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Doing the can-can

Urbanaut Brewing are just over two years old but already they’ve become one of the innovators on the New Zealand beer scene.

Their Copacabana was the first commercially released Brut IPA in New Zealand – they quickly picked up on the trend in the US and stamped their authority on the style here with an excellent first-up rendition.

Jumping on a style trend is one thing, coming up with your own unique idea is another. Time will tell is Urbanaut’s mixed can concept will gain wider acceptance but it was easily one of the more intriguing developments I saw at Beervana.

And it’s so radical. Blending beer is not a new concept – it was being done hundreds of years ago, and blending various barrel-aged beers is what defines gueuze. And we’ve seen many beer blends at festivals such as Beervana.

But Urbanaut are the first brewery in New Zealand – and founder Bruce Turner  is pretty sure they are the one of the first in the world – to produce two quite distinct cans of beer packaged as a unit and designed to be mixed.

The concept is simple: two cans packaged as one unit, with two different flavour profiles that create a third when mixed together. Consumers buying at retail will get what looks like a giant single can wrapped in one label. But that package has a perforation in the middle that splits open to reveal two 250ml cans with their own labels.

The three launch blends are:

  • Vanilla milkshake cream ale & imperial stout with cacao and coffee. 
  • Yuzu-lime sour & Szechuan pepper Kolsch.
  • Horopito, kawakawa gose & smoked chili ale.

As Turner explains, each beer alone should taste great but combined, they should deliver an eye-opening flavour experience.

“The beers on their own need to be interesting and unique. If you buy the can-pack you’re essentially getting three different beers – three beers for the price of one.”

The questions are: does it work and would you try it more than once.

Here’s my take on the process.

First the perforation works well, the cans come apart nicely into two cute 250ml siblings. The only glitch is that the where the perforation falls can sometimes be a little high on the bottom can, so it interferes with the pour, or it hangs below the top can making it hard to stand upright.

The first pair I tried was the manuka smoke chili ale with the horopito, kawakawa gose. The smoked chili beer on its own was beyond intense – I loved smoke beer but this was almost too bandaid-y for me. The gose on the other hand is a ripper and could be great seller in its own right – refreshingly delicious. The blend was magic. The gose dampened down the chili smoked beer and together they created a multi-layered savoury beer that was crying out for a food match.

The Yuzu-lime sour and Szechaun pepper Kolsch followed a similar route. The Yuzu lime sour was aggressively acidic (not in  a bad way, just that the volume was turned up to 11). The Kolsch though – mmmmmh – it was delicious and again I would buy this as a stand-alone beer. But once more the combo worked with the restrained beer taking the edge off the loud one. I really enjoyed this blend, with the Yuzu-lime still prominent, but the peppery Kolsch calming it to a nice ambient jazz level.

The final pair followed a similar pattern with one amped-up beer and a more classical style. The vanilla milkshake cream ale was super sweet and reminiscent of drinking creaming soda – not a bad thing at all. The imperial stout with cacao and coffee was sublime. Silky light bodied and with amazing flavour proportions. Again it would be brilliant to drink alone. Blended there was a level of sweet-on-sweet as the more charry, roasty elements of the stout got the edges trimmed back. I preferred this blend with a 2:1 balance of stout to vanilla milkshake but once I achieved that balance the beer was heavenly.

Would I do it again? Yes, definitely in a group setting, a beer club or a beer-tasting – it’s about the theatre and the novelty and it works amazingly well. And it’s a great way to see how flavours interact with each other.

Turner says part of his inspiration for the project was a presentation at the recent Hapi symposium hosted by Garage Project.

“Matt Brynildson from Firestone Walker was talking about how they don’t see themselves as just a good brewery – sure they make good beer, but in order to engage drinkers they see themselves as an experience provider. He said that while they make great beer if they’re not engaging with the drinker and not doing things to get them excited about beer, then they feel like they’re not doing their job.

“I really took that on board and thought ‘let’s try some new things’. It may work, it may not, but it should engage people and get them thinking about new ideas. Having said that, I’m really nervous about it as well because it could be a flop – but you have to put yourself on the line sometimes and try a few things.”

Urbanaut have definitely put themselves out there but it’s an experience well worth trying.

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