Beer Birthday: Neil Miller

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Today is the birthday of New Zealand beer writer Neil Miller. He writes regularly for Beer and Brewer magazine, the beer blog at Real Beer NZ and the Malthouse Blog. Though born in Scotland — Broxburn — he now calls Wellington his home. I met Neil when he was vising the states with Luke Nicholas and other New Zealand beer aficionados for the Craft Brewers Conferences in 2009. They came over early to tour the west coast before CBC began in San Diego that year. We met up at my local brewpub, Moylan’s, and Neil hilariously tells a story about that meeting that I was completely unaware of at the time. Thanks to the series of tubes known as the internet, we’ve managed to keep in touch since then. Join me in wishing Neil a very happy birthday.

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Neil in his cups at his table at the Malthouse

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Behind the bar at the Mussel Inn.

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With recently married Kate Pullar. The correct caption: “when are you going to buy me another of these Epic Armageddon IPAs?”
[Note: Photos Purloined from Facebook.]

Beer Birthday: Luke Nicholas

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Today is also the 43rd birthday of Luke Nicholas, founder/brewer of Epic Brewing in New Zealand. Luke brewed for many years in New Zealand before striking out on his own, and also lived in the States for a spell working for RealBeer.com and became fond of hoppy beers. As a result, his beers are some of the hoppiest in New Zealand. He also started a real beer website just for New Zealand, RealBeer.co.nz and was instrumental in starting a Brewers Guild of NZ. Luke was kind enough to show me around the beer scene in Auckland when I was there with my family a few years ago, and we run into one another at beer events surprisingly often. He’s a great beer ambassador not just for his native country, but for great beer everywhere. You can also read about his exploits online at Luke’s Beer. Join me in wishing Luke a very happy birthday.

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Me and Luke outside 21st Amendment during a visit to our shores.

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And at the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference in Chicago.

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With Stephen Beaumont at CBC in Washington, DC last year.

Embroidered Beer

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Here’s a fun little project by the Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA), a beer appreciation organization in New Zealand — their motto” “Beer for all the right reasons.” They provide resources for consumers, breweries, bars and restaurants, just about anybody along the distribution pipeline, and define their mission with the following:

  • To promote awareness of beer in all its flavour and diversity
  • To protect and improve consumer rights with regards to beer and associated service
  • To promote quality, choice and value for money
  • To campaign for greater appreciation of traditional crafted beer
  • To seek improvements in all licensed premises and throughout the brewing industry
  • To act as an independent resource for both the consumer, the pub trade, and the brewing industry

Toward that end in 2012 they created a SOBA poster campaign , where they created a quartet of posters aimed at “championing finely crafted, flavourful beers and encouraging responsible enjoyment of craft beer.” A local graphics firm, Base Two, designed the four posters to look embroidered on calico fabric and they all carried the message “Champions of finely crafted flavourful beers.” How cool is that?

Hops Sweet Hops
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Stop Drinking. Start Tasting.
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Take Time to Smell the Hops
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Slow down … Taste the Beer
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Everything Old Is New Again: Non-Stop Fermentation

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I just stumbled upon this interesting article from May in Phys.Org entitled More sustainable way to brew beer: Non-stop fermentation saves resources. It details efforts by researchers at the Technische Universität München to develop “a fermentation process that takes place in stages over a number of interconnected tanks. The tank system can be operated continuously over a period of several months, which leads to an energy reduction. The new method also promises significant resource efficiency gains.”

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They talk about the advantages of such a system. “With this new process, yeast and other sedimented substances can be fractionized and re-used if required, and “unlike the conventional system[s], the brewers can fill and empty the tanks continuously from the top part of the tanks. The bottom connection of the tank can hence be used to discharge yeast cells and other particles.”

Lead researcher, Konrad Müller-Auffermann explains how “Continuous operation makes the fermentation plant more efficient. ‘This new method reduces the incidence of energy peaks, so that breweries will be able to save on electricity. In addition, less beer will be lost — and breweries can save water and cleaning detergents.’”

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So far, so good. It sounds interesting, but here’s where they lost me. “Brewers have been juggling with the dream of turning the classical batch fermentation into a continuous process for over 100 years. In all this time, however, no one has managed to develop a widely applied industrial concept.”

Um, maybe somebody with more technical expertise can explain this to me, but New Zealanders (and possibly the Australians) have been using what they call “continuous fermentation” since 1953, and at least one brewery is still using it today. I did a sidebar about Continuous Fermentation for All About Beer magazine in 2008.

One of New Zealand’s most interesting contributions to brewing sciences is the process known as continuous fermentation. This process was patented in 1953 by Morton Coutts, whose family had been involved in brewing since the 19th century. His father founded the Waitemata Brewery, which eventually become DB Breweries.

Essentially, Coutts created a “wort stabilization process” that made the wort more consistent and clear, and then separated the main functions of the yeast into two stages. In the first, yeast grew, and in the second, it fermented. By splitting these two functions, Coutts created a “continuous flow,” so brewers could continually add raw materials to the first stage, and draw off a steady supply of finished beer from the second thus allowing the brewery to run constantly.

It also shortened the brewing process by as much as several weeks. Recognizing the economic advantages to continuous fermentation, Lion and DB worked together jointly to develop a practical way to use the method in a commercial brewery, opening the world’s first continuous fermentation brewery in 1957 in Palmerston North, a town in the south central part of the North Island.

Continuous fermentation works best in a brewery making only one style of beer, because it’s difficult to stop the process and start up again with a new beer. As a result, Lion largely abandoned continuous fermentation in the 1980s in order to brew a wider variety of styles, while DB continues to use the method, as do several other large breweries around the world, such as Guinness.

The University of Aukland’s Business History Project has a good overview on Morton Coutts, father of continuous fermentation. You can also read more at Alcohol Fuels and Ken & Dot’s Allsorts.

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So nothing against the German effort at non-stop fermentation. It looks interesting and innovative. But it doesn’t seem all that different from continuous fermentation that was invented sixty years ago. Maybe there’s a subtle or technical difference I’m missing, but they don’t even mention being aware of it when they insist people have been trying to figure out this problem for over a century, which seems a little strange. So while they’re understandably excited about their discovery, I wish they’d acknowledge Coutts. Or am I missing something?

Beck’s Music-Playing Edison Bottle

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For their New Zealand market, Beck’s hired an ad agency, Shine, to create some buzz for their brand, and they came up with The Beck’s Edison Bottle, the world’s first beer bottle you can play like a record.

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Here’s the description from Vimeo:

The first playable beer.

19th Century technology meets 21st Century music over a bottle of beer in the latest extension to the Beck’s Record Label project.

This time, the art label has evolved, and been replaced by the grooves of Auckland band Ghost Wave. Their new single was inscribed into the surface of a Beck’s beer bottle which could then be played on a specially-built device based on Thomas Edison’s original cylindrical phonograph.
Making the world’s first playable beer bottle was a formidable technical challenge. The clever people at Auckland firm Gyro Constructivists first had to design and build a record-cutting lathe, driven by a hard drive recording head. Then they reinvented Edison’s original cylinder player, using modern materials and electronics and built to very fine tolerances.

The Edison Bottle made its public debut at SemiPermanent in Auckland in May to a standing ovation from the assembled media and design community.

Beck’s has had a long association with music and art. In fact, at about the same time Heinrich Beck was brewing his first beer in the 1870s, Tom Edison was tinkering away on designs for the first phonograph.

Considering how beer has influenced recorded music since then, this physical collaboration was very appropriate and long overdue.

And below is a video showing the design and manufacturing process, along with a short demonstration of the bottle being played.

These close-ups show what the grooves on the bottle look like.
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Codex Fermentarius

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Here’s another interesting list of the The Brewer’s Ten Commandment, this one more contemporary. It was created by Kelly Ryan, my friend Luke’s assistant brewer at Epic Brewing in New Zealand. He apparently recently left to take a job at a new brewpub in Hamilton, and on his new blog, BeeRevolution, proposed the following as his Codex Fermentarius:

Codex Fermentarius

  1. Thou shalt not covet another brewers’ kegs or casks.
  2. Honour thy other brewer’s recipe choice.
  3. Rejoice to thy daughter yeast and thy mother yeast.
  4. Thy glass shalt always be full. Never half full. Never half empty.
  5. Remember thy first brew day. And keep it holy.
  6. Thou shalt not steal another brewer’s hop combination. This is hopdultery.
  7. Thou shalt not covet another brewery’s name. Or beer name. Especially if it is that of a German cyclist.
  8. Seven days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work. Thou art a brewer. Drinking is work.
  9. Taste thy water, taste thy malted grains, taste thy yeast. Don’t taste thy hop flowers.
  10. Thou shalt not drink false beverages. We know what thee are.

In the body of the text, Ryan also offered to expand the list, and invited people to suggest additional commandments. Here’s a sample of some of the ones he got so far:

  • Release not the fruits of thy labour until thou has rested (at least) upon the seventh day (to banish all traces of the unholy VDK).
  • Thou shall wasteth NO beer. Even if it is 8am.
  • Thou shalt have no other beverage before Beer. A whiskey chaser afterwards, fine, but not before.
  • Ever shalt thou have full tanks and clean lines.
  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s brewsheet.
  • Thou shall worship local brews, locally – only if your hair doesn’t drop out.
  • Thou shall cry over spilt beer.
  • Thou shall burp as a sign of worship.

There’s some good ones in there. What would you add?

Stop A Mate Driving Drunk: Legend

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Monday, I posted some PSA’s aiming to prevent drunk driving in rural Australia — Prevent Mate Morphosis. They used something we’re not used to seeing here in the U.S.: humor. Now here’s another great PSA, this time from New Zealand, that uses a sense of humor to get its message across without pandering or using propaganda. You might have to watch it twice to pick up the idiomatic patois but I love how straight forward it is and how they don’t make such a big deal out of everything. The friend is worried about his mate, is afraid of saying something and appearing uncool, and decides it’s worth it. His friend agrees, problem solved. Everybody’s safe. Beautiful. Bloody legend, indeed.

The Inspiration Room also has some commentary on the thinking behind the ad, which was created by the New Zealand Transportation Agency and launched last Sunday.

The Automatic Personal Brewery

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When did homebrewing become so hard that people still want to do it but are looking for ways around the actual work of the brewing? First there was Brewbot: An Automated Homebrewing Machine, by an Australian designer, and now comes WilliamsWarn: The Personal Brewery, this time from New Zealand. Is it perhaps the folks down under who are getting lazy? (And thanks to brewer Andrew Mason for the hat tip.)

So brewmaster Ian Williams and food technologist (not sure what that is) Anders Warn worked for two years to develop the WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery, which looks as much like a fancy coffee machine as anything else.
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Here’s their “story” from the website:

The WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery is the miracle that beer drinkers have been praying for. After 5000 years of brewing, the technology finally exists to allow you to brew the perfect beer. Your Personal Brewery is a breakthrough created by our brewmasters through a combination of their deep love of beer and their extensive knowledge of brewing.

In 2004, whilst Ian was working out of Denmark as an international brewing consultant and professional beer taster, he was challenged by his Uncle (a frustrated homebrewer) to invent the worlds first personal brewery. After 2 years part-time research he returned to New Zealand in 2006 and started fulltime research and development with help from his friend, Anders Warn. Finally in 2011, after several rounds of serious investment, after 100 brews and blind tastings and after many industrial prototypes, the first units and the ingredients to be used in them are ready for sale.

So after 5 years of intense development, the result is cold, perfectly carbonated, clear, commercial quality beer made in 7 days, like a modern brewery. All 78 official beer styles can be made as well as the option to develop your own.

I have to say I’m skeptical, especially watching them pour the malt syrup into the contraption. And it’s not exactly cheap, either, at $5,666 NZD (which is roughly $4,436 in American dollars). It seems like it would take quite a few 23 litre batches (about 6 gallons) before it would pay for itself. And the ingredients to make one batch is $49-52 NZD ($50 = $39 USD). So after purchasing the machine, it costs $39 per batch, getting you roughly 6 gallons of beer, or the equivalent of 2 2/3 cases of 12 oz. bottles or roughly 10 six-packs with a few bottles extra). Not including the price of the machine, the cost would be about $4 per six-pack, saving you maybe $2 for a macro brew and $4-5 per craft beer sixer. Let’s call it $4 savings per six-pack ($40 per batch) and it would take you 110 batches before you broke even.

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Ian Williams and Anders Warn with their Personal Brewery.

Watch the video to get a better idea of what it’s all about and how it works. What do you think? Am I crazy, or are these contraptions a bad idea that subvert the very idea of what it means to be a homebrewer? Throughout the press materials for the Personal Brewery, they talk about how it was just too hard to homebrew and the founder’s uncle wanted a simpler way to keep making beer at home. But I can’t help but wonder. Maybe his uncle should have given up and just bought beer from professionals. Does making beer using a machine that does all the work still constitute homebrewing? Certainly many of the bigger brewery’s systems are automated at various stages in the process. But I tend to think of homebrewing as a learning experience, where you learn to be a better brewer by doing, by putting in the time and the hard work. These homebrewing systems seem designed for a lazy person who wants to call themselves a “homebrewer” but without putting in any of the effort. An automatic personal brewery seems less like a hobby and more like having yet another kitchen gadget just to impress your friends. Though it’s hard not to be impressed with the engineering of it, and it is a beautiful looking machine. What do you think?

Epic Stops In San Francisco

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My friend Luke Nicholas, the founder and brewer for New Zealand’s Epic Beer, was in town on Monday for a couple of days, before flying to Delaware to do a collaboration brew with Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head. I met up with him at 21st Amendment for a quick drink and to try two of his new beers.

The first, a stout, was also a collaboration between the Thornbridge Brewery in the UK. Rich and chocolately, it was a very nice stout. The second, Oaked Aged Armageddon IPA, is Luke’s regular IPA, but aged on lightly toasted oak. It uses all American hops: Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Simcoe. At 66 IBUs it’s a big, hoppy, floral IPA. But for New Zealand — whose mainstream lagers are even lighter than our mainstream lagers — it’s so huge it’s … well, epic. But the toasted oak adds a nice dimension that’s subtle but a welcome addition.

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Luke and Zambo.

Also, new head 21A head brewer Zambo was just tapping their most recent creation, a Belgian-style IPA, similar to the Belgian Pale Ale they did last year, but hoppier, of course.

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Me and Luke outside 21A.

Session #28: Thinking & Drinking Globally

Today is National Doughnut Day, among other things, and time once again for The Session, in fact our 28th such outing. This time our host is Brian Yaeger, who writes at Red, White & Brew. His chosen topic is “Think/Drink Globally,” which he described as follows:

In honor of Global Craft Beer Forever, I propose everyone writes about the farthest brewery (including brewpubs) you have visited and specifically the best beer you had there. Again, not your favorite or any old brewery you’ve been to, but the one that is the longest haul away, be it by airplane, car, ferry, rickshaw, whatever. (If you blog about beer but have never been to a House of Brewing, get on it!)

Then, the last part, since this exercise gives us an excuse to drink beer, do one of the following:

  1. if you brought home a bottle while visiting the brewery and have it secreted away, crack it open.
  2. if you don’t have any left from that visit but the particular beer is available where you live (or if not your fave from said brewery, another brand from it), go get one.
  3. otherwise, find a local beer of the same style and do a little compare and contrast.

Well it certainly isn’t to hard to figure out the farthest place I’ve traveled so far for a beer was to New Zealand. The whole family went there for two weeks last year around this same time, plus my in-laws, too. We had a great time, and stayed most of the time in a beach house north of Auckland in the middle of nowhere. And since a lot of New Zealand feels like the middle of nowhere, that’s really saying something. We explored caves, went on hikes, lounged at the beach and tried our damnedest not to hit anything driving on the wrong (for us) side of the road. There were sheep everywhere and the joke is that there are more of them than people in New Zealand, and it’s not hard to believe.

The last few days were spent in the capital city of Auckland, where there was more beer, I’m happy to say. Though, sadly, only a minority was actually worth drinking. I did an article on beer in New Zealand for All About Beer. There were several decent breweries, the best I tried were from Emerson, Epic, Galbraith, and Hallertau.

Of those four, I spent the most time at Hallertau, as they also sell bottled beers and owner Stephen Plowman and Luke Nicholas (who brews the Epic Beer line) and I opened a couple dozen ebers so I could get a good cross section of the islands’ beer. Here’s what I wrote about the place in All About Beer:

Near the edge of the city limits, in Riverhead, is Galbraith’s polar opposite, the Hallertau Brewbar & Restaurant. Opened just three years ago by Stephen Plowman, the restaurant is thoroughly modern in both décor and cuisine, with an emphasis on local ingredients wherever possible. The menu includes esoteric fare as well as new takes on traditional dishes, and everything tastes homemade and delicious. The brewing equipment, though much less modern, and looking as if designed by MacGyver, still manages to create some terrific beers. Plowman makes an interesting range of beers, and likes to play around with his seasonals. His regular beers include a Kölsch-style ale, an American pale ale, an Irish red and a German-style Schwarzbier. His seasonal offerings have included an Imperial IPA (big, hoppy beers are a veritable rarity in New Zealand), a Belgian-style Tripel and a Saison flavored with Manuka tips, a local shrub sometimes also called a tea tree.

But by far my favorite of his beers was an experimental beer he was making, and I bought a couple bottles of it to bring home and age. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:

But Plowman’s most ambitious beer may also be his best. His Porter Noir is a barrel-aged beer, which may be the first beer in New Zealand to use Brettanomyces. He brewed a strong Porter (6.6% abv) and aged it in local Pinot Noir barrels for four months before bottling. In the bottle, Brettanomyces was added and left to condition for another six months, before being released for purchase. It’s a wonderful beer, with rich, complex flavors of thick figs, raisins and the like, with strong Brett horse stable character. I can’t say for sure whether or not the people of New Zealand are ready for a beer so vastly different from their popular, but insipid, draught style. But ready or not, here it comes.

The second time I tried it, with Vinnie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing, here’s what I found:

Dark in color and a very thick tan head. The nose was marked by characteristic barnyard aromas with just a touch of malty sweetness. The nose was slightly less pungent than the sample I had in New Zealand, but Vinnie and I both declared it to be quite tasty. The Brett character married quite nicely with the nutty, malty porter flavors.

So let’s see what a year has done to it. The Bretty barnyard is still there, possibly even stronger, at least as I remember it. It’s still very malty but seems more complex to me as well, with all sorts of aroma and tastes mixing about on the nose and on the tongue. Dark fruit and some spiciness predominate, but there’s more there, too. I don’t know if Plowman is making new batches of this beer, but I certainly hope so, it’s definitely one of the most adventuresome being made in New Zealand.

I realized that I never posted photos from the New Zealand trip because I was saving them for the All About Beer article, but it’s been a year now, so I think it’s okay to post some of them now. So here’s a gallery of beer-related photos and also some non-beer related photos, in case you’re curious about what else we saw when we were there. [Note: the photos have no captions because I didn't have time to put them in before leaving for Monterey. I'll try and put them in Sunday after we get back, so check back Monday if you want to have more information about what's in the photos.]