Te Rapa. Moorfield still does his day job at his web-design company, but he has fellow beer aficionado Tim Cursons as warehouse manager and Isaac Newberry and Ben Raymond on packing. Ball continues to be involved, doing a lot of pick up and delivery work.

Turnover is climbing monthly, every dollar is sunk back into more stock. "I never predicted it would grow so fast," Moorfield says.

It is a strictly online business, the sophisticated (and witty) website designed by Moorfield's company, VO2. It sells all ingredients and equipment related to beer making, including yeasts, malts, hops, malt extract, hardware, recipe packs, and of course beer kits for those who want to keep things simple.

BrewShop imports from 20 suppliers in Australia, China, India, France, Germany, Belgium and the US; the vast majority of its 4000 customers (and growing) are Kiwis, but there are overseas clients as well. A number of commercial craft breweries buy specialty liquid yeasts from BrewShop. Moorfield estimates that maybe 50-60 per cent of his customers are all-grainers.

Staff are processing 600 orders a month, and for the purists who want grains, the warehouse guys crush these on the day of delivery, so they arrive as fresh as possible.

Most of their customers are men, many in the 30-40 age group who are interested more in the foundation process, the satisfaction of brewing from scratch, rather than saving money. Moorfield says it can be cheaper to make your own beer, but if you're buying, say, Tui at the supermarket, it wouldn't be. "You may not save money if you go the whole craft way, but there will be satisfaction."

H amilton beer-maker Greig McGill has seen the changes, seen more people stepping up from kits to the art of all-grain. It's a growth market, a response to craft beers, he says. Home brewers realise they can actually have a go at these themselves.

McGill runs Brewaucracy, a small commercial craft-brewing company based at Matangi. He jokes that he started off as a keen drinker, he's done home brewing, and he's a founder-member of SOBA, the Society of Beer Advocates, a group that runs an annual national home brew competition in Hamilton. He says the standard of home-brewed craft beers entered gets higher every year.

McGill sees the commercial and home-based craft brewers as being one big community. McGill says that while an appreciation of craft beers is driving changes in home-brewing, home brewers in turn are quite often having an input into commercial craft outfits.

McGill says Moorfield's BrewShop website is innovative, "the most professional web presence", and although there are some good home-brew supply shops around, they don't generally do online very well. Moorfield has moved into that gap.

Like McGill, Auckland food and beverage commentator Kerry Tyack, who runs the Monteith's Beer & Wild Food Challenge, is aware that people are taking home-brewing more seriously, and he notes a resurgence in this area.

It's still a minuscule part of the beer market, he says, but there are some who are putting a lot more energy into it. Tyack says the four-tiered beer industry encompasses the big commercial guys, the commercial craft breweries, the serious home-brewers, and the "mum and dad home-brewers".

Tyack's own dad had a go at home-brewing; he made a dark one and a light one, and neither of them, on their own, was much chop. His father mixed them together to make a black-and-tan beer. "That was pretty good."

Tyack commends the more recent trend: "People are making a serious effort and getting some pretty good stuff out of it."

Aucklander Kelly Milligan has won two gold medals with some of his good stuff, his speciality beers, at the SOBA competitions. Milligan, 25, is a web developer, he's been making beer from scratch for almost three years. "For me, it's enjoying the process and freedom to make what I want rather than being stuck with a pre-made recipe. You get to experiment, be creative." Brewing, for him, is about the love of it, not about saving money.

Milligan shops for supplies on the BrewShop website, he's not aware of a site that rivals it. "They're doing things right, leading the market at the moment. It's a good site, they manage the content, and have some of the best selection (of items) of anything I've seen in New Zealand."

Milligan is big on hoppy American beers and he also makes rich stouts. He has three older brothers who enjoy craft beers, but he's the only brewer in the family. He likes to focus on a recipe, refine it, until he gets it just how he wants it. "It's a great hobby. It brings a lot of different disciplines together - science is a big part of it."

T im Cursons, the BrewShop's warehouse manager, may be living the dream. He says he felt like a kid in a lolly shop when he started working with Moorfield. He trained in engineering and is a long-time beer maker who favours pale ales.

He clearly makes other brews as well, bringing a tasty, robust porter beer to the brewing session in Moorfield's garage.

Cursons recently made a wheat beer with chilli, finding inspiration when he looked in the cupboard at home for coriander seeds (more traditional), realised he was out of them, so reached for a pack of Master Foods chilli flakes instead.

The make-it-from-scratch brewer thought, why not? He says you can just taste the chilli in the resulting batch. "I'm happy."

He and Moorfield can see from the orders what beers their customers are making, and they are proud that some have scored well in home brew competitions. There are a lot of stouts and pale ales (the latter strong and hoppy) being made, following trends in the craft beer world, with an alcohol content of 5-7 per cent, like most craft beers.

Cursons says New Zealand's craft beer industry has been well behind its US counterpart but is catching up fast on the back of an increased interest in artisan foods, growing vegetables, getting back to basics. "Quality over quantity."

He and his beer-making friends take part in regular tasting sessions, they all bring one or two bottles, discuss the complexities of their work, give feedback. "All in the name of improving your beer."

Moorfield still gets together with his old Fairfield College mates to enjoy a beer or two. And you can bet your last dollar they won't be drinking kit stuff. Definitely something from the keezer in the garage.

- Waikato

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