From the Ivory Tower to the Brew House
Wednesday, 29 October 2008 11:02

Brewers are, on the whole, remarkable creatures. From just toasted grain, the flower of a vine, ordinary water and a single-celled organism, they can produce delicious, sweet, life-giving beer. Given those same ingredients, most people would end up with soggy muesli which smelt of wet grass and tasted vaguely like bathroom mould. Or worse - Mash beer.

It is no surprise that most brewers have a science or engineering background as they are basically using chemistry and machinery to produce precious beer. Nevertheless, it is still quite a coincidence that two of the country’s best emerging brewers are academics who left the ivory towers to get real jobs - really good jobs.

Paul Croucher was a university lecturer in pharmacy who seemed destined for a career in academia. His life changed dramatically when he accidentally took a job at Auckland University and immediately wanted a career change. Auckland has that effect on me too. He decided to follow his love of beer and food and open up a brewery in his home town of Rotorua (“The Aromatic Capital of New Zealand.”)

The result was the Croucher Brewing Company which produces The Hef – a smooth German-style cloudy wheat beer. The catchy name is both a play on the style of Hefeweizen and a nod to Hugh Hefner. Paul firmly believes everyone has “got to love the bunnies”. Many punters mistakenly think the beer’s name is a homage to David Hasselhoff but, while many, many, many alcoholic beverages are associated with The Man They Call The Hoff, this is not one of them.

This was an ideal beer for a recent tasting I ran where the client asked for a theme of “beers with funny names.” The Hef was quickly out of the blocks and joined such classics as Wychwood Hobgoblin, Harrington’s Wobbly Boot and the Orkney Skullsplitter. Speaking of Skullsplitter, I see some hand-wringing soggy bar towels are trying to get this fine beverage banned because of its alleged “violent name.” Clearly all the other problems in Britain must have been fixed in order for this to be considered an issue.

Kiwis have a growing awareness and interest in wheat beers. Wine writer Bob Campbell is a fan saying The Hef is a “flavoursome beer with a beautiful aroma of sweet wild herbs and wild flowers. Better than most of the top Belgian wheat beers I’ve tasted. Deliciously fruity and silken smooth with little bitterness evident.” He gave it 93 points out of a possible 100.

It showcases the traditional wheat beer characteristics of banana, bubblegum and cloves and is an utterly quenching drop. The brewer himself describes The Hef as “disturbingly refreshing”.

Down in Christchurch, Dr Ralph Bungard has moved from the University of Canterbury to a small but growing brewery in Woolston. With demand increasing, Ralph has had to move to a new brewery which he characteristically describes as “just a bigger place for us with room to swing the brewery cat.” There is some evidence to suggest he doesn’t actually propel his pet feline through the brewing plant.

Three Boys Wheat is his own interesting twist on the popular Belgian style wheat beer epitomised by Hoegaarden. He uses Belgian yeast and the traditional coriander seed but instead of the usual orange peel he uses lemon zest. He passionately describes zesting buckets of lemons on a freezing Christchurch morning as his least favourite part of brewing.

The results are worth it for the drinker though. This is a cloudy deep gold beer with a pillowed white head. It throws a refreshing nose of citrus and coriander. In the glass it presents as a creamy, spicy beer with a sour citrus snap and a long spicy finish. The entire Three Boys range is available in handsome 500ml bottles which are ideal for sharing.

In tasting news, the Moa tasting scheduled for 28 October has been postponed due to the unavailability of the star of the show, Mr Josh Scott. However, unlike the real moa, we expect to see him again real soon. The good news is that a Tuatara tasting coming. This seems somehow appropriate given the Malthouse is the Home of Tuatara.

Cheers,

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

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