A Touch of kiwi in Thornbridge Ales
Thursday, 11 February 2010 09:46

“The World Encyclopaedia of Beer”, written by Brian Glover, British Beer Writer of the Year 1994, provides an interesting perspective of what New Zealand beer must have looked like from the outside at the turn of this century. 

He listed the active New Zealand breweries in 2000 as DB, Lion, Harrington’s, Mac’s. Monteith’s, Newbegin, New Zealand Breweries, Petone, Shakespeare and Stockan.  While he noted that “since the 1980s, a few brewpubs and micro-breweries have appeared,” the list was very short – though Emerson’s would appear to be a notable and inexcusable omission here.

In terms of beer variety, the situation appeared even worse.  Virtually all of the beers he listed were either rather ordinary golden lagers (DB Export Dry, DB Natural, Flame, Lion Red, Rheineck, Steinlager, Steinlager Blue, Nugget Golden Lager and Speight’s Gold) or rather ordinary amber lagers (Canterbury Draught, Coromandel Draught, Double Brown, Hawke’s Bay Draught, Lion Brown, Taranaki Draught and Tui).  Only the Mac’s range, Monteith’s Original and Vita Stout seemed to offer any variety at all.

Ten years later, another visitor from England, Kelly Ryan, is conducting his own sample of New Zealand beers and recording his thoughts for others to enjoy.  There are a few major differences though.  This country now boasts over 50 breweries and brewpubs producing a massive range of beer styles, new and old.  Kelly is not actually English, he is a Kiwi food science graduate who has been working and brewing at Thornbridge in England for several years.  Rather than writing a book, Kelly is twittering his beer experiences as he goes.  Finally, he is going to run a unique beer tasting at Malthouse featuring some of his best beers, something Mr Glover never did.

Thornbridge Hall Country House Brewery (to use its full name) is an innovative, award-winning and passionate English brewery set up in 2004.  One of the original brewers was a young brewing graduate called Martin Dickie.  When Martin left to start up BrewDog in his native Scotland, Kiwi Kelly Ryan joined the team in his place.  The first brewery Kelly had worked in was Tui and to this day he retains a bit of a soft spot for that ‘East India Pale Ale’.  Fellow New Zealander and well known beer lover James Kemp has also joined the team at Thornbridge (though he has a quite different take on Tui.)

Thornbridge produces a range of cask and bottled beers with their most famous brews being Saint Petersburg (a momentous Imperial Russian Stout) and Jaipur (a subtly powerful India Pale Ale).

Kelly has had to leave behind a particularly special beer he was working on – Exposed – a strawberry and pink peppercorn stout.  It is not quite as weird as it may sound as strawberries and pink peppercorns are a well established flavour combination in Italian and English cooking (according to Heston Blumenthal for one).  From the most readable Thornbridge Brewers Blog, here is part of Kelly’s description of the brewing process:

“I sorted out a recipe for a 4% stout, nice and creamy with just a hint of that classic Irish dryness.  I used a good portion of roasted barley to provide a hint of astringency (and just the tiniest touch of acidity) to emulate that found in balsamic vinegar... hopefully the hint of this from the malt would help to accentuate the fruit character that would come in later.

I then cracked a small amount of the essential-oil packed Tellicherry black pepper and added it to the mash just prior to sparging, hopefully to give a hint of the wonderful aniseed fragrance that these peppercorns held, to the finished beer.

The beer was lightly hopped with Bramling Cross and Amarillo and then I added a large amount of cracked pink peppercorns.  Intensely fragrant, with a touch of parma violet, juniper berries and plump, green sultanas, these were added at the end of the boil and the aroma was fantastic.
I’ve just got back to Riverside after tasting the brew and am so pleased.  The wonderful aromatic pepper notes waft from the glass and just a hint of their perfume can be found in the creamy, chocolatey brew.  Am so looking forward to the next stage and the finished product!
Finally this beer is to be aged on some strawberry pulp, which will hopefully provide just the faintest hint of strawberry and blend in with the fragrant pepper and lovely, slightly dry chocolatey character of the stout.”

Once he gets back, Kelly will be working on a second collaboration with Luke Nicholas from Epic.  They produced Epic Halycon for the JD Weatherspoon’s beer festival a year or so ago - the Kiwi Connection continues.

Tonight (11 February 2010), Kelly will be running an informal tasting of selected Thornbridge beers at the Malthouse.  These beers have come over in his backpack specifically for this event so it is a chance to try some truly rare beers while talking to the man who helped make them.  There is no official start time or any fee to attend – just get to the Malthouse early and keep an eye out.

Finally, thanks to miracles of Twitter (so simple even Ashton Kutcher can master it), here are some of Kelly’s thoughts on the beers of his homeland in 140 characters or less:

Arrived safe and sound in NZ. 1st beer, an Epic Lager, bloody fantastic.  About to sit down to freshly caught Paua (abalone) for dinner!
Just back from fishing.  9 Gurnard, 3 Snapper, 1 Kahawai.  Slim pickings really!  A Monteith’s Lager quenched the thirst afterwards.  Is no Epic!

Enjoying a couple of good Taranaki craft beers!  Mike's Organic Dark Mild and Mike's Organic Lager.  The Mild is nice, roasty and clean.

My second bottle of DB Export 33.  What rubbish, soda water has more aroma and flavour.  Traditional blonde brewing process my arse...

I believe those last two words are a technical brewing phrase expressing some scepticism at a previous statement or claim.  So, follow Kelly on Twitter (@thornbridgekel) and then join him for some rare Thornbridge ales (and doubtless some craft New Zealand beers) at the Malthouse tonight. 

Cheers


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine

Links

Thornbridge Brewery – http://www.thornbridgebrewery.com/
Strawberry and Pink Peppercorn Stout – http://beerevolution.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/strawberry-and-pink-peppercorn-stout/
Epic Halcyon - http://epicbeer.com/blog/2009/4/30/epic-halcyon-at-thornbridge.html
Kelly Ryan on Twitter - @thornbridgekel
Malthouse Facebook Group - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wellington/Malthouse/7084276173
Real Beer – http://www.realbeer.co.nz/blog/blog.html
Beer and Brewer Magazine - http://www.beerandbrewer.com/