Somehow the New Zealand craft beer world has allowed itself to subscribe to a stereotype. We say that as if it's uncommon, but it happens more frequently that we like to admit.
Basically, if a brewer does something really well or really badly once, and a few people make statements that associate them with that one beer or style, it starts becoming a brand.
In the case of Townshend's Brewery in the Upper Moutere, Martin Townshend is the Pommy who makes excellent real ales. The brewery is six years old, and he started out making really high quality English beers as close to style as possible.
Martin himself often says, "It might be boring, but I still prefer to drink a really good sessionable English ale."
It really didn't take him too long, however, to branch out and start making lagers and non-traditional styles. These days, he says, "I will make whatever people want to drink. I'm just going to do it using all real ingredients and brew it the best I can."
Townshend's Black Arrow Pilsner is an example of a distinctly non-English, non-traditional beer. It looks like a textbook pilsner, has exceptional malt qualities, and just way too much fresh hop goodness to fit the traditional style.
While Martin makes it sound like he is subject to the whims of others, we have discovered that he actually has a bit of a wild side himself. Specifically, he's gotten into experimenting with the wild side of fermentation.
"Rodenbach would be one of my all time favourite beers."
That in turn got him experimenting with the Roselaire blend of yeast and bacteria used in Rodenbach, a sour beer from Belgium. First there was a barrel of foreign stout, slightly infected with historic bacteria to give it a bit of the Guinness tang. It was back blended with fresh brew to create a mellow moreish quaff, and the Flemish Stout was born.
He now has three beers regularly fermenting in casks, with a cider in the mix as well.
In addition to the Flemish Stout, Martin has, of course, tried his hand at making a sour red inspired by his love of Rodenbach. Ned's Head Flaunders Red is a sour beer with training wheels, all about balance and drinkability and those indescribable wild notes floating above the malt base.
After six months in a barrel and another nine months in bottle, the aroma is bold, but flavour still relatively mellow. It is fruity, and tart, and intriguing. "It's too easy drinking," says Martin.
This year's Fat Hand Strong Winter Ale is like an iron fist, high in alcohol and strong malt flavours. Though not a wild ale, it has seen some barrel time. Martin will release it in May or June just in time for winter enjoyment. The creamy lace coats the glass, allowing you to see every sip you have taken.
Just as actors get typecast, so, too do brewers. It is a challenge to keep up quality, consistency, and meet demands for their core beers, and then have a chance to experiment a bit as well. For omnivorous beer drinkers like us, trying the rare brews and then enjoying the old standards is ideal.
- © Fairfax NZ NewsX