Can You Trust That Beer?

By BeertownNZ Mon, 30 Nov 2015 National

Guest writer Dhiresh Hansaraj asks if boredom is preventing brewers from honing their craft.

News this week of Constellation Brands agreeing to purchase Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits for US$1B scared me, because its Sculpin IPA is truly dear to my heart and I worry what new ownership might mean for the reliability of the product. By definition, reliable means “consistently good in quality”.

Back in July I tried a delicious North Island IPA from bottle. I knew it was from an older batch, since I read on Twitter that the brewer was currently filtering the latest one. I enjoyed it so much (on my birthday I should mention) that I raved on and on to a friend. As luck would have it, one Friday after work it was on tap at the pub. I made sure to buy a round so everyone could sample and enjoy this great beer I had talked up, but we were all left disappointed – none more so than me. It wasn’t a bad batch; it just wasn’t as good as that first one from bottle. 

Needless to say, my mates thought I was full of shit, but it started a great conversation about the influence of context when it comes to how much we enjoy a beer. I want to know that I can trust a beer to be as good as always, or at least as good as the last time I had it, and for me this splits things into two parts.

One part assumes that the drinker remains constant. If this is true then it’s all down to the brewer and the beer. You can break this down even further into (1) quality control and (2) boredom.

How much control does a brewer truly have from one batch to the next? I don’t doubt for a second that our professional brewers go to great lengths when it comes to quality control. There’s the normal stuff like sanitization, mash temperature, yeast pitch rate, regulating fermentation temperature etc., each of which is an opportunity for things to go awry, but there must also be things that are totally out of their hands; like availability of hops. I sometimes scare myself worrying about a rampant hop blight that wipes out whole varieties *shudder*.

The boredom thing is interesting. More and more I see local breweries churning out crazy and exciting beers, and at an incredible pace! Is it that they are bored of brewing a standard Pilsner, or are they simply trying to keep up with craft beer punters these days that constantly want to try a new beer to add to Untappd? Maybe, for breweries like Garage Project, it’s because the brand is “new and exciting beers all the time”?

Compared to the US, and I am aware that many of their breweries have been around for much longer, I do wonder whether the bulk of New Zealand craft breweries have the discipline (if that’s the right word?) to hone their craft over many batches and ensure reliability - in can, bottle and keg.

The second factor is also noteworthy, where we acknowledge that drinkers are actually never constant. As I get older I realise that context – who you’re with, where you are, the mood you’re in, and a host of other factors – can all influence just how much you enjoy a beer.

My mates and I have now agreed that each beer should be taken in isolation. Factor in the context, and then give it your 'rating’. Untappd does have a handy feature that shows what rating you gave the last time you had a particular beer. These days I watch my ratings change with context, but sometimes still swear, “It’s just not the same as that bottle from last time!”

Cheers Dhiresh! Dhiresh Hansaraj is a Wellington-based craft beer enthusiast and home brewer. If you would like to be Beertown.NZ guest writer then e-mail me Martin [at] Beertown.NZ.

By BeertownNZ Mon, 30 Nov 2015 National