It’s a lot more innocent that it sounds!
Last May, I was back home in the States to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday and watch my younger brother graduate from college. Conveniently, both celebrations took place in Northern California, where great beer abounds.
I met up with some friends at one of San Francisco’s best gastropubs, Monk’s Kettle, and enjoyed a new beer from a fine local brewery – Bush Down Under, a manuka ale, from Moonlight Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California.
While the name itself still makes me giggle, we’ll get to that story in a minute.
First, let’s talk about what a manuka ale is. This beer is a pale ale, but instead of using hops for bitterness, leaves from the manuka tree, also known as the tea tree (sounding more familiar?) were added in the boil instead.
While this may not sound like a common approach in brewing today, prior to the use of hops – which were first used in some German beers around the year 1000 – all beer was brewed with a mix of bittering herbs and plants (like bog myrtle, yarrow, or wild rosemary) called gruit.
After their introduction, hops were favored for their antiseptic properties: they prevented the growth of spoilage organisms and gave beer a longer shelf life. Plus, they tasted great. (The likes of which couldn’t be said for all of the ingredients used in bittering gruit!) So the gruit style all but died out.
Much like tea tree oil, this manuka ale has a eucalyptus-like note, making it really earthy and herbal, on top of a biscuity malt base.
As you can probably guess, this beer isn’t for everyone, but it was a really interesting adventure away from the all-too-familiar flavors of hops (and perhaps, a step closer to beer’s past).
Now where does that giggle-inducing name come from? Well, it’s much more innocent than it sounds.
The manuka tree is native to Australia and New Zealand – a bush down under. Get it?
Moonlight Brewing Company’s founder, Brian Hunt, is no stranger to using unique ingredients that impart unique flavors to his beers. From Redwood tips and branches, to pluots, Moonlight is a brewery “that enjoys brewing within its own terrain.”
So how’d a bush from down under make it into a beer brewed in NorCal?
The beer was suggested by the brewery’s intern, Annie, who is from New Zealand. So essentially, Annie brought the terrain with her! Moonlight then found a local grower of manuka bush and made her brew happen.
Next time you’re in the Bay Area, look out for more interesting brews from Moonlight. Their flagship, Death & Taxes, a black lager, is not to be missed!
P.S. A big thank you to the fine folks at Moonlight who responded to my questions via Facebook to learn more about the story behind this beer!
Sources: Randy Mosher Tasting Beer; Conversation with Moonlight Brewing on Facebook on Dec 8, 2016