Renaissance ‘Stonecutter’

Renaissance 'Stonecutter', with browned cubes of venison.

Renaissance ‘Stonecutter’, with browned cubes of venison.

I love cooking. And I love cooking with beer. And not just drinking a beer while cooking – though that’s a pretty lovely way to cook! – but cooking with beer in the recipe. Spending a few hours in the kitchen with good music on the stereo, and a glass of something nearby with some going into the meal is one of my very happy places.

It’s getting a bit colder of late. And for me that means stews. Stews, chunky soups and curries, big robust single-pot meals, full of vegetables and flavour, with a bit of protein to hold it together, give it a bit of oomph. I love spending a Sunday afternoon making a big pot of something delicious, that’ll do me for lunches or lazy dinners during the week. Comfort food.

I’m particularly fond of venison. A bit of roughly chopped bambi, slowly braised with a pile of vegetables and some delicious liquid. You can use beef stock as the liquid; and of course will use red wine. Both are great, and I’d use either depending on what combination of vegetables I’m accompanying the venison with, but I also use beer – dark beers for this sort of dish in particular. And, one recent weekend while considering my Sunday stew I realised I hadn’t drunk Renaissance’s ‘Stonecutter’ for quite a while.

Stonecutter’s a big, rich, ruby-red Scotch ale. Big and sweet, with a big malty roasted toffee flavour buoyed along by a raisin-like fruitiness from some classy hops. I was blown away by it the first time I tried it five or so years ago, and I’ve been infatuated with it since (though I tend to drink their Elemental porter more these days).  But with its sweetness, it really is the ‘red wine’ of their range, as Renaissance describe it. Perfect for a venison stew!

I’m a bit lucky down here in south Wellington; the New World supermarket in Island Bay always has a good line of game such as venison, rabbit, and wild bacon. And, just across the road, one of the few stand-alone butchers left in this city sells my little special touch for such stews – a ‘Hunter’s Sausage’, a Polish-style smoked pork sausage, not to dissimilar to kielbasa.  After browning the floured and seasoned venison, I cook off the sausage like you would a lardon, releasing fat and a delicious smoky flavour that permeates the stew as you add the vegetables.

On this day went in some leek, celery, carrot and a couple of big richly earthy chopped swedes (I’d have preferred turnip, but none’s in season). Then back in with the meat, then most of the bottle of Stonecutter (and a bit of beef stock to raise the liquid level). The rich, sweet, ale, with its hints of caramel and spice melded with the flavours of the stew wonderfully. Sit back, indulge in the aromas, as you finish off the bottle of beer.

Then, a few hours later (stewing venison rewards a long slow cook, to get to that melt-in-the-mouth texture), serve the chunks of meat and swede with their delicious rich, sweet gravy with bread or (if, you’re like me, and avoiding grains at the moment) with some mashed potato. Enjoyed with another glass of the ale (you did buy a second bottle of the Stonecutter, right?), it’s a match made in heaven.

The Stonecutter perfectly suits rich, complex meaty flavours such as this stew. There’s a delicious bitter-sweet citrus aftertaste that cleans the palate nicely between mouthfuls of the rich stew and the sweet and warming malt of the ale’s body.

A great way to warm up as the nights grow colder.

Hopstock 2014 part 1

And it has begun, Hopstock 2014. 17 fresh hopped beers across 16 bars around Wellington city and nearby suburbs, over the space of four days.

I kicked it off with a glass of the Cassels & Sons ‘Fresh Hop’ pale ale with a delicious Caesar salad for lunch at Bin 44, and right from the start it was revealed that fresh hopping does not mean full-on hop-bomb insanity. This light little pale ale was gentle and sweet, very easily drinkable, a nice light beer. The hops adding a gentle bit of lift and freshness without doing damage to the taste buds.

Fork & Brewer 'Hopstepper'

Fork & Brewer ‘Hopstepper’

Then, after the working day was done, the ‘Wet Dream’ at The Bruhaus. A collaboration between Behemoth Brewing and The Twisted Hop, Wet Dream is more your traditional monster imperial India pale ale. Big, sticky and bursting with sharp gooseberry flavours from the Nelson Sauvin hops.  In contrast, the ‘Hopstepper’ American pale ale, brewed on site at Fork & Brewer was very malt-forward, hitting with a big burst of sweetness from the thick complex body before a the pine and grassy bitterness came through, with a nice touch of an almost minty aftertaste from the US Cascade hops.  My favourite so far, I think.

Up the road at Little Beer Quarter are a pair of collaborative beers between Townshend’s  and Liberty, two of my favourite brewers who seem at times poles apart. Martin Townshend tends to brew perfectly made variations of styles that have the malt as the centrepiece, while Jo Wood from Liberty is usually all about the hops. But, together, they just nailed it. Adding fresh Riwaka hops to the ‘Oldham’s Pil’s gave the pilsner a bright, summery zest with almost a suggestion of cider, while fresh Green Bullet and Nelson Sauvin hops in the delicious ‘Last of the Summer Ale’ extra special bitter turned that ESB into something with an aroma and finish that was deliciously Sauvignon Blanc-like.

Finally, just across the road at The Taphaus was the hoppiest of the day. Renaissance’s ‘Fresh Hop Grandmaster’ imperial India pale ale was positively glowing with hops, a massive aroma of lemon and lime lifting off the very pale and gorgeously clear beer. Coming in at 8%, this was a deliciously citrusy boozy thing, a delight to sit on and sip gently, marvelling how different flavours (including mandarin and mint) started to appear as the little glass warmed.

Despite owning the beer Bucket Fountain t-shirt, I missed last year’s Hopstock due to illness. And this year, the presence of so many beers across such a large area of the city had me thinking that collecting the entire set would be an unachievable and likely dangerous task. I’ve changed my mind about that, now.

Renaissance Fresh Hop Grandmaster

Renaissance Fresh Hop Grandmaster

Sticking to half-pints or tasters, drinking slowly, eating food, and enjoying the walk as much as the beer has made the idea of visiting all of the bars over the next few days very attractive, and very achievable. And, as the five beers I tried yesterday revealed, it’s not all about death by humulus lupulus. There’s different styles of beers, and only two of the five I tried would be described as ‘extremely hoppy.’ The rest used the fresh hopping to emphasise or alter certain tastes within the style.

And it’s looking to be a good way to get a feel of bars I haven’t been to, or been back to for a while.  I hadn’t set foot in The Bruhaus for over three years after a disappointing first experience, but I was very pleased with the feel and service of the place now.  It seems a nice little bar, in a part of the city that needs more good little bars.

So, tonight, I might round off most of the other inner city bars on the trail, then over ANZAC day and Saturday I’ll pick off the outliers. And if you’re in Wellington up to the 26th of April, I recommend you head on off to the Hopstock website and pick up the trail yourself.

It really is an education in fresh-hopped beer. Now, when’s the malt and yeast festival..?