With St Patrick’s Day coming up and a full diary through the week, I wanted to do something special for Mr. E and surprise him with a few beers at home over the weekend. Seeing as beer is something I know only a little about, I decided to get in touch with Steph from Craft Beer College in Wellington to see if she’d be willing to give me a little tutelage on the subject, and lucky for me she said yes.
The first question I had to ask Steph, as I am a beer novice, is what exactly is a craft beer, compared to just a beer? Apparently, this is actually a hard question to answer, as many people have their own thoughts on the matter. In some countries it is clearly defined, for example in the United States of America, a craft beer is classed based on the quantity produced. Here in New Zealand, it’s undefined.
Steph likes to think of beer-making as a craft in itself, and regards a craft beer measured by the intent of the brewer and the methods they use to make their perfect brew.
Now for a little “Craft Beer 101”. Did you know that there are only two types of beer? There are Ale and Lagers. Ale is thousands of years old and apparently brewing the flagons was all down to the ladies in the family so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t all be into this. The Lagers are a more modern style of beer from the 1840’s. Lagers are made under cooler temperatures than Ales and the taste difference between them occurs due to the way the yeast reacts. The temperature that the beers are brewed at also affects the flavour.
Next Steph and I discussed trying some beer, of course I was up for that. I wanted Stephanie’s opinion on how it’s best to do a beer tasting – or testing depending on how serious you are taking your session – and how do you choose one to drink amidst all of the cool names and branding. Her answer was simple; If you are out, explain to the bartender what you like to eat, what flavours you enjoy and ask what they would pair with it. They should be well schooled enough to help you choose but be prepared as there will be two terms you’ll hear a lot when it comes to descriptions: Hoppy and Malty.
A Hoppy beer will be more bitter and a Malty beer will be more biscuity, with chocolatey flavours.
When tasting beer, there are some tips and tricks she shared. First of all, look at the beer and see if it is appealing. Like with food, we should also taste with our eyes. Once it passes your visual inspection, move on to smelling it – give it a good swill first, like you would with wine to help release the flavours – yes this is a must!
Once you start sipping your selected beer, make sure you swallow. There is science behind this, a huge part of your tasting experience is linked to your breathing out, so you must swallow in order to taste the beer properly. Always taste more than one sip, you need to have a few to really get the flavour and determine if you like it. Keep in mind that every beer tastes different so even if you have tried one, like an IPA or APA, and didn’t like it, try again another time from a different brewery and you might find you enjoy it.
Photo Credit : www.nickyandmax.com
Seeing as I like to go “all in” when I am embracing something new, I wanted to know if I would need a special type of glass for beer.
Luckily, the rule is to drink your beer from the best glass you have, and by all means this can be a wine glass. Things started to ramp up for me and my new love affair with beer at this point, as I can only see me holding a pint glass at an outdoor beer festival. Steph tells me some businesses have gone all out and will serve beers paired with a particular style or shape of glass. For a special treat, the new Husk Bar on Ghuznee Street here in Wellington are serving beer in German crystal – I know where I’m heading this weekend !
Photo Credit : www.thecoolector.com
It seems if you are marking a special occasion, you can serve beer instead of bubbles? Steph mentioned a few beers that could be served as a champagne replacement, like Rodenbach which is available at Thorndon New World – it looks lovely in a flute and even comes in a smart bottle. There is also Deus, which is known as the “champagne of beers”, it has a more golden colour, but with bubbles like champagne. Another suggestion was Hops on Pointe, a Wellington brewed pilsner made with champagne yeast which is delicious, soft and round. Taking it up a step, another option is to serve your beer as a cocktail, which is unique and a bit different. You could serve a sour beer, like White Mischief from Garage Project, with a slice of peach on the edge of the glass and a drop of peach syrup.
Photo Credit : www.taste.com
Being a foodie, I had to ask about food matching beers, I managed to get Steph to share a few of her top pairing picks:
- White Mischief, a sour beer paired with pork belly is a great option. Sour beers are light, tart and cut through fatty foods really well.
- Hops on Pointe is best served in a flute, like champagne, and goes well with oysters or house-smoked salmon – two perfect dishes to get here in NZ and timely for the Bluff Oyster season.
- Beer and cheese is always delicious. Something like a ploughman’s lunch. You want to choose something with biscuit, toffee and slightly sharp flavours. Bookbinder is a good one with cheese. And the Three Boys wheat beer is perfect with goats cheese. Chimay Blue is also another good one with a cheese course.
- For a BBQ, you want to serve something hoppy and robust. Panhead Vandal or any of the Liberty Beers are a superb choice at the moment.
- If your meal has Asian or Indian inspired flavours, Choice Brothers Reet Petitie is stunning, with a hint of ginger to complement perfectly!
- Dessert and beer? Turns out a match made in heaven! Choose a strong stout that is rich and chocolatey. You can serve this with ice cream and even pour it over the top. 8wired iStout works really well.
Now I am feeling armed with an array of options to try and something to impress Mr. Edwards with this weekend. All I need to decide on is, am I going for the cosy cheese platter by the fire and a Bookbinder or am I picking up some fresh Bluff Oysters and some Hops on Pointe? Maybe one for Saturday night and one for Sunday afternoon, it is St Patrick’s Day weekend after all.
P.S. If you want to know more about craft beers, talk to Stephanie and set up a time to take a class with her at the Craft Beer College. Her tours are tailored to you and your group and can take you around Wellington (or beyond) with tastings, food matching, events and more. I learnt so much from her in our brief catch up and I can’t wait to take my girlfriends on the full tour of Wellington’s craft beer scene: maybe another post, another time.