It Takes Submarines, Hashish, and Volcanic Rocks to Make a Good Beer

Garage Project is a New Zealand company that pushes the envelope with every batch of beer—counting superheated volcanic rocks, submarines, and hashish made from hops among their brew-making toolkit.

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Oct 1 2014, 4:06pm

Photo courtesy of Tim Jesudason

Could this be the strangest brewery in the world?

Garage Project is a New Zealand company based in Wellington that pushes the envelope with every batch of beer. In the past, they've counted superheated volcanic rocks, submarines, and hashish made from hops among their brew-making toolkit. The two friends behind the enterprise, Jos Ruffell and Pete Gillespie, modestly call the whole thing "biere de garage" or "beer from the garage", because that's exactly what it is; craft beer brewed out of a garage.

"It's a work in progress", Jos Ruffel explains. "All the beers we make are about pushing boundaries, blurring the margins between styles—seeing what works." For them, that means that the method is just as important as the resulting flavour, which sees them trying some decidedly odd things to keep their product line constantly changing. To understand just how odd their processes can be, we're highlighting three examples, and discussing how the ends justifies the means.

Red Rocks Reserve The brewery's Red Rocks Reserve has become a bit of cult classic with beer aficionados for reviving the ancient technique of flash-boiling beer. The technique, known as "Stein Beer", requires volcanic rocks to be heated to over 900° F. Once it gets to temperature, the red ale is run through the rocks, which causes the brew to go "absolutely spastic," and flash-caramelizes the sugars in the wort. "Wellington has an abundance of blood-red rocks, which were spewed up in a volcanic eruption hundreds of years ago," says Jos. "So it seemed like a perfect fit to recreate that violent process. The first time we brewed it, we had no idea if the rocks would hold up or shatter and explode. Fortunately they did the job."

More recently, Garage Project have made this technique more accessible by creating a custom hot poker which can be used to flash-caramelize beer in glasses for beer festivals. "And Red Rocks Reserve is just that, but done on a significantly larger scale." The result: a chewy, malty, and tropically noted ale.

Umami Monster Umami, the fifth basic taste (along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty) is a Japanese word that translates to "a pleasant savory taste". Naturally, Garage Project took up the challenge to replicate the "umami taste" in their beer.

To do this, Jos and Pete made a mash that took on the flavors of dashi, a type of stock in many Japanese dishes. This resulted in a unique mash consisting of 20 kilograms of locally sourced kombu (dried kelp) and 30 kilograms of katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and finally, "Wellington's finest seawater".

The process turned out to be more challenging than you'd think. Since the seawater needed to be "exceptionally pure", they had to get it from a protected marine reserve, a kilometer from the coast. However, because boats are prohibited from the reserve, they had to use a submarine. The sub carries a professional diver named Rob Edwards, who slips out with a bucket and scoops up a sample, returning to the brewery without breaking any laws. As Jos told us, the submarine and diver was "crucial" to the flavor. And that flavour—according to ratebeer.com—has the "aroma of smoked sausage ... Salty with nutty malts. Really good."

Photo courtesy of Tim Jesudason

The aforementioned submarine. Photo courtesy of Tim Jesudason

The boys' latest brewing project, the Hop #IPA, is made using pure lupulin, which is a bitter yellowish powder found on the underside hairs of female hop flowers. Yes, it's hop hash. "Because hops are so closely related to cannabis, we wondered what would happen if we made hop hash and brewed with it", Jos explained. Making the hash is an extensive process, requiring the brewers to import an incredibly fine micron mesh to sift the lupulin. They then collect the hash on a mirror and transfer it immediately into the beer.

"Hops are incredibly fascinating as a material," Jos says. "After doing some research we found that liquid nitrogen was used by hop chemists to study the lupulin glands, so we thought that if it works for the scientists, then it could have a chance of improving a beer." The result: a beer with very unique, delicate aroma and extremely smooth bitterness.