From the NZ Craft Beer TV journal entry, 27/1/11:
Monkey Wizard Brewery in Riwaka is in the heart of hop growing territory. A lot of the New Zealand Saaz varieties are grown here under the names Motueka and Riwaka and the Wizard himself, Matt Elmhirst has done an amazing job at converting a former roadside butchery into his own beer heaven. The expat Brit has background heavy in science but is also heavily interested in alchemy and takes an almost biodynamic approach to some facets of his brewery operation. Together with his talented and enthusiastic engineer mate, Lyall they have built a great brewery and are aiming for a sustainable approach, with the building of things such as solar panels to help capture the suns energy being a big part of what they are trying to achieve.
Matt’s beers are fascinating. He is well versed in the history, science and flavours of various ingredients, with elderflowers and elderberries being two local products that make their way into his brews. He even used the elder leaves themselves to keep away insects from the bar. A truly natural approach. He is a firm believer in using the products of the land and talked with animation and passion about various ingredients. From mushrooms to black pepper and cinnamon, he was definitely a man after my own heart with regard to his use of other culinary additives in the brewing process.
His microbiology background also meant he has the ability to play around with various yeasts and microorganisms and his magic doesn’t only apply to beer. He makes cider as well as other fermented foods like sauerkraut and Lyall told me they’d recently pickled some eels!
We went through the range of beers with Matt, Lyall and Jacqui (who runs the brewery shop and does tastings) beginning with the Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka filled Brass Monkey Lager. Matt had been maturing this for 6 months and the big hop character worked well with the Maris Otter malt. It was big in flavour, an ode to the hops it used and a very characterful brew. The Savvy Summer Ale was next on the board, a pale brew with characteristic elderflowers on the nose (which Matt picks at full moon) and Nelson Sauvin hop underneath. There was a hint of grass and sappy plant in the mouth, almost Nasturtium or Caper-like which added another interesting dimension to the beer.
Matt’s subtly smokey oatmeal-filled Black Mass Stout offered the characteristic dark malt chocolate and char notes, balanced out well by the smoothness of the oats. His Berry Bounce, a slightly tart Wheat beer matured on mixed berries grown in the area around Riwaka was a perfectly balanced fruit beer. A mixture of spices and elderflowers were also alchemically employed by Matt with a wizard touch. The slight lactic sourness blended in brilliantly with the fruit characters with the raspberry note coming to the forefront. This was a perfectly executed beer and it’s great to see Kiwi breweries taking on the more unusual styles such as sour and fruit beers with grace and passion.
Matt’s Fat Kelpie Brown Ale was a well-hopped interpretation of the style and the final beer, his Limited Edition Steampunk was a rich barleywine-esque beer with big fruity malt characters. Done in a Belgian Tripel style, it yelled more American than British-style in its hop character and packaged up in a 750mL Champagne bottle with an awesome Steampunk-inspired label, this was definitely a special occasion beer.
We went and checked out the brewkit, Lyall’s deft hand at engineering showing some nifty steelwork and tanks. We sat outside, shared a sweet lemon to cleanse the palate and hit the road again. Definitely a brewery to check out for its unique approach to brewing.