When I was living in Wellington a few years back, every school holidays my wife would brave a plane-ride north with our two wee sprockets to go and visit her parents in Auckland. I would, of course, miss them like mad for the week they were gone; but I would also take the chance to spend some selfish time exploring Welly’s fantastic beer culture. The Malthouse became a second home, as did the Sprig and Fern on Tinakori Rd; but my favourite destination was the Fork and Brewer on Bond Street. There was just something about climbing those stairs and emerging to a face-full of shimmering stainless: the smell of the grist reminding you that this was just as genuine a brew pub as Galbraith’s or The Mussel Inn.
Back then the brewer was a bloke named Lester, and the beers were good; but when the stars aligned and Kelly Ryan took the helm after leaving his post as head brewer at Good George, the beers went Next Level. I had the pleasure of recording a wee podcast episode with Kelly a couple of years ago, while we brewed a Belgian pale ale using his pilot kit at Fork and Brewer – and I learned more in that day about how to make better beer than I had in the previous six years.
So, Round Two of my Mixed Six silliness – in which I ask a brewer-chum to give me their six desert-island beer styles – goes to Kelly. Like Stu from a couple of weeks ago, the clever words below are his own.
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What’s not to like. Crisp, herbaceous noble hops. A light and dry pale malt base. A beautiful uvula-embracing bitterness and a pillowy, billowy ultra-white head. I’m an unashamed fan of some of the American takes on these styles… Firestone Walker Pivo Hoppy Pils and Victory Brewing Prima Pils tick all of my boxes.
Yeast is queen of this style. Heady phenolics, peppery intensity and subtle tartness. I love it when a brewer has allowed the yeasty buddies to mingle… maybe with a few other bugs to give some sourness and complexity. A dry finish to quench the palate. The dichotomy of drinkability and thinkability. An Achilles heel of a style to brew for me, but if I had to choose, I would drink any and all of Mark Tranter’s Burning Sky range. He is King where yeast is Queen.
Low in alcohol punch and showing balance and finesse that is second to none, I love the interplay of chocolate, subtle coffee and caramel. The light hum of English hop bitterness. The ability to slake thirst like nothing else. All served beautifully conditioned from a cask and a hand pump. That creamy head. I drool. Serve me up a Moorhouse’s Black Cat or a Thwaite’s Nutty Black and I will smile both inside and out.
Nature at its finest. The fact that these beers are fermented spontaneously (well, inoculated by their environment…) and undergo a lengthy maturation process and blending to the point of drinking perfection never ceases to fascinate me. Complex fruitiness, bracing and balanced acidity. Every sip brings something new. Cantillon Iris or 100% Lambic Bio are my loves.
An almagamation of rich alcohol in all its fruity glory, think anything from sultanas to almost Riesling-like aromatics, an undercurrent of honey and soft sweetness that never overwhelms the palate. Tripel show finesse and class, topped off with their feisty bubbliness and fluffy head. Give me a Westmalle Tripel or Tuatara’s Tripel Barrel, please.
It’s amazing what a bit of salt and spice give to a beer. Sodium ions pep up the tongue, boasting perceived sweetness and balancing the citrus acidity from the lactic acid bacteria. Some have a little underlying funk. Some have fruit added and layer upon layer of acid to balance that ribald sweetness, all naughty and sensuous on the tongue. The classics have that lovely pepper and lemon spice from coriander seeds. Westbrook Gose opened my eyes to the style. So refreshing. And electrolytes have to be good, right?!
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So there it is: Kelly Ryan’s desert island mixed-six. I thought I’d sooner see Satan ice skating to work than hear a brewer count Dark Mild among their favourite styles – but that’s what is so cool about these silly lists…
There’s a bunch going-on at Fork and Brewer these days: they’re just about to launch a new line of bottled beers, and recently managed to fill all forty of their Bond Street taps with unique beers from their own stable (which at least *feels* like it should be some sort of international record). So if you’re in downtown Welly and in need of some beer exploration, do yourself a favour and hit those Bond Street stairs; you won’t regret the climb.
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