Neil Miller on EPIC

Perhaps the toughest question a beer writer can be asked is “So, what’s the best beer then?” This is the equivalent of demanding Lindsay Perigo identify his favorite sentence written by Ann Rand. The answer in both cases will usually depend on the context. At the recent New Zealand International Beer Awards a panel of distinguished judges focused their laser-like palates on 199 domestic to find the best beer entered. They finally crowned one beer as Supreme Champion – EPIC Pale Ale from Auckland’s Epic Brewing Company. EPIC Pale Ale (5.4%) is a burnished golden beer which throws a punchy citrus nose. It has an immaculate balance of rich creamy malt body with lashings of summerfruit and citrus notes before a lingering, almost oily, bitterness dries the mouth. EPIC actually won the top award in its competition debut on the eve of its nationwide launch. Brewer Luke Nicholas says “We are confident that New Zealand beer drinkers will enjoy it just much as the judges.” Luke’s track record suggests that confidence is justified. The quality of his beers have been recognized with bags of awards and trophies including twice brewing the Supreme Champion previously. He is always prepare to tweak his recipes to “keep the drinkers thinking” and to always move the beer towards being the “perfect pint” – a beer that you totally enjoy all evening, pint after pint. Luke also likes hops – lots of hops. He uses hops from around the world but particularly relishes the intense flavours and aromas of American hops. His beers are all generously hopped and he says he aims to “keeping pushing the envelope out to see how much hops people can handle. I haven’t found the limit yet.” Luke admits that many brewers would consider the “shedload” of hops used in EPIC to be insane. “I call that flavour”. Hopheads like me can only applaud such an attitude. The Epic Brewing Company is a new brewing entity which grew out of the operations of the Cock and Bull English Pubs and Brewery. The five Cock and Bull pubs - Ellerslie, Botany, Lynfield, Hamilton and Newmarket – all serve Luke’s handcrafted beers. The flagship Cock and Bull beer is Monk's Habit (7%) – an American inspired India Pale Ale. This rich copper beer has been described as the country’s most decadent pint with a full body of grapefruit, orange and soft honey flavours followed by a beautifully intense bitter finish. Twice Supreme Champion, this is a breathtakingly good beer. Fuggles (4.75%) straddles the Best Bitter and Pale Ale style but does so with such flavour that it hardly seems an issue. Often served through a traditional handpump, this slightly creamy British style beer combines a mouthwatering malt and fruit body with a punchy bitter finish. Roll out the barrel indeed. Winner of Best in Class Pale Ale at 2005 BrewNZ The darkest beer in the range is Dark Star (5%) which is broadly in the style of an English Porter. This beer has a toasty nose, a body laced with chocolate, roast coffee and burnt toast flavours followed by a firm, cleansing bitterness. This is a distinctive dark beer and a fine drop. With a noticeable hop aroma and flavour you never find in Dark beers The Cock and Bull also caters for the more mainstream tastes at their pubs. Luke ensures that these more familiar styles of beer are still fresh, well-made and full flavored. The Blue Goose (4.6%) is an extremely popular Premium Lager. This pale golden beer has a subtle aroma of dry grass and clean smooth body. The bar coaster most likely to go home with a visitor belongs to the Buxom Blonde Wheat Beer (4.8%). Very pale, it has hints of lemon, wheat, citrus and honey along with a soft, slightly tart finish. A highly refreshing beverage. Inspired by the traditional New Zealand style of “draught beer”, the Classic Draught (4%) brings a little more class and flavour with imported English malts contributing to the bustling biscuity body. This is closely followed a clean finish with just a hint of hops (by Luke’s standards). A good session beer for even the terminally unadventurous. With EPIC, Luke has created a massively flavored beer which retains drinkability. At my tastings, people seem to finding it easier to step up to EPIC than to step back down to their mainstream lagers after trying it. A bottle of EPIC would be a good place to start the search for New Zealand’s best beer. By Neil Miller - Free Radical

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