The sweet scent of malt, bubbling in a saucepan, releasing the sugars within, permeates its way through the house. My partner, inspired, is brewing from scratch for the first time in years.
New Zealand’s craft beer scene has exploded in recent times. This is a very good thing, according to author and restauranteur Jules van Cruysen, and just about anyone else who enjoys a decent brew, myself included. Being new to New Zealand, and having tasted only a small selection of what’s on offer because of my partner’s preference for doing it himself, this book is a fantastic guide to what’s around.
Assuming the reader has little knowledge of the intricacies of beer but without ever being patronising, van Cruysen maps out the flavours that we’ll be tasting, the different styles of beer (of which there are plenty) and the methods used for making them. There are sections on the malting process, hop varieties, glassware and the festivals around, as well as a piece about the Society of Beer Advocates – SOBA (surely the best acronym for a drinking society, bar none). The rest of the book, and that which makes up the majority of it, is the journey he took around the country to visit every brewery that was in production up to March 2015. Whether it is an established brewery that has been making beer for years in huge industrial quantities or one of the newer, tinier ones with a minor production line, the author gives us a sense of their style and story. He includes tasting notes for beers which are widely available – helpfully there’s enough space that you could take the book with you and jot down your own thoughts alongside his.
Van Cruysen’s writing is unfussy and direct, with only a few flourishes and asides. The book is easy to digest and wonderfully interesting to read; the design and layout (the breweries are featured in alphabetical order) means you can dip in and out – just what you need with a guide! It’s also a lovely looking thing with some great photography. I highly recommend this to anyone with even a passing interest in beer.
Zesty, fruity hop pellets have now been added to the mix and the grassy, sugary result smells divine. The cooling process takes a while and the fragrant perfume lingers on.
We caught up with van Cruysen at the launch of his book in September. We had a lunchtime tipple of the beer created specially by Yeastie Boys to go with the guide, named “I AM”. It’s a drinkable, complex enough drink for beer lovers but also accessible enough for newbies. Van Cruysen talked about a number of things including:
“There were general beer books with some relevant information or there were style guides designed for professionals who judge and those who brew but nothing in between. Beers were often incorrectly described, which is a sin against the consumer. I thought, if no-one else was going to do it, I should.”
“I pitched to a few people but there wasn’t much interest; I was an unknown and the publishing houses thought there was no market. I didn’t want to use the model of the wine industry where vineyards pay to get in – that’s not an honest way to write a book and space should be given to all breweries rather than be dictated by a price that can pay. So I made a Kickstarter [a crowdfunding site] campaign and two days before the cut-off had enough money. SOBA were a big supporter. After that, three publishers got in touch, realizing there was a market after all.”
Beer for All
“I didn’t want to make the book a ‘blokey’ one. I’m passionate that beer is not just for men. It was very important that it looked unisex.”
The Characters He Met
“Interesting people make interesting beer. There are a lot of colourful characters and each conveys the essence of the different breweries.”
“The breweries of New Zealand are so different; it’s a microcosm of the industry in the US, a movement that started much earlier than ours here. While there’s been a resurgence in regional brewing in NZ they have no dreams of taking over the country or the world – they just want to make well-made beer. People are drinking good beer and local business is good for the local economy.”
“There’s an app coming. It will have short notes on producers and tasting notes.”
Beer and Wine
“I was a wine professional first and now I piss off both beer and wine writers by describing myself as a ‘Drinks writer’! I’m passionate about beer and food matching – when you’re sitting down to eat you can match your drink whether what you’re eating is light and fresh or big and rich; there’s a panoply of options.”
My partner brings me a stout, in a proper stout glass no less, that he bought earlier in Baylands Brewery; he’s finished brewing and is proud. Brewed: A Guide to the Craft Beer of New Zealand, I thank you.