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Can-conditioned beers

Two of New Zealand’s best-loved brewpubs are bringing their beer to the people.

Galbraith’s Alehouse in Auckland is famous for its traditional cask ales but – until now – they were not the type of beers suited to packaging. That’s all changed with the advent of can-conditioned beer.

International breweries such as California’s Sierra Nevada and Bristol’s Moor Beer have ventured into can-conditioned beer, but Galbraith’s is the first to do it in New Zealand. Galbraith’s brew the beer and it’s packaged down the road at Urbanaut Brewing Co, who also look after Yeastie Boys’ production.

Can-conditioning is similar to bottle-conditioning – active yeast produces carbon dioxide to put fizz into a “living” beer. Most beer these days is force-carbonated, with CO2 injected into it. While bottles can handle high pressure, cans are less forgiving, and any miscalculation can result in the cans popping – the tab could explode or the domed bottom push out, meaning the end of the beer.

Bruce Turner from Urbanaut admitted to a stressful few weeks trying to get the balance right in the canning process, but the results are a revelation.

But why go through this process? Why not stick beer in a can the way everyone else does? The answer is real ale – the oh-so-English beer that heathens describe as warm and flat.

Real ale is about creating natural carbonation and then dispensing the beer from the same vessel in which it was fermented. Galbraith’s has built its name on real ale and founder Keith Galbraith wanted to stay true to the definition.

Galbraith’s has two beers in cans, with a third to come. Bob Hudson’s Bitter is a subtle, earthy, silky-smooth 4 per cent ordinary bitter. It’s a brewer’s beer – well-loved and lauded by industry aficionados. Bitter And Twisted is an Extra Special Bitter that’s definitely bitter but not twisted – rather, it’s got a smooth caramel malt underpinning the hops.

Each 440ml can is designed to be served “warm” at about 10-12 degrees and delivered in one smooth pour. My experience was that no sediment found its way into the glass, and the beer was just like that served in the pub.

Another brewpub moving into packaging is Wellington’s Fork & Brewer. Under the Fork Brewcorp label, there are four new releases from their brewing guru, Kelly Ryan.

The immediate talking point is the branding – an ironic beige and orange take on 70s-style corporatism that speaks to workplace drudgery but hints at office romance and the allure of Friday night drinks. It’s light years removed from the pop-art imagery of many rival products.

The star of the quartet is Tainted Love – a 6.2 per cent passionfruit and juniper sour ale that’s fruity, herbal, woody, with a tart dry finish.

Golden Handshake bucks the trend of many Kiwi pilsners by looking to Europe rather than Nelson for hops and delivers a minty-orange twang, while Hyperlocal, the pale ale, is in the dry, lean style of the moment, refreshing and clean, without any of the flavours buttoned down.

Alpha Geek, is one of the best IPAs I’ve tried all year. It’s lush and balanced with an avalanche of US hops, making it a boss beer for all hop-heads.

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