Here at Froth magazine we like a piratey beer as much as the next person, so we thought it would be fun to chat to Mountain Goat brewer Alana Rees about the recently released Captain Amylase Rum Porter.
Popping up in bottle shops as a 640ml bottle with a distinctive burnt-looking label, this 7.7% American style Imperial Porter contains some dark rum and molasses, making it a dark and wintery beverage to sip on. Or swig by the tankard while yelling “Arr!”
Let’s get that weird name out of the way first. According to Mr Google, amylase is an enzyme that catalyses the hydrolysis (the chemical breakdown of a compound due to reaction with water) of starch into sugars, and is present in the saliva of humans and some other mammals, where it begins the chemical process of digestion. Yum! In the brewing context, amylase naturally occurs in the malt, breaking down the carbohydrates into sugar, which feeds the yeast and kickstarts fermentation.
Alana, who came up with the seriously excellent Alana Banana Hefeweizen late last year, says that the idea behind Captain Amylase was to make something with rum that was “massive”.
She explains: “[General Manager] Mick was like ‘I want you guys to do a rum – something rum!’ He wanted some big, barrel-aged rum beer which was going to be like 20%. We convinced him to just do a rum porter, so we did some trials just making a porter base and then adding a little bit of rum to it – you add the rum to the final bright beer – and then our head brewer just finalised the recipe – made sure the malts are balanced, the salts and things like that.”
Alana says that the beer came out “pretty good” but was challenging to make.
“I had to do both batches, and it’s got a high grist ratio to the liquor, so there’s not a lot of water in there, so it’s really thick. And it’s a real pain to brew. Because it doesn’t run off very quickly. So it runs off really slow and you’ve got to nurse it through. It takes a lot longer – it’s not like you can just set up a pump and come back every ten minutes and crank up the pump a bit more. But, yeah, it came out pretty good.”
In the world of brewing, sometimes there is the odd cock-up, but the experienced hands on deck are generally able to sort it out. This may or may not have occurred when it came time to add the molasses to the mix.
“There was some molasses in the kettle as well, to give it that more authentic rum richness. And that was pretty interesting too, because it’s actually pretty hard to get bulk supply of molasses. These pails of molasses rocked up, and I was like ‘OK, I suppose they’re going in the kettle’. So I dumped both pails into the kettle and then went to do the next batch of rum, and Dave the head brewer was like ‘Oh, are we going to put some molasses in this?’ And I was like ‘Oh, I’ve already put it all in!’ And he was like ‘What!’ So we ended up blending the two batches to get it more even.”
The final addition was dark rum – but fortunately something a little classier than Bundaberg.
“We managed to source some rum from New Zealand – a dark rum, a spiced rum, so no Bundy bogan rum in it – which worked out really well, because it’s adds that more spicy flavour to it. Unfortunately they came in bottles though, and that involved opening 100 bottles by hand and pouring it in. So that was myself and [brewer] Ian opening the bottles and pouring them into a 50-litre keg which we then put CO2 and top pressure on and then pumped that into the tank. And then we have to re-circ it to get the rum blended through. So I think it started at 7 [per cent], it picked up 0.7 by putting the rum in.”
The Captain Amylase was brewed for this year’s GABS festival in May, and Alana says they were pleased with the outcome.
“We were pretty happy with how it turned out actually, given that we did a small trial, but we didn’t know what rum we were going to get, so that changes the flavour. We’ve got it on tap [at the Mountain Goat brewery in Richmond] but we put it through the randy [a randall – a small chamber attached to the beer tap which you can add flavour-enhancing ingredients to] with some other spices, so that will put another spin on it.”
While the sale of Mountain Goat to Asahi in September 2015 raised alarm bells for many craft beer fans who feared for the future of their beloved Goat beers, Alana says that the move has had some unexpected positives.
“We’ve got the time now to have a bit of fun, muck around, not take ourselves too seriously. We get to make silly videos for the Rare Breeds – we’re always pretty keen to get dressed up and do something stupid.”
Alana says that they also need to replace the barrels they use to age beers such as their Barleywine and other Barrel Breeds.
“We’re going to get some new barrels,” says Alana. “We only use those barrels a maximum of three times – ideally twice, because obviously you lose a lot of that whisky character in the oak. Because we bought them fresh from Lark [distillery in Tasmania] so the barleywine went in … I was having to drill the holes for the plugs, for the bungs, and the smell of the fresh oak barrels, it was pretty cool. When we first got them we were rolling them around to see if there was any whisky left in the bottom!”
Alana says that the whole philosophy now with Mountain Goat is to focus on Rare Breeds and Barrel Breeds. “Obviously we have our major core [range] – Steam Ale, Summer, Fancy and Pale, so we’ll keep those ticking over with a little bit of Hightail, but we’ll just focus on really nailing those Rare Breeds.”
Watch the quite humorous Mountain Goat video for Captain Amylase here, featuring brewers Alana, Jess and Naz.