I’ve been trying to work out a trip to New Zealand for a few years now, mainly because it continually pops up on the radar as the Australasian nation with the most interesting craft beer scene – with all due respects to Australia and Japan – and now I have one more reason to want to visit: Renaissance Brewing.
I admit that I was utterly ignorant of Renaissance until a local beer importer last week dropped off a few sample bottles of their beer. Now that I know, however, I’m itching to try more!
My tasting experience began with their Elemental Porter, which reminds me of nothing so much as the Meantime Porter from England, a beer I hold in quite high esteem. Not so much because they taste identical – they do not – but because their inspiration appears to come from a similar source, giving each a gently rounded and mildly sweet character and soothing countenance. In the Renaissance beer I get plummy fruit layered over with cocoa, coffee, vanilla and raisin, all accented with just a hint of smoke and ending in a more roasty, drying finish. All in all, a most pleasant experience and just right for, as the label suggests, “almost anything off the barbeque.”
The next beer, Craftsman Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, proved a bit confounding, as while it had a lovely aroma – luscious, thick chocolaty notes and hints of burnt caramel and smoke – the body seemed curiously thin and uneven, with roast and smoke and notes of chocolate and not a whole lot else, culminating in an almost burnt finish. Insofar as it poured with a sad and fast-disappearing head, while its brewery mates all presented beautifully, I have to wonder if perhaps something was amiss with this particular bottle. (All the more reason to visit New Zealand!)
Without knowing it, I had saved the best for last: Stonecutter Scotch Ale. This deep brown delight adds a waft of smokiness to a remarkably complex aroma of caramel, milk chocolate, a bit of smokiness, raisins, black cherries and plums and vanilla – and layers flavour on top of flavour in the body. The start offers stewed fruit with raisin and date accents, before becoming more chocolate-caramelly, roasty and just a wee bit coffee-ish, all ending is a very pleasant, lingering finish with roast, sweet malt, drying hop and alcohol in terrific harmony. At 7% alcohol and with a cellar temperature chill to it, the Stonecutter is an ale I could enjoy on the conclusion of any day, cheering me on the bad ones and adding a welcome exclamation point to the good ones!