About the same time that Epic Brewing’s ‘IMP’ with its attractive peacock-blue label appeared on the shelves, so did bottles of another new beer from the company. The ‘Carolina’ amber ale came with a pretty brick red label, and the tag-line “Putting Out The Fire”.
I immediately recognised where those words were from – David Bowie’s ‘Cat People (Putting Out The Fire)’, the title song from Paul Schrader’s 1981 creep-fest staring Nastassja Kinski. While I was far too young at the time to see the film, I was utterly obsessed with the oddly atmospheric-yet-poppy Giorgio Moroder-produced song and the video that accompanied it; it became one of the first singles I owned in my own right.
But what was meant by these words on a beer label? On the side came the clue – the Carolina had originally been brewed as a one-off for a release of the ‘Carolina Reaper’ hot sauce by Auckland-based creator of all things spicy and hot, Culley’s.
A brief search on-line found Luke Nicholas’ blog from the time of the original batch was served to accompany a hot-wing eating competition. But Carolina is not a chilli beer, rather it’s a big bitter and malty amber ale made to compete with big chilli flavours. However, as Luke notes, beer is not always the best drink to have with the hottest of foods or sauces, because rather than fixing and rinsing away the chilli oils (like milk or yoghurt does), beer instead spreads the oils around the mouth, emphasising the burn even more.
Putting out the fire with gasoline, indeed!
While with the IMP Epic has created what may be for me the nicest moderate-alcohol pale ale produced in New Zealand yet, if it was in the running for my favourite beer to be released in 2014 it’s now been pipped by another from the same company, the Carolina. Because this has even more going on, and combines flavours in such a manner that I find utterly delicious.
On the nose there’s a big sticky toffee aroma from the malt, but it carries with it a massive resinous scent indicative of a robust dry-hopping. The initial hit on the tongue is also all about the hops, the Centennial and Chinnook hops swirling around with a sharp grapefruit and pine flavour, but as those hop characters fade this beer’s real charm shines through.
Underneath lies a rich, warm, solid malt; caramel sweetness spreading the warmth of the booze throughout your mouth. Unlike the 4.7% IMP, Carolina clocks in at a far more cautionary 7.2%, but, also unlike the IMP, you’re not going to want to scull this down quickly. The very style and complexity of the ale forces you to slow down.
Because as the first punch of citrus hops fades to allow the warm sweetness of the malt and alcohol, galloping along in the rear arrives a fascinating aftertaste of the hops – sharp, bright, very very full of bitter orange flavours, it brings to mind a desert laced with caramel and a dash of Cointreau. It slowed me down, made me want to savour the beer, savour each sip.
Delicious, from the first waft of aroma through to the last swallow. And, coming with such a robust malt to balance the massive hop flavours, as the Carolina warms it becomes even more fascinating, layers of sweetness and bitterness, dried fruit and almost brandy-like alcohol hints floating in and out.
Another great beer from Epic. Cheers, Luke!