The other members are Richard Emerson (founder of Emerson’s Brewery and owner of famed vermillion facial whiskers) and Roger Pink (founder of Pink Elephant brewery, noted pachyderm enthusiast and son of perfidious Albion). 

Several readers may be scratching their heads wondering how Stephen attained such a lofty status. Well, the situation becomes clear when it revealed that Stephen Middlemiss is far better known as Ben Middlemiss. [1] Donaldson selected the “holy trinity” because they were three Kiwi brewers who appeared in Michael Jackson’s legendary “Great Beer Guide.”

Middlemiss started making wine and brewing beer in his teens after his initial hobby of exploding fireworks was deemed too dangerous. He has exerted a tremendous influence over the development of the craft beer industry through his work at a vast number of breweries on both sides of the Tasman including (but by no means limited to) Marlborough Brewing Company, Cock and Bull/Steam Brewing, Australis, Martinborough Brewery and the Shakespeare Tavern. Today, he runs Ben Middlemiss Brewing Company.

He must also take some credit/blame for Luke Nicholas’ brewing career. Middlemiss mentored a young Impish Brewer with a full head of hair [2] at the Cock & Bull just as Nicholas was looking to join the industry. Nicholas went onto form Epic Brewing Company and was at the vanguard of stuffing pale ales with palate crushing piles of America hops. [3]

The first Middlemiss beers I tried were the highly regarded Australis range. All three of their beers made Michael Jackson’s “Good Beer Guide”. To put that achievement in context, only two of Chimay’s three beers made the cut. [4] Sadly, Australis had a relatively short life as Middlemiss and brewing partner Keith Galbraith fell out in quite a spectacular manner. Old bottles occasionally popped after the split around 2000 but the taste of those beers on tap at Galbraith’s was one of my earliest craft beer knee trembling moments.

Here is Donaldson’s account of the Australis range (Benediction Belgian Ale, Hodgson IPA and Romanov Russian Imperial Stout): “Middlemiss had already formulated the three styles he wanted to brew, assertive beers that no one else was doing. “I dreamed the name of Benediction”… pointing out that “it had Ben in it, plus it had reference to monasteries because I wanted to brew an abbey beer.” The name Hodgson came from the bloke who was synonymous with India Pale Ale in the eighteenth century through his East India Trading Co. while Romanov referred to the last of the czars, who would commission English brewers to produce the special beer, Russian Imperial Stout, to help fortify troops.”

I had interviewed Middlemiss by phone and chatted occasionally at beer festivals but my first real sit down chat over a few ales with him occurred when he visited the Fork & Brewer to put down a collaboration brew. That beer, which went onto be known as Fork/Middlemiss Discombobulation IIPA, had a problematic time in the tanks and came awfully close to riding the drain a couple of times. However, the final result was a powerful, punchy New Zealand pale ale with strong citrus notes, a hint of sherbet, assertive bitterness and a delightful cloudy appearance.

Previously he had produced Middlemiss Lunatic Soup, a super cloudy and intense pale ale with citrus notes (orange peel) and a rasping finish. It really did look like soup. I adored that beer. The only thing more fun than saying the name was drinking it. [5]

Malthouse currently has two Middlemiss beers available. On tap is the new Ben Middlemiss White Lady (4.5%), a classic Witbier made with orange peel. Middlemiss brewed it at Invercargill Brewery and it has proved a popular summer beer. Middlemiss describes it as lovely refreshing, 4.5% alcohol, with crisp wheat flavours and a light citrus note that was so popular last summer.” Others have picked up spicy notes and the distinctive Belgian yeast.

In bottles is the Ben Middlemiss Nota Bene (8.7%), a Belgian-style Abbey beer reminiscent (but legally different to) the now defunct Australis Benediction. [6] This is the 2010 version so the beers have had plenty of time to develop. The brewer expressly notes that it can be cellared “as you would a fine wine”. Here is what Middlemiss had to say about his Nota Bene:

“Seeking to re-release this beer and still have a tongue and cheek reference to the former name, the new adaptation is called Nota Bene, Latin for “Note Well!” A beautifully crafted, complex-charactered ale, Nota Bene weighs in at 8.7% ABV and has an almost orange hue. The flavours are warm and dry and driven by a spicy hop fruit character, laced with an unobtrusive warming alcohol effect. When poured, a lovely rich head forms and contains delicious yeast characters only found normally in the style of beers produced by the monasteries of Belgium. It was indeed these monks’ work which inspired Ben to develop this wonderfully enduring world class ale.”

One other quote from Middlemiss in Donaldson’s tome caught my attention. As someone who spends a higher than average amount of time in craft beer bars, it demonstrated how far our drinking has come, despite what the usual suspects claim. This is Middlemiss’ recollection of the infamous Six O’Clock Swill:

“I remember as a 13 year old paper boy looking into Barry’s Hotel in Blenheim – there was a guy with a hose and the finger wasn’t coming off. He was going backwards and forwards and I saw guys going back with six jugs of beer and they weren’t for anyone else. I’d a see a small glass and wondered why the glass was so small; but you could drink quickly from a small glass – one hand was holding the jug, and [the drinker] wouldn’t take the hand off, constantly filling the glass. The noise coming out of the place… it was just bedlam.”

Ben Middlemiss is truly a legend in New Zealand brewing and is still turning out quality ales. Thank you sir!

Next time, we drink to (Sir) Kane Williamson and the Black Caps as they begin their hopefully irresistible run to Cricket World Cup glory. On the off chance the Black Caps do not make it, we drink to any team that beats Australia.

[1] In an earlier interview, Ben said he was born Stephen but “became widely known as Ben at high school when I started making a beer called Ben’s Best Bitter which was modelled on a recipe by Ben Turner, an English beer writer. In the beer world I’ve been known as Ben ever since. I happily answer to both Steve and Ben.”

[2] Almost certainly a mullet.

[3] And I for one will forever be grateful to him for that. On the other hand, I have frequently emptied my wallet into the Epic Brewing Company accounts.

[4] Chimay Rouge, the red-headed step child of Trappist brewing, was the beer to miss out.

[5] When I requested a “Lunatic Soup” several friends I was playing some form of elaborate practical joke and would be quite surprised to find out the beer actually existed. This was also fun.

[6] Keith Galbraith’s take on the beer formerly known as Benediction is Galbraith’s Resurrection, a beer he describes (incorrectly) as a Trappist Ale. Mr Galbraith has many talents but being semi-silent, celibate and a monk are not three of them.



Neil Miller

Beer Writer

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