From the NZ Craft Beer TV journal entry, 28/1/11:
From the Coast we headed north, winding our way up parallel to the Tasman Sea and enjoying the vista where the rugged bush-covered mountain ranges met the usually turbulent sea. As people who have travelled this road will know, it’s another remarkable stretch of scenery with every turn yielding something new to look at. We hit Wakefield which is just out of Nelson and this time it was to a hop farm we were heading.
Totara Brewing isn’t just any hop farm however. A group of guys with various backgrounds, most importantly in hop farming, got together and decided to go one step further from growing the ridiculously unique, aromatic NZ hop and gave brewing a go. We met Colin Oldham and Peter Lines, two hop growers with a massive interest in brewing and chatted hops for hours, different varieties that they grow, the methods of harvesting, when certain varieties for picked. The passion that these guys had for their jobs was evident. Growing hops is tough toil for little return. It’s dependent on weather, brewers and exchange rates amongst others.
We spoke about organic hops and their production and it was also interesting to note that the non-organic NZ hops are also fungicide and pesticide free with a lot of techniques such as using sheep to graze and remove excess growth being common practice. It also helps that there is little to no problem with hop diseases that afflict other countries in Europe and the US such as downy and powdery mildew or Verticillium wilt. Hop pests are also seldom a problem, though one mite variety can cause difficulties for the farmers. The great thing with this though is that there is a natural predator that can be released onto the hop bines that destroys this mite. Biological control at work.
After working through the hop fields, it was time to sample a couple of beers and we began with the Drover’s Draught, a great example of the classic NZ Draught style but with the characteristic cleanness and flavour that we were to find in their other beers. The Totara Gold also impressed as a slightly sweeter lager with good body and subtle hop notes. The guys described this is a great gateway beer for the average drinker to get into craft styles and hit the nail on the head. We went on to then try a Dark that they sell at various festivals across the country. Again the cleanness impressed and lovely dark malt and chocolate characters dominated in a nice clean dark lager/Schwarzbier style.
We also talked of their Green-Hop beer, Ninkasi. One of the advantages I guess of having a brewery on a hop farm! Named after the goddess of beer and brewing, this is definitely a beer I’d love to try after hop harvest! We chatted more about hops (why wouldn’t you!) and it was great to know that a bunch of new varieties were on the cards… all trade secrets of course! It is also cool to see a bunch of passionate people keen to make drinkable beer and challenge the mainstream perception that seems to dominate a lot of the country. With their sales on the increase, they’re definitely moving in the right direction!