I really have turned around on Epic’s beers over the course of a few years. For too long, Luke’s products were just the perfect embodiment of that trend that bored me so horribly wherein More Hops All Other Considerations Be Damned became such a trendy and habitual thing to do. Yawn, I say, despite loving a hop-stupid beer on occasion. I just hate to see one element of a many-faceted thing elevated above all others and paraded about as if it’s the key to everything for all situations.1, 2
‘Mayhem’ met me halfway, being a hop-focussed but actually balanced beer which I really enjoyed, and lately, Luke’s finally gone that final step and made some beers which let other factors entirely take the leading roles. His collaboration with England’s Thornbridge brewery produced a pretty-damn-good stout, and this ‘Portamarillo’ might just be a proper turning point, rescuing Epic from One Trick Pony status. Because honestly, no matter how good any particular pony’s one trick is — yawn.
So. Continuing along the collaboration train, Luke joined forces with Sam Caligione of the famously-experimental Dogfish Head brewery. Working together for part of Sam’s Discovery Channel TV series, they made a uniquely New Zealandish beer by smoking tamarillos over pohutakawa and cramming them into a smooth, boozy porter. Because why not? It sounds ludicrous, but works absurdly well. I drank a lot of it myself, as we quickly went through some two-hundred litres from the taps at work. The porter is relatively light-bodied for its strength, leaving room for the gentle smokiness and a delightfully-random tart fruitiness.
Better yet, they brewed it twice. Double-better-yet, we got to try some of the U.S.-brewed version at work, when we threw a bit of a shindig for the Near Enough Fifth Birthday of the Epic brewery. It was a great little exercise in how much difference little changes can make — the Dogfish version being much smokier, the peculiar ‘sweetness’ you get from heavily-smoked malt stealing the show more from the tart fruit. The U.S. version was only available because Sam had some in his luggage, the Epic batch is still kicking around in bottles in the better sorts of retail outlets; you should get some if you haven’t yet — or just get more.
Verbatim: Epic / Dogfish Head Portamarillo 15/12/10 @ MH, for Epic’s Fifth-ish Birthday. The NZ brew is on tap, and we’ve got a bottle of the US batch to try. It’s an awesomely odd idea: Porter with Pohutakawa-smoked-Tamarillo. The US is darker is body + bubbles and — to me — plays up the smoke more, whereas the fruit is stronger in the NZ. The US has a crazy bitter / spicy late finish, the NZ seems smoother. But I really dig both.
— so then (16/12/10), I was stopped on the street today by a regular who was asking about my blogthing. Which was enjoyably weird. But he also mentioned that Luke’s version was less smoked than Sam’s, because he didn’t want that tail-end astringency. I really must get around to watching the Making Of TV show, but it’s nice to know I was on the right track.
1: The same thing, lamentably, happens with my related obsession: Scotch Whisky. There, you get “peat freaks” like you get “hop heads” with beer — indeed, I think there are similarities to be drawn all over the place between peaty whiskies and hoppy beers, but that’s a little too tangential even for a footnote, perhaps. Myself, I love peaty whiskies. But not all the time. Not to the point where in absolutely all cases would I think that a whisky would be improved by more peatiness. So it is with hoppy beer.
2: And don’t you have to worry — at least a little — when you read something adorned with a “Add More Hops” background or a title like “I’m Here for the Hops” or “The Pursuit of Hoppiness” whether you should be discounting (in the sense of moderating-down, not “ignoring”) what they say about beers with a different emphasis? I read all three aforementioned sources avidly, but wish they didn’t position themselves so lop-sidedly. They might defend themselves by saying these things are (half?) in jest — but then, why are all the jokes lined up in that one direction?