Aged for anywhere between one and two years, the beers take on some incredibly unique characteristics
To the layman, beer and wine are like chalk and cheese. Two drinks so disparate that most who order one, seldom order the other. However, Waipu-based craft brewery McLeod’s is treating its quaffable brews to a barrel ageing process that is uncannily similar to that of the grape-derived variety, or a spirit for that matter.
The project, which is part of McLeod’s Smugglers’ Bay Collection, is largely the work of Head Brewer Jason Bathgate who says that a barrel ageing programme is crucial for a craft brewery wanting to stay ahead of the curve. Bathgate’s unique approach sees him take different beer varietals — mostly Belgian-inspired sours, but also darker ales — and put them into barrels (old whisky, rum and sauvignon blanc barrels) where micro-oxygenation can occur. This gives way to unique and formidably ‘funky’ flavours depending on the starting beer and different yeasts used.
Aged for anywhere between one and two years, the beers take on some incredibly unique characteristics. Bathgate’s favourite product to arise from the project so far is the ‘Farmhouse’ beer, comprising two barrels of the brewery’s famous Longboarder lager which have been separately aged in retired Sauvignon Blanc French barriques, then mixed together.
The process harkens back to the beer-brewing habits of yesteryear. Bathgate, who has been working on the project for two years, explains. “Historically, barrels are pretty much what everyone stored beer (and wine). The Belgians started using wine barrels which turned them into sour beers. That’s predominantly what our programme is inspired by.”
Each beer in the Smugglers’ Bay Collection is in very limited supply — there are usually only 1,500-2,000 of the 500ml bottles produced. The idea, Bathgate explains, is to try one and buy a couple of extra bottles to keep and enjoy in years to come. Predicting a shelf life of up to 10 years, he admits they are treating these specialty beers like precious bottles of vino — the perfect keepsakes for craft-brew lovers.
McLeod’s Smugglers Bay Collection is in limited supply at selected Fine Wine Delivery stores.