Tag Archives: beer

Homebrewing in the South Pacific

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.

But then…

…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!

Map Data (c) Google

Let’s swap notes

So after being here for about 6 months, I took a trip back home to the USA for a friend’s wedding, family visit, and some shopping. This trip is the main reason why I haven’t been updating the blog for a while… While I was there, some of the small differences between the USA became pretty apparent. Now there are definitely some huge differences like the culture, climate, language, food, etc., but I wanted to focus on the little things in this post. I should mention that I enjoy discovering new cultures and experiencing different ways of life, but there are some things that everyone would benefit from, especially considering Nouméa is rather developed.

I think these two countries could both improve if they adopted some of these things from each other.

Things the USA needs to adopt:

1. Traffic circles.

Seriously, guys. Americans hate traffic circles and I’m not sure why. Ok, they might be confusing at first for 30 seconds if you’ve never learned how to navigate them, but once you understand the rules (in general, those already in the circle have priority and furthermore, those on the inside track have priority) it’s simple. Using traffic circles instead of stoplights could save everyone lots of time and hassle. The main reason I thought of this was when I was moving along a chain of 4-way intersections with red lights in the DC suburbs and realized how stupid it was that nobody was moving (there weren’t even any vehicles on the cross streets). I was just sitting there burning fuel doing nothing. All of this could have been easily remedied by a few circles. It doesn’t make sense to tear out the existing stuff to put in circles, but they should really be considered during new construction. And those of you thinking of the “circles” in downtown DC, those are not traffic circles. They’re full of stoplights, turn lanes, and god knows what else. I’d wager that they’d work exponentially better if they pulled out all the lights. Seriously.

2. Real prices.

Having grown up with false prices being advertised everywhere (read: taxes and tip not included), I got used to never really knowing exactly how much I was going to have to pay at the cash register. Here in New Caledonia (and many other places in the world), the taxes are built into the price and tipping is not necessary. The receipts usually tell you how much tax you’ve actually paid so you can still see how much the govies get, but building it into the price makes perfect sense while you’re shopping. Tipping is another big thing. I’m still not used to the fact that when you pay for your meal you pay the price listed on the menu and that’s it!

P.S.: Here’s a really good Freakonomics Radio Podcast that goes into some of the implications of tipping and some other interesting correlations.

3. Shopping cart technology.

This one isn’t that big a deal, but it’s simple and beneficial. If you’ve been to Aldi in the states you’ll understand this one. They have a little quarter deposit slot on the carts. You put in your quarter, your cart is unlocked, and you do your business. When you’re done, you return the cart to the cart corral and get your quarter back. This keeps wild carts from hitting peoples cars, keeps the carts with the store, and saves someone from having to gather them up every few hours. Easy. Also, having 4 swivel casters on the carts instead of the American 2 in front, 2 stationary wheels in back makes them a lot more fun to push around…

4. Two-wheeled vehicles.

(C’mon, I gotta be a little bike-centric here). There are tons more motorcycles and scooters here than back in the USA. Sure the weather is great for riding year round here and the USA is really really big, but it would be really cool to see more bikes and bike awareness back home. At in New Caledonia people generally know to look twice for bikes when they pull out, Nouméa lets bikes park pretty much anywhere they want (read: the sidewalk), and we don’t have to pay for parking – although I’m not sure if they ever enforce the paid parking for anyone…

Things New Caledonia needs to adopt:

1. Beer.

The beer selection here is awful. Don’t even get me started on the Aussie beers we get here. America has such an awesome beer scene nowadays (and seriously, people here, stop making fun of American beer as sucking. Yeah, BudMillerCoors is crap but there’s such a huge world beyond that). There are a few Belgian and other European beers available here, but they’re all just macro brews (AB InBev) anyway. The local brews “Number One” and “Manta” are fine for a hot tropical day, but y’all seriously need to step it up.  If I had a little more motivation I’d look into starting a proper craft brewery here… Any NC business-type people reading this? I guess we’ll have to stick to Fancy French Wines (which I know nothing about…) and homebrew. (Also, I think I must be a genius).

2. Internet presence.

So maybe I’m a bit spoiled, but being able to look up a business online is something I now realize I’d been taking for granted back in the states. Here in Nouméa, the vast majority of businesses and restaurants have no online presence. A website these days is the first thing I’d think you’d want as a business owner (or at least a dot on the google map). It doesn’t even cost anything to put your enterprise on the map! I guess we’ll stick to the phone book for now, but I sure do love being able to see a restaurant’s hours and menu online, or see what a business is in the business of doing before I make the trip. You don’t need anything fancy (and for the love of god don’t play music on your business webpage…). Just tell me where you are, when you’re open, how to call you, and what you do. And don’t even get me started on our local banking website…

3. The “quality” option.

Nouméa is a developed city with all the modern amenities you could want. So why is everything so junky? I’m not asking for luxury, just a quality option. If you buy, for example, a mop for the floor or a toilet brush, be prepared to pay 3x what you’d pay in the states and get something that is the quality equivalent to something from a “dollar store.” I’m not one to invest in top of the line cleaning products or anything, but having an option one step up from “junk” would be nice. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough, but a $20 mop should last longer than a month… This also goes for “durable goods” like washing machines, dishwashers, and stoves. You’ll pay the same hundreds of dollars you’d pay in the states for a washing machine, but the one you get here will be a no-name piece of junk. I’m just glad I brought that big roll of duct tape.

4. Recycling.

There’s so much garbage downtown it is a shame and most of it is aluminum beer cans, plastic bottles, and glass. It’s strange how there are no recycling bins downtown at least for metal cans. I would imagine there could be quite a lucrative business for some waste management folk if they got people to recycle some stuff or at least provide the option. It’s really strange to go from living in DC where they (allegedly) recycle most all plastic, paper, metal, and glass to here where we are throwing everything in the dumpster.

5. Mexican food.

Enough said.