Beervana Media Brew: Flag Burning and Other Anarchy

Hallelujah, I’ve hit the big time! Yes, at last I’ve been recognised as a legit-grownup-journalist. No, I’m not finally getting paid to write this. Official recognition has come in another form: a Beervana Media Brew.

This is an annual competition in which journalists and breweries collaborate on a beers, which are then served at Wellington’s biggest beer festival, Beervana (which I’ve written at length about here, here, here, here, and here). The journos then drum up publicity by talking about the beers on their respective platforms. This year I am to join the illustrious company of journos from Stuff, Dish, the Manawatu Standard, and Fishhead Magazine to create a unique beer you can try at this year’s Beervana.

Alright, I’ll be fair. I’m also going head to head with Ben Irwin and Patrick Gower; which is a sentence I never thought I’d find myself writing on this blog…

“I’ve got an idea… It’s a bit weird though.”

Which brewery was I to be collaborating with? Turns out, I’d been paired with Wild & Woolly. Wild & Woolly is a new player in the brewery scene and run by Llew Bardecki, one of the most talented off-the-wall brewers in the country. He also happens to be one of my closest friends in the beer scene. Perfect.

In fact we’d already (sort of) collaborated together once before, when a satirical post of mine inspired him to make one of the rarest and highest-rated beers in New Zealand.

The collaboration process for us was a lot of fun and mainly involved me wandering into the brewery where Llew was working, and the both of us throwing ideas at the wall to see what would stick. And we had a lot of very strange ideas. The theme this year is “Can the Flag Debate”, which isn’t bad as themes go, because it’s broad enough that you can basically do anything you feel like and then retcon a justification for it.

So here’s our pitch:

Changing the flag? Barely seems worth it. But since we seem to be committed, I guess we may as well make a go of it. I actually wouldn’t mind changing to something a little more culturally relevant. I mean the current one is a bit of an old colonial rag, isn’t it? I would quite happily leave behind the trappings of Britishness and start again with something that reflects the multiculturalism of New Zealand.

And let’s finally admit that our ancestors nicked this country off some people that had one hell of a better claim to it. Then perhaps we can do a proper job of making amends for that fact. And let’s change the name from ‘New Zealand’ to ‘Aotearoa’…

Oh, sorry, getting off topic.

Our beer starts as a strong Scotch Ale. Then, as a symbol of protest and rejection of colonialism, we took Britain’s favourite beverage, tea, and set fire to it.

A portion of the beer’s malt bill was hot-smoked using Dilmah’s finest Ceylon.

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Do try it.

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On this day, I felt more Yeastie Boys than Yeastie Boys.

The normal process for smoking malt is to cold-smoke it, but time and equipment were limited in this instance.

I’ve done a fair amount of hot-smoking, usually with meat and wood smoke. Smoking with tea is a whole new experience for me. The aroma coming out of the smoker when I turned the burner on was amazing. At first it smelt like someone brewing a cuppa, then, as the moist tea began to smoke, it smelt like I was sitting by a campfire, brewing a pot of tea after a long tramping expedition. Delicious.

The tea-smoked malt was mashed into the beer with the rest of the grain and everything continued as usual. That is until we reach the boil. Instead of hops (another import from the UK, we wanted to use a New Zealand native equivalent. Specifically a New Zealand equivalent to the tea that we had just burnt – Tea Tree, better know to us as Manuka.

We threw 300 grams of fresh Manuka tips into the boil, at about the time hops would normally be added to the beer (and in direct violation of Patent no. 519778).

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Again, the aromas that come out of the kettle at this stage were fabulous. I remember saying to Llew that if we capture half that aroma and flavour in the finished beer, it’ll be fantastic.

After chilling, we tried a little of the wort (unfermented beer) while running it into the fermenter. Whilst I don’t want to blow too hard on our own trumpet, but that wort was the most delicious I’ve ever made, possibly the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. Sweet, herbal, medicinal, with just a hint of smoke.

At time of writing, the beer is finished fermenting and is just about to go into the keg. It tastes excellent. I am really, really proud of this beer. The smoke has come forward a fair bit, and is completely unlike any other smoke character I’ve tasted in a beer. The beer is a little sweet, with a wonderful manuka flavour following (somewhere between banana and rose, with just a hint of menthol).

We’re calling the beer ‘Flag Burner’. It will be available at Beervana at the Media Brew Stand. There’s only 50 lites and no guarantee you’ll ever see this beer again, so if you’re going, seek it out.Flag Burner PosterFun fact: this taste of New Zealand was brought to you by a 1st gen Canadian and 2nd gen Swiss immigrant.

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Eating My Words

Some of you may remember that I wrote a parody post mocking ‘Beers You Must Try’ articles? Do you remember how the final beer was one that I made up? A beer with a ridiculous name and a concept so silly that no brewery in their right mind would ever make it?

Remember me saying that you’d never get to try said beer, because ‘fuck you’? Well, now I’m rather thilled to to be tucking into a hearty meal of my own words, because said beer will be going on tap tomorrow.

That’s right, Silver Cat Angry Gummy Bear White Stout is now officially a beer you can drink.

There does not exist, nor has there ever been, a brewery called Silver Cat (although there might be one day, who knows?). The brewery that made this beer is Wellington-based Wild & Woolly. Never heard of them? That’s not surprising. Thursday is the official launch of not just this beer, but also the whole brewery. Silver Cat Angry Gummy Bear White Stout W&W is the project of LLew Bardecki, a long time friend of mine and someone I respect immensely for not only being one of the most daring and talented brewers I know, burt also pretty much one of the best dudes ever in the history of the world.

Here’s Llew’s own description of the Silver Cat Angry Gummy Bear White Stout:

“SCAGWS is a wheat stout fermented with a Belgian witbier yeast with the bonus of Haribo gummi bears added to the boil (wouldn’t you be angry if someone dumped you and your friends in a kettle full of boiling wort?)
It’s got a fabulous creamy head and mouthfeel, low roastiness for a stout, moderate Belgian yeast character and a clearly detectable flavour of gummi bears.”

Sounds good to me.

Silver Cat Angry Gummy Bear White Stout, along with three other beers from W&W will be hitting taps at Hashigo Zake from 5:30pm tomorrow (that’s Thursday 12/03/2015). You should be there. After all, it’s your one and only chance to complete The Bottleneck’s Top 20 Beers You Must Try to Put on Your Bucket List Before You Die.

A Different Kind of IP Issue

I heard something interesting over the bar a while back. That’s a great start to a bloooog post isn’t it? So it wasn’t anything bad, just something interesting. And it went a bit like this:

“Have you heard about this West Coast brewing competition they just had at Malthouse?”
“Nah, what’s that all about?”
“You brew an IPA and the guy who won, he gets made for him by some brewery up in Newlands.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah, but here’s the thing: you don’t get a share of the profit. So some other bastard gets rich off your beer.”

Now, that is something interesting. “Some other bastard gets rich off your beer.” In this case, the brewery is the newly opened Baylands Brewery and the bastard is the rather pleasant Mr. Aidan Styles. Now anyone who’s spent any real time in a small scale commercial brewery knows that no brewer in this country is getting rich in a hurry. Indeed, it takes roughly 20 years before you can expect a good solid return on your work.1

So to me this idea that someone should receive the profit made from a batch of beer where they provided the recipe is a bit naive. Certainly if they bought the ingredients, rented the tank space, actually brewed the beer (or paid the labour), paid the excise and then distributed it, that would make sense. But then there’s a name for that: contract brewing.

But then I got thinking. You know what? Maybe there is something to this. Recipes are a form in intellectual property, right? Use of someone else’s IP in other fields usually requires payment. That’s why we have copyrights, licensing and all that business. After all the author of a book receives a percentage share. Why not the author of a beer?

This got me thinking even more: How much? How much would recipe royalties for the batch of beer from the Amateur West Coast IPA Challenge amount to? Lets find out. The book analogy seems apt. lets go with that.

I got in touch with a friend of mine in the publishing industry. In New Zealand, an author can expect to take about 12.5% of the retail price of the book (although it can be as high as 25%).

Ok, so that’s not going to work.

Dominic from Hashigo did a pretty neat breakdown of how much beer costs and why here (Table 3. in particular). Doing some hasty back-of-the-envelope arithmetic, giving a recipe maker 12.5% would increase the cost of beer by at least $2 per pint. I don’t think the brewer, the consumer or anyone in between would swallow that one. So lets find another model.

What about films then? That’s my area of expertise after all. If we consider beers like films, what then? Producers, directors, screenwriters and so forth can work for a flat fee, but they can work for a percentage of the film’s profits, banking on it being a hit. Using this model, a recipe maker would be roughly analogous to a screenwriter (if the brewer is the director, etc.). And what sort of percentage do screenwriters take? Well, that varies greatly, but using a lot of back-of-the-envelope work, from each movie ticket sold, probably less than a cent will go to the screenwriter.

Hmm. This doesn’t look promising, but lets stick with it. Now films can be watched again and again, but beer is finite. You make so much, it’s drunk, then it’s gone. So it makes sense in this regard, for a flat fee per batch, on a per volume basis. The total of this fee would therefore increase if the batch was scaled up (although the actual per volume rate would stay the same or eventually decrease from a certain batch size, due to economies of scale). You with me? Cool.

So what’s an appropriate per-volume fee for a recipe maker? All things considered, it’s going to be fairly low. It should probably be applied on a per-litre basis, but lets be generous. Beer is sold in ‘pints’, so let’s apply it on a per-pint basis.

Now Baylands has a brew length of 300 litres. We’re going to assume Aidan gets exactly that from his brewery, which means he gets six 50 litre kegs from a single batch. Now a ‘pint’ has different meanings to different people, but most ‘pints’ served in New Zealand are 425ml and for the sake of ‘best case scenario,’ we’ll go with that.

Now what’s a fair per-pint fee to the recipe maker? I reckon that’s about 1 cent per pint. Seems low I know, but the profit margins in beer really are narrow, and the amount per-pint that actually makes it back to the person who actually had to lift sacks of grain isn’t much more (and since breweries would pay the fee, it’s their profits we’re eating into). You still with me?

Now there’s 705.88 ‘pints’ to 300 litres, so that would mean that Aidan Styles owes to the winner of the Amatuer West Cast IPA challenge (who happens to be Ryan Crawford):

$7.06 (I rounded up).

That’s a cent for every pint you can theoretically squeeze out of Aidan’s brewery. That’s not enough for Ryan to buy back a pint of his own beer; particularly after tax.

So much for some bastard getting rich off someone else’s beer. Personally, if I was in Ryan’s situation, I be happy if someone just shouted me one.


1. Although no one told Geoff Ross that.

Saluting the Major

So it’s been a big week for me.  The so-called ‘soft’ opening of Golding’s on Monday was a smash-hit, with the place packing out.  Since then it’s been busy every night and I’ve worked quite a few long days in a row.  The next big hurdle is the Grand, or what I like to call ‘hard’ opening tomorrow.  It’s looking to be another sell-out night, with half of Wellington inviting themselves along.  Feel free to pop along yourself, all are welcome.  Just don’t expect much in the way of elbow room.

An just to entice you down, we’ll be sticking a couple of treats on tap.  First of all, another keg of the Funk Estate/Baylands Brewery Big Red Ryeding Hood.  This was the darling beer of Monday’s opening: a big, malty, hoppy, rye-y IPA.  Very fresh and a little angry, but all the better for it.

The other beer, is something a bit different.  You see, I was at the Garage the other day (well, two months ago) and told Pete the Brewer about my new job at Golding’s.

Pete: “Congrats Dude.  Hey, we should make a beer for the opening,” said Pete.

Me: “You read my mind, Old Bean,” (or something like that).

Anyway, we got to talking and collaborating and so on.  Pete wanted to make something with lots of Golding hops (for obvious reasons).  I wasn’t so keen.  East Kent Golding is all well and fine as hop varieties go, but it’s not much fun in my opinion.  I wanted to do hoppy wheat ale.  As readers will know, I had a summer-romance with one a little while back.  Suddenly I had an idea.

Me: “What if we made an English Wheat Beer?”

Pete: “A what?”

Me: “What if the England had a traditional, native wheat ale?1  What would that be like?  Kind of like a bitter or a golden ale, but with a fair dose of wheat-malt and a clean British ale yeast”.

Pete: “I see.  Sounds interesting.”

Me: “We could hop it with lots of Goldings.  It’ll be like a English/German hybrid: British hops and yeast, but with German wheat malt.”

And so it was settled.  We booked in a brew date (no mean feat, considering how busy they are at the Garage) and off we went.

I turned up on brew-day at some ungodly hour (9am. That’s ungodly by my standards).  Pete was in the middle of brewing a batch of ANZAC on the big kit.

Pete: “Hey Dude, I’ve been thinking.  I like this English/German hybrid idea.  Lets expand on that and use a combination of English and German hop varieties.”

Sounds good to me.  We got down to arguing the malt bill.  I was keen to do a split malt bill 30-40% wheat with the rest Golden Promise, but Pete disagreed.  He reckons too much wheat can be a bit ‘yucky’.  I’m only a causal home brewer, and he’s the experienced professional, so I bowed to knowledge and experience on that one.  We went with a Golden Promise base, and 15% wheat.  Pete also wanted to drop in a bit of Caramel and Aroma malts, to make it a little more Englishy.  That fitted in with the concept, so I was down with it.

We milled, we mashed, we re-circulated.  All very standard stuff:

Mashing

I had my best brewing-face on.

Brewing faces may or may not contain beards.

Brewing faces may or may not contain beards.

I was a little concerned about the mash sticking, this being my first time using wheat.  I was there for the first Summer Sommer brew, which had an awful stuck-mash, that time from rye.  I could just envision a 10-hour brew day, but my fears were unfounded.  Everything went smoothly.

Like silk.

Like silk.

After running off, we got a healthy boil going, and started adding hops.  The same triple combo was used throughout the whole process: East Kent Goldings, Challenger and Hallertau Tradition.  A small  bittering addition was followed by generous late editions of all three hops.  I was measuring the hops, so I made damn sure they were properly generous additions.

As before, all went smoothly.  We boiled, we chilled, we pitched.  Yeast-wise we went with Wyeast Yorkshire Ale, a fairly clean and attenuative strain.  Soon the beer was tucked up cozily in a fermentor, bubbling away.  Easy as.

What wasn’t easy was coming up with a name.  Naming beers is tricky and often done poorly (I swear one day I will write that naming guide).  We kicked around a few names like “Free Diver” and “Dive-Bomber” but nothing quite seemed to fit.  Finally we settled on a suggestion of mine: Major Goldings.  This is both a tribute to Golding’s Free Dive, Golding hops, of which there are major amounts in the beer, and the British/German style mashup (because you know, wars and shit).

I haven’t had a chance to taste it post dry-hop, but early indications are that it’s refreshing and slightly bitter golden-ish ale.  4.3% ABV, light but full.  Now a word of warning.  There is only 30 litres or so, this being a pilot-kit brew.  It’ll be going on at Goldings on Friday, mid afternoon.  It will not last the night, so get in quick if you want to try some.

See you on Friday.  And remember  Beer is Love, ya’ll.

Sean and Pete

Pete and Sean, a pair of beardy-beer chaps.


  1. I’m ignoring the fact that they actually did and still do, sort of.