In this column we are starting what we hope will be a periodic series on beer styles. Since many commercial beers are linked by history or intention to a region or ingredients, we feel that knowing a bit about the background of the beer in our hand adds to the experience. We also believe that “styles are personal” and that trying to define one beer style as better than another is a pointless pursuit. On the other hand, it is often confusing when a manufacturer uses a style name for a beer with no connection to the style. The common New Zealand habit of using ”Pale Ale” to describe beers having more in common with a Danish Lager than an English Bitter is a case in point.
One common question that arises when we talk beer in New Zealand: What is Draught? To people outside of New Zealand, draught beer means served on tap, so getting draught beer in a bottle seems oxymoronic. The simple answer is that New Zealand Draught is the browner, sweeter of the local beer styles, as compared to lager, which is lighter in color and dryer. Michael Jackson, beer critic, described Draughts as “full colored lagers with an ale like character.”
Draught is the most uniquely New Zealand beer style. New Zealand Draught also has a bit of a reputation as being a cheap mass marketed commercial beer, tied to the marketing campaigns of the big breweries, although there are craft brewed versions of the style as well. According to the style guidelines used in judging New Zealand Draught beers at BrewNZ, the beers should be “amber, reddish brown, or copper colored”, taste of caramel malt, and have low levels of hop character. The style developed as early settlers adapted local ingredients and conditions to make the English beers they were used to drinking. Warmer fermentation temperatures gave the beer a fruitier character, and the Germanic strains of hops combined with more English brown grains created a unique hybrid.
The “draught” was added to differentiate the style from the lagers that became popular as New Zealand brewing became more industrialised. While Tui and Speights, and Montieths Original represent modern mass produced versions of the style, smaller breweries produce them as well. When the craft brewery movement started in the 1980s, most breweries followed a similar model, introducing beers that their customers could relate to. McCashins had the bronze Mac’s Real Ale, Shakespeare Tavern in Auckland had Shakespeare Draught, and Bays Brewery had Bays Draught Ale, each in addition to their light lagers.
Though it seems the word “draught” is dropping off some of the bigger labels, Draught style beers remain popular with Kiwis. Bays Draught Ale was the first beer brewed at Nelson Bays Brewery and is still their biggest seller, according to manager Peter McGrath. Accounting for 40 percent of their total sales, the recipe has been adjusted slightly over time to suit changing consumer tastes. The beer is reddish brown, with predominant caramel aroma and flavours, very low hop character and a clean lager finish. Bays beers are widely available in the Nelson/Tasman region.
Totara, the region’s newest brewery, also started 8 months ago with a Draught style beer. Drover’s Draught is lighter than most, with more biscuit than caramel notes. “We wanted something mild and drinkable,” says Ian Park, one of the brewery’s partners. The brewery has had good feedback on the beer, with many drinkers preferring the local product even though it comes with a higher price tag. The beer is available in a number of pubs in the region, with rigger sales at the Wakefield Supermarket and the McCashin’s tasting room in Stoke. With 28 batches under their belt, the team is following with tradition and working on their lager recipe.
Originally published in the Nelson Mail.