You know you’ve got a special wife when she will drive you half way around the city on New Years eve as you dart in and out of establishments trying to find someone, anyone serving a quality stout. Alas I think the middle of summer is a bit of a desert in terms of the good stuff, there are a few options on the market but none of them really tickled my fancy (to be fair I hadn’t discovered Panheads black top at that stage, and Hallertau double stout wasn’t on the shelf). I left 2013 without a stout… And woke up the next day to brew one myself. A couple of years ago I was enjoying a special reserve extra stout by Emersons at Galbraiths in Auckland, I was completely blown away by it… Coffee, chocolate, liquorice and hints of rum and raisin… All held together by an interesting water profile, slightly salty, that really brought out the liquorice notes and a great snappy finish.. I had to make this beer!
This is the beer that we are launching with. It won a gold medal at the soba NHC in 2012 and a bronze medal in 2013 (under-pitched that version and it struggled to clean itself up during fermentation). So Why a stout like this instead of the trusty pale ale or IPA? Well firstly I'm not sure how the beer is going to sell, I have no idea about that end of the business just yet and I don't want a pale hoppy beer sitting on the shelf for 6 months before someone buys it and decides its shit, writing off our beer on the spot. A strong dark beer will only improve as time goes by (as long as its properly brewed). Second is that there just aren't enough of these beers on the shelf. Its what Im always looking for and its one of my favourite styles and this venture is primarily about me sharing my interests with a greater audience.
This version handles some hefty late hopping rather well and Ive experimented with most of the notable New Zealand varieties. From Motueka and Southern Cross, to Cascade and Kohatu. Every combo seems to work well and its the kind of beer that has layers of unfolding flavours and smells which age gracefully and only seem to get better. Im giving this brew a combination of Styrian Goldings, Riwaka and Southern Cross at flameout. To be honest I don't think it resembles Emersons stout any more but its inspired by the skills of the brewers down the coast.
5KG Gladfiled Ale Malt
500g Gladfield Vienna
400g Weyerman Chocolate Malt 1175 EBC
400g Weyerman Roasted Barley 591 EBC
300g Thomas Fawcett Medium Crystal 150 EBC
150g Bairds Pale Chocolate 950 EBC
150g Briess Special Roast 98.5 EBC
80g Thomas Fawcett Dark Crystal 288 EBC
20g Southern Cross Boil 60 mins 38.9 IBU
80g Styrian Goldings Steep 20 min 9.3 IBU
15g Riwaka Steep 20 min 1.7 IBU
15g Southern Cross Step 20 min 4.2 IBU
2.4g Yeast nutrient
0.8g Koppafloc kettle finings
22g Safale US-05 dry yeast
12/04/2014 - Milled grains and mashed in with 22L of water at 70C for a 60 minute rest at 64C. Sparged with 20L of 5.5 PH adjusted water slowly for 40 minutes. Boiled for 30 minutes then added the first hop addition. Boiled for a further 60 minutes added nutrients and finings then killed the heat and aded the steeping hops. Left to stand for 20 minutes. Chilled, added pure oxygen at a rate of 1L per minute for two minutes (Used extra because of the high gravity). Added yeast and left to ferment at 19C
This style requires some attention to your water. Make sure to adjust the PH of the mash to 5.2 I use Calcium Hydroxide to buffer some of the acidity in the roasted malts which would otherwise drop my PH to well below 4.5 This also means that I can add calcium ions without additional chloride or sufate ions (I like to keep the latter on the low side for this beer at about 30ppm). Also a touch of Sodium Bicrabonate to further buffer this drop and add sodium ions. You really want at least 20 to 25ppm of sodium in a beer like this to make all the flavours pop and get that liquorice thing happening.
Last month my wife Katie and I flew from Auckland to Queenstown and then headed up to Oamaru to meet with the team at Scotts Brewing co. We had been in contact late 2013 and I liked what I was hearing with regard to their operation, the next logical step was to head on down and meet face to face…. More or less to make sure that they weren’t wierdos. Like any business relationship the most important thing is that you can all get on, and that you’re all on the same page and heading in roughly the same direction.
So why Scotts? There must be a bounty of breweries in the north island that are cheaper to get to and even more experienced. The decision for me was quite simple really… Firstly, they were the only brewery I was in contact with that a) replied to my emails b) were hungry for new business.In fact right off the bat I had the impression that they were just as excited about the prospect of taking on a contract brewer as I was excited about brewing. And lastly, the gluten free pale ale I tried before getting in contact was in near perfect condition (and it was a few months old on the shelf). Now Ill admit straight away that I really do prefer my beers with gluten, lots of gluten…. It’s a very different beverage without wheat and not entirely suited to my tastes. However Scotts offerings are decent and the technical story that the beer tells is even better!
With a beer that really doesn’t have the malt complexity and body of its barley counterparts there is absolutely nowhere for faults to hide. What I was looking for when searching for a brewery was perfectly brewed beer, and more importantly, perfectly packaged beer. You’d think this would be an easy task with such a great selection on offer at liquor stores and supermarkets around the country…. But its not. There’s a lot of craft breweries struggling to get their beer packaged free from faults, sometimes as minor as a little oxidation or improper storage, but sometimes unacceptable faults like diacetyl, dms and even bacterial problems. Usually (and especially around Christmas) the problem I’m encountering is beer that just hasn’t had long enough to mature, and was rushed into bottles leaving plenty of diacetyl precursors ready and waiting to ruin the beer after a few days in the bottle. I know it happens because Ive done it myself while homebrewing… At the last NHC I rushed 4 beers out two weeks before the competition, all tasted as though they were set for silvers or even golds straight from the keg, but once in the bottle diacetyl formed, robbing the beer of ALL its positive qualities and getting absolutely hammered by the judges. These are rookie mistakes, which are unacceptable on a commercial level.
I found none of this in Scotts beer, not even a hint. The hops jumped out of the glass and smelled fresh, fruity and without even the tiniest hint of oxidation… This for me was the clincher. Oxidised hop aromatics completely ruin a beer, and it’s a problem that’s rife with many IPA’s and pale ales on the market. “Whatever Scotts are doing” I thought to myself, “they are doing a damn fine job with the packaging”.
Phillip Scott is about as humble as they come, a quiet sort, with a cheeky grin... You get the impression there were years of chaos and hell raising beneath those country curls…. Im sure parenthood and the realities of running a commercial brewery have tempered some of the debaucherous years… You get the immediate sense that he's proud of what he's built, and like all brewers the world over there's a glint in his eye that screams passion and enthusiasm for the craft!
So that was settled in my mind, I don’t care that they are at the other end of the country, I care about the integrity of my beer and I trust them to see that through to the glass. It also helps that they have near perfect brewing water. My water at home (in Auckland) is great, really soft and Scotts is even cleaner, like starting at zero. They also have a brand spanking new 2400L brewhouse from the same Chinese supplies that provide Premier srtainless with all their kit, its a real piece of work and I can't wait to learn how it works (L plates on the kettle Phil?).
We all just clicked, having very similar values on flavor and balance and after sharing some barley wine (which just picked up a best of show at the Blanc Brew Fest competition in Auckland) with the team they got excited and Jess (the brewer) brings out a two year old bottle of wee heavy that was made by brewmaster Keith Grice in Australia (her last bottle even!) and it rounded off a great morning….
They are brewing impeccable beers at Scotts, packed with flavor and perfectly balanced. From the core gluten free range through to the protein heavy weights, pale ales, porters, experimental Belgians with pineapple and lime, even a lamington beer! I felt like I could sit and talk fermentation and process with them for hours and hours and that’s the kind of relationship I was hoping I might find down there on the east coast of New Zealand, un pretentious, and not forced, with a mad passion for perfect beer.
We are officially underway! Sparks Brewing is a new contract brewery operating out of Auckland New Zealand and brewing beer wherever a free tank is available. Our first steps into the commercial world will be out of Scotts Brewing in Oamaru some time over the next two months. I brew small batches at home on a four-vessel HERMS (heat exchanged recirculating mash system). I brew at least once a week and often 3 or more times on the same recipe, splitting batches with different yeast, hops and water additions to compare and really explore every angle before deciding on which recipe makes the cut and into the commercial world. This process which started as a hobby is really a second job in itself, I take it seriously and probably dump more beer than I make in the search for perfect balance.
I like to focus on the little details, if I have exactly the right ppm of sodium and calcium in my water. Do I have just the right amount of crystal malt or roast, is my oxygen saturation just right, how many yeast cells do I actually have, exactly what temperatures are being controlled when and where. These are all simple details but together they add up to a complex process which comes together in the making of exceptional beer.
Over the years Ive won my fair share of awards at the national competition (Soba NHC) with a handful of bronze, silver and the coveted gold medals that are the holy grail of the home brew elite. I feel that this is the ultimate acid test. If you can achieve a gold in any category at the nationals, you can and should be selling your beer!
Im hugely inspired by whats happening in the craft beer world right now, both on the shelf and on the internet, there is so much variety and so many great minds behind the products. From the artwork to the flavours, the writers, scientists, fans and the geeks. There is a culture growing with a lot of momentum and it feels exciting to be a part of. As our range expands Ill add the beers and build the website (thanks to Lightbox Creative) around the products which finally hit the shelf. In a perfect world Sparks Brewing will be a constantly evolving seasonal brewery, meaning that each brew we undertake commercially will be a new beer in a revolving list of styles that Im digging throughout the year. If anything, you'll be able to rely on Sparks as your 'go to' when in need of something new.
So expect to see a regular blog filled with our success and failures, lots of geeky talk on ingredients and process and plenty of photo’s from both the homebrew and commercial world of beer.