8 Wired Brewing Company – ReWired Unchained

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The good old brown ale. It’s a deeply unfashionable style these days, it seems. It’s a style that doesn’t bring with it a swathe of bitter citrus fruit-flavoured hops, nor does it drown with the deep toffee-and-boozy fruit flavours of a strong dark ale. It’s not sparkling and golden, nor black and enigmatic.

No, brown ale is just a plain old brown. With a mild, slightly sweet nutty based and a little bit of fresh and fruity hoppiness. Easy drinking; not knocking any socks off, but delightful to sit with in the sunshine or at a table at the local.

But the brown ale is a style it’s near impossible to find on the shelves or on the taps of Wellington, New Zealand’s “craft beer capital.” Which is a shame, because I’d love to see more of it. Which would require more of it to be brewed, I guess.

Nonetheless, 8 Wired’s ‘ReWired’ brown ale has been a relatively frequent visitor to this side of Cook Straight, and while it may not be a ‘traditional’ brown ale, whatever that means, it’s certainly one of my favourite beers. A layer of roasted malty flavours underlie a robust hop flavour, a very soothing and fulfilling easy-to-drink ale, that doesn’t kill your taste buds or make you feel like weighed down like some dark ales can.

More recently, 8 Wired’s Søren Eriksen has been playing with the ReWired, producing what is called the ‘ReWired Unchained’. I first encountered this at Beervana ’14, and was quite blown away by the surprising range of flavours that were produced by barrel ageing this brown ale with a dose of Brettanomyces.

Now, it would be tempting to say that infecting the ReWired with Brett has made this ale funkier than a pair of brown flared cords, but that wouldn’t be true. Because, perhaps surprisingly, the combination ageing and infection has taken the beer not towards the funk and tartness of a saison or farmhouse style, but somewhere quite different.

Back at Beervana in August, I noted that the beer had developed a full flavour of caramel sharpened with aromas of cut grass and summer fruit. I was fortunate to find again late last month on tap in Golding’s Free Dive, and with a good measure in a tulip-shaped glass I was really able to embrace the full and complex flavours that the ReWired Unchained unleashed.

The initial aroma was of a cool, dry wash of a soft red wine washing over the nose and tongue, with a little hint of salt-and-vinegar lurking around the edges, speaking of the tartness the Brett was bringing to the mix.

In the mouth the red wine flavours came through even stronger; long, lingering, sliding sweetly down, leaving a taste of fruity plum and bubble gum flavours. Then, as the stronger tart wine-like flavours faded, the mouth was left with a residual warm sweetness, soft and fruity, resolving eventually to a taste I swear resembled a lemon sorbet.

Remarkable.

I enjoyed this complex and fascinating ale while perched at the Golding’s after a trip back from Christchurch, with a couple of travel bags at my feet and a bowl of pork crackling nearby. Ah, pork crackling; basically concentrated fat and salt. Not something you want to snack on too often, but when accompanied by a glass of something nice and refreshing, it’s one of the most life-affirming snacks I know. Very little is wrong with the world when you can relax with a good beer and a bowl of salted and double-cooked pig fat.

The salty, lip-smacking snack worked wonders with the ReWired Unchained. The wine-and-vinegar flavours of the beer cut through the fat-and-salt perfectly, and the mouthfeel as the sweet finish to the beer meet with the next morsel of pig skin was a sheer delight. When I ordered the snack I remarked that I really should’ve got the pork crackling with an IPA rather than the ReWired Unchained, but I was glad to be proved wrong.

Unlooked for, it became a taste combination delight. The beer stood up to the snack better than almost any other I’ve paired pork crackling with, and in turn the beer added a sweetness to the salty snack that it almost didn’t deserve.

Give the combination a try; if you can. And if you haven’t yet, get out there are track down some of 8 Wired’s original ReWired. If you have any preconceptions of what a brown ale might be cast them aside and give it a go; you’ll surely love it. And that beer needs more love.

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Beervana ‘14

A cluster of North End’s rare and delicious Blanc De Houblon, in Beervana 2014 glassware, with tasting notes and other beer-geek sundries.

The last week and a half has featured a lot of life lived, including some great new music and good beer drunk at the source at breweries in both the North and South Islands. But those things were all just the entrée to the main event: the 2014 edition of Beervana, New Zealand’s biggest beer festival.

And, lo, it was good. Very good. The best Beervana I’ve been to yet.

This year the festival had expanded to take up almost all of Wellington’s Westpac Stadium’s concourse, and the resulting spreading-out of the crowds and bars was noticeable and delightful. I encountered almost no bottlenecks, the crowds far less jostling than in recent years, and lots of seating and spaces to sit down, enjoy the beer, chat with friends, and take some notes.

I guess a complaint could be made that it was now too big. I simply didn’t make it down to the Portland Bar before session’s end. But that was my fault, for deciding to spend over half of my session seated with friends near the Beervana, Festive Brew and Media Brew bars, sampling the beers based over on the newly expanded “Harbour Side” of the Festival. And I did get to try the Portland Beers later, when I worked that bar for the fourth and final session, so it wasn’t as though I missed out entirely.

It goes almost without saying that there was some truly excellent and / or interesting beer available too – but this is a beer blog, so I’ll list some of those that stood out for me.

This year’s Festive Brew was themed to commemorate 100 years since the outset of the First World Way by means of requiring the brewers to use two ingredients integral with ANZAC biscuits: rolled oats and golden syrup, and with encouragement to use additional ingredients such as flour, coconut and butter or more.

It was a challenging brief, and ended up with most of the beers I tried tasting much the same, but it was apparent why Behemoth took home the trophy for their ‘Brave Bikkie Brown Ale’. This 6% abv brown ale nailed the brief completely; with a rich aroma of biscuit baked with coconut and golden syrup, and a rich, sweet and chewy mouthful carrying a dark roasted oats and coconut flavour. A beer that not just tasted like an ANZAC biscuit, but was deliciously drinkable too.

Over at the Media Brew bar the brewers and their collaborators brewed to the theme of “Spring”, with the requirement to include at least one “intrinsically or native New Zealand ingredient”. This led to many interesting and, sometimes, delicious flavour combinations – but truth is I’m not really that keen on beers that taste like cold roast lamb gravy.

Imperial AT-AT PilsnerBut other variations existed – Beer & Brewer Magazine’s Neil Miller and Kereru Brewing made a huge 11% abv pilsner that somehow managed to deliciously combine the aroma of malty Weet-Bix with the flavour of a full, sweet, citrusy Belgian Ale – all under the suitably geeky name of ‘Imperial At-At Pilsner’. Meanwhile, the fellows from the Beerhive Blog worked with Monteiths to create a ‘Raspberry Lamington Wheat Beer’. And it was; sticky, sweet and full of coconut. Though, personally, I tasted more Fluffy Duck than a red coconut sponge cake. But, perhaps that is the “Food of the Unicorns“?

But moving away from the themed one-off beers is where I really began to find my festival favourites. Ever-favourites North End Brewing really impressed with their complex yet refreshing ‘Blanc De Houblon’. This Belgian-style ale had a fascinating contrast between an aroma of lemongrass, bergamot and clove above a flavour of grapefruit and liquorice. Bitter and tangy, lingering long, the complexity playing through the mouth long after you’d swallowed. I’d love to see more of this ale available, but it’s expensive to brew and the yield is small. But, oh, delicious.

I’d never heard of Napier’s Zeelandt Brewery before Beervana, but their Dunkelweizen was my surprise of the day. This dark Bavarian wheat beer wafted an incredibly intense banana and clove aroma, but delivered a soft, effervescent soufflé of chocolate and caramel on the palate. I’ll look for this one again.

And then there was the ‘Rewired Unchained’ from 8 Wired. I adore Søren Eriksen’s Rewired Brown Ale, and this barrel-aged version, loaded with funky Brettanomyces, was just delicious. The tartness of the infection somehow turned the robust brown ale into something full of caramel, while pushing the hoppy aroma of cut grass and summer fruits even more forcefully above the beer. And it was a pleasure to congratulate Søren personally, as he stood behind the bar pouring his beer.

But if I was to be forced to commit to a favourite beer of the festival, it’d have to be a beer I didn’t get to try more than a few mouthfuls of. As I wrote above, I didn’t manage to make the Portland Bar at the other end of the concourse during the one session I attended as a drinker; but before the doors opened for the session I was behind that bar I was able to try what was on offer. And one, the ‘Volta Saison’ from Gigantic Brewing Company just blew me away. Fruity, spicy, and vibrant. Fresh, with an aroma of lip-smacking sour fruits, and a taste of spiced fruit punch and lingering tartness.

It caught my attention immediately, but for me the true reflection on its character came as I served it during the hours that followed. If ever I was given the opportunity to suggest or recommend one of the Portland-sourced beers to a punter, I’d recommend the Volta.

Some people were eager, some wary, some had never heard of the style or tried a Saison before. But each time I encouraged someone to take a punt on the Volta, they’d sniff, then taste and a huge grin would cross their features. Some even returned to thank me for the recommendation, or for a second serving. And that made me happy – if more people expand their horizons and get to taste a good saison (which can be difficult to find in New Zealand, unfortunately), then I’d consider that a success.

Moving away from the beer, there was so much else about Beervana 2014 that I loved. The festival’s always provided great food, but this year was better than ever. The Fire Truck impressed with a fragrant pulled-goat curry served inside a soft warm sourdough bread roll, and while I again lamented the lack of a good range of fresh green options, the smoked chicken Caesar salad from Boulcott St Bistro was superb.

But then there was the Portobello mushroom ‘Double Down’ from Grill Meats Beer; two big grilled flat mushrooms sandwiching a filling of Halloumi, beetroot relish and a crispy fried onion fritter. Amazing; and a great way of providing a vegetarian option that met the popular demand for salty and fatty ‘beer festival food’.

Even the festival glassware for 2014 was a step above – a robust and pretty plastic tasting glass was provided, ensuring punters would be able to take them home without breakage. Tulip-shaped, and slightly bigger than the maximum 250ml serving, it allowed aromas and flavours to develop fully.

And I haven’t even mentioned the plentiful supply of water, and the big, well-stocked merchandise stand at the middle of the concourse’s arc. Or the four new beer / brewery t-shirts I now own…

It was a great weekend, and I enjoyed my time on both sides of the bar. Would Beervana again!

First beer of the day - the Behemoth 'Brave Bikkie Brown Ale', with the author wearing a suitable t-shirt.

First beer of the day – the Behemoth ‘Brave Bikkie Brown Ale’, with the author wearing a suitable t-shirt.

SOBA Winter Ale Festival 2014

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Yeastie Boys ‘The Sun Before Darkness’ with my dearly departed notes, tasting glass and pen. RIP.

I went up to The Hunter Lounge on Victoria University’s Kelburn campus on Saturday, for the 2014 edition of SOBA’s Winter Ale Festival. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a disaster. A neglectful oversight threw a pall over the afternoon.

I left my programme with all my notes on the table we’d been drinking at! And, by the time I’d realised my mistake and rushed back to collect it, the table had been cleaned and cleared.

And, that’s about the only bad thing I have to say about this particular beer festival!

Fortunately, I’d checked in about 2/3 of the beers I tasted on Untappd, so I do have some idea about what I enjoyed (and didn’t) amongst a plethora of excellent and interesting ales. And I do mean ‘ales’, if my memory serves me correctly there was only one lager being poured that afternoon.

This was the first year I’d attended what had formerly been known as the ‘Matariki Beer Festival’, the winter beer fest put on for a number of years by the Society of Beer Advocates. But I’d heard many of my beery friends rave about it, about how well it was organised, how the focus was really on the beer first and foremost, and how brewers and drinkers alike mingled together in beery friendless.

It was all that, and more. Friendly, happy crowd, with each trip circling from our table to one or other of the taps being punctuated by running into brewers and drinkers worth having chats with.

Andrew Childs of Behemoth Brewing was there, looming large as only he can do, providing fun tales of his recent move into brewing and selling his beer full time. The fun and intensity he also puts into his full-flavoured beers – with their names straight from the inside of a fourteen year old boy’s locker – was also ably demonstrated, with Behemoth’s ‘Nut Milk’ hazelnut stout packed full of sweet hazelnut flavour. The play between the lactose smoothness and the woody bitter nuttiness was very more-ish; it’s the sort of beer that would be fun to have in a float with some vanilla ice-cream. Delicious, really, and I’m not just saying that because the brewer gave me a free t-shirt.

Stu McKinley of Yeastie Boys was also in attendance, mingling and joking and living up to his “one of the loveliest of New Zealand’s many lovely brewers” title which I just made up here and now (perhaps I should commission a trophy). Like Andrew, Stu’s also recently given up his day job, indicating that maybe there is a future in this good beer lark.

But putting it all on the line has not bought about a lurch into sensible conservatism for the Yeasties, because their three beers on at the Winter Ale Festival were all fascinating experiments, brewed with candi-sugar made from botrytised viognier wine.

The three ales are part of the Yeastie Boys Spoonbender series, the name coming from their idiosyncratic habit of describing collaborative brewing as “spooning.” This time, they were playing the big spoon to Australian winemakers Some Young Punks, who provided the sweet and tangy desert wine that was reduced down with added sugar to create the big crystalline slabs of candi-sugar.

Candi-sugar is often used in the brewing of Belgian beers, where it can boost the alcohol content without thickening up the body of the beer. And, with the sugar made from a fungus-infected sweet wine, all sorts of interesting flavours came kicking along with the alcohol as well.

‘The Sly Persuader’ lived up to its name, coming through at first as a very “business as usual” Belgian-style pale ale until, sneaking along at the end came a huge wine flavour, very dry and lingering, very much like the viognier itself.

The presence of the candi-sugar showed with a huge alcohol flavour in the notably boozy (10% abv)‘The Last Dictator’, an imperial porter. There was a nice complex richness here, but alcohol was the predominant note – I reckon this one could do with a bit of aging in the bottle to really come into its best.

The third Yeastie Boys Spoonbender, ‘The Sun Before Darkness’, was an odd beast indeed; certainly the most unique beer I tasted at the festival. The aroma was incredibly sweet; like sticking your nose into candyfloss. But in the mouth it was very tropical, full of sweet fruit flavours, and an intoxicating spice and saltiness. There were hints of rose petal and lime, and flavours I ended up as describing as tasting like chunks of mango stir-fried with a bit of fish sauce. I’m sure I’m not doing it justice, and I can’t wait to try it again to see if I can pin down further what on earth is going on here. Fascinating stuff – and quite drinkable!

And so many other excellent beers were tried, too. A pinot-barrel aged version of Parrotdog’s lovely Otis turned that milk stout into a beer that tasted of a robust and tannic pinot noir, if lighter and smoother.

North End once again hit their mark in creating another delicious take on an English style; with their ‘Southerly Front’ full of distinctly lemony hop flavours. Brewed to be faithful to a 1930’s style Burton Ale,  North End brewer and local beer identity Kieran Haslett-Moore turned up dressed to the era, with tie and shirt under a cardie, a Homburg perched on his head.

Baylands’ ‘Black is Black’ was chock full of Black Doris plums. I found it a bit dry and pummelling, but showing that it’s all subjective Black is Black managed to be voted the favourite beer by the punters in attendance – well done, Baylands!

And, despite its name, 8 Wired’s ‘Flat White’ coffee milk stout contained the richest coffee aroma I’ve yet encountered in a coffee flavoured beer. This was perfectly balanced with the smooth sweetness from the lactose, resulting in a beer with the aroma and flavour of an superbly made sweetened long black.

All these, and more, in a venue perfectly set out for a medium-sized beer festival.

I was particularly impressed by the way water was handled – if you wanted a clean glass (and, if you cared about the beer you’re drinking, you would) then you’d pop over to a counter where you’d exchange it for one containing water. An excellent way to encourage moderation and hydration from the festival goers, and to ensure that each beer had the best chance to show its wares when poured into a fresh glass.

A lovely beer festival. Would festival again!

SOBA Winter Ale Festival

The author at the SOBA Winter Ale Festival, complete with beer-geek-essential beard and t-shirt.

Hopstock 2014 part 2

You’ve probably worked out by now that I like beer, and I like music. I like walking, too, feeling this pretty city of Wellington under my feet. I’m also an introvert, who needs time to recharge after being around others in social situations. And, putting all those together, day 3 of Hopstock 2014 was a near-perfect day for me.

I’d gone out on Thursday night, but that was mostly to be social. I was able to tick off three more of the Hopstock beers during the evening: Tuatara’s ‘Conehead’ IPA at D4, Dale’s Brewing Co’s ‘Fresh Hop IPA’ at Hashigo Zake, and, at Malthouse, the ‘Fresh Hopped Rudolph’s Pique’ red ale from Wairarapa’s little Peak Brewery. The Dale’s IPA stood out the most for me, being a very clean, very well made and well balanced example of the West Coast IPA style. Nearly flawless.

But, really, the night was for being out with friends. But, with the town full of what was essentially a Friday night, all the pubs were crowded and noisy, and by the time I got home I was very ready to spend some alone time, recharging.

So, just before 11 on ANZAC Day morning, I put in my earphones and set out from my home in the southern hilltop suburb of Kingston. I first walked over to Bebemos, a Latin-American influenced restaurant / bar in Newtown that I’d heard many good things about but never gone out of my way to visit.

Well, I’ll be back. The place had a lovely feel, the menu’s very interesting, and there’s a great range of beer on tap and in the fridge. I brunched on the moqueca, a superb Brazilian fish stew served with spiced ‘biro biro’ rice and drunk the ‘Autumnal Harvest Ale’, a collaboration between Bach Brewing and Shakespeare Brewhouse. The ale is brewed in the saison or farmhouse style, and there’s an appealing spiciness under the tangelo flavours of the hops. It proved a perfect match with the peppery fish stew, a chance combination that I’d love to try again.

After a walk down Adelaide Road and across the Basin Reserve, it was The Hop Garden for 2014’s fresh-hopped version of 8 Wired’s ‘Hopwired.’ Unsurprisingly this was a massive hop bomb, with huge citrus aroma smacking into the nose, and a big clean taste of sweet lemon. But it faded a bit quickly, leaving a bit of an astringent aftertaste, and I wonder if it might’ve needed a bit more oomph in the body, with a bit of more malt solidity to balance the huge hops.

But, just to show it’s all subjective, a guy I chatted with while tasting the beer thought it was perfect. Ah, it’s all subjective, isn’t it?

Hopwit IPA from Mike's Organic Brewery.

Hopwit IPA from Mike’s Organic Brewery.

Next, a walk over to The Southern Cross for the ‘Hopwit IPA’ from Mike’s Organic Brewery. Look at it. Cloudy as an orange juice. Lots of juicy apricot flavours from the Nelson Sauvin hops sitting above an excellent sour wheat ale body. I love sour beers, and so do the brewers at Mike’s, and they’ve never let me down yet.

Then it was a walk down Cuba Street to Golding’s Free Dive, always a favourite place of mine to visit. Here the Hopstock beer was ‘Waifly’ by Baylands Brewery. Oh my god. Hops. Hops hops and more hops. I’m glad I only had a taster, as I could feel it killing my tastebuds. Not my thing, I admit, but for those seeking extremes of hops I bet this was their favourite of this year’s Hopstock brews. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a beer quite so tongue-stripping. I bet Neil Miller loves it…

Thankfully, I had a chance to refresh my palate after that, as my next destination was another bar I’d never visited before; the Kelburn Village Pub. I hopped on the #23 bus up the hill, past the university into a suburb I’ve never visited since graduation. Weirdly, it seems to have not changed all that much in the last 15 years…

The Kelburn Village Pub scored immediate brownie points by me for their snack menu (or “tapas” as they called it, but really, it’s not). Because as well as chips, dips and breads, they offered a small bowl of salad in the same price range. Perfect. More pubs need to do this; while there’s always a place for fries, pizza and chicken wings, I love a good salad or lighter, healthier light meal, especially during the day.

Hopstacle Course

‘Hopstacle Course’ golden ale from Golden Bear Brewing, and a delicious little salad at the Kelburn Village Pub

The salad, the cosy interior, and friendly staff made me very well disposed towards the ‘Hopstacle Course’ golden ale brewed by Mapua’s brew pub and brewing supplies company, Golden Bear.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a huge fan of hoppy golden ales anyway, and this one was delightfully clean, crisp and refreshing. Another great combination of food, beer and environment.

Finally, through Kelburn, down the steps and down Tinakori Road to Sprig & Fern for their fresh-hopped ‘Harvest Pilsner.’ It’s a favourite lager of mine, and with the addition of fresh Motueka and Nelson Sauvin hops, it’s bright, vibrant and fruity while the solid biscuit-like malty base never disappoints.

It was a lovely way to spend an autumn day. About five and a half hours, about ten or so kilometres walked while listening to music, popping into six different bars to chat with bar staff or fellow drinkers, with some nice food and interest beers on the way. A day that was good for the soul.

Well played, Hopstock 2014, well played.

8 Wired Brewing ‘Semiconductor’

Yup, autumn is most certainly here in Wellington. The curtains are shut and the cat’s in front of the heater for the first time this year. Very wet, very dark, not as warm us most of us would like. You can bet Regional Wines & Spirits beer expert and heavy metal yeti Kieran Haslett-Moore loves it.

So, it’s a perfect time to write about a summer beer!

Semiconductor

Semiconductor, with cat

8 Wired Brewing’sSemiconductor’ has been one of the revelations of the summer for me. I’d first tasted it in the beery maelstrom that was last year’s Beervana, but over the summer I had ample opportunity to drink it in the environment I’m sure the beer was intended for – at a barbeque or a party, with friends and food. At 4.4%, this session IPA is available in a neat little easy-carry four-pack, and has become my “go to” beer when taking a few out for an evening. Surely that’s the way brewer Søren Eriksen intended this gentler version of his super ‘Super Conductor’ to be tried – with sunshine, friends, and food.

Did I say gentler? Oh, don’t the lower alcohol content fool you. Though it may be almost half as strong as the Super Conductor, the Semiconductor doesn’t get by on half the flavour. While it is less sweet and less-full bodied, it’s no less hoppy or bright. A crisp citrus aroma lifts above the golden body, the beer is bright and fresh in the mouth, a bright refreshing bitterness buoyed along by a body-enhancing sweetness.

It’s very drinkable, and very balanced. Session IPAs have made quite an appearance in New Zealand over this summer just been, but for me I think this is the best of them. Others tend to lay the hops on a bit too heavily for the less robust body of the lower alcohol pale ale, leading to an overly bitter kick or astringent aftertaste. The Semiconductor manages to keep the sweetness and bitterness in check. It’s clearly an IPA; pushing out far more hop flavours than a Pale Ale and demonstrating more of a crisp citrus flavour than an American Pale Ale. But it’s not too sharp, it’s perfect for easy drinking a few bottles as the sun goes down without getting too boozed too early on.

Also, by coming in a nice little four-pack, it’s a good conversation-starter at parties. I’ve had many discussions about this attractively presented beer, (even once being asked if it was from India, because, you know, India Pale Ale), and each conversation leads to a taste. Sometimes it is too bitter for someone experience a full-flavoured IPA for the first time, but often it leads to “wow, that’s nice. Can I have a bottle? What other beers like this are there…”

Conversations we want to be having!

Kereru ‘Karengose’ and 8 Wired ‘Pilsner re-fermented with Brett’

X-Ale II

Kereru Karengose

I love sour beers.  And I would love to see more sour beers on New Zealand shelves, but at the moment we’re still in that great heady rush of hoppy ales.

Yet nearly every brewer I’ve talked to about sour beers also exclaims their love of drinking and experimenting with them, and of plans advanced to one stage or another to get one out there for drinkers.  But, often, there’s a hint that they know the beer might not find an audience with many drinkers…

Which was one of the great things about X-Ale; brewers able to have a crack at, play with, have some fun with some sour variations, knowing that there’d be drinkers waiting at the other end for the keg they end up producing.

A few weeks ago I’d been out in Upper Hutt visiting Kereru Brewing when Chris Mills, the head pigeon[1], told me that he’d prepared for X-Ale a sour seaweed ale.  I was immediately excited, interested in how the saltiness and sometimes glutinous umami of seaweed might work in a beer, especially a sour beer.

So, it was one of the first ales I went to when finally down in Hashigo Zake, last Saturday.

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