MOVIES & BOOZE: Fancy a beer this weekend?

Dean McGuinness presents some great New Zealand beers

This week Dean McGuinness samples some special beers from New Zealand: 

Mac’s Brewery in New Zealand have extended their range of beers to include some new beer styles under the Mac’s name. To-day we will be tasting their new IPA – Green Beret IPA – and also Mac’s Black Porter.

We often talk about beer styles on the show, and when we do, one could be forgiven for thinking that beer styles are a fixed and static thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Beer styles are a great way to help people understand what flavours they should be expecting in a bottle of beer. However, while beer styles do give this information, over time it can happen that these styles change. Likewise, brewers are not constrained to rigidly follow beer styles. Different breweries can interpret the same beer style differently, and some breweries create their own beer styles, or alter and/or combine beer styles. In fact, all beer styles ultimately came from a brewer deciding to brew beer in a certain way, and many other brewers choosing to brew beers in a similar way with similar flavours.

A number of Beer Historians have spent quite an amount of time researching the history and evolution of beer styles. Using records from advertising, breweries, legislation and books/newspapers of the time, they attempt to understand how certain beers tasted, and what people in history might have expected from a given style. Brewers ability to describe beers has improved immensely – particularly in the last fifty years, so sometimes the descriptions of beers from a few centuries ago can be archaic and poetic (read sometimes completely indecipherable). Likewise, brewing methods are specified with much greater scientific rigour than would have been the case centuries ago – for example, if you want to describe the exact temperature at which a part of the brewing process should happen, it is helpful if a thermometer has been invented! The first rudimentary thermometers appeared in the late 1500’s / early 1600’s, and it was really only in the 1700’s that thermometers were becoming appropriate for use in brewing. Likewise, if you want to state how much yeast is used in brewing a beer, it is useful to know that yeast exists (Thank you, Louis Pasteur), and to be able to measure the amount of yeast you are using – again only possible after the invention of the hemacytometer in the late 19th century.

Likewise, the information that is available can be subject to interpretation. I had an extended discussion on Twitter about whether roast barley was used at a specific point in history in a country in brewing. My counterpart argued that roast barley couldn’t possibly be used in brewing at that time, because tax and excise laws forbade its use at that time (at that time, the government collected tax on beer based on the amount of malted barley used in brewing beer, and unmalted barley caused the government to lose money). My argument was that the government would only have gone to the trouble of making this law if breweries somewhere were using unmalted barley in brewing – if nobody was using it, there would have been no need for the law. Proving my side of the argument could only be achieved based on an assumption that at every point in history somebody, somewhere has preferred paying less taxes to paying more taxes. However, finding a perfect record kept by these tax evaders that proved that they were evading taxes (and, thus liable to be imprisoned, fined or worse) is not likely to be easy.

That argument was a few hours of my life that I will never get back again!

The two beer styles that we are tasting today – the IPA and Porter – have been the subjects of much discussion as to their origins, evolution over time, precise specifications and so on. For most people, knowing that an IPA is a particularly hoppy beer that is often, but not always, above average strength is enough. Likewise, knowing that a porter is a malty dark beer can be enough information for anybody. My enduring argument is that if you really want to understand a beer style, drink twenty beers that have been brewed to that style. This will give you a great idea of the boundaries and diversity available within that style.

Our two beers today are from Mac’s Brewery in New Zealand. Mac’s was established by Terry MacCashin in 1981, and as such is one of the grandfather breweries of both craft brewing in New Zealand and worldwide. Over the last four decades, brewers at Mac’s will have lived through an influenced the evolution of craft beer and beer styles. However, the life of Mac’s brewery – while it is an eternity in the history of the craft beer movement – is only a small percentage of the lifetime of many of the beer styles that Mac’s brew. Both IPA’s and Porters have existed and evolved and changed over a few centuries, so Mac’s has only existed for a small percentage of this time.

That being said, both of these beers are superb examples of the modern craft beer interpretation of the IPA and Porter style. Are they perfect examples of how these beers would have been brewed two or three hundred years ago? One could be quite definite in saying that these two beers probably taste reasonably different from the IPA’s and Porters that were first brewed. However, the fundamentals of these styles does hold solid over time, and in my opinion, the most important thing is are these beers good examples of the styles in question based on the beers that are available now.

In my opinion, they are, but I have no doubt that if I was to try to argue that they are better than another example of the style, another few hours of my life would be tied up on Twitter. At the end, the key thing is for people to enjoy the beer that they are drinking – which lovers of IPA’s and Porters should if they try Mac’s versions of these styles – or to find an example of the style (or another style) which they do love.

Mac’s Green Beret IPA 

Beer Style - India Pale Ale
Alcohol by Volume - 5.4% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Mac’s Brewery
Brewed in - New Zealand

New Zealand has become a source of some of the most sought out hops in the world. Delicious flavours of tropical fruits and citrus fruits – much akin to what can be achieved from the correct American hops –
can be achieved with the correct use of New Zealand hops. However, confusingly, Mac’s Green Beret is described as brewed with American hops. Is this a style choice, or is it a function of the fact that New Zealand hops are in extremely short supply at the moment, and hop farmers in New Zealand are not responding to the explosion in demand for their hops as fast as the demand is increasing. In any event, it is a further example of how beer styles evolve over time – availability of raw materials can mean that brewers have to select the hops that make most sense giving all of the factors in question.

That being said, there is no compromise on flavour on this superb IPA. Tropical fruits – lychee, pineapple, melon – combine with citrus fruits (lime), and pine and hop bitterness join the party to add a counterpoint. At 47 IBU’s, the bitterness level for this IPA is consistent with the style, and above average compared to what one might normally expect from a beer. Balance for this bitterness is achieved both in the form of malt flavour (which comes through as honey and malteser) and fruit sweetness, and the body of the beer provides a lusciousness of mouthfeel that fully supports this level of bitterness.

At 5.4% a.b.v., this beer is at the entry point of a classic American IPA, or beyond the upper end of what would be considered normal for a session IPA. Green Beret is a delicious IPA that packs all of the flavour that one would hope for from a New Zealand or American style IPA, and does not go overboard on alcohol content, meaning that enjoying that second bottle can be done without any guilt whatsoever!

Mac’s Black Mac Porter 

Beer Style - Porter
Alcohol by Volume - 4.8% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Mac’s Brewery
Brewed in - New Zealand

The discussion of the origins and style specifications for porter and the difference between porter and stout can occupy many a spare hour on Twitter. This time, alternatively, can also be spent on diligently researching different examples of the Porter style – and Mac’s Black Mac Porter is homework that is a pleasure to complete!

Five different types of malt provide the backbone of malt flavour in this superb example of the style. Various dark malt flavours come through on both the aroma and taste – liquorice, caramel, chewy toffee, chocolate, espresso coffee, and cocoa powder provide an explosion of malt character as the foundation for this beer. Bitterness is present, but not overpowering, and roast and charcoal acidity provide alternative balance in this beer, and also deliver a tingling mouthfeel that lifts the dark malt flavour. Amazingly drinkable, but with all of the depth of flavour that one would hope for from a craft porter – this beer at once delivers character and drinkability, both making this porter incredibly moreish.

A lingering flavour of roast acidity provides a depth of finish for this beer, but again the tingling mouthfeel from the roast acidity converts this long finish into a pleasant memory of the delicious flavours of the beer. At 4.8% a.b.v., it is positioned at the bottom of the alcohol scale for the American Porter style (which the flavours would support), or at the centre to upper end of the scale for English Porter.

Delicious!!

Beer Training Course 

A few weeks ago on the show, I was asked if there was training available on craft beer similar to the Wine Appreciation courses that are run around the country. The question came in a little early, as I had planned to announce the full details of a training course that we have put in place in conjunction with NOffLA around now. The basic details about this course are outlined below, but if you contact us at Premier (sales@premierinternational.ie) or Anita at NOffLA (anita@noffla.ie) we will send out a leaflet with full details of the courses on offer. Please note – class size is controlled, so spaces are limited.

Two courses are on offer (Level 1 and Level 2), and both courses are being held in both Dublin and Cork. The course has been designed primarily to help people working in the trade understand craft beer styles and describe beers by taste and flavour. However, anybody interested in learning about craft beer and beer styles should find that they enjoy and benefit from this training. It is not a requirement to do Level 1 in order to do Level 2. However, Level 2 assumes that people have a basic knowledge of craft beer.

Level 1 is a 3½ hour training course conducted in the evening from 6pm to 9:30pm. It covers 7 to 9 beers and focuses on understanding Beer Style Families, the basics of craft beer and also points out some common mistakes that people sometimes make in relation to craft beer. Course notes and a booklet that describes 106 different beer styles are handed out as part of the course. Participants on this course will be awarded a ‘NOfflA / BeerHeaven Certificate in Craft Beer Styles’.

Level 2 is an intensive two-day training course that is conducted from 9am to 5:30pm over two days (approximately 7 hours of training over these two days, with breaks included). A course folder containing full notes for the course, a text book (Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer) and the Beer Heaven Systematic Approach to Tasting Beer sheet are handed out as part of the course. The course covers all aspects of beer flavour and tasting, and teaches people in a practical manner how to fully understand flavour in beer and to relate this to beer styles. Participants on Level 2 have the option of taking an exam which is held one month after completion of the training course. People who successfully pass this exam will be awarded a ‘NOfflA / BeerHeaven Diploma in Craft Beer and Cider’.