On my command, unleash Mayhem
Thursday, 05 February 2009 13:11

Perhaps the only thing better than having a beer in front of you is having thirty seven beers in front of you.

While such a situation may be a daily occurrence for hospitality magnates such as Malthouse proprietor Colin the Handsome (self-proclaimed) and Softly-Spoken (media labelled) Scotsman, it can be a little more elusive for the average punter.

Apart from working your way through the marvellously well-written Malthouse Beer List, perhaps the easiest way to be confronted by rafts of new and interesting beers is to attend a beer festival.  A well-run festival offers people the opportunity to try samples of a wide range of beers at little risk or cost.  It is a chance to discover whole new styles of beer and find new favourites.

It is increasingly common for beer festivals to offer "festive brews" - beers made especially for the event.  Some of the best beers in the country started life as one-off festive brews but proved so popular they subsequently became regular fixtures.  It reminds me of a private secretary in the Beehive who said he had started work there on a three month temporary contract.  When I asked how long he had been in that office now, he said wistfully "it's year ten now..."

Perhaps my most auspicious beer festival story - and it may even be true - is that my beer mentor (Dr G) and I played some small part in getting Speight's Pilsner and Porter brewed commercially.  The rather good Pilsner and Porter were festive brews and, according to an impeccably networked source, Speight's had decided if either of the beers was gone by the end of the festival they would be added to the range.

By the official closing time, both were still pouring strong but the good doctor and I managed to place ourselves in such a cunning way that we could continually top up our glasses even as the cleaning began.  Just as we were finally told to move on, I finished the last of the Pilsner and he drained the Porter.  Both beers later appeared on tap and in bottles.  They were easily the highlights of the Speight's range until the management made the fateful decision to invest in shipping a pub to London rather than their best beers...

Anyway, the point is that festive brews bring a tremendous variety and energy to the brewing scene.  Brewers learn new skills and consumers get to try styles and ingredients which might not be practicable on a full scale.  

One of the best ever festive brews was Epic Mayhem, first brewed by Luke Nicholas ("The Impish Brewer (c)") in 2006.  The first batch won a Gold Medal and Best in Class for Festive Brew at the 2006 BrewNZ Beer Awards.  It was made again in limited quantities in 2007 and sold out quickly.

Now, Epic Brewing Company has announced the welcome return of Mayhem just in time for the beer festival season.  For the first time, it will be available in 500ml bottles but will also be on tap at a handful of elite venues including the erstwhile Malthouse.  It is pouring now and going fast.

Epic Mayhem (6.2%) is a strong American-style ale simply packed with US-grown Cascade and New Zealand-grown Riwaka hops.  This is a rare example of the Impish Brewer using local hops.  The result is a burnished amber beer with an energetic head.  The nose has lashings of hops - citrus, spice, passionfruit - and it really flies out of the glass at you.  Mayhem is a full bodied beer which is just as well because it is loaded with notes of malt sweetness, caramel, apricots, orange and grapefruit before a strong, lingering bitter finish.

It is more balanced than last years' offering when Luke declared that Mayhem would "wilfully maim and cripple the palates of the most extreme hop head" but, make no mistake, this is still a tremendously hoppy drop.  This year, the brewer explains his thinking:

"Mayhem simply shouts hops at a time when hops are in short supply globally and prices are at record levels.  At Epic, we know there are two ways to respond to these tough times.  Brewers could cut back and hope no one notices the lack of flavour.  Or brewers could do what we did, ramp up the hops to celebrate everything that we love about them - the punchy aroma, the sweet citrus flavour and the lingering, refreshing finish."

I say, let the Mayhem commence!


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


Epic Mayhem Press Release
Epic Mayhem Label
Impish Brewer
Real Beer
Beer and Brewer Magazine