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April 28, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Mac’s Brewjolais

Fifty years of industrial brewing and saturation advertising has conditioned drinkers to expect their beers to be monotonously consistent. The differences between batches of mainstream beers are microscopic. As a result, Lion Red, for better or worse (usually worse), will always taste the same.

In such a sterile environment, we never really think of beer as having vintages. It would be rare indeed to hear a pub discussion on the relative merits of the “delightful Speight’s Gold – January ‘08” compared to the “whimsical Waikato Draught – December ’07”.

One beer which proudly flaunts its vintage though is Mac’s Brewjolais (5.5%). Released annually, the third version has just started pouring. It is made with the very first hops of the season. Hordes of brewers descend on an unsuspecting hop farm to harvest fresh Riwaka hops. These resinous hops are then rushed to the Mac’s Brewery in Nelson and within hours of being picked are turned into sweet, sweet beer. Rumours that the brewers roll naked in the hops should not count against what turns out to be an exceptional beer.

It pours a lustrous ruby with a firm head. The nose is extraordinary—it smells like the crushed skin of red grapes. The beer itself has a medium body, some fruit notes (grape, passionfruit) and manages to be simultaneously vinous and quenching. There is noticeable, lingering bitterness at the back of throat from the hops.

In the 2006 vintage, the bitterness was more than noticeable—it left your palate feeling like it had just poked Jerry Collins with a stick. I loved it. In 2007, the beer was more balanced but bordered on generic. This time, Mac’s have created a beer which tastes unique—it is one of the few beers which genuinely stands out from the crowd. It has recaptured the spirit of Brewjolais.

Because the hops are so fresh and volatile, the flavour profile will change markedly over a very short period of time. I would expect the hop character to mellow and integrate quickly. I like Brewjolais when it is at its freshest and most aggressive because the hops are still “raw and wriggling” (to paraphrase noted foodie Gollum). Others may appreciate the beer as it becomes more moderate and temperate.

It is not being bottled and is only available in Wellington at the Mac’s Brewery Bar. Although it was released just prior to the break, I have been away so there should still be some left.


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  1. Greig says:

    Let’s have some for the rest of NZ please Mac’s. I’m pretty sick of seeing the dire Mac’s Gold everywhere yet never being able to find one of the good brews on tap. Hell, I’d even settle for bottles, though the point of Brewjolais is freshness.

  2. Barry says:

    Brewjolais appeared at the Northern Steamship in downtown Auckland for a while, I had a session on it for a mates leaving drinks and it was wonderfully sessionable for such a hoppy beer. Gee I wish more of macs beers were this good.

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