20 Feb 2014

I imagine that back in the days of gunslingers and gold miners the ales that quenched the thirst of the common man, the 'hoople' as David Milch so eloquently called him in the TV series Deadwood, was something akin to a French saison. Of course it wouldn't have been as clean as the modern day cultured yeasts allow for, but all would've had the same premise: hoppy, lots of fruity esters from a warm fermentation, and bone dry! I imagine that they were all different with every batch having its own special kind of strange.  The story of saison is of a drink developed to quench the thirst of the local farm hands in Wallonia, but I don't think this would have been common practice in Belgium alone. Saison's and ales like them, would be a global style for the hoople the world over. And Im sure as the mid days sun rolled over, the afternoons got a bit wilder as our hooples quenched their thirst tending less to the fields and more to the bottle, with greater and greater depravity and abandon. 

I like the connotation of this style. Its a truly unique expression of the brewer and the indigenous ingredients available. Ive been incessantly brewing saisons for months trying to pin down the perfect balance.  Ive worked through three different strains of yeast and finally settled on a private collection strain from Wyeast called 3726-PC Farmhouse Ale. This strain was isolated from Braserie De Blaugies in Belgium and behaves like any other ale yeast with an average attenuation of about 75%. Rather than pushing the temperatures higher and higher to get the fruity flavours, you can use a fermentation temperature of 23C which brings out a mix of tropical esters and spicy phenols that just scream out for some New Zealand hops.

So I went overboard! Motueka and Kohatu late in the boil add a significant spicy zest to the beer and its the dry hop schedule that really tips this on its head and turns it into a more ‘farmhouse’ type of ale.  Combined with the yeast esters its a tropical fruit bowl dominated by pineapple and mango with an intriguing dry, spicy character layered underneath. Its so unique that I ended up brewing five more batches just to check it was not a fluke and to try a few different finishing gravities before settling on the right amount of body to balance the heavy load of hops.

You see most Saisons are very dry, some finishing as low as 1.000 SG. I'm looking to make an easy drinking ale thats sub 5% ABV and if the beer were to finish too dry it would lack a substantial malt character to keep it interesting. The hops would have to be toned down to balance this and I want more hops and more character without all the alcohol. So we're mashing high at 68C and using a yeast that leaves a little sweetness but still finishes dry and tart. To me this is the fundamental difference between a saison and a farmhouse ale (although many would argue they are one in the same).

The malt is all from Gladfield Malt in Canterbury. Pilsner makes up the majority of the grist and leaves a very floral honey character to the beer while some vienna and wheat give it that rustic complexity which typifies the style. This is a true New Zealand style farmhouse ale made with traditional yeast and fresh local malt and hops.

Saison Blog post 800 x 921

Prospector - Farmhouse Ale

O.G. 1.049
ABV 4.9%


68% Gladfield Pilsner 
16% Gladfield Vienna
16% Gladfield Wheat

4.0  IBU Motueka at 60 minutes

Yeast nutrients and Koppafloc at 10 minutes

7.9  IBU Motueka at flameout
8.0 IBU Kohatu at flameout

Ferment with Wy3726-PC Farmhouse Ale at 23C for 4 days and raise it up to 25 for another 2 days. When terminal crash to 2C and rack to a keg before adding dry hops and force carbonating at 15PSI for 7 days. 

2g/L Motueka Dry Hop
2g/L Kohatu Dry Hop

The keg will taste good for a few weeks before it needs to be transferred off the hops and into another keg (If you can't keg then transfer to a secondary and dry hop for 4 days before bottling), until that time you can enjoy totally fresh hoppy beer with every pint so rip through it! After its transferred as the hops drop out the yeast esters remain and keep the beer interesting!

19 Feb 2014

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!

stout gold medal

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. 


stout process 5

Testing out a new fermenter designed by a local outfit Indemic Design here in Auckland New Zealand.

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 IBUStyrina Goldings hops

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




stout process 312/04/2014 - 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.



19 Feb 2014

plane windowLast 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 Scot

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?).

wee heavy

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. 

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