When we moved here from the states, we were fortunate enough to be able to bring a lot of our “stuff” with us. Fortunately, this “stuff” included my homebrewing equipment and, arguably more importantly, the ingredients for a few batches of beer. Now that we’ve been here for more than a year (!), we’re starting to run low on supplies. Thus begins the search for suppliers…
What’s this now?
As a quick crash course in beermaking, I’ll lay out what’s involved. Basically, you add some hot water to some malted barley (think tea) to convert the starches in the grain into sugars. This is called the mash. Next, you separate this sugary water (wort) from the spent grains, boil the wort for a while, and add some hops (a plant that imparts the bitterness to balance the sweetness of the malt). Next you cool the mixture down, throw in some yeast, and forget about it for a few weeks. During this time the yeast will consume most of the sugars and produce alcohol and CO2 (the bubbles). Put this in some bottles or a keg and you have beer.
So really, beer is made up of 4 ingredients: water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. In my case, I’m on the hunt for malted barley or its extract (a syrup) and hops.
The great hunt
We’ve learned not to take for granted a lot of comforts we’re used to back home such as going to the market for tomatoes and having them actually be there, going to exchange a butane cylinder and not having to wait a week because of a strike that happened months ago, and planning your alcohol purchases a few days in advance, so I figured it was time to start the ingredient search. Armed with my repertoire of flawless French (ha!), I headed around town to seek out some beermaking components.
After making sure there were no homebrewing shops listed in the phonebook or on the web (not many businesses have a web presence here), I figured I’d start at the places that make beer themselves – the breweries. I hopped on my bike and rang the buzzer of GBNC, one of the two big breweries here and makers of the “award winning” Number 1 beer. Turns out they can’t sell their stuff and even if they could, I’d have to come home with a pallet of it – a little too much for a small timer like myself. Bummer.
Next I stopped by a restaurant supply shop. They were friendly enough to call GBNC on my behalf but got the same “nope”. The had suggested I swing by the local (chain) brewpub Les 3 Brasseurs. Ihad attempted to ask the 3B’s in the past without success, but figured I’d try again. No dice. It’s especially sad considering they have sacks of grain sitting in a display case as part of the decor…
I’ve emailed with a few Australian homebrew shops and, unsurprisingly, it’s way too expensive to get stuff shipped here unless it’s really lightweight (malt is big and heavy, hops are light) so I figured I’d ask around for some malt.
At this point, I had given up and figured I’d have to stick to having people mule in ingredients when they visit or go on duty travel via New Zealand.
…whisperings of homebrew supplies? A shop? Do what now?
It turns out that there’s a relatively new shop in La Foa, a small town a little less than 2 hours drive, that was rumored to sell brewing kits. Awesome! Even crazier for this island, they even have a website! Beer isn’t their main product so it evaded our phonebook/web searches at first. Word of mouth dominated this hunt.
We were in the area camping a few days ago and stopped by the shop and sweet jesus, it was true! Apis Diffusion is the place to go for brewing ingredients. Strangely enough, their other specialty is beekeeping equipment (we came home with some fresh honey as well as beer ingredients). They have a decent selection of beer kits, although mostly Belgian styles so IPAs are still going to be rough. Unfortunately there are no “raw” ingredients like grains or hops, but I’ll settle for kits!
The owner was kind enough to crack open a few samples of his creations – we had some of his Framboise and Pils (both quite good) while we chatted about brewing and importing ingredients. I’ll definitely be taking a ride back to La Foa with some of my own creations to share with the Apis Diffusion folk!