One of New Zealand’s most iconic modern beers is celebrating its 10th vintage.
8 Wired Wild Feijoa 2022 has just been released and the brewery is celebrating by releasing a “grappa” made with the skins and pulp from the first ever batch when 8 Wired was still based in Blenheim and founder Soren Eriksen was moonlighting at 8 Wired while working the day shift at Renaissance.
The original Wild Feijoa was something of an accident as it was meant to be Wild Savvy, a beer-wine hybrid that 8 Wired planned to do as a collaboration with a local winery. When the wild fermented barrel-aged sauvignon blanc wine wasn’t ready in time, Eriksen decided to do another fruit and opted for feijoa.
“We just plonked the feijoas into the barrels and called it Wild Feijoa.”
(As an aside that Wild Savvy was eventually released as Once Upon A Time In Blenheim).
Stuffing the fruit into the barrels of the base beer for that first batch made it impossible to it get out, so Eriksen sent the barrels (still with the fruit inside) to Fritz Kuckuck and Maria Grau who had a distillery in Nelson. Their business partner was a cooper so he was able to open the barrel to get the fruit out so Fritz and Maria make a spirit from it.
“They sent it back in a keg and it’s been sitting with us ever since,” Eriksen says, “The plan was never to wait 10 years to release it.”
Eriksen calls the spirit grappa, even though a traditional grappa is made from grape skins and other leftover pulp from wine-making.
He describes it as floral and feijoa-perfumed. “It’s not like a feijoa vodka, it’s a lot more interesting than that.”
That first Wild Feijoa was built on a Belgian Tripel base, soured in barrels, and weighed in at 9% ABV.
The ABV gradually came down with vintages, to 8.7%, then 7.5% and has hovered around 6.5% for the past seven years.
The base beer is now more consistent, the same one 8 Wired use for all their fruited sours, and these days the feijoas don’t go into the barrels — “We stopped putting fruit in barrels because we couldn’t get the fruit out and couldn’t re-use the barrels” — instead the fruit goes into tanks with the blended beer.
“The beer has changed a lot from the first one. The level of sourness hasn’t changed, you can’t get it any more sour, but it used to be a lot more funky. It’s a lot cleaner now than it used to be, and there would have been some acetic acid in the past which is not there because we’re better at making it, we’ve got the process down better.”
The finessing of the process doesn’t mean it’s always easy, and that includes the 8 Wired team hand-cutting a tonne of feijoas every year. They sit in the base beer for around 10 months in dedicated tanks. As soon as the tanks are emptied for bottling and cleaned, a new batch of beer and feijoas goes in.
“The other aspect is that it’s always a gamble. When you make these beers you’re never sure how they are going to turn out. I’m impressed that we’ve never had to dump a batch in 10 years.”
Eriksen makes around 3000 litres each vintage and while it takes “about a year to sell it, it always sells out”.
Each vintage is named for the year the feijoas are picked, rather than the year it’s bottled, hence this year’s release being the 2022.
Wild Feijoa 2021 was highly commended at this year’s New World Beer & Cider Awards, where another 8 Wired beer, Baltic Smoke, made the Top 30.