I've never met Zane Smith. Wouldn't know him if I fell over him. But he's a kindred spirit. While looking for someone to run down their five top non-cycling websites for Inside/Outside, Zane was mentioned for his net browsing which consists of "mainly homebrewing sites and Vorb". While he feared that "Spoke's readers may not be interested in hearing about beer" and its various techniques of creation, I begged to differ. Well he'd piqued my interest. So we gave him Frankly Thursday to talk about beer. Oh, yeah, he's done some other stuff too.
Who is Zane Smith in five words?
Loves singletrack, beer, mates and stories.
Is there a god?
I have not yet found one. If there is a god I hope they have a sense of humour and that they deal to anyone who has used their image/name for personal power, financial gain or to cause harm to others!
Did he/she/it create beer?
Nah. That would have been some dirtbag human. They probably found some grains that had somehow fallen into a water container and then fermented with natural yeasts to turn into something that tasted like crap, but that got you drunk. Being the curious beings that humans are, they would have figured out through trial and error better ways of making it into the tasty thirst quenching beverage we know these days as beer. Interestingly while some religions forbid people to consume beer, others such as the Trappist monks are fabulous brewers and use the beer to sustain themselves during Lent.
How do you (yourself) create a great beer?
First and most importantly I have to train my palate. To do this I drink a lot of different beer. I love trying new beers and there are great craft beers appearing on the New Zealand market all the time. I figure out what flavours, mouthfeel, body and style I like. The more beers I try, the more I discover new flavours which means I have a long list of beers to try brewing. Then it's off to the interwebs to do some research into which ingredients and mash/fermentation profile will get me the beer of the style and flavour I'm after. From this information I put together a recipe using malt, hops, yeast and water. I source the ingredients and then it's out to the shed to mash the grains in the mash tun, extract the sweet liquor, boil the wort in my kettle while adding hops, cool to fermentation temperature, add yeast and put into the temperature controlled cabinet for a couple of weeks. Age for a bit and then drink.
What's your favourite style? To brew? To drink?
The brewing is a pretty similar process whatever I have on the go, but I do love the smell of hops and so I love boiling up a big hoppy pale ale. My favourite style to drink depends on a number of things and changes all the time. If I am somewhere for a quick pint, then something with wow factor (big alcohol and big hops) is good, but if I am in for an evening of drinking, then a well balanced session ale would be my choice, preferably on handpump. In winter I tend towards darker and heavier beers like stouts and porters and in summer I tend towards thirst quenching lighter beers like a good bitter or balanced pale ale. After biking my favourite beer is always the first one I get my hands on! Biking makes beer taste better!
How did you get involved in the mountain bike scene to begin with, and how long ago was that?
Back in about 1986 I bought a Worldrider Mountain Machine and rode that thing everywhere. 15 gears, riser bars and chromed steel rims. One day I found out about a race called the Ohau Classic and decided I wanted to do the race and so got Dad to take me along. Hired a bike there, raced up to the skifield in an uphill race, then raced down and managed to crash and pinch flat my tyres. Met a bunch of great people there (many of whom I'm still in touch with) and have been mountain biking ever since. Mountain biking has enabled me to travel to some wonderful places, have some awesome adventures and meet some of the most fantastic people in the world.
What is your day job?
I look after the production role at Ground Effect during the week. Important parts of the job are making good coffee and ensuring there is plenty of good beer in the fridge. At some stage I may get a promotion to making the scones for morning tea, but until then there is dealing with fabric suppliers, forecasting and coordinating raw material lead times, trying to get everything running smoothly at the factory and helping our customers out. I also coach for Mountain Bike Skills Clinics on the weekends.
You have spent time working as a mountain bike guide, was that a dream job?
Guiding can be the best job in the world, and the worst. On a good day, with a great crew of people who are really stoked on the trails it is an utterly fabulous job. On a day when the weather is crap, the group has really diverse skill levels and fitness or exceed their skill levels and crash badly miles from anywhere, well it can be a pretty crap job. The riding was fantastic when I was guiding in Chamonix, France. The people we were guiding were there to ride great singletrack and were generally having a great time which was really rewarding. The culture, altitude and experiences I had while guiding in Bolivia were awesome and there were some fabulous trails and adventures there. While guiding backpackers down a 3700m descent that is “The World's Most Dangerous Road” is fun, I enjoyed the singletrack tours we did with real riders out in some remote parts of Bolivia much more.
Who's the best beer drinking mountain biker in New Zealand?
That reminds me of when we were selecting the University Mountain Bike team to send to the Uni-games. Selection criteria was not who was outright fastest, but who was able to race fastest after a night on the town. From memory none of us did any good in the actual race, but we all had a fabulous few nights on the town! My favourite combination of bikes and beer is to head to Nelson to ride some of the fabulous singletrack there, and take in the Marchfest beer festival while up there. Marchfest is the Oktoberfest of New Zealand.
What is one thing you’ve learned in the last 10 years?
That altitude sickness feels quite a lot like a hangover, and that drinking at altitude gives you the worst hangovers ever!
Favourite bits of mountain bike kit?
My Gravity Dropper, my Marzocchi 55 Ti RC3s and my 5 Spot frame. I love all the technology advances that mean these days I can have one bike that can be ridden up big hills, that carves singletrack and that shreds on the downhills.
Thanks Zane, time for a cleansing ale...