It’s the curse of the beer writer that I have to drink a lot of beer. Yeah, OK, it’s not really a curse. In this job I get to try a lot of interesting beers, including some one-off experiments that very few people will get to try.
Earlier this year I guested on the Beer Diary Podcast with my friends Phil Cook and George Langlands. During the show they told me about a beer called Beetnik IPA, brewed by Hashigo Zake bar manager Dave ‘the beer guy’ Wood. The next time I saw Wood I asked him about it.
“The new batch is almost ready, I’ll get you some!” I love my friends: the beer was exceptional. If you can’t tell from the name, Beetnik is an IPA made with beetroot, the pink vegetable being a hot new ingredient for brewers. At the 2012 Beervana, a couple of brewers entered pink beers, and this year Yeastie Boys released Golden Age of Bloodshed, a beetroot saison. I would say that, with due respect to the amazing brewers from Yeastie Boys, Emerson’s and 8 Wired, if Wood’s home-brewed Beetnik isn’t the best beetroot beer I’ve tried, then it’s close.
Another member of the staff at Hashigo Zake is also brewing some great beers. Shigeo Takagi (aka Shiggy) is one-quarter of Funk Estate’s brewing crew, but still likes to experiment. One night I wandered into the bar and was handed a pint of a strange brew that Shiggy had brewed in the bar’s kitchen. It was… interesting.
More fun was his Green Tea IPA (or as the home-made label said, “Hadyn Green Tea IPA”). The green tea flavour was subtle and the beer needed filtering, but you could taste potential.
I’ve already mentioned Yeastie Boys twice in this column. Stu McKinlay is a true brewing innovator and is now an oracle for home brewers. I’ve met many home brewers who have asked McKinlay for advice or recipes and received friendly replies. Famously, a QR code on the side of Yeastie Boys’ Digital IPA linked to the recipe for the beer and invited people to “remix” it.
Home brewing is all about collaboration and creation. The home brewer who just puts down a batch to save a bit of money is now in the minority (at least in Wellington). Home brewers now want to try crazy experiments with their hobby.
This new guard of amateurs want to try interesting new hops, grains and yeasts. They talk to brewers whenever they can, they go to classes and seminars, they constantly taste and tweak. And then there are the guys who want to go pro. Aidan Styles from Baylands Brewery used to be a home brewer and is now making some excellent, well-balanced beers. He’s also running a brewing supply store.
“Quality ingredients at a fair cost seem to be a key driver in what home brewers are looking for. The equipment available now has made it a lot easier for people to get involved. I started with a Coopers kit from Pak’nSave and extract tins, but that only lasted four brews before I went to brew-in-the-bag and then grain brewing. I gradually built up a four-vessel system that I still use as my pilot plant today.”
And naturally the small-scale brewing never goes away, even when you’re selling your kegs to bars around town: “Generally I have had some sort of small batch trial before progressing to a larger brew size, but sometimes you kind of just know whether it will work or not. Most of the beers I have released so far have been beers developed while home brewing. We’ve got some experimental things coming up that won’t have been through a trial though!”