Since the two significant Christchurch earthquakes (September 2010 and February 2011), stories continue to emerge of miracles, flukes of nature and unexplainable incidents.
So when HospoNews first heard about a rather unusually successful beer rescued from ruins, we had to find out more.
For Martin Bennett and Stephen Hardman, the owners of Twisted Hop, a real ale brewery, bar and eatery in Poplar Lane, Christchurch, their beer is pretty much the main asset of their business. The brewery survived the first earthquake, though the bar was shut for a week, but when the second earthquake struck production was in full swing and patrons were enjoying a relaxing glass or two.
No-one had any choice but to duck for cover and get out as quickly as possible once the shaking stopped – there was no time to think about beer. Then when the cordons went up it seemed like Martin and Stephen’s business venture lay in ruins. They’d opened the business in August 2004 after arriving here from the UK and realising they couldn’t get a ‘decent’ beer anywhere.
Martin says: “Although home brewers, neither of us had any commercial brewing experience. We recognised a hole in the market for real ale, the ‘warm, flat’ stuff that the Poms drink. Wondering why with such similar cultures, real ale had never taken off in New Zealand as it has in the UK. So we commissioned a brewery to be built, and taught ourselves how to brew. From a very quiet start, we became busier and busier as the news spread by word-of-mouth, and by the first Christmas we were struggling to cope. At that point we were able to employ a part-time brewer, soon becoming full-time.”
Martin explains that their beer is cask conditioned, which means that it under-goes a secondary fermentation in the barrel from which it is served to give it a natural fizz (a bit like champagne). The carbonation level is less than in tank conditioned beers, and when served through a hand-pump, gives the traditional English pint experience – creamy head, low carbonation and served at a coolish 10˚C, “definitely not warm and flat!”.
“You are drinking the beer fresh, unfiltered, unpasturised and naturally carbonated.”
But when an earthquake tampers with the process – the normal conditioning cycle of a month in a tank at 10°C and then bottling and storing for about six months at 13°C before release – there is little hope of ever releasing the end product.
When Martin and Stephen finally got a clearance to go inside the cordon to their brew-bar they expected the worst.
On the day of the quake, Sean their brewer, was putting down a brew at Three Boys Brewery (a nearby brewery that they had contracted to brew to cope with the increasing demand). “That brew was abandoned. Some of the tanks at that brewery toppled but Sean and everyone there managed to avoid injury. All of the brews in fermenters went sour, with the exception of our Barley Wine – Enigma, which was in a closed vessel, and content to be left at room temperature for quite a while. Six months later when we managed to retrieve things we transferred the barley wine to a tank on a trailer and had it bottled and named Red Zone Enigma.”
Martin says it is quite incredible that the barley wine batch survived the earthquake but even more fascinating that it sat in a tank at room temperature for six months, through the hottest part of summer when temperatures were in the high 20’s and yet turned out to be a delicious and very drinkable beer. “I had pretty much given up on all the beer due to the hot summer temperatures. But this Barley Wine – Enigma seems to have developed more raisin flavours with the yeast operating at higher temperatures.”
He says some of their other beers had gone sour and were tipped out but their heavily-hopped Improvisation Pale Ale, which had been destined for the Jazz Festival also survived and was able to be served up at a couple of local craft beer friendly bars, Pomeroys and Cassels.
As for the Barley Wine – Enigma, well it was bottled by Harringtons and is now available for sale.
Martin says: “Some people have been shocked at the price of the Red Zone Enigma. Due to the terms of our insurance policy, most of any income that we make until February 22, 2012 goes to our insurance company. So when we discovered the beer was drinkable (delicious in fact) we had a really hard choice to make: pour it down the drain – or pay the excise tax and bottling costs and try to retrieve these by selling the beer at a higher price. I hope we made the right decision, it was definitely too good to just pour down the drain!”
Red Zone Enigma is available in bottles from all good supermarkets and craft beer friendly bottle stores. The Brewers Guild website has a comprehensive list of beer friendly bottlos. Give your local one a ring to check on their range.
And what of the future of Twisted Hop?
“The future of Poplar Lane is uncertain but we do know that it will be at least a year before repair work can start on the building. We are still hopeful that the building can be repaired and strengthened so that we can eventually re-open.”
Martin and Stephen have signed a lease for premises in Sockburn, and intend to shift their brewing equipment there and resume brewing before Christmas. The brewing will begin on a smaller scale due to them not having their own outlet but Twisted Hop beers will return in bottles to supermarkets and bottle stores. “We’ll also supply kegs/casks to bars that would like to serve Twisted Hop beer on tap/handpump. We are taking this opportunity to double our capacity with some new plant, tying in with our plans to open a couple of brand new Twisted Hops in the coming months.”
HospoNews wishes them well in their endeavours.
– Cynthia Daly