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Brewers are, on the whole, extraordinary people. From just toasted grain, the flower of a vine, ordinary water and a single-celled organism, they can produce delicious, sweet, life-giving beer.
Given those ingredients, most people would produce soggy muesli which smells of wet grass, and tastes vaguely like bathroom mould. Or worse – Mash beer.
Brewers have many other skills. I recently saw brewer Richard Emerson whip up a cooked breakfast for six using fewer kitchen appliances than the average tramping party.
I was visiting the revered Emerson’s Brewery in Dunedin to ‘help’ brew for a day. The new brewery was bigger – much, much bigger – than the previous two homes of these multi-award winning beers.
With plenty of space and some flash new equipment (“that thing cost as much as a new car”), Emerson’s has tripled production and looks set for a long stay.
Despite the quantum leap in size, Richard is determined to keep the quality high, saying, “this is a craft brewery with big brewery production.” Last year he was joined by Chris O’Leary, the founder of the excellent Limburg brewing company, who says his job is to ensure the consistency and quality of beers which are now exported as far abroad as Auckland, Australia and Denmark.
The combination of Richard Emerson and Chris O’Leary – two of the country’s most decorated brewers – is a bit of a beer dream team. In fact, they are sometimes spotted out drinking (usually at the Inch Bar) under their secret identifies of Superman and Spiderman. Yep, they do things differently down south.
The Emerson’s range of beers is exceptional, both for the breadth of styles and the depth of flavours.
The Emerson’s Pilsner (4.9 per cent) is balanced with notes of citrus and passion fruit while the London Porter (4.9 per cent ) is dark, chocolatey, and dry. Proclaimed one of the best 500 beers in the world, the 1812 India Pale Ale (5 per cent) marries a full body of chocolate and marmalade with a cleansing bitter finish.
Maris Gold (4.5 per cent) is zesty citrus stunner for summer days, while the Old 95 Ale (7 per cent ) is a strong, heady, vinous drop to keep you warm on cold nights. The Weissbier (4.7 per cent) is cloudy, tart, and quenching, with notes of banana, sherbet and clove.
Bookbinder (3.7 per cent) is a sessionable yet flavoursome bitter, and the Oatmeal Stout (4.8 per cent) is a creamy, toffee, nutty delight.
There are also seasonal and special beers like the massively hopped American Pale Ale and the decadent Bourbon Porter. Currently, Taieri George (6.8 per cent) is a Bavarian style spiced ale made with cinnamon, nutmeg and a secret third spice: “liquid hot cross buns”. The bottom line is, if it is Emerson’s, it is almost certainly good.
I’m not sure how much help I was in the actual brewing process. My role was somewhat limited because the dream team were (rightly) wary of a mechanically-challenged writer turning the wrong switch and sending 5,000 litres of beer directly into the Dunedin City stormwater system.
I certainly didn’t mind. Richard is busy developing some very exciting new beers and I got to do some ‘quality control’. Well, lots of ‘quality control’.