By DEAN TAYLOR

Tucked away in an impressive corner of Te Pahū is New Zealand's best all-round home brewer according to the judges at the latest Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA) National Home Brew Competition.

Daryl Bryant is part of a group of keen home brewers from around the village; his specialty being the traditional Belgian style lambic beers.

His goal is to maintain the lambic traditions — which means using naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria from the air to cause fermentation, rather than cultivated brewers yeast. The beer is then aged in barrels — upwards of two to three years in some cases.

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Daryl does make other styles, but says his taste is for the lambic beers, with their fruitiness, woodiness and sour after-taste.

He says they are a complex beer and that is the challenge he enjoys.

His prize is to have one of his brews commercially manufactured at Hamilton's Brewaucracy Brewery and Taproom. It will then be launched at venues around New Zealand to celebrate.

Daryl's background is in engineering, and beer making does present some engineering challenges, but it also involves biology, chemistry and a certain amount of luck.

"I'm interested in bringing all these elements together to make something I really enjoy — beer," he says.

And he might be New Zealand's best home brewer at present, but Daryl admits he has made beer he couldn't drink.

"That's what is fascinating about the process I use."

Daryl gathered up all the brews he had to take to the SOBA National Home Brew Competition.

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"I had 19 different beers in all."

There were 668 beers in all and each was assessed by 30 experienced judges and awarded points.

Daryl won best in class for his European Sour Ale and Strong Belgian Ale.

One of his fruit lambic ales won a gold medal, two others won silver medals. he also won silver for his Saison and Wild Specialty Beer and bronze for his American IPA, another of his fruit lambics, Brett beer, mixed-fermentation sour beer, wild specialty beer and two fruit beers.

Daryl says being awarded a gold medal was amazing — being named Champion Brewer the 'froth on the ale'.

Brewing his own beer gives him the chance to experiment with different styles and methods to make beers he enjoys drinking and sharing.

And because he ages his beer, normally in barrels that have been used for winemaking, it gives him a chance to work with other brewers.

"Each barrel holds about 250 litres," Daryl explains.

"That's a lot of beer to brew on my own when I brew in 30 litre batches."

Some of the brews ageing in his barrel room are partnerships with other local brewers — recently an award winning beer 'Famous Five' was a partnership of five local brewers all creating their own version of the same recipe then blending it.

Daryl keeps a close watch on his barrels as they age.

He says the beer can go off, or become too sour, to be recovered.

But regular tastings means he can monitor the brews and usually fix it before it is too late.

These methods include blending with other barrels and sometimes adding fresher batches of the same brew.

Even so — and beer drinkers will flinch at this — he has barrels he will probably throw out simply because they are a bit past it, or because he can't drink it all.

Part of his brewing process is adding flavours — fruit is a favourite, especially a special sour cherry from Oamaru, but the flavours from winemaking are also part of the final taste and he has even added woodchips to get an earthy taste.

He started making his beer in the kitchen, but now in retirement has put another of his skills to good use and built a beautiful brewing room, with copper plumbing and bespoke storage.

An advantage is that he has the room now to brew double quantities — 60 litres at a time.

The location is also used to host a monthly gathering of Te Pahū brewers for tasting sessions and serious discussions about the pros and cons of various brews and techniques.

He says it is part of the fun of brewing, but also helps everyone make better beers.
And that is important for Daryl.

"Life is too short for s**t beer," says Daryl.