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.

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