You might not know this about me, but I like to brew beer. Over the past few years, this interest has grown from a passing phase to a full-blown passion. Now we that find our house is becoming too small to support our habit… a whole wall of our bedroom is stacked with boxes of bottled beers of various styles. There’s a coffee porter, an imperial Egyptian-style stout, a spiced oatmeal stout, a hoppy NZ IPA, and an APA. We recently had an Imperial beer-brewing night with friends, where we each made a different imperial brew. Shane’s Oak-Aged Manuka Honey Imperial Porter turned out to be the best that we’ve brewed – rich, smooth and chocolatey; a real special occasion brew – while my Imperial American Pale Ale is mellow, fruity and refreshing.
We started out making brews at home almost ten years ago now, using malt kits and a big pot on our stove. The main reason for this was that we were living in a really remote area of Australia and beer was so expensive. The beer we made was pretty mediocre, but better than paying upwards of sixty bucks for a dozen. We even brewed on the road at one point, as we travelled around Australia in our van – we boiled it up on our gas stove, then had it fermenting in a container in the back as we travelled. The beer we make now is made from scratch, using whole buckets (sometimes two) of grains and thoughtfully crafted recipes. We brew it at a great local place called The Occasional Brewer.
The Occasional Brewer is awesome for lots of reasons. They have all the equipment you need, including professional 3-stage brewing kits and a range of recipes. When you’re learning, they’ll take you through the steps in a hands-off way, allowing you to really take control of the process. The staff are really knowledgeable and passionate about brewing, and will also help you develop your own flavours and spins on the recipes if that’s what you’re into. They always have time for us, and whenever we go there we find our knowledge of brewing increasing a little more. Now that we’re more experienced brewers, we can book a brewing kit and just go for it, while having the guys on hand to answer any questions we might have.
In August we got the chance to brew a beer for Beervana, the biggest beer festival in New Zealand. We used The Occasional Brewer’s imperial stout recipe, and put our own spin on it by adding a kilo of dates, some orange zest, star anise and cinnamon. It was pretty experimental, and we didn’t know quite how it would turn out. We ended up with a dry, spicy stout which was surprisingly refreshing. We called it ‘The Curse of the Mummy’ because of the Egyptian spice flavours. Our friend made us a poster to display at our stall.
We learnt how to keg the beer and served it from The Occassional Brewer’s stall ourselves to punters at the first Beervana session. It was pretty amazing to see people’s reactions to our beer – we sold a lot more than we expected, and got some great feedback. Some people even came back for seconds!
Brewing beer is like any other craft really – it takes a bit of time, work, and practice to get the end product that you want. Shane and I have recently been focussing on how to improve our brews to refine their flavours and clarity. I love experimenting with different flavours, trying out new recipes and drawing inspiration from fellow brewers. Best of all, I feel like we belong to a creative community. It’s so much fun getting together and crafting some great beer, then reconvening a few weeks later to taste the finished product. We’ve held two mini ‘beer festivals’ with friends, and are trying to get a brew club started (I love the name our friend Ellery has floated for this, ‘The Brew-Tang Clan’). Like most of my creative endeavours, this craft involves a fun process and a rewarding end product. I think that deserves a drink, don’t you?