The craft beer scene is thriving in New Zealand like never before. We chat to Black Dog Brewery’s master brewer, Simon Edward, about the art of creating new beers, the flavours that are trending right now and why the craft beer industry is booming.
You’ve been brewing beer for a long time. When did you first become interested in craft beer and how did you get to where you are now?
I first became interested in craft beer when I moved to New Zealand 13 years ago. I was living close to the old Mac’s brewery in Nelson and started drinking their beer. When I moved to Wellington 18 months later I paid a visit to the Malt House, which had a number of craft beers from other breweries on tap and from that point, I started drinking only craft beer. I got to where I am now by first starting homebrewing a few years ago, I would meet up with other fellow homebrewers once a month and we would share our beers and give feedback on them. I found that my beers were received well, so I walked into Black Dog one day and asked if I could hang out with the brewers when they brewed. Not long after, a position in the brewery came up. I applied, got the job and have been brewing with them ever since.
Why do you think there has been such a surge in popularity with craft beer in recent years?
There are a few reasons: first I would say that the improvement of homebrewing supplies and equipment has meant that people can brew their own beer to a very good standard, once this happens it’s hard to go back to drinking the normal, much less flavoursome mainstream beer that most people drink. Secondly, people especially in Wellington but everywhere in New Zealand now are wanting quality over quantity. They would prefer to buy one or two good craft beers and spend more than they would on a 6 pack of non-craft beer. Thirdly, the variety – you can get so many more distinct and subtle flavours from beer ingredients, like yeast, malt and hops. This can give you a multitude of different tasting beers that all fall under the same beer style, then there are the many different types of beer styles. Fourth, the quality and consistency of craft beers has mostly improved in the past few years.
In your experience, what would you say the most popular type of craft beer is?
I would say that IPA (India Pale Ale) is the most popular craft beer style and is usually the easiest to sell. You can get big punchy flavours from the hops used in these beers that get people coming back time and again.
What are some trending flavour pairings right now?
There has been a lot of experimentation with fruit, flowers, herbs etc. in the past few years which have challenged the flavours of some styles of beers in a good way. Most classic food pairing combinations tend to work well in beers as well. The sweet malty flavours that we get from the malted barley work well as a backbone for experimentation. I noticed some of the American hops gave off a tropical fruit flavour so I started adding canned mango slices to my IPAs to give them more of a fruit flavour. Raspberry and lime go well together as both are quite tart. Chocolate and chilli go well together in both beer and food. Other brewers had started to experiment with tea flavours, most notably Yeastie Boys made an Earl Grey IPA that was – and still is – amazing. It was probably after drinking this that I tried to be more experimental. Most fruit cocktails that you would eat will work as additions to beer although I don’t tend to use more than a couple of flavours at a time. Orange peel and coriander seed is a classic Belgium combination that still works well, coffee and chocolate together is great also.
Can you talk a bit about the challenges around making craft beer?
The challenges involved are many. The consistency of recreating the same beer with the same flavour time after time, consistently making good, faultless beer everytime is always a challenge. Craft beer drinkers, in general, like to always try something new, they like to turn up to a bar and see what new creations breweries have come up with. It’s hard to succeed with a limited range of product. There’s a buzz and anticipation around trying a beer you haven’t tried before, so brewers are always having to come up with new ideas, different ideas, challenging the norm of a beer with other flavours. Everybody will have their favourite beers; I have many, in many different styles, but if there is a new beer out that I haven’t tried I would usually go for that before one of my favourites because it just might be my next favourite. We are fortunate in New Zealand to have an array of very talented brewers that like to push and challenge the boundaries, but there are many more craft beers than there are taps that pour them, so it can be challenging to sell a new beer once it has been made if it sounds a little obscure.
Black Dog has just launched a new experimental range. What are some of the flavours we can expect from this and do you have a favourite beer?
Carrot Top is an American Amber Ale, it has a good solid malt flavour that is complemented by a good amount of hops to give it a great balance of malt and hop flavours.
Mango’s Into A Bar is the Mango IPA I brewed as a homebrewer many years ago and was very well received by my tasting mates. So literally on the feedback from that, I walked into a bar (Black Dog) and started my journey into commercial brewing. It is an American IPA using a good dose of both Simcoe and Citra hops and would taste good just as it is. But I added a fair amount of Australian Kensington Mango puree to the beer to give it added mango aroma and flavour. When you smell it, it’s unmistakably Mango and the fruit paired with the hops give it a tropical and citrus flavour with extra mango taste.
I can’t really name my ultimate favourite beer, there are just too many that I absolutely love. There are also many different styles of beer IPAs, Pale Ales, Lagers, Saisons, Sour beers, Stouts and dark beers and many more, all of which have some fantastic versions of those styles. Sour beers are becoming more popular and a favourite style I like to drink along with IPAs and Belgium styles, but a great beer made well in any style would make it onto my favourites list, it just keeps on growing. But if I had to choose the beer that changed my life it would be the Earl Grey IPA from Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta, that moved the goal posts and inspired me to be more creative.
Black Dog has just launched a brewery on Cuba Street in Wellington. Why do you think Wellington has such a thriving craft beer scene?
Wellington is such a cool vibrant city. One of the first days I was in Wellington I was walking to work on a weekday at about 8.30 in the morning and a guy in his 40s dressed in a 3-piece suit and sneakers shot past me on a skateboard, about 15 mins later there was a guy dressed in a pink tutu just walking along the street, nobody batted an eye at either. I think Wellington is very good at accepting things that are a little bit different. Wellington is a creative city and attracts creative people, music, movies, art and anything else that’s creative. People who liked to brew beer are creative, and to make good craft beer you need to be. Craft beer at that point was different but Wellingtonians were willing to try it and embrace it. Anyone that is creative usually likes to try things that other people have created so that’s why I think craft beer thrives in this city. It’s one thing to create a beer, but it’s another thing entirely to sell that beer once it’s made. Wellington fortunately has plenty of people wanting to try those new creations.