Six weeks ago, through a haze of blood, sweat, tears and citrus, a grapefruit IPA was born. This week, it’s finally time to introduce the concoction to the beer-loving public.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a craft beer-focused jaunt to Wellington would be all fun and games. But I’m a professional, and when I travelled to our nation’s capital for Beervana last month, I put in the hard yards.
Yes, there was a small amount of fun and the odd game here and there (by which I mean I drank quite a lot of beer.) But I helped brew one too! Our friends at Fine Wine Delivery Co had also made the trip from Auckland to the capital, but the biggest event on the beer calendar was only part of their itinerary. The FWD Co crew were in town to make their very own beer with Wellington brewery Fortune Favours, and, seeing as I’m a home brewer of great renown (read: I’ve made a few beers that aren’t totally undrinkable), it seemed like a good idea for me to tag along.
Richard Poole, Fine Wine Delivery Co’s general manager of operations, and Georgia Davies, the company’s beer ambassador, were the masterminds of the operation. Poole had headhunted beer nut Davies — who was working for the opposition at the time — after meeting her at Beervana two years ago. He’d introduced beer to the then wine-focused company, founded by his father Jeff, three years prior to that meeting. “It just made sense to me to have someone to specialise in beer to help grow that category”, he says.
As they set about expanding the company’s beer offering, Poole and Davies soon decided they wanted to have a go at brewing their own. Davies has brewing experience — she’s part of the Pink Boots women’s beer collective — but Poole was a novice, giving it a go at home for the first time last year. “It was a very steep learning curve,” he remembers. “I started at about 6pm and finished at one in the morning.”
Undeterred, he and Davies began developing their brew. Inspired by the Grapefruit Sculpin from US brewery Ballast Point, they settled on a grapefruit IPA, and got to work developing the recipe. “We brewed it and it was great — Georgia and I were very happy with it,” says Poole. “Until we didn’t keg it properly…”
While they were siphoning the beer into it, the keg became clogged with some hop residue, so they siphoned it into a second keg — but in doing so, oxidised the beer.
It was an easily fixable error, though, and the base beer was a success. They dubbed it Juicy Tart, and began thinking about how they could scale up from the 20-litre batches their Grainfather brew kit produced.
“We were looking at contract brewing but it’s a really big commitment in terms of the size of batch,” explains Davies.
They decided to approach some friends from the brewing community — the good folk of Fortune Favours. The brewery is a relatively new kid on the ever-growing Wellington beer block, set up in 2016 by Shannon Thorpe. He’d been working in sales and marketing for various breweries, but was ready to take the leap into starting his own, and recruited Wellington hospo veterans Andrew and Jamie Williams and brewer Dale Cooper to join the team. Last year they opened a microbrewery and bar in the hospo hub of Leeds St in the central city.
Poole and Davies had met the Fortune Favours team at Beervana in 2017 (another example of Beervana bringing people together) and loved what they were doing. When the brewery began canning their beers, FWDCo was the first Auckland retailer to get on board and stock them.
Fortune Favours was happy to help out with the brew and Cooper tweaked the recipe only slightly (switching a few hop varieties to up the grapefruit flavour).
The FWD Co team flew into the capital on the Wednesday morning of the week dubbed ‘Road to Beervana’, where pre-festival events are held all over the city. We all met at Fortune Favours bright and early, and Thorpe arrived laden with beautiful grapefruits grown at his family farm in the Wairarapa.
There were at least 200 of the golden orbs to be peeled and juiced for the 1,000-litre brew, so we got to work while Cooper started on the mash. We tried various methods to get the grapefruit skin off — zesting meant less pith, but was much harder, so a combo of the two was decided on. Poole proved a dab hand on the peeler, managing to get the skin off in one long strip, a talent to which he credited childhood potato-peeling competitions with his sister Tracey, now FWD Co’s general manager of marketing.
Davies helped Poole with the peeling and showed off her talent at heaving bags of grain into the kettle, while I joined FWD Co wine buyer Adrian Heyes on the juicing station. After a few hours and a lot of good-natured ribbing about who was working hardest, we ended up with a whole lot of grapefruit peel and juice, and bright orange fingernails. The peel went into buckets of vodka to be sterilised (Poole and Davies noted that this time they would drain the vodka off before adding the peel to the brew, another lesson from their first go that resulted in a tasty, if rather dangerously vodka-heavy, beverage).
To our credit, the only fermented beverage we partook of during the morning’s work was Fortune Favours’ very own kombucha, while under the watchful eye of Cooper, we weighed out and added various hops (Motueka, Chinook, Amarillo) at various stages of the boil. In hindsight, nibbling on a pellet of the stuff probably took my love of hops too far — bitterer than the bitterest thing you have ever tasted.
The (drained) zest and the grapefruit juice I had diligently squeezed went into the kettle at the end of the boil, and we all took turns symbolically pouring it in. The Fortune Favours team added some ruby grapefruit to the happily fermenting brew a couple of days later too.
Juicy Tart has its official launch this Friday at Uptown Freehouse on Symonds Street, so if you’re in Auckland, head along to be among the first to taste our masterpiece! Entry is free, or you can grab a beer-and-burger combo for $20. The beer will be on tap at the FWD Co superstores on Lunn Ave and Constellation Drive, so get your fill while it lasts.
The FWD Co team, who have had a sneak preview, say it’s tasting glorious, with Davies describing it as “a deliciously thirst-quenching IPA with zesty grapefruit character, juicy hop flavour and a lingering medium pithy bitterness”. They say that if the first batch proves popular, they will look at doing another brew and possibly putting it into cans for summer. And as such a linchpin of the first brew team, I’ll be sure to make my juicing talents available once again.