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Ruapehu brew, the volcanic desert.


Racing against the clock, we made for the Desert Road before February was out so we could catch the heather still flowering. We had a lot still to plan and were fast approaching our March deadline so we decided to go a week early to make all the final arrangements on the ground.


At the last minute we found somewhere near Waiouru to stay, from no accommodation to fantastic accommodation in the final hour. Roger and Julia were so generous giving us an entire shed to set up HQ, not to mention the full journey through a different farm animal roasted every night!


Our first stop organised on the way was Tweeddales honey in Tihape to see what we could glean for the brew. It worked out brilliantly. Chris gave us a thorougher tour of the honey extraction, even slid us a clump of propolis full of dead bees and all, perfect for our plans of recreating the ancient Pict brew. The factory tour culminated at the massive pipe full of pure liquid gold, Chris pulled the leaver and filled a jar for our brew also.


Our first day we headed for Ohakune, here we met Alex and got the rundown on the famous Ohakune carrots. He’d stashed away a glorious looking bunch of the sweetest carrots I’d acquainted with. Safely separated from the crop before the fungicide was sprayed down.


The brew was coming together now, the one last piece of the puzzle was the army. We’d organised a meeting in the camp to tee up the location. A lot was riding on it, so when it fell through we had to work hard to keep our chins up and figure out a new location; between open flames, iwi, D.O.C, fresh water and a view, we had a challenge ahead of us, well, upon us with Cam arriving the next day.


A new plan quickly materialised, and as it did we soon realised that it was turning out better than the army brew would have been anyway. We found a D.O.C hut up Ruapehu that was only an hour and a half from the road going around the mountain.  They weren’t keen on us lighting a fire but when she said it was ok to use the log burner in the hut we both immediately saw everything fall in place. Heating the volcanic rocks in the controlled fire and carrying them out to the kettle–perfect. We headed straight to the Waiouru chip shop to try for a deep fryer basket to dunk the hot rocks with.


We got to the start of the track still under dark as we had to have it finished in time for Cam to head out same day. Taking off onto a shingle slide in the dark while balancing a brewery on your back is not too bright, but a head lamp fixed that and away we went.


Around the mountain was pretty misleading and we soon found ourselves scaling sheer lava flows and traversing ravines. We were certainly glad for Cam the trusty camera man having done the keg sherpering when we made it to the hut 2.5 hours later!


We got a boil on under a crisp blue mountain sky, the sun reflected off the glaciers above us, the beer was delicious!

Heather Ale recipe



2 row pale


Ohakune carrots






rewarewa honey



It all was seeming like we'd pulled off the perfect spec, right until the pitching yeast stage, there was no yeast. We sealed it up and carried it out unfermenting, not for about 2 days it was before it had a yeast pitched, fortunately it was very cold so it kept much of the microbial activity at bay – also the propolis too maybe. None-the-less, the first taste during siphoning revealed some major bacterial activity; we had a sour on our hands! It was still pleasant though and complimented the heather, honey flavours. A unique brew indeed! Since that siphoning, its bee in the bottle for near a month now and has only gotten sourer. It now seems beyond lemons. Tonight we might pop one to dip the acidity meter in. If it’s still getting better we might have to look at culturing this bacteria strain.

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Massive thanks to Roger and Julia for their hospitality, the Tweeddales for their generosity, Alex for the great insights to the root vegetable world and the ladies at the Ohakune isight for their help.

...and of course Cameron James Brown for his increadible camera work and keg sherpering.