On a warm Taranaki afternoon, I’m catching up with New Zealand’s hardest-working brewer – for today at least – and there’s a damn good reason why The Theoretical Brewer’s Douglas Eng is working like a man possessed.
Courtesy of a Top 30 spot in the 2022 New World Beer & Cider Awards for his Mad Hatter hazy pale ale, a sherberty-smooth affair packed with Nectaron juiciness, he’s busy brewing another batch of the beer to send off to New World supermarkets around the country. Already, there’s a pallet awaiting dispatch near the brewery’s cool store, and it’s been a massively focused effort following confirmation of his awards success.
He’s even had a few people asking what’s been going on. “Hey Doug? How come you’re making four months of beer in two weeks?”
He’s just thrilled to be recognised alongside some of the industry’s biggest names in the super-competitive hazy category, and it will be the first time his beer has had such wide distribution.
Nominating Emerson’s 1812 Pale Ale as his gateway into craft beer, a journey given further impetus when his wife gave him a home brewing kit for his birthday, The Theoretical Brewer kicked off in 2015 in Eng’s garage. At first overlapping and fitting around his job as a chemical and materials engineer on Taranaki’s Kapuni natural gas project, it then morphed into a full-time gig after the opportunity of redundancy came knocking a few years later.
Inspired by Eng’s engineering background, there’s a real elegance and precision to The Theoretical Brewer’s beers. Brewed as a nod to his family’s Malaysian roots, Hibiscus Sour is a vibrant pink kettle sour ideal for warmer days, while The First Finch is a lean and crisp pale ale. It was actually Eng’s first commercially-released beer, and as he searched for the perfect combination of malt and New Zealand, Australian and US hops, it went through about the same number of evolutionary steps as the Galapagos Islands finches that inspired Sir Charles Darwin’s natural selection opus, On the Origin of Species.
As well as being on tap regularly at The Hour Glass and Mike’s Brewery & Bistro in New Plymouth, The Theoretical Brewer’s current home is a simple brewery and taproom north of the city in the light-industrial suburb of Bell Block. Bottle sales and flagon fills are available on Thursday and Friday afternoons — “I get great support from local tradies,” Eng confirms — and plans are well-advanced to start partnering his beers with low and slow American-style barbecue in a few months’ time.
That’s when a visit at the weekend will also be highly recommended.