Once in a Brew Moon…

Once in a Brew Moon - sorry, but I had to do it - you might find yourself at Amberley and at the brew pub, possibly hosted by Head Brewer Belinda Gould or business partner Kieran McCauley. And, you’ll be in for a fun-filled night as locals and visitors alike file through for a beer, and maybe a pizza as well. The pub’s popular with the local wine-makers (and in return she’ll stock her favourite wines). But, why drink wine when there’s a solid line up on tap? Fill a tasting tray. Go for two trays and you’ll be able give everything a try.

There were sixteen beers on when we stopped by on a busy Friday night. Sitting at the bar, I sampled the Amberley Pale Ale. It has a floral, rose petal and tea-like aroma. At only 4% it’s a good six pack offering to have in the fridge, and has been a staple in the Brew Moon range for some time. I also enjoyed the Gose. It was classically styled with no added fruits, hints of apple cider on the aroma, a spritzy mouth feel and tart finish.

Gould’s Audrey APA, singled hopped with Mosaic, was also on tap and is recommended. It displayed all the expected tropical fruit characters with mango and hint of pine. You might find the current offering – the 11th Amendment – similar. It’s out in 330ml cans.

I mention the size of the cans as Brew Moon were relatively early adopters getting their 3-head machine in 2015 – not long after the crazy was kicked off. They initially packaged their beer in 500ml cans. It was a size Gould said, “I’m not sure why, but we struggled to sell. It seems you do craft beer in 500ml bottles and 330ml cans”. They’ve since down-sized to 330ml and it has been a good move as the beer sells quicker.

Having a packaged product is important, as Gould reflects how hard it can be to sell kegs these days; particularly because they don’t have any dedicated sales staff and the market is becoming more competitive. Once it was easy to get her beer on tap in Wellington, these days it is a slightly more special happenstance with infrequent appearances at Golding’s Free Dive or Moon 1 in Newtown. We reflect that the nature of beer sales has changed with the increased “localisation” of beer. A lot more people are drinking off tap close to home.

Some of us are old enough to remember that Gould produced one of the country’s earliest “wish-list” or “festival beers”. You know, those beers that people talk about for days and queue up to taste, and feel a bitter disappointment when they miss out. I found that legendary Olẽ Molẽ Mexican Spiced Ale on tap at the brew pub and had to have one. It was still packing a punch with lots of green capsaicin and chilli characters, a full mouthfeel and a long spicy finish. You can see how it set a bar for big, flavourful and fun beers at the likes of Beervana. Many have copied its characters.

Gould wouldn’t describe herself as leader in New Zealand beer, even though she was part of our early wave of craft brewers, inspired by the likes of Richard Emerson. In fact, she thinks that these days she follows the trends, reflecting on the interesting goings-on in America.

Originally a wine maker, she put good beer on the drinks list at Waipara Springs, ensuring it had something she wanted to drink after a hard day at work. That list included the Emerson’s Pilsner and Gould chuckles, “I think I was the only person that drunk them”!

Her interest in beer developed when she was working in California and good beer was popping up amongst the vineyards in Sonoma County, home to the world-famous Russian River Brewery, and surrounds. Upon returning to New Zealand, her then husband injured himself and wanted to find a new career (he was a horse trainer). They started shopping around for a business to get involved in. Gould thought, “beer’s alcohol – there must be similarities with wine making” As it turns out, there’s lots of comparisons to be made but not a lot of similarities between wine-making and brewing. She does think that working in the winery helped with working with brewing equipment.

Brew Moon started in 2002 and Gould kept wine-making alongside supporting the brewery where McCauley was the first brewer. They needed to pay the bills and she enjoyed it. She reflects that she wouldn’t have made the transition into being a brewer except for the fact the winery was bought out so it felt like time to move on.

Now she loves being a brewer, Gould tells me, “it’s got it all over wine making…there’s greater creativity, and control”. And, less wankiness even though – she comments - that, “we are still creating beer wankers. But, at least if you smell lychees in a beer there’s a reasonable chance they’ll be in there”.

In wine, you’re reliant on the weather and on grapes to do their work; there’s two months of intensity, and 10 of navel gazing and hoping for the best. In beer, you have multiple ingredients over which you have greater control, and Gould reflects that with the much shorter brewing life cycle – of a couple of weeks - you can constantly learn and improve, and experiment. She is interested in beer and food, and using more adjuncts in her beers.

Constant learning improvement is a focus of every brewer I speak to, and they all reflect on changing trends in the industry. We spoke about Hazy IPAs and about the current wave of contract brewing. Gould’s brewed a cleverly named Altocumulus Hazy and comments that they can be a tricky style to make. Sometimes known for strong opinions, she then comments that contracting is “selling out”.

Although we’d all struggle to define “craft”, Gould’s clear that for her it’s not about out-sourcing your recipes to someone else. For her, “craft is made by a brewer in a brewery which they care enough about to risk a small fortune establishing. Therefore contract isn’t craft!” She does also comment that she still loves Garage Project, and that they do great things – just in case you were wondering. She notes without them, Hapi wouldn’t have happened.

Our discussion on craft leads us on to chatting about actual sell-outs, and who might be next…Just some casual speculation…And then, a chat about how happy some of her old colleagues Richard and Carl (from Tuatara) are in their new roles. We reflect that neither started with a view to selling – both had passion as a motivating factor - but are now living their best lives. It’s hard to criticise that.

When I asked her about being a woman in beer, a female brewer, Gould says she doesn’t reckon it’s held her back. She comments, “I’ve always been very well-treated in the brewing industry and I’d like to be able to go to any beer event”. She’s not into the exclusivity of promoting beer or beer events just for women, or for men. That said, she still often gets offered a pilsner or a pale ale when she’s after the biggest IPA on offer. People visiting can also be surprised that a pub has a female brewer – mainly older folk – but they’re getting more used to it. And, a young three year old visitor was confused by her hair the week we visited – Gould had just shaved for a cure and raised lots of money (more than double her target mark) so laughed it off.

Speaking of events and laughs, Gould was off to the Three Boys Fresh Hop festival the afternoon we caught up. It’s just a 45 min trip into Christchurch, or indeed from Christchurch to Amberley. You can even catch a bus. This means there’s few excuses for stopping by when you’re in the region. It’s well worth the visit. Brew Moon’s at 12 Markham St, Amberley, just off the State Highway One.

Photo credit: Jed Soane - www.thebeerproject.com