Shining Peak Battle Axe Scotch Ale and the personification of beer

Posted by John Shearlock on

Every beer has a story to tell and typically you’ll find it entwined in the brewery’s history, or the development of a style, or a personal facet of the brewers involved. On rare occasions though, you find a beer that was literally defined by a story and made to retell this tale.

Today’s beer is one such brew.

Battle Axe is a beer based on a man called Newton King, a prominent businessman in Taranaki who didn’t do things by halves and was into everything; importing, farming, shipping and finance.

For leisure he loved a flutter on the gee gees, drinking Scotch and smoking cigars. His master stroke was combining business with pleasure by owning racehorses, and his star on the track went by the name of Battle Axe. By all accounts this nag was rather successful, taking over $1000 in winnings at the turn of the 20th century (a tidy sum by today’s standards taking inflation into account).

So how does one tell the tale of a larger than life character with a penchant for cigars and whisky through beer?

Easy, you start with a grandiose style such as the Scotch ale, which imparts a feeling of richness and decadence. Then you chuck a canny addition of peat smoked NZ malt into the grain bill to add the suggestion of cigars and smoky whisky. Add some classic hops such as East Kent Goldings and boom, the personification is complete.

Let’s see how this tale of Newton King unfolds on the palate…

Pours a deep amber red with a thin tan head. The peat smoked malt component jumps out immediately on the nose with iodine and smoked barbeque rib notes that combine with clove studded oranges and subtle red fruits. On the palate the peat is much more restrained and melds nicely into the hops and adds a savoury dried tobacco note to balance the sweet malt tones. Wow, that’s a fantastic drop that successfully combines peat smoke to full effect were other beers have often failed. It really does evoke whisky and cigars very cleverly…

The personification of beer is no mean feat. Typically it’s done by name and by brand rather than brewing and actual flavour creation, and so this is clever stuff from Shining Peak. It's a superbly evocative and characterful beer, but did the brewers miss a trick not adding a Brettanomyces component to conjure up the notion of horse saddles? I guess smoke tinged gambling halls, whisky and cigars are all fair game. Sweaty horses on the other hand? Possibly a step too far.

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