Beer 121: New Zealand Beer for Americans

Beer 121 tasting session lineup
Beer 121 tasting session lineup

I do like a chance to get my Nerd on, have a ramble over some beers and do a bit of evangelising. Work normally provides me with plenty, but I’m always up for ‘extracurricular’ ones, too.

Here, the brief was to lead some visiting Californians on a little tour through the local scene. For the occasion of her wedding party, Jessie — who described herself as growing up “within crawling distance” of the Sierra Nevada brewery — was playing host to her parents (her father is himself a proper Beer Nerd and writes for Northwest Brewing News), her sister and a friend-from-way-back. And since Jessie, her husband Simon, and George and Robyn (who were joining in and providing the venue) had all been in on a previous ‘Beer 101’ tasting session, I figured I’d bam the class code up a few notches and call this ‘Beer 121’, in honour of the Constitutional Amendment that undid that whole Prohibition nonsense.1

The lineup was:

  • Tui — I got so many weird looks when I told people I’d be opening with this — and when I, great big Beer Nerd that I am, was seen buying a six pack. I honestly think it’s mandatory, though, on several grounds: 1) Its history and connection to our own local flirtation with Prohibition, the ultra-daft Six O’clock Closing Era. This is flavourless and limp, but it is so for a reason. 2) It is arguably the definitive modern example of the ‘New Zealand Draught’ style born of that time; it certainly regularly wins awards as such. And so far, that’s the only style that this little country is usually regarded as birthing. 3) Its enduring popularity — it’s one thing to have an enjoyable tour around a country’s best microbrews, but to completely ignore the crap which still sells by the millions all around it would just be weird. Tui is our Bud Light, and you should at least know what you’re avoiding — and why.
  • Emerson’s Pilsner — Swiftly to something tasty, then. I made the argument that ‘New Zealand Pilsner’ could plausibly be our next “indigenous style”, perhaps somewhat saving us the national embarrassment of the above. And at least one spot had to go to an Emerson’s beer, in recognition of their longevity in the local good beer game. Its crisp, snappy fruitiness was an instant hit, and we’re still struggling to come up with a suggestion for a Something Vaguely Similar that the Californians can seek out now that they’re home again. (Help welcome.)
  • Tuatara APA — Next, an example of a local run at an American style; perhaps the American style, and certainly one which sprung up from the area where our visitors live. I picked this one over the other usual candidate (Epic Pale Ale), since this has some more-local points in its favour (being a Wellington beer) and because I think it’s just currently more interesting than its obvious inspiration. For the record, the Californians were in agreement that this was pretty spot-on APA; those that liked such things like this — and those who don’t usually like the pale ales back home didn’t go for this, either.
  • 8 Wired ‘Hopwired’ IPA — This, then, is a beer clearly inspired by big hoppy American pale ales, but it ups the ‘local flavour’ by using only New-Zealand-developed hop varieties, providing a great excuse to show them off. Also much more multi-faceted than the Tuatara above, it definitely began to win over the doubters that one struck.
  • Yeastie Boys ‘Pot Kettle Black: US remix’ — Talk of ‘rockstar’ brewers and of contract brewing made for a nice segue between the Hopwired and this really rather serendipitous beer. I was planning on using standard-edition ‘PKB’ anyway, for its inherent loveliness and interestingness and for the connection with the ‘Black IPA’ trend that seems to be bubbling up here and in the States — but to have a ‘US remix’ available? Bloody marvellous timing. It was also the only beer of the night that I was also tasting for the first time. And suffice to say I really should see if I can grab a bottle and give it its own Diary entry.
  • Epic / Dogfish Head ‘Portamarillo’ — And then to finish, what more could you ask for than a New Zealand / U.S. collaboration? Especially when the beer in question is so deliriously idiosyncratic and uniquely ‘local’, with its flavours of tamarillo smoked over native Pohutakawa, our ‘national Christmas tree’. Sacrilicious.

Brilliantly, Jessie even made sure that there was Apple Pie for afters; what else could we have had? Its blistering awesomeness and the fun we were having matching it with the remains of the PKB and the Portamarillo (and then experimenting with little Ice Cream Floats with each — which were excellent) explains why I entirely failed to make an actual paper Diary entry to memorialise the evening.

Beer 121, tasting glass forest
Beer 121, a shiny forest of tasting glasses
Beer 121, obligatory apple pie
Beer 121, obligatory (and fantastic) apple pie

1: Fittingly, there’s also a rather-charming craft brewery named after that clever and worthy (if slow) legislative rethink. I’ve had their ‘Brew Free or Die Hard’ IPA, but its Diary entry is still stuck in the infamous Not Uploaded Yet limbo.

2 thoughts on “Beer 121: New Zealand Beer for Americans”

  1. A good night had by all.

    Didn’t Jessie’s Dad go as far to say that the Tuatara APA was closer to what Sierra Nevada Pale Ale used to taste like when it was just a small craft brewery, before they got big and mass produced it? Fine praise indeed.

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