The only way to describe this beautiful collision of a fresh hop beer, brewed for Hopstock 2016, is “the Frankenstein of the Fork line up”. With the final result displaying elements (in inspiration and creation) from green hops, champagne, Belgian Brett yeast characters, IPAs and then trying it all together in a very light malt base, using multiple grains, proves that Kelly Ryan has never before been more in mad scientist mode.
“It’s a strange beer, I guess,” says Kelly of this multi-faceted, hop-headed monster.
“I was looking to brew something super pale, super clean, super crisp. Hopefully, something a bit different in the Hopstock line up.
“I wanted to capture that particular champagne fruitiness of Nelson Sauvin fresh hops, and create something a little bit different, more brighter, fresher, more vibrant, in terms of what sort of hop characters come into it.
“With the name, as well – Champagne Supernova – I wanted something that had this champagne-esque, sparkling wine-esque character, but in a beer. That sort of was the concept.
“I think Champagne Supernova is the first 100% first Brett-fermented fresh hop Nelson Sauvin IPA, which is just a really random, stupid thing to claim! I know 8 Wired have done a portion of their Fresh Hopwired with Brett. But the whole 1000 litres of Champagne Supernova is fermented with some lovely third-generation Brett.
“The best way of summing this beer up is: a couple of Belgian beers breeding in a hops drying oast house, getting a little down and dirty, smothering themselves in pink grapefruit zest oils, and tropical Nelson Sauvin hops. It has some wonderful Belgian flavours in terms of the fruit esters coming through from it.
“It’s probably one of the more exciting beers I’ve brewed in my 15 years as a brewer!”
Kel got the idea of Bretting a fresh hop beer when he’d done a couple of ferments for previous brews using his house strain of third generation Brettanomyces bruxellensis [yeast]. He started noticing a “really awesome fruity character – kind of pineappley, with sour cherries, papayas, mangoes” coming from the yeast itself, regardless of what other ingredients he was putting into the beer.
“So I guess you can say Champagne Supernova partly has its roots in Yoghurt and Bruesli, an American style sour beer I’ve fermented with Brettanomyces bruxellensis.
“I’ve had this strain going now for a over a year, and I’m trying to get a little authenticity in how I do some of my beers by maintaining strains and keeping them going. If there’s any mutations or anything unusual that happens within this yeast, then it’s gonna hopefully affect the beer in a positive way.
“From that, I got this weird idea of using this as a primary yeast strain for this year’s fresh hop beer. Mainly because its characters are so tropical, fruit salad driven, I thought it would be a really good accompaniment with something like freshly picked Nelson Sauvin hops.
Kelly says he’s been fresh hopping beers since 2007, and over the years has acquired a particular affection for the Nelson Sauvin fresh hop.
“It’s uniquely NZ, with these amazing characteristics that many brewers around the world would just love to work with.
“There’s these wonderful, interesting white grape, gooseberry, pink grapefruit, lychee characters. So, yeah – the initial concept of Champagne Supernova came from those two aromas and flavours coming from both the yeast and hop potentially working together really well.”
Champagne Supernova also shares its genetics with Yoghurt & Bruesli in that it is a multigrain ale, as well.
“I used six different grains: a combo of Light Lager, Wheat, Sour Grapes, Rye, Flaked Barley and Rolled Oats, because I wanted to get something really pale but also something with quite a good malt weight, without being overtly biscuity or caramel-y or with too much malt richness,” says Kelly.
Though he’s previously stated that he refuses to create beers around the initial concept of a beer name, he conveniently ignored that rationale this time around. (And this is where the champagne comes in.)
“Colin came up with the name, Champagne Supernova, a while ago, when we were riffing back and forth. And from that, I got this other weird idea: why not allow the primary fermentation to occur with Brett, then transfer that beer onto the fresh hops when it’s almost done, and then add some champagne yeast (Saccharomyces Bayanus/EC-118) just to finish the secondary fermentation on the hops?”
Enter 20 kilos of Nelson Sauvin fresh hops, suspended in the fermenter, contained by four sacks, which were then left to steep in the beer for seven days.
“This would help drive out any oxygen that’s was potentially sitting in the hop cones, and get a bit of movement of the beer throughout the big massive hop cones in the bags to extract those lovely Nelson Sauvin oils.”
And to that all square that all off, the IPA tangent/fun fact/obscure beer history lesson brought to you by Brewjesus:
“Champagne Supernova was originally going to be an Fresh Hopped Brett IPA, not super high in bitterness. Which is kind of interesting because there is a bit of research saying that the original India Pale Ales sent between England and the colonies, would actually undergo a refermentation in the wooden barrels.
“That refermentation, which enabled the beer to be nice and sparkling and bright and effervescent when it arrived, was actually due to Brett yeast that was in the wood itself, even though the barrels were lined with pitch, a tar-like substance. You’d still get that Brett from the wee bit of wood that wasn’t covered.
“With all the temperature fluctuations during the span of that boat journey and other variables, this would enable the Brett yeast to take hold and provide this wonderful ripeness and fruitiness in the beer.
“So it’s pretty fun to use a strain like this to brew an IPA-esque beer!”
Finally, Kelly carbonated the beer fairly heavily, to get “that mousse-like, white head that you can get with champagne”.
“Though champagne is four times the carbonation of a standard beer! I won’t be able to do that here because of our tap system. But I want to give the beer that nice, fizzy, bright and effervescence.
“I was trying to make something that tasted like it may have touched grapes with a big hoppy blast in your mouth, but also still has a refined character about it.
“The beer sits on 40 bitterness units and 7.1% alcohol, so the balance tends to be more towards sweet fruitiness than it does intense bitterness. But in saying that, the final gravity or the finishing point of the beer was quite low and quite dry, which exacerbates that perceived bitterness and makes it more pronounced; that tends to come through as a pink grapefruit, zesty back palate finish.
“It’s about getting that balance right. You just don’t want it to be pure hop oil. I think using this yeast with that variety of grains has allowed a little bit of finesse. Like with a fantastic champagne, sparking wine or Méthode, you want that lovely sort of balance of that slight breadiness with beautifully vibrant grape character to come through as well.
“Hopefully, all those elements act as a crossover beer for people who like white and sparkling wines, and it’s the trigger that makes them go, ‘Aha! I understand that. I now like beer!’ As well as getting all those fresh hop lovers excited.”
Champagne Supernova Fresh Hopped Brett IPA Tasting Notes
Taste: Sauvingnon Blanc type grape characteristics; clean, crisp malt character; sparkling wine effervescence. Light, balanced bitterness.
Aroma: Candied fruit esters: pineapple, guava, banana, grass and pink grapefruit zest.
Look: Pale, straw yellow with a white mousse-like head.
Hops: Wai-iti, Southern Cross, Nelson Sauvin, matured on 20kg Nelson Sauvin fresh hops.
Malt: Light Lager, Wheat, Sour Grapes, Rye, Flaked Barley, Rolled Oats.
Yeast: Primary fermentation: Brettanomyces bruxellensis. Secondary fermentation: Saccharomyces Bayanus (EC-118) Champagne Yeast