Wine: Here's Hopping
A book dedicated to beer is a must-read for aficionados
Finding few ales that excited me on my arrival in New Zealand 12 years ago, I put beer writing on hold for a while to concentrate exclusively on wine. It was the opposite for Jules Van Cruysen, howeverhe tells me at the launch of his book Brewed: A guide to the craft beer of New Zealand.
This ex-sommelier shifted his focus from wine to beer about five years ago, just when the local craft ale scene was starting to take off and has now penned a book that could well become a bible for Kiwi beer-nistas.
We’re shooting the breeze about beer over a glass of Yeastie Boys I AM, brewed specially for the release of Van Cruysen’s book. “But what a difference a few years make,” I argue — as someone who loves a good ale — in defence of my temporary desertion of the hop for just the grape.
There’s recently been a major revolution in New Zealand brewing. This has seen the often-bland beers of the two brewing behemoths juxtaposed by a burgeoning bevvy of flavourful brews made by a new wave of smaller craft brewers who aren’t afraid to push beer’s boundaries.
“The Kiwi beer eco-system is so exciting at the moment and has grown exponentially in the past four years, from about 60 players in early 2012 to well over 150 now, and the diversity of styles is even more broad,” Van Cruysen agrees. “One can now find examples of any international style you would care to imagine, as well as others we have thought up ourselves.”
“This does make it harder for consumers to discover beers and breweries that are right for them,” he adds. “So Brewed is about helping emerging beer lovers find beers and breweries that are right for them and to highlight smaller, interesting producers.”
Even existing beer drinkers can feel overwhelmed by the sheer range of styles now available. If you need to know your lager from your lambic, then Brewed’s chapter on beer styles is indispensable.
Blink and it seems another home brewer has graduated from their garage to commercial production, making Brewed’s coverage of most of the country’s breweries particularly pertinent. Van Cruysen has written pithy profiles of 140 brewers plus clear tasting notes on over 400 beers.
Given the rapid growth of craft brewing, Van Cruysen admits that even he discovered a number of new breweries himself when researching the book. “One example is Craftwork in Oamaru,” he says. “They are tiny and specialise in Belgian ales and it turns out, it’s owned by friends.”
Despite a few minor issues that will be corrected in the next print run, it’s a sound and timely publication with decent depth. More that simply covering brewers and their beers, it provides a useful context in its introduction and exploration of the brewing process that highlights elements such as the unique hops that are one of the country’s great brewing assets.
Brewed covers buying beer with a national guide to where to drink or purchase beer. Van Cruysen also imparts some good advice on matching beer and food, drawing on his background as a sommelier. “Do something crazy!” he entreats at the end of this section, citing the example of pairing stout with oysters.
So, at the end of the day, I ask Van Cruysen where his heart really lies. Is it with beer, or wine? “Both,” Van Cruysen states. “They can be equally fascinating. But if it were a case of which I couldn’t live without, the answer would be coffee.” Maybe a subject for Van Cruysen’s next book?
BEERS I’VE ENJOYED OF LATE:
8 Wired Hopwired New Zealand IPA 500ml $10.50
Van Cruysen calls this a Kiwi classic, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a midweight beer with a beautifully balanced, bitter hoppy edge that’s bursting with distinctive Nelson Sauvin hop flavours of punchy passion fruit and zingy grapefruit. From selected supermarkets and premium liquor outlets.
Craftwork Autobarn 500ml $10
A collaboration between Oamaru’s Craftwork and Wellington’s Choice Bros, this fresh and funky-edged grapefruity ale, with its notes of white fruit and savoury undercurrent, has been given an attractive floral and spicy dimension from its time in old Gewürztraminer barrels. Drink with Krafwerk’s Autobahn its makers suggest — a perfect match! From thebeerlibrary.co.nz
Townshend’s Flemish Stout 2015 500ml $10
A complex and rich stout with an opulent chocolatey, earthy and sweetly spiced palate and a tangy sour cherry edge from the wild yeasts present in the portion of the blend made in oak barrels. From townshendbrewery.co.nz