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.
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.