It is basically true that boys will take any excuse for a roadtrip. If the proposition also includes visiting basically every operating craft brewing in the entire country, it becomes quite literally amazing that what became ‘NZ Craft Beer TV’ didn’t exist sooner. But now it does, which is handy. Luke Nicholas (perhaps inspired by his time with Sam from Dogfish Head and his documentary-making crew) hopped in a van with Kelly Ryan (his colleague / returning expat / new hire / underling from his Epic Brewing Company), a Camera Guy and a Sound Guy — and they hit the road.
Proper ‘episodes’ will hopefully be on the interwebs — and perhaps the actual-teevee — soon, but along the way they were also working on a nearly-all-in “collaboration brew”. (Because why not?) We had a big ‘Meet the Brewers’ night at work recently, so Luke and Kelly were in town, and among the goodies brought along on the night was a preview keg of the beer: ‘Mash Up’.1
Kelly, who was blogging along the way, wrote up the story behind ‘Mash Up’ in a long-form and well-worth-reading post. I had a peculiar pang of paranoia (or perhaps just vanity) when I got to the part wherein he explains why they chose to brew a hoppy pale ale, predicting that the choice would bring charges of one-trick-pony-ness. I’ve accused Luke having a one-trick-pony past — although, ironically, I brought it up because I thought his collaborations (with the aforementioned Sam and with Kelly himself, back when he was at Thornbridge) were lately rescuing him from that. But as he says, pale ale is as good a bet as any since it’s a) a massively popular trend, and b) a great way to show off something we do so very well here in the Little Country — namely that we grow freakin’ gorgeous hops.
But I still think it’s rather too generous to call this a “collaboration”. It isn’t, in any normal sense — and probably couldn’t ever be, realistically. Luke and Kelly have instead kept part of their brain ticking over as they traveled and met umpteen brewers and beer-industry-folk and have made a fair crack at capturing the mood of the local scene as they saw it, with pretty-solid justifications for each of their ingredient choices. Personally, I’d have thought it was a perfect opportunity to keep a running collection of handfuls of each brewer’s favourite malt, or a single pellet / flower of their most-loved hop, or whatever. Those could’ve been biffed into a full-size brew of ‘Mash Up’ as a token-but-real representative from their respective homes — without materially effecting the recipe. Something along those lines could’ve made the “collaboration” aspect more weighty, but after all it’s their show, not mine.
And the result is unarguable, anyway. From the preview keg that we had, I can report that this stuff is delicious. If this is ‘liquid zeitgeist’ for the New Zealand craft beer community, then we are in damn good shape. The appealing pale colour — just look at the thing shine, almost outclassing our beer engine’s freshly-polished brass bits — is an effective advertisement for a simple malt character which leaves plenty of room for the hop flavours to really shine, but which in no way wimps out or falls apart into annoying thinness. Oodles of zesty freshness comes from those hops, but they’re not overdone and don’t seem like they’re fighting in the glass; the flavours of each just nicely mingle together and make for a bloody lovely pint. The whole thing holds together like an enjoyably civilised conversation with three affable chaps in comfortable surroundings. I’m sometimes not a big fan of hop-forward pale ales on handpull, but this went like gangbusters.
Verbatim: NZ Craft Beer TV ‘Mash Up’ 2/3/11 on handpull @ MH. The day after Meet the Brewer night, shout[ed] by some going-back-home whisky nerds. The “collaboration” aspect is a paper-thin veneer; consultation writ loose as they travelled around. And am I being paranoid or vain if I think the “one-trick-pony” comment in the write-up (on them selecting pale ale) might be directed at me? Anyway, this is tasty. Lovely simply malt character, and nicely-done selection of hop notes. Zesty + fresh. Actually really-well-suited to handpull. It’s definitely-not a Time-magazine style averaging,2 and they missed a golden opportunity for using a Token Handfull of each brewer’s favourite malt. But hey. We can’t all be Exec. Producers. And this is, all on its own, rather lovely.
1: Depending on how much you know about brewing, it’s possible that the name is funnier than you think. It’s not just a repurposing of the word for a remixing and mucking-about-with that applies to half the pop-culture stuff worth watching on YouTube — mash is also the word for an early stage of the brewing process where the grains are all thrown together in hot water, ready for fermenting. I do love a good punny name, I do.
2: I think this is an instance of my Rubbish Memory, a recurring annoyance which is after all why I started keeping a Beer Diary in the first place. I thought I could recall a recent Time cover with a computer composite ‘average’ face of humanity. But the best I can find is a similar thing they did in 1993, but that wasn’t what I had in mind — which likely means that I’m thinking of the wrong magazine, and that I’m crap at the Google.