I met Matt Warner, ParrotDog’s head brewer, at 8am as he was setting up what would be our brew kit: the kit that first brewed BitterBitch and Bloodhound and many of what are now ParrotDog’s staple line-up. This piece of New Zealand brewing history, this… chilly bin with washing machine hose in it. But I’m not lying when I say I was super-excited to brew in it.
“It’s so much easier to home brew in a brewery,” says Matt, using the hot-water hose to clean implements. Later, we use an amazing $3,000 piece of equipment to check the gravity of our brew. Around us, as we mashed in the second batch, the brewery is a hive of activity as two massive pallets are picked up to be shipped to Australia. Business is booming for ParrotDog on a huge scale while we try to make something close to 100 litres.
Beervana’s theme for the 2014 Media Brew was ‘spring’, and nothing says spring like lambs! So that’s what we put into the beer. With extensive help from my partner, Narelle, who is amazing with food, we concocted a plan. At first we roasted a bunch of sliced-up lamb leg bones to see if marrow was the taste we were after. The flavour turned out to be too muted, and Matt was concerned that the fat would clog up the equipment, so in the end we went with uncut leg bones and a couple of full shanks.
To balance the meatiness, Matt suggested a big 7 percent brown ale, something he hadn’t brewed before. This meant a bunch of tasty caramel malts that smelled delicious as we mashed in, especially as I hadn’t had breakfast. Unseasoned and roasted, the meat went into the boil with just a smattering of bittering hops.
For context, there is a precedent for putting meat into beer. Beyond the multitude of oyster and clam stouts, there is also a historical beer called ‘cock ale’ that was an 18th-century British invention wherein a boiled rooster was added to a nutmeg and mace ale and ‘aged’ for a month. Versions of cock ale have been brewed more recently as keen brewers began scouring the Internet for ideas.
As the mixture bubbled away in the kettle, bones floated to the surface like grotesque monsters, breaking the green foam that covered the surface. The surface itself became slick with oil and small bits of fat. We skimmed as much as we could, but as we ran off the brew into the fermenters we saw the occasional clog of fat work its way down the tube.
Of course we tried the leftover meat. It was tough, but tasty and oddly sweet. Due to the odd timing of writing versus publication for FishHead, I haven’t actually tried the final product yet. Nor seen the results of the judging. This is to say that Matt and I were over the moon with how the beer turned out, unless it was terrible, in which case we weren’t too surprised that the experiment failed.
Overall though, brewing with guys like Matt and just being part of the brewery for the day is an amazing experience. Getting the chance to brew, even in a limited fashion, is one I would recommend that anyone grabs with both hands.