Wild yeast is the star of a new brew from a Waikanae com­pany

IT’S UN­USUAL TO hunt wild yeast. Most brew­ers spend their days clean­ing, san­i­tiz­ing, shut­ting out any chance of wild spores per­me­at­ing their brew. But if you’re a brewer for whom spon­ta­neous fer­ments caused by an un­cer­tainty of mi­crobes is most ex­cit­ing, wild yeast gets you froth­ing.

Kieran Haslett-Moore has nursed a 19-litre keg of beer wort (the sug­ared wa­ter off the malt – the be­gin­nings of any beer) on a wa­ter taxi, crammed in with sun­glassed-and-hat­ted day trip­pers head­ing from Para­pa­raumu to Kapiti Is­land. The back­pack crowd is there to spot the is­land’s na­tive bird and plant life but Kieran’s quest is for its smaller flora. The part­ner and brewer at Waikanae’s North End Brew­ery is on his way to har­vest the is­land’s wild yeasts for his lat­est brew.

And it’s fit­ting. Now four years old, North End Brew­ery is named for the north­ern tip of Kapiti Is­land, where his two busi­ness part­ners in the brew­ery (and their two as­so­ci­ated Waikanae restau­rants – Long Beach and Salt and Wood) favour surf­ing and fish­ing. “They’re al­ways telling of be­ing chased by or­cas out there, or sur­fac­ing to see the boat’s drift­ing off over the hori­zon. So I thought, given our name, it would be in­ter­est­ing to see the flavour we get from yeast at the north end.”

The very im­age of a mod­ern brewer, Kieran is a fa­mil­iar face to many Welling­ton shop­pers. He put in six years at Moore Wil­son and an­other half dozen at Re­gional Wines and Spir­its be­fore his part­ners shoul­der-tapped the en­thu­si­as­tic home brewer to turn pro­fes­sional. Now he spends his days dream­ing about what would taste great in a glass. And he’s busy – Kieran is re­spon­si­ble for six brews a month, pro­duc­ing 2000 litres of beer in each brew.

North End has its core range of the usual beers, how­ever it’s the sour beers sold un­der its Salt and Wood la­bel that Kieran has the most fun with. “We wanted the brand to tell the drinker the beer is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent from our more ap­proach­able North End beers. The beer names – such as Eucharist, Rus­tica, Blanco – are Euro­pean to sig­nal what we’re do­ing with the beer.”

And that’s get­ting back to the old way beer was made for thou­sands of years, us­ing the yeast and bac­te­ria in the en­vi­ron­ment to flavour the beer. It’s the way lam­bic beers are made (al­though Kieran won’t use the “l” word for ap­pel­la­tion rea­sons). It’s also about em­brac­ing what are of­ten seen as faults – bac­te­ria like lac­to­bacil­lus and pe­dio­coc­cus, and volatile acid­ity etc – as some­thing that makes each brew dis­tinct.

Hunt­ing ex­pe­di­tions tend to be more suc­cess­ful with a guide and Kieran’s is Manaaki Bar­rett. Manaaki is a great-great-great-great grand­son of a warrior who set­tled on Te Wae­wae Kapiti o Tara Raua Ko Ran­gi­tane (“Kapiti Is­land” for short) with the Ngāti Toa ran­gatira, Te Rau­paraha, as he fought his way south in 1820.

The 2000-hectare is­land is now al­most en­tirely a pub­licly owned pest-free na­ture re­serve, save for a 12-hectare patch at its north end. That’s still owned by Manaaki’s whā­nau, as his great-grand­mother re­fused to leave when the gov­ern­ment bought Kapiti Is­land in 1897. Vis­i­tors who want to spend the night there must be hosted at the Bar­rett’s Kapiti Is­land Na­ture Tours lodge.

Kieran needs only a few hours to col­lect enough mi­crobes to start his new brew. Manaaki is happy to guide Kieran along the trails he takes vis­i­tors at night to spot lit­tle spot­ted kiwi. “Any­where near trees with berries and fruit is a good thing. We need the sugar-lov­ing yeast that sits on fruit skin,” says Kieran.

Manaaki stops at a likely spot that’s shaded with kānuka, mānuka, tawa and kawakawa, and Kieran slips into the bush. He un­screws the keg lid and ties down a strain­ing cloth meshed tight enough to keep out dirt but read­ily ad­mit the yeast that will cre­ate his starter.

It’s a lot of ef­fort when Kieran could’ve stayed in his brew­ery and in­oc­u­lated his wort with a yeast as­sured to im­part a par­tic­u­lar palate. But where’s the fun in that? “You don’t do this if you don’t love it,” he says. “It’s dif­fi­cult. It takes time and ef­fort, and it’s more ex­pen­sive as bar­rel-fermented sour beers need a good year in the bar­rel. Then there’s the risk of cross con­tam­i­na­tion with other beers.

“A lot of peo­ple are do­ing ket­tle sours, brew­ing in stain­less steel, but I like my bar­rel brews and my spon­ta­neous fer­ments. It’s more chal­leng­ing. And this one has given me the ex­cuse to come to Kapiti Is­land – I haven’t been here since 1990.”

A lunch at the lodge later and Kieran re­turns, care­fully re­moves the mesh and screws the keg lid tight. There’s no sign of ac­tion but Kieran’s cer­tain that will change. “In a cou­ple of days I should see some clear ac­tiv­ity. A barm will be start­ing to foam. That’s where the word ‘barmy’ cames from – all the froth­ing. I’ll use my nose, think­ing, ‘Does it smell good? Smell bad?’”

Rather than be­com­ing its own beer, Kieran says the brew will most likely be blended into an older one. That cre­ates a “gueze”, a lam­bic beer where the older brew con­trib­utes flavour, while the sug­ars in the younger prompts a sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion cre­at­ing a cham­pag­ne­like sparkling beer. “It will have some­thing about Kapiti Is­land on the la­bel and at the mo­ment I’m plan­ning to call it Evo­lu­tas, which means ‘process’,” says Kieran.

TH­ESE PAGES: ( Be­low) Manaaki Bar­rett’s whanau owns the 12 hectares of Kapiti Is­land that in­cludes its north end; Kieran Haslett- Moore boards the taxi (right) back to the main­land with his wild beer starter; two of Salt and Wood’s sour beers; Kieran (op­po­site page) read­ies his keg to har­vest Kapiti Is­land’s yeasty mi­crobes and checks his brew; as­sis­tant brewer Luke Ah­ern ( left) works in the North End Brew­ery at Waikanae.

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