Discovering Beer | The Dry Hop

Home › Articles › Discovering Beer

Discovering Beer
Posted on April 19, 2014 by thedryrise — 1 Comment

(this post originally appeared at, but has been moved to this blog – which is is dedicated to beer!)

I have never been a huge beer drinker – which is kind of against the norm for a New Zealander. If you’re a bloke, then its our national drink.
I put this phenomenen down to my first job, which I got while still at high-school. It started as an after school job in the busiest pub in the city, and it moved very quickly from cleaning the kitchen after school, to clearing glasses at night the following saturday, until finally the manager said to me “You know how to pour a pint?,,..come here, I’ll show you.” And so there I was, 15 years old and pulling pints on Friday and Saturday nights in the busiest bar in town. The side effect of this of course was that when the doors shut at 3am, the staff used to sit down for “staffies.” Some Sunday mornings I would be leaving as the sun came up.
Back then, the legal age for drinking in a bar was 20 years of age, or 18 if you were having a meal. But by the time I was 18 and most my friends were discovering the pub, and beer, I was well and truly over it. I had been working in a pub for nearly three years, and I had had more hang-overs than I could care to remember. I also had tried virtually every drink known to man-kind, and the novelty of drinking had lost its appeal. But even back then, I didn’t much fancy beer. I just never liked the taste.
And this has continued until quite recently. Sure, there were some beers that I found quite drinkable. I worked as a chef for a while, in a restaurant owned by a Dutchman. He stocked his favourite beer from the Netherlands, a lager called Oranjeboom. I had never heard of it, but it quickly became my “favourite beer” of the time. And then there was the first time I tried Hoegarden – the quintessential Belgian Witbier. It was served on draught from a pub in the Dutch town of Arnhem, and it came with a slice of orange, and a little plastic mashing stick. I had never seen anything like it in my then 23 years of age.
But these were foreign beers. They were exotic, and they tasted completely different to the beers then being made at the time in New Zealand. Back then, the choice was pretty much largely confined to the big mainstream breweries and their flagship draught beers. There was DB (Double Brown), Lion Red (or Leon Rouge if you wanted to make it sound a bit more up market), or Tui – which markets itself as an “East Indian Pale Ale,” – despite being about as far removed from an IPA that you could get without being a Stout. These beers were marketed around being “blokes beers.” Its what you drank after a hard day out chasing sheep around the farm, or cutting down forests. If you wanted to be a bit more upmarket, then you would drink Steinlager – which to be fair is a reasonably decent lager. There were a few smaller breweries independent breweries, such as Macs and Monteiths (both of which have since been acquired by the big corporate breweries), but these tended to be drunk by people who sent their kids to Rudolph Steiner schools, had beards, and didn’t own televisions.
So, I focused my drinking around good wine, and if it was a hot summer, then cider was a good alternative. But that all changed when President Obama made beer.
In 2012 I came across a video on the internet showing the kitchen in the White House brewing beer. The story went that the President had asked his chefs to look at brewing some beers using the honey available from hives in the gardens. This beer was then served to guests – and when Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer visited the Whitehouse, President Obama shared one of his beers with him. I watched the video. It seemed simple enough. I used to be a chef, so know my way around kitchen, and “making stuff” appeals to me.
This was different though. My only real exposure to home-brewing had been the occasional bottle brewed by family friends from a supermarket “just add hot water and ferment” type kit. And these varied from awful to barely drinkable. But if what Obama’s chefs were cooking up was good enough to be drunk by a President and a Medal of Honor winner, then this must be different.
I did some research. I consulted google. Some freedom-loving american had also seen the White House video, and had submitted a Freedom of Information request to have the White House release its recipe – which they duly did. It was like reading a new language. There was AAs, IBUs, HBUs, Speciality Grains, different types of yeast (you mean they come in different flavours??). Again, google came to the rescue, and over the next couple of weeks not only had I taught myself enough about making beer that I felt confident to give it a try, but I had also discovered that I could get virtually the same ingredients that major brewers used. And this is what I love about home brewing.
Unlike home-made wine (of which an uncle and aunty used to make on a regular basis) where there is so much riding on the grapes themselves, for brewing, the grain you buy is – with a few exceptions – the same that breweries use. You want to make a Bohemian Pilsner?, great, then try some Weyermans Bohemian Pilsner Malt from Germany. Or a good English Ale?, well you will be after something from Thomas Fawcett then. And what about hops?, no problems – you can choose from the Eurpoean Noble Hops such as Czech Saaz’s, or German Hallertauer or American varieties like Liberty or Citra. And don’t even get me started on yeast – and the different varieties that are available. Last time I checked though, Verve Clicquot weren’t selling grapes from their vineyards in Champagne.  The net result of this, with a little practice, you can make beer that tastes as good – if not better – than the bought ones. At minimum even a bad home-brew tastes better than Tui.
So, after assembling the required ingredients I set to brewing my first beer. I was starting off easy though (or so I thought) and instead of the White House recipe I was going to try brewing a Belgian Wheat Beer – a recipe of which I had found on the internet. It would be an extract brew using speciality grains – and I could make it inside on the stove using a 10 litre pot I had. I soaked the grains, added the malt, boiled the wort with the hops, dumped it in a fermentor, topped it up with cold water and added the yeast. The next morning there was a thick white head of foam sitting on to of the liquid and the airlock was going berserk.

First attempt at an extract brew – a Belgian-style Wheat Beer

About a week later, I bottled it, and then the hard part started. Waiting. Three weeks later, I had waited enough. I chilled a couple of bottles down and sat down to sample it. It hissed as I opened the bottle – a good sign. As I poured it into a tall glass it quickly developed a thick creamy white head – it looked like a real beer! It was a golden orange colour – darker than what I expected (now knowing what I know, it was Bavarian Wheat extract that I used. so too dark for a Wit), and it smelt,…well it smelt like a Witbeer! And, more to the point, it tasted like one too! I was amazed. I am not sure what I had expected,…but it wasn’t that I would make something that actually tasted in the ball-park of what I was trying to achieve.

And the result. A very refreshing and drinkable wheat beer just right for a hot summer day.

That was nearly two years ago now, and since then I have progressed rapidly from extract brewing to all-grain. I have made numerous styles of beer along the way – from Stouts, Belgian Trappist clones, Pilsners, Pale Ale’s, and Porters, and I am yet to make a bad one. Okay, some have been better than others – but none have been undrinkable.
I have also developed a taste for beer – but for good beer. I haven’t drunk Tui for years, and probably never will again. I like a wide range of beer styles, and now that New Zealand has an exploding craft beer scene I can get a wide range of good New Zealand beers down the road from my local supermarket. I also enjoy collecting strong beers, and where I once had a modest wine collection in the basement, I know have a beer cellar. I have in effect become a “beer-geek,” much to the consternation of my wife who every couple of weeks is faced with her kitchen being converted to a brewery for a day.

Tagged with: beer, craft-beer, brewing, home-brew, New Zealand
Posted in Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *