George Duncan

As edgy as craft beer seems to the uninitiated, the New Zealand beer scene is actually quite conservative.

There’s lots of pale ale, pilsner and IPA – and LOTS of hazy beer. While sour and barrel-aged beers are making inroads, there are not many breweries playing in the side alleys and laneways away from the main street.

One of the more daringly successful is Paraparaumu-based Duncan’s who ventured into the realm of “icecream sours” two years ago and haven’t looked back.

Many breweries make fruited sours but Duncan’s took the concept and stretched it – and it’s been so successful owner-brewer George Duncan is surprised he’s still alone in waving the flag for lactose-vanilla-fruited-sour beer.

“I’m actually surprised no one is raining on our parade. I think a few breweries dabble but nobody really gets in there,” he says.

The beer that sent Duncan’s off-piste was their 2019 Beervana hit, Raspberry Ripple.

Until then Duncan’s made more middle of the road styles – the above-mentioned pilsner, pale ale, IPA – but often with an edge, such as their juniper IPA, cocoa husk stout or yuzu lager.

The idea of beer that straddled a sweet-sour divide as opposed to the traditional bitter-sweet came a few years ago when a fellow brewer told him about some lactose-laden beers he’d tried in the US. It sent Duncan down a Reddit rabbit-hole where he discovered fruited sour beers were becoming a thing.

“I’d never made a sour beer until I did Raspberry Ripple. And with that beer I just decided to see how far I could go.”

The beer is made on a sour base but that is more than offset by additions of raspberry, vanilla and lactose. The fruit and vanilla bring a perception of sweetness, while the lactose ladles on more of a dessert feel by creating a creamy mouthfeel.

In the interests of market research, Duncan took some samples of the beer to the team at fellow Paraparaumu brewery, Tuatara, where the reception was mixed. “It was absolute love or disgust and I wondered if I had created a monster.”

He need not have worried, the reaction to Raspberry Ripple at Beervana created such a “ripple effect” that Duncan’s now has a series of ice cream sours such as blueberry, boysenberry, tangelo, strawberry-mango and passionfruit-lime. And they’ve got a raft of new ones coming for Beervana this week.

Duncan ensures that use of lactose is well advertised on the products – as a warning to the lactose intolerant but also as call to action.

“On all the labels `lactose’ is prominently represented. It’s part of the beer and people are looking for it – so it’s a positive rather than negative. You’d be hard-pressed to find a brewery that uses more lactose than us.”

One thing Duncan ensures is that all the fruit is fermented out before the beer is packaged – to avoid exploding cans. And yes, exploding cans are a thing in the US and Britain where brewers add dollops of fruit pulp to a finished beer. Unless those beers are stored cold all the time, the fruit ferments and the cans explode under pressure.

“I’ve seen a lot of exploding cans on the internet – and I don’t see why brewers do it. The beers must taste amazing but adding anything post-fermentation doesn’t fit with my ethos. Even though we make really out-there beers I don’t want to make beers that blow up in your face.”

They won’t blow up in your face, but they might blow your mind.


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