Monday, July 27, 2015

Five Kiwis and Their Beer: Part II

Continuing our look at the five New Zealand brewers that were in town for OBF in Part I, we'll pick up with a look at ParrotDog's beer, Riwaka Secret.

The double IPA they brought to town, Riwaka Secret is named for two unique New Zealand and Australian hop varieties, Riwaka which is very hard to come by and not exported outside of New Zealand, and Victoria Secret which now goes by "Vic Secret" after a cease and desist letter from that lingerie company. Using at least two hops in every beer is Matt's M.O. as he admits that he's not a single hop beer fan, perhaps because he feels like he's never brewed a good one. DIPA and hop-forward fans will enjoy this beer.

Those into Harley Davidson motorcycles may recognize the name "Panhead" as slang for one of the old HD engines and Panhead Custom Ales is a brewery that likes to tinker, to customize and to make accessible, drinkable beers. Founder Mike Neilson expanded on Carl's comments about the challenge of getting his beers into bars with the update that today the challenge is less about fighting for tap handles with the big guys and more about getting into the good beer bars. In Wellington there are only about 15 of those, which have anywhere from eight to 40 taps. To the brewers' benefit, those taps turn fairly frequently and those bars tend to give New Zealand brewers 75% of their handles, a percentage that would please most craft brewers and drinkers anywhere. Replacing the challenge of fighting the big boys has perhaps been the challenge New Zealand brewers have with capacity. Looking at the US market, they're heartened that craft beer drinkers will be eager to fill their pints with as much as can be produced.

The final representative of the New Zealand craft beer scene to speak was Stu McKinlay of Yeastie Boys. First off, I have to give huge kudos to Stu for soldiering on after breaking both his forearms during this trip (neither of which required a cast, but only one of which was bandaged and in a sling). Stu is a self-described "yeast-head" that got his start after receiving great praise for his homebrewed porter, which in turn became Yeastie Boys' first commercial beer. Initially they were only brewing every three months while Stu continued to work his day job. Recently he's been able to quit that and move to the UK where brewing operations will be based.

In creating a beer for the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular, Stu cupped 20 teas to find just the right one. That right one is Earl Gray Blue Flower, a tea that reminds Stu of his childhood, and is used so heavily in the beer that it is described as "dry-leafed" (a counter to "dry-hopped"). Named Gunnamatta, this is also the beer that they brought to OBF. Not being a big tea fan myself, I wasn't sure how well I'd like it and I was pleasantly surprised from the first sip all the way through the last, at which time the beer was warm and may have been even more enjoyable than when it was first poured.

If you didn't run into any of the brewers or drink the beers that they brought to OBF, the opportunity to taste their work hasn't completely passed. While the group was in town, each of them teamed up with a local brewer to make a collaboration beer. When exactly those beers will be released I have not yet heard but keep an eye on the local breweries - Cascade, Ecliptic, Gigantic, Lompoc and Widmer - for more details.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Five Kiwis and Their Beer: Part I

If you went/are attending the Oregon Brewers Festival this year (and why wouldn't you if you're in Portland?), I hope that you did/are planning to hit up the beers in the International Beer Garden. In my last post I gave some reasons why you should. Today I want to share the first of two posts that will provide some back story on the brewers, breweries and beers. If you're like me that's part of the appeal of craft beer.

Carl (right), Mike Neilson & Doug Donelan
Tuatara Brewery is one of the oldest craft breweries in New Zealand and was certainly the elder in the group at Thursday's Meet the Kiwis event at Belmont Station. Established in 1999 by Carl Vasta and his wife, it began as a 600 liter operation (that's 158.5 gallons for the non-metric folks, about 3.7bbls for beer folks) and has expanded to 9,000 liters after four upgrades. One of the biggest challenges at the time was getting their beer in bars because many larger breweries owned or had exclusive arrangements with many of the bars. Luckily two bars were willing to carry Carl's beer and from there he built a following.

As for the name of the company, a tuatara is reptile endemic to New Zealand and has existed since the age of the dinosaurs, somewhat fitting for a brewery that has direct lineage to the start of craft beer in New Zealand. Fitting as well are the hops that are used in their Sauvinova, a single hop pale ale, Nelson Sauvin. Those hops came onto the scene about the same time Tuatara did and are used in copious amounts, providing balanced bitterness.

Garage Project gets it name from the fact that it actually started in a small garage where Jos Ruffel brewed 1/2bbl batches. (If you're a Kiwi, "garage" is pronounced in a far less pedestrian way with heavy emphasis on the first part of the word so that it could almost be mistaken for two words.) From the beginning Jos was interested in creating an urban brewery that would focus on trying new things. Case in point was their 24/24 project where they brewed 24 different beers in 24 weeks. Their Venusian Pale Ale was one of the beers that came out of that project and was a collaboration with a local graphic artist in which they sought to create a beer that could fit within the elaborate universe of the artist - a little bit of a trippy story. As for the beer itself, the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and grapefruit peel are ingredients that make the beer scream, "I'd be even more delicious with food!" Currently they are bottling and canning by hand with limited Southern California distribution on the horizon so perhaps in the not too distant future I'll have the chance to make a pairing happen.

Matt Warner started ParrotDog in 2012 after taking up home brewing while in college. In the beginning the beer was contract brewed, something that seems to be a more legitimate start in New Zealand than in the US and may be used as a stepping stone to opening one's own brewery. When the demand for tank space at the contract brewery became too great Matt began hunting for a space out of necessity. Even three years ago financing was a challenge, something US brewers can identify with, but like many passionate brewers before him, Matt found a way to make it happen.

And now for a break, because I have a thing about long blog posts. I don't like to read them and therefore I'm not going to subject you to them. So, check back tomorrow for Part II, including ParrotDog's Riwaka Secret.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Going Abroad at OBF: International Beer Garden

I drink very few imported beers for the simple fact that there is so much good beer locally and nationally that I don't feel the need to look abroad. Therefore things like the Portland International Beer festival hold little interest for me. Following that line of reasoning I was not as interested initially in the offerings in the International Beer Garden as the rest of the beers at the Oregon Brewers Festival. With that said a few reasons gave me pause to reconsider.

1. There are not just New Zealand and Dutch beers in the International Beer Garden some of the actual brewers here.
2. I heard good reviews of the beers early on in the festival from fellow beer geeks that I trust.
3. Hold onto your shorts for this one...the beers were only one token each. That's right, none of the two and three token business like back when it was the Buzz Tent.

During the first two days of the festival I tried eight beers (out of a total of 15 that will be poured during the run of the festival), with only one being a disappointment. That percentage is on par with my general festival ratio. And don't forget, these beers have traveled quite a distance, probably enduring less careful handling than those kegs that only had to travel a few miles to get to the festival.

Beyond the beer itself I attended the "Meet the Kiwis" last night at Belmont Station where five New Zealand brewers were on hand to talk about their breweries plus one of the most influential people in the malt business in New Zealand, David Cryer of Cryermalt, and one of the key figures in this cultural exchange, Doug Donelan of New Zealand Hops and the Brewers Guild of New Zealand. Putting a face and a story to the beer in my hand has always been one of the things I enjoy most about craft beer. Listening to them talk, with great enthusiasm about their craft, proves that craft brewers are craft brewers the world over.

This experience was particularly interesting due to the non-US perspective. I'll go into more detail in the next post about the five breweries - Tuatara, Garage Project, ParrotDog, Panhead Custom Ales and Yeastie Boys - but for now, just know that during your time at OBF, you definitely need to stop in at the International Tent.

In the meantime, take a gander as Stu McKinlay of Yeastie Boys talks about his decision to become a brewer.