Desperate Glory, this year’s Supreme Winner at the New World Beer & Cider Awards is a genuine beer-lovers beer but it’s also the kind of beer that everyone should try once in a lifetime.

A collab between 8 Wired and tiny Auckland experimental brewery, Small Gods, Desperate Glory is an Oud Bruin (or Old Brown). It’s also known as Flanders Brown Ale after the region in Belgium where it was first brewed hundreds of years ago.

For 8 Wired, it means they’ve had two champion beers in successive competitions, with Wild Feijoa crowned champion beer at last year’s New Zealand Beer Awards, where 8 Wired were also the champion brewery.

8 Wired’s Søren Eriksen said Desperate Glory’s critical acclaim is at odds with its sales history.

“That beer has been around for a couple of years [it was released in 2022] because Oud Bruin is a hard beer to sell in today’s market.

“But in that time, it’s rounded out nicely. It’s quite fruity — you’d be inclined to think there’s cherry in there, but there’s not.”

The beer started life as Three On A Match, a Belgian Amber Ale that came from the creative minds of the two-man Small Gods team, Luke White and Matt Eats.

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The original Three On A Match

White is the founder of Beer Jerk and the Fridge & Flagon taproom in Auckland’s Eden Terrace. Eats — after five years with Beer Jerk — is the sales and marketing manager at Pacific Coast.

Small Gods is their “hobby” — a passion project based on collaborations and small-batch contract brewing. Small Gods beers don’t find their way into supermarkets as they sell primarily through Beer Jerk subscriptions and in the Fridge & Flagon taproom, so the fact Desperate Glory is now in supermarkets nationwide is mind-boggling for the pair.

“This is a huge achievement for us,” White admits. “When Søren told us about it, I thought ‘What does this mean? Will people hear about Small Gods?’

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Søren Eriksen and Luke White

“The reason we haven’t won many awards — or none really — is because we haven’t entered any. We don’t sell in supermarkets and we hardly sell to anyone in the trade. Everything we brew we sell out ourselves so there’s no point in entering competitions.”

They have won some awards in the past. They took out the packaging trophy at the 2021 New Zealand Beers Awards with their Satan Trilogy series of waxed cans. And Black Narcissus — a 12.5% Mumme they brewed in collaboration with Double Vision — won a gold medal at the 2019 awards.

But this is next level, given the heavy promotion and awareness that will come with the awards, which makes it a little daunting, says White.

“I am a bit scared that when Desperate Glory is promoted as the best beer in New Zealand someone will pick it up at the supermarket only to find it tastes like vinegar … will it upset people?”

He’s only joking — while Desperate Glory is on the acidic side, it’s an amazing beer with enough sweet notes and a huge depth that brings dried fruit, mocha, cherry, vanilla and a tannic smoky note.

Eats, who designed the original beer, said he wanted layers of flavour from different adjuncts. “There’s date syrup and palm sugar in there — I’m a big fan of alternate adjunct sugars rather than using dextrose so you can build in layers of flavour and create a bit more dryness from more fermentable sugars. There’s a strong malt complexity but you also have the Belgian yeast character coming over the top.”

How it ended up in barrels, was a matter of practicality.

White: “As we were putting it together Søren said ‘What size batch do you want to do? I don’t think I can sell loads of Belgian Amber Ale’. Søren suggested doing a normal batch and then splitting it and doing something else with the other half.

“‘Like putting it in these barrels,” White replied.

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The beer spent a year on oak at 8 Wired’s Barrelworks but it also featured a strange addition: Chinese Keemun tea.

“I’d once had this Italian stout made with tobacco leaf and it was amazing,” White said. “The tobacco leaf character is so nice, but we couldn’t use tobacco leaf here. I was speaking to a chef friend and he said ‘have you tried Keemun tea?’. It’s lightly smoked and we worked with Søren on dosing levels so that smoky tea is one of the layers in there.”

The name of the original beer — which went out to Beer Jerk subscribers on Armistice Day 2021 — is a reference to a World War One story, and Desperate Glory is taken from a line from a poem by celebrated war poet Wilfred Owen. The sparse imagery, a single shovel, is a quiet acknowledgment of the men who fought in the trenches and gave their lives at Flanders Field in the First World War.

Eats: “When we created Three On A Match the question was ‘what do you think about when you say Belgian and brown?’, and Flanders Field comes to mind, and the trenches.”

Eats recalled a story about soldiers sharing their precious ration of matches by lighting three cigarettes off one match.

“It was considered bad luck to be number three on a match. When the first person lit the match, the sniper on the other side would see it, when the second person lit his cigarette, the sniper would aim, and when the third cigarette was lit, he would shoot.

“We followed that on with Desperate Glory. I love the war poets, and Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et decorum est is one of the most powerful pieces of poetry I’ve ever read, and there’s that line in there that goes:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 

To children ardent for some desperate glory, 

The old lie: “Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori”.

“It’s such a cool name to tie back into that theme and the shovel on the label references back to the single match on the label of Three On A Match.”

Only 120 cases of Desperate Glory exist in the world and the bulk of them will be in New World stores for the next month.