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Successful Recipe for Mata Beer
29 July 2015
Successful Recipe for Mata Beer

Finnish recipe is people’s choice in ale

A TRADITIONAL Finnish beer recipe, brewed with branches and juniper berries, has helped Kawerau brewer Tammy Viitakangas’ win the hearts of Kiwi craft beer drinkers.

Aotearoa Breweries only made 1200 bottles of the Mata Sahti, unsure if there was a market for the old-world-style ale, but last month it won the people’s choice at the New Zealand Society of Beer Advocates awards in Auckland.

Ms Viitakangas said the sahti was one of the oldest surviving beer styles in the world and originated in Finland, the country her father left 50 years ago for Kawerau.

Traditionally, the beer was made using a Finnish baker’s yeast, but this particular strain was not available in New Zealand and the Mata version opted for a German hefe yeast.

The great metal brewing set up at the Kawerau factory was also different to the canoe shaped wooden urns used in the traditional Finnish brewing process.

A bed of juniper branches was used to filter rye malt, but Ms Viitakangas struggled to find any juniper bushes in New Zealand.

Instead, she opted to flavour the batch with juniper berries and filter it using manuka tips. Hops were also a new addition to give the beer a longer shelf life.

Creating a version of the sahti was something Ms Viitakangas had been planning for five years before she finally created two small trial batches at a Hawke’s Bay microbrewery.

“It’s a small pilot set up. It makes 100 litres at a time so we made two batches. One keg was no good and tasted like tree but the second keg was good.”

It travelled to Wellington craft beer bar Hashigo Zake to collect feedback from customers.

This response, coupled with Mata’s own observations led to a tweak of the recipe to create a commercial-sized batch.

“When we first thought about making it five years ago there wasn’t the market for it – and even now it was a bit of a risk because there isn’t anything like it around – but it has flown out the door. We only have a few boxes left.”

Ms Viitakangas said it was strong beer with a 9 percent alcohol volume. The flavour was malty, spiced and sweet, with a banana aroma.

“Dad thinks it’s the best beer we’ve ever made,” she said.

Ms Viitakangas was also part of the New Zealand branch of Pink Boots, a society created to empower women involved in the beer industry.

She recently partnered with the Lumsden Freehouse bar in Auckland to brew a coconut, chocolate, vanilla porter (a dark-style beer) for the society to sell as a fundraiser during the Wellington Beervana festival in August.

Mata was busy in Kawerau brewing two batches of beer each week – the company’s own recipes and contract batches for smaller microbreweries.

Ms Viitakangas said she had previously worked with a number of small brewers who wanted to create commercial quantities without investing in a full-size brewery.

She helped them adjust their recipes for larger quantities, then brewed and bottled their product.

The company’s only current client is Fat Monk, a brewery based at the Abbey Cellars winery in Hawke’s Bay.

It owns the small brewery where Ms Viitakangas trialled her new recipes.

She said the two companies were both family-owned and recently teamed up to create a mango-flavoured white international pale ale.

Mata was considering taking on more labour as demand for its beer continued to grow.

“Our sales from April to June this year grew 35 percent compared with the same time last year.

“Winter is usually the time when things slow down and we get around to other jobs, but it’s felt like the middle of summer.”

New Zealand’s craft beer market accounts for two to three percent of the country’s beer sales, and the market increased by 30 percent last year.

Source: Whakatane Beacon

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