Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Stonecutter

One of the things about the craft beer movement is its ability to thrive in areas that are more known for their wine than their beer.  Italy is a prime example, with craft brewers like Birrificio del Ducato and Birra Baladin producing great beers in a country known for its Chianti, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino wines.  Italy is not the only example of this phenomenon.  On the other side of the planet, New Zealand is known for its wines, especially the Sauvignon Blanc wines produced in and around Marlborough.  However, Marlborough is also home to Renaissance Brewing Company.

I first encountered Renaissance's beers at the National Geographic Live's beer tasting hosted by Garrett Oliver back in 2011.  Garrett was introducing the audience to "Mini-Micros," small craft brewers who were producing some great beers, but at 1,000 barrels or less.  One of the beers at that tasting was Renaissance's  Marlborough Pale Ale or "MPA."  The beer was produced in the style of an India Pale Ale and, more interestingly, it was brewed with native Rakau hops.  Ever since that beer tasting, I have kept an eye out for any beers from Renaissance.

Fortunately, a local beer store carried a couple of those beers.  I bought a bottle of the Stonecutter, Renaissance's nod to a "wee heavy" or scotch ale. The brewers use a whopping nine malts to produce this beer.  While the brewers do not identify the malts, their descriptions of the aromas and flavors provide some guidance as to their choices. Words like "caramel," "toffee," "chocolate" and "coffee" all suggest the use of dark and/or roasted malts.

The beer definitely looks like it has been brewed with those malts.  The beer pours a solid brown color, with a milky foam that covers the entire surface of the beer.  There is a caramel or toffee element to the aroma, which is clearly the result of the malts.  There is no hop presence at all, a clear contrast to the MPA that I tried at the National Geographic Live beer tasting.

As for the taste, this beer has an interesting range of flavors.  I can definitely sense the caramel and chocolate flavors, and even a little coffee.  However, this beer also had a hint of smokiness.  I was not expecting any smoked flavor.  It was not as strong as the smoked flavors in the Nøgne-Ø Sunturnbrew or the L'Abri de la Tempete Corps Mort.  It is subtle, wrapped within the more conventional flavors that the brewers describe.  After trying this beer, I looked at other reviews.  Some of those reviewers also found that hint of smoke in the beer, so I do not feel that I am really out in left field with regard to this beer.   Finally, the brewers said that the earthier flavors of caramel, chocolate, coffee and smoke, would be balanced by a tart, raisiny finish that gives way to a dry finish.  I had a little difficulty finding the raisins or tartness.  Instead, there was a little sweetness in the beer, which definitely gave way to a dry finish.

The brewers suggest that the Stonecutter Scotch Ale pairs with venison, roast beef or lamb, creme brulee, and Scottish shortbread.  I think roasted or grilled meats -- like beef or lamb -- and stews would work well with this beer.

I found this beer at a local beer and wine store.  However, I cannot remember how much I spent for a bottle.  Still, it is definitely worth a try, especially as an introduction into the craft beer movement of New Zealand.


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