Tag Archives: Belgian ale

Stone’s ‘City Tap Takeover’

Stone 'W00tstout' — in collaboration with Drew Curtis and Wil Wheaton (Malthouse, 13 March 2014)
Stone ‘w00tstout’ — a collaboration with Drew Curtis and Wil Wheaton, and therefore mandatory

Late-breaking news that beers from Stone, a legendary but rather isolationist Californian brewery, would be available “legitimately” in this part of the world was greeted with some surprise by local beer geeks. Stone have never exported to New Zealand (nor even to all parts of their own country) and Greg Koch, co-founder and figurehead of the brewery, is famously opposed to “grey market” imports and goes out of his way to encourage that the consumption of beer be “fresh-and-as intended, or not at all”. And indeed, plenty of the incredulous reaction was vindicated; in the end, it transpired that an announcement of impending distribution was a tragic (and strange) miscommunication. But what we Wellingtonians did get — and what Melburnians soon will get — turned out to be a super-sized, double-venue’d, fairly-freakin’-serious tap takeover. There was a subtle lingering awkwardness in that the night’s hosts — Malthouse, and its younger brewpub sibling, Fork & Brewer — have always dealt in the kinds of mainstream offerings and parallel-imported beers1 that Greg so righteously rails against, but still. The result was a shining example of How To Pub:2 the beers I had were only uniform in their excellence, and the mood in both bars was wonderful to partake in.

One of few real criticisms of the night was that each venue’s beer lists weren’t published anywhere and you had to fall back to scouring Untappd / Twitter / Whatever for clues, if ping-ponging between bars seven hundred metres apart seemed inconvenient. But just before leaving work, I spotted (somewhere online) that Stone’s new sessionable ‘Go To’ IPA was on at the F&B, so I headed there first. I did technically already own, waiting for me at Malthouse, a glass of the ‘w00tstout’ Stone brewed in collaboration with Drew Curtis (of Fark.com) and Wil Wheaton (of, well, Plenty Of Awesome Things) having stopped by the bar earlier keen-bordering-on-paranoid not to miss out on it but equally conscious of its over-ten-percent punch and the work I had left to be done — including driving a delivery van. In any case, starting with an Imperial Stout doesn’t often bode well, so thankfully the unexpected prospect of a midstrength hoppy pale was enticing enough to distract me.

Stone 'Go To' IPA (Fork & Brewer, 13 March 2014)
Stone’s relatively-new ‘Go To’ IPA

After an alarmingly-shaky start a few years ago (in both the brew~ and ~pub departments), the Fork does seem to be finding its feet. Co-hosting events like this — and doing so rather well — can only help to demonstrate that. Meanwhile, ‘Go To’ was delicious and exactly what I felt like: a properly thirst-smacking lush golden body with a massive hop aroma hurtling up the nose to shock a fading brain back into alertness — and also to cut through the worty wafts of a brewpub in mid-brew. The Americans in general have a reputation for their superboozy beers (lacking a ramping-up excise tax regime to discourage them), so it was gratifying to see a sub-five-percenter go against the trend — and then to spy another (the ‘Levitation’: a maltier, smoother and calmer affair, utterly perfect for pint #2) and to have that, too. I then wound up helping a friend work his way through a flight of tasting glasses, having sips of four much-madder beers — white wine barrel-aged ‘Cali-Belgique’; Matt’s Burning Rosids,3 brewed in honour of an employee killed in an accident at the brewery; Perfect Crime; and Vertical Epic 11.11.114 — which were all well put-together, diverse, interesting, storied, and at least a few leagues North of merely “good”; great fuel for sipping and rambling.

But my w00tstout kept calling from down the road, and didn’t disappoint once I retrieved it. I think I spent a full hour with it, a massive thing of madness and deliciousness with plenty going on — the collision of two of my own particular kinds of geekiness in such a lovely beer made for an utterly sublime experience. A few more tasters from the relatively-bonkers end of the spectrum followed — a white-wine barrel aged saison called ‘The Tiger Cub’; and the red wine barrel-aged version of the ‘Cali-Belgique’ I’d previously tried — which both just went nicely with more sipping and rambling with regulars and colleagues from my Malthouse days. I switched back to having pints of the saner stuff, afterwards, and found the everyday Pale Ale and IPA both to be buckets of fun and just as worthy as the weirder ones, in their own ways. The bar was in absolutely fine form, and despite the critical eye that a former staff member would naturally have, it probably still hasn’t been equalled when it really gets a run-up and goes in for full-noise beer events.

Stone Takeover taps (Fork & Brewer, 13 March 2014)
Stone Takeover taps
Stone Takeover taps (Malthouse, 13 March 2014)
Stone Takeover taps

The beers were all good. They were stupidly and consistently good, forming a range of genuinely impressive scope with properly skillful execution. But one of the surprising lessons learned from having a cross-section of such legendary things in front of me was that we’re doing pretty damn well, here. It’s one thing to leap at the chance to try them, to let yourself be blown away by them, and to drift blissfully through a fair few glasses — but don’t despair that they’re not more-readily available down here. Even with only a token factoring-in of scope and history, the local (and here I mean “Australasian”) breweries are easily pulling their weight.5 Damn right I’ll be visiting Stone whenever I find myself even vaguely in California’s orbit, but as these beers were running out one by one last week, I wasn’t mourning; I’m not even close to done learning about the things within reach to worry very much. ‘Go To’ was great — but so are Liberty’s ‘C!tra Junior’ and Panhead ‘Quickchange’, just for example; I could go on.

'Fizzy yellow beer...' (My house, 14 March 2014)
“Just what I feel like right now” is — I relatively-humbly submit — another good ending for a sentence that starts with “‘Fizzy yellow beer is…”

Close to midnight, I went in search of a suitable nightcap, and found it in the form of Stone’s 2010 Imperial Stout; a giant velvet exclamation point to end a lovely evening. Epic Brewing’s Luke Nicholas6 was commandeering the sound system (for better or — occasionally — worse), as he does, and Greg Koch jumped up on the bar for some old-timey-style evangelism, which was kind of adorable and awesome but also put me back in mind of a few misgivings. I’m all for broadening peoples’ notions of what beer can be, but there’s an uneasy inconsistency in Stone’s off-and-on-again absolutism about some things: Greg’s fanatical anti-grey-market stance is awkward standing in front of a fridge featuring more than a few such bottles, and preaching about the unenlightened “on this very street” is a little strange in a bar that will happily — and rightly — sell them a faux-import Heineken right now. The event could’ve been staged in collaboration with (if not at, for reasons of scale) Hashigo Zake, for example, if moral purity was a paramount concern. And against all that reaching-out rhetoric, something like “Fizzy Yellow Beer Is For Wussies” clashes horribly. Not least because of the simple fact that several of the Stone beers on offer that evening were objectively-speaking both a) fizzy and b) yellow — nor the even-better point that, with everything in its right place, even the simplest, blandest, most-unfashionable and “mediocre” beer can be just the thing for the moment. The real problem here is a simple breach of the Ethics of Comedy: the Fizzy Yellow Beer line makes fun of the mainstream drinker, not the often-duplicitous producer, and amounts to the sin of “punching down”. If we’re going to be evangelising — and please, let’s — we’d be better off not trying to snark and smile at the same people simultaneously. Beers as good as these actually do very well at speaking for themselves, anyway.

Diary III entry 11a: City Tap Takeover
Diary III entry 11 part 1: City Tap Takeover
Diary III entry 11b: City Tap Takeover
Diary III entry 11 part 2: City Tap Takeover (cont.)

Original notes:7 City Tap Takeover 13/3/14 @ F&B, to start. 1) ‘Go To’ IPA 4.5% just as Colin, Luke + Greg arrived. The place is jumping — but very worty as Lester is still going. Fucking delicious, hugely hoppy, golden + fabulous. Massive, uppy, but not angry. Gorgeous. Nice to see this place crammed with happy — if starstruck — nerds. 2) ‘Levitation’ 4.4% Another session beer spied, and therefore ordered. Really nice comparison; vastly maliter, less hoppy, less spiky + fizzy in presentation. Glassphemy, too, in a Coopers glass — sure sign of a busy bar. Loads of good people + good vibes. (Helping with Kit’s tasters: Cali-Belgique (White Wine) 8.8% Matt’s Burning Rosids 10.5%, Perfect Crime 6.8%, and Vertical Epic 11.11.11 9.4% Just shows a great breadth. 1) is like unpuckering Funkonnay, says Kit, and he’s on to something. 2) is like a jasmine bonfire, serious but lovely. 3) more forgettable after just a sip, but you quickly get that in a crowd. 4) Holy hell, #freshisnotbest. Big explosion, despite its age. Spicy, which might help it on that front.) 3) @ Malthouse, now. W00tstout! @wilw’s beer, among others. I bought one at 2pm, out of sheer FOMO. Which wasn’t necessary in the end, but totally worth it. The only plausible case for insurance, really. So good. Tonnes of smooth, boozy flavour. Pecans evident but not obnoxious. Just sublime. It took over an hour, and it was marvellous. Then two little tasters: The Tiger Club (White Wine) 8.9% and Cali-Belgique (Red Wine) 8.8% — And, fuck it, a pint of the flagship Pale 5.8% Everyone’s having a grand time. The staff are in their element, and the bar is — as it always did — kicking arse in Beer Event mode. The a Stone IPA because why not. Greg’s on the bar, and Luke’s on the sound system. It’s vintage Malthouse, and it’s bliss. And then, while I was looking for a nightcap, a sour-face-inducing Gueze came out, for the VIPs, I guess. 6) Imperial Stout 2010. There we go. That’ll do.

Greg Koch and me, barely (Malthouse, 13 March 2014)
Greg Koch and me, just barely — I was taking photos in the bar when he borrowed my camera for an impromptu selfie, with the settings evidently way out of whack for such a thing

1: And rightly so I hasten to add, for reasons that flow from their physical locations, market niche, and from the fundamentally-usually-rather-overblown nature of the anti-grey panic in the first place. The scare-quotes are very firmly only “legitimately” in this post’s first sentence because, despite Greg’s fevered use of words like “illegal black market” (see the footnotes of the above-linked entry), the sale of his beer here has always been legal under NZ law whether he likes it or not — and whatever the valid concerns there might be with the practice. (Also, to pre-emptively split hairs, I’m not certain that the F&B stocks / stocked grey beer, but they definitely trade in mass-market stuff.) 
2: Without meaning to imply that there’s only One Way, of course; I just had a surpassingly wonderful very quiet-and-civilised night at Golding’s, drinking plural Panhead beers, eating delicious pizza, and watching the Cosmos re-make. 
3: It turns out that the Rosids are a group of flowering plants, including — no surprise, in context, once you learn the first half of this sentence — our friend the hop. 
4: One of those joyful-and-t00-rare moments when the Americans’ maximally-stupid middle-endian month-first date notation won’t drive me mad. 
5: I’m fairly sure it was Luke Robertson who nudged me into keeping this in mind, but I can’t remember if he did so on the Twitters, his blog, or in his podcast. I recommend you follow all three. 
6: Who must’ve been a contributing cause to this event happening in these places, friend and collaborator of the manager — and fellow oddball hophead to Greg Koch — as he is. 
7: I’m on to my third actual Beer Diary, but the power cord for the scanner has fritzed out, so I’m having to make do with somewhat-difficult-to-stage photos, for now. 

Dieu du Ciel! ‘Rigor Mortis’ Abt and Invercargill ‘Men’n Skurrts’

Dieu du Ciel! 'Rigor Mortis' Abt
Dieu du Ciel! 'Rigor Mortis' Abt

Back when I was less behind in my posting of Diary entries — before I reached a full-calendar-year transcendental state of lateness — there were frequent strange moments of sitting in the sun writing about a moody winter beer, or vice versa.1 But not right now. Here I sit, drinking a rather-charming Fuller’s Double Stout on a drizzly, cold evening and looking back over notes from somewhen similar and two differently-seasonal beers enjoyed in succession.

In combination with the weather, the fact it was my Canadian friend Jillian’s birthday prompted me to grab a Quebecker beer from the Hashigo fridge that I’d been eyeing up for a while — especially after a positive experience with one of its stablemates.2 I didn’t know it at the time, but there are evidently a whole slew of Rigor Mortises — or Rigor Mortii, or Rigors Mortis, or however-the-fuck that should take the plural — but this one, the “Abt” / Quadrupel seems to be the most common. It’s wintery and huge, and I can’t tell if it’s an Adorable Snowman dressed as the Abominable kind, or the other way around. It doesn’t feel like it’s 10.5%; there’s no hot or fumey booze to it, it’s just all deliciously decadent warm, dark, fruity gorgeousness. But maybe that’s just its game; to entice you to drink pint after pint (or oddly-volumed bottle after oddly-volumed bottle)3 until it justifies its ominous name.

Invercargill 'Men'n Skurrts'
Invercargill 'Men'n Skurrts'

And then, something that looked vaguely similar in the glass, but which has a rather different character, a strikingly different history, and its origins in one of the most different things to come along in a good while. At the time — i.e., today, last year — the story of ‘Men’n Skurrts’ was one of those weird middle-ground “open secrets” that you get in a close-knit minority-sector community like that which surrounds craft beer: Yeastie Boys’ ‘Rex Attitude’, brewed — like all their beers — at Invercargill Brewery, had so tainted the system with its gloriously / glaringly smoky flavour that it peatified4 the next brew through the pipes, namely Pink Elephant’s ‘Mammoth’.5 It frustrated me that everyone involved wasn’t just more open about it; there’s no shame in the “mistake”, it hardly being a mistake at all, and literally no point in opening the valves and dumping a few-thousand litres of perfectly-delicious beer down the municipal pipes. So it wasn’t what it originally set out to be — very many good things aren’t.6 In the intervening year, everyone’s been getting better at this, at just owning up to these random mutations and embracing them honestly. But there’s still a long way to go. I’m firmly of the belief that more information is more good, and that — done properly — letting consumers in on these things will only help increase their engagement and grow the community.

Anyway.7 The World is richer for having ‘Men’n Skurrts’ in it, however the beer was begat. It’s got a wonderfully relaxing kind of subtle, rewarding complexity to it; big warming malt flavours (without too much strength) and a winning hint of soft smoke. If you were sitting in your big, comfy chair, reading an enthralling book and slowly drinking this — it’d make up for the fact that your cold-but-charming house doesn’t have a fireplace.

Original Diary entries: Dieu du Ciel! ‘Rigor Mortis’ 24/7/11 — Happy Birthday Jillian! — $11ish from HZ 341ml (crazy Quebeckers) 10.5% which it doesn’t taste like. It’s a softer, less-tart Trois Pistoles. Similarly hugely, only warmingly boozy; not fumey or instantly hot. Although actually succumbing to the temptation to have pints might be fatal, and justify the scary name. Pleasantly a little sweet.

Invercargill ‘Men’n Skurrts’ 24/7/11 $8-ish 330ml from HZ Apparently, you know, rumor has it, this is a Rex Attitude side-effect. We’re told that the next beer was still so heavily peatified, it became this instead. And it’s really good fun. You can taste a cold-smokey sideline, but nevermind the story, it’s a worthy thing.

Invercargill 'Men'n Skurrts', bottlecap
Invercargill 'Men'n Skurrts', bottlecap
Diary II entry #125, Dieu du Ciel! 'Rigor Mortis'
Diary II entry #125, Dieu du Ciel! 'Rigor Mortis'
Diary II entry #126, Invercargill 'Men'n Skurrts'
Diary II entry #126, Invercargill 'Men'n Skurrts'

1: Admittedly, I wasn’t necessarily a whole season out of synch; Wellington’s famously idiosyncratic weather played a large role.
2: And, just because I’m like that, I can’t help but notice that I’ve here referred back to a beer a had immediately after 8 Wired’s ‘Tall Poppy’ — to which I harked back in the blog post before this one. If you keep detailed enough notes, and have Just One Of Those Brains, nice little coincidences are everywhere.
3: 341ml? Really? Three hundred and forty-one? It doesn’t even translate to a sensible amount of ounces; it’s eleven and a half. (Although, admittedly, I’d be angrier if they wrote “11.5 floz” on the label. Something about decimal points in non-metric measurements gives me spasms.)
4: Now that I actually type that word out — rather than just hear it in my own brain — it occurs to me that you could pronounce it to rhyme with “beatified”, which would fit nicely with the reverential attitude some people have to those wonderfully sharp phenols.
5: Which, coincidentally, Alice Galletly wrote about recently. Another pleasant coincidence.a
— a: See above, n1.
6: Possibly my favourite example: Dr. Strangelove was written as a thriller, not a dark, satirical farce.
7: If you did want more, I recommend the write-up on the subject by my friend and former Malthouse colleague, Jono Galuszka — which he wrote the same nightb I speculated (incorrectly, it turns out) that Moo Brew’s lovely new ‘Belgo’ might be another Happy Accident.
— b: And another. See above, n1 and n5.

8 Wired ‘Saison Sauvin’

8 Wired 'Saison Sauvin'
8 Wired 'Saison Sauvin'

This’ll make three posts in a row from that neglected mid-to-late-2011 patch of the Diary that I’ve resolved not to let rust completely. But this one, at least — or “unfortunately”, if that’s what you were here for1 — will be significantly less grumpish. Not grumpish at all, in fact, since I apparently enjoyed this one. And I say “apparently” because I’m actually quite surprised at how positive my notes are. This one definitely freaked a lot of people out, and — for many of them — ended Søren’s winning streak. I thought I was one of those people; I certainly haven’t ever had a second one of these, and didn’t think I wanted one. So my memory’s evidently bad enough that I shouldn’t just take notes, I should also re-read the goddamn things more often. (Or get them on here so other people can remind me, too, I suppose.)

‘Saison Sauvin’ is outwardly very similar to the variant-yeast edition of 8 Wired’s deservedly-famous ‘Hopwired’ IPA,2 and almost-certainly descended from it since the recipes are rather comparable. You should be familiar with Hopwired and its deliciously intense tropical aromas and wonderfully fierce taste — like a freshly-prepared fruit salad hurled directly at your face. It’s a marvellous beer, and deserves to be one of the local scene’s real standard-bearers as we make ourselves better known in the wider world.

8 Wired 'Saison Sauvin', label blurb
8 Wired 'Saison Sauvin', label blurb

This takes changes things around in a few ways: Saison yeast for some funk, a touch of wheat for a paler and nimbler body, and an embiggened dose of Sauvin hops — all of which team up and turn the thing into a distinctly winey experience; my choice of glassware turned out rather alarmingly appropriate. I’d taken a bottle up to the Hawthorn Lounge to share with Peter,3 and wound up splitting it with a few other bartenders of various kinds while we all geeked-out about various booze-history related topics in that delightful way enjoyed by people with similar-but-different assortments of specialist knowledge, a whole bunch of enthusiasm, and the chance to finally sit down after a long day. And Hawthorn is a fantastic bar; cozy, a little (but not too much) out of the way, and staffed by a barman with bewilderingly encyclopedic mastery of his subject and a real knack for matching a person with the drink they need (even, or especially, when they don’t know it). The place looks like how I would like my living room to be, and is hands-down my favourite non-beer bar.4 It is, in short, civilised as fuck.

Which, I think — serendipitously — nicely matches my opinion of the beer. Each is quite-obviously intentionally different from the norm, but not in a way that comes across as clanky or contrived.5 The little extra dose of funk isn’t scary or overwhelming — I’m not one of those beer geeks who chases the truly Odd and Sour and Fighty — it had the strangely-comforting quality, I thought (in that weird way that I do, as you can see from my notes), it had a nose on it like the stables at your sprawling-but-rustic country estate (even though you don’t have one, and never had one, and nor have I nor any normal people) or like that warm winter jersey that you wear several days more than you should (because you can’t bring yourself to do without it for any given laundry day). Both the beer and the bar are interesting but ultimately still comforting while still being just exciting enough for the small hours of the morning.

Diary II entry #124, 8 Wired 'Saison Sauvin'
Diary II entry #124, 8 Wired 'Saison Sauvin'

Original Diary entry: 8 Wired ‘Saison Sauvin’ 7/7/11 500ml ÷ 4 w/ Peter @ Hawthorn and two other Industry Dudes. Longshot audition for Beer & Cocktails in a week or so. Again really pretty reddy orange. Funkiness is really warm + comforting, not sharp + scary / exhilarating. Not an aroma you flinch from. A jersey worn too long. The stables your house never had. Definitely winey. The beerguy from Hippo puts it as noble gewürtz. I love geeks! Hides its strength well, too. Certainly grapey. Good fun.

1: And, if so, stick around. I’m sure to get in a ranty mood again soon. In fact, I know I will, because I’ve got the Diary right here, and I know what’s coming up over the next few pages.
2: Which is vaguely-possibly the Diary entry that had me blacklisted on certain workplace internet filters until recently. That write-up contains a vanishingly-brief and extremely tangential mention of pornography, in the ultra-nerdy context of U.S. Supreme Court history — but that’s honestly the best I can find. McAfee (who managed the list I was on) did grant my ‘appeal’, but didn’t elaborate on the original cause of the listing.
3: i.e., Peter Lowry. Not Peter Moran (my former Malthouse colleague, friend and neighbour), nor Peter Gillespie (brewer at the Garage Project), nor Peter Mitcham (Australian beer writer, and @beerblokes on the Twitters), nor… — I know quite a lot of Peters.
4: They do have beer, and I often have a lovely Tuatara Porter or Little Creatures Pale. But when in Rome, and all that. So I usually go for their magnificent gunpowder-rum-topped whiskey old fashioned, the discovery of which was a mind-blowing revelation of pure liquid awesome.
5: One of Hawthorn’s little quirks is that overdoses of gizmos are actively frowned upon (especially sitting right at the bar) since they are prone to ruining the mood. There is arguably a big difference between fucking about with your camera and twiddling away at Angry Birds or Facebook on your cleverphone. But you don’t push your luck in your favourite bar. So the photo at the top there is a little rushed and badly lit. You get the idea, though.

The Fourth of July (Last Year)

Anchor Porter, on or after the 4th (depending on your point of view)
Anchor Porter, on or after the 4th (depending on your point of view)

One of the genuinely-many delightful things about celebrating “occasion beers” keyed to non-local occasions is that the magic of timezones can grant you quite a bit more time — in case you’d like to keep the party going, or just if you’re the forgetful and distractable sort.

So I didn’t get around that absurdly sexy Anchor Porter right there until the local day-after the Fourth, which was probably still the actual Fourth, since ours is a large-ish and sedately-spinning planet, around which it takes a while for daylight to circuit. No harm, no foul, right? But gawd is Anchor Porter sexy, in a bookish and interesting way that a hack Hollywood director would be obliged to convey by having it take its glasses off and let its hair down.1 Which is me anthropomorphising to a worrying extent, I realise, but I run of out words to describe the reliable-but-perpetually-exciting loveliness that the beer’s always granted me. I was, therefore, almost glad to’ve run out of time on the local Fourth; it deserves your full attention.

So there we were, last year,2 celebrating the Fourth while we worked, in the company of a handful of lovely people, most of whom could credibly claim some degree of other of Americanness and with a fittingly-fantastic array of four U.S. beers with gloriously-ostentatious tap handles happily assembled.

Victory 'Hop Wallop'
Victory 'Hop Wallop' IPA, a classic case of 'ugly label, gorgeous beer'
Brewaucracy 'Punkin Image, Ltd.', with pumpkin pie
Brewaucracy 'Punkin Image, Ltd.', with my first-ever pumpkin pie
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011'
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', after everyone else had finished theirs







My first beer of the night — the rumours are true; one of the few unalloyed joys of bartending is that you occasionally / frequently drink while you work (although the hours and the pay sometimes drive you to it, on balance) — was a ‘Hop Wallop’ IPA from Victory in Pennsylvania, generously shouted-by and shared-with our friend Kimmy (who, if memory serves, hails from nearby). Apparently originally a hop-harvest seasonal, it has all that lovely, intensely-aromatic high-velocity fruit salad kind of zip. It was heady doses of lushness and gorgeousness at the front, quickly replaced by a surprise bitter punch in the neck before it ran off and hid long enough for you to be lulled back by the nose. (Then wham-rinse-repeat happily all the way down the glass.)

We were also lucky enough to all split a rigger / growler / flagon3 of Brewaucracy’s then-new ‘Punkin Image, Ltd.’, a pumpkin beer and, as such, something very American while being not at all Fourth-ish. They’re traditionally Thanksgiving-related things, but when you’re displaced on a spherical planet, the seasons get all ass-backwards. So another of ‘our’ Americans, Annika, made proper pumpkin pie, and an unmistakable home-comfort happiness dawned on very many faces. Except mine. Mine was a face full of skepticism and doubt, since I’ve long held to the maxim that Pumpkins are Pig Food and Pigs are People Food; for peoples to eat pumpkins would be to inadvisably leapfrog the food chain. But I’d previously tried Dogfish Head’s pumpkin beer, and was astounded to find myself enjoying it, so I gave them both a chance — and can happily report that I am, weirdly, very fond indeed of both pumpkin beer and pumpkin pie as much as I still detest pumpkin pumpkin. Maybe it’s a texture problem, with the actual thing, or just the fact that — in both the pies and the beers — any flavour they might’ve had before they went in is completely swamped by deliciously soothing and satisfying winter spices.

Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', with womens
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', with delightfully-mad womens
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', blurb #1
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', blurb #1: on style and origins
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', blurb #2
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', blurb #2: on sexism and beer







And finally, I had (in my personal stash, secreted in a corner of the fridge) a great-big bottle of the then-new vintage of Yeastie Boys ‘Her Majesty’. Sharing it with a bunch of my favourite beer-geeky women made enough sense just leveraging off the name, but the label on this vintage went out of its way to deliver a beautiful fuck you to the sadly-prevalent sexism in this business, and that firmly cemented the idea. A rather-radical departure from the previous year’s edition — with which I began my second Beer Diary — other than in the Belgian-yeast department, I have vague memories of it causing some consternation at the Matariki Winter Beers Festival, but I definitely recall enjoying its dry, peachy funk. But it couldn’t really fail, when served according to the directions: “Enjoy responsibilty with friends, laughter and music”. Done.

This year, I’ll be helping out at Hashigo which — owing to the formidable stock of West Coast U.S. beers they import and the statistically-significant fraction of expats in the local craft beer community — is traditionally a busy one. They’ve rather spectacularly one-upped my “Four of July” from Malthouse last year, with eight visiting Americans in a row all along their main bank of taps. Should be a great lark.

Diary II entry #121, The Fourth of July
Diary II entry #121, The Fourth of July

Original Diary entry: The Fourth of July 4/7/11 working @ Malthouse with Petey & Halena. 1) Victory ‘Hop Wallop’ IPA ÷ 2 with Kim, who shouted for the occasion. 8.5% 355ml nicely pale + hazy. Big nose, blunter fruit salad cf. Hop Wired etc., nice big bitter sting, but not lingeringly so. So kind [of] like Punk, in that see-saw 2) Brewaucracy ‘Punkin Image Ltd.’ with Annika’s pumpkin pie! Which is hardly-usual for the Fourth, but this is the other hemisphere. Both were delicious + smooth. So my Pumpkins are Pig Food stance doesn’t apply to pie or beer, it seems. 3) Yeastie Boys ‘Her Majesty 2011’ with Haitch, Amy, Shannon, Annika + Kim — some of my favourite beer-geeky women! Total colour / weight inversion from 2010, but still Belgian & Odd. Light, dry, fruity — peachy, I thought. But what do I know? 4) Anchor Porter. Well, that was the plan. I forgot it until the next night. Such a fucking marvellous thing. Rich + fabulous.

1: Much to the consternation of geeks and just-plain-decent-thinking people alike; we know you can be perfectly sexy with your still hair up and your glasses still on.
2: I’ve been enjoying the increased topicality of posting closer to the day I actually drink a beer, but I’m resolved not to let those beers that I had to vault right over languish unpublished forever. I’ll try and make one calendar year the high-point of my slothful delay, switching back-and-forth between historical and current posts as I go — but leaving that mind-breaking back-dating scheme I formerly used entirely to its retirement.
3: Depending on your linguistic heritage, knowledge of Antipodean slang terms, and/or the state of local trademark law.

GABS Glass #4: Moo Brew ‘Belgo’

Moo Brew 'Belgo'
Moo Brew 'Belgo'

Reading the Big Book while waiting for my Food Coma to subside and my brain to ramp back up to some semblance of walking-and-talking ability, I noticed that I’d missed out a sessionable beer from what I thought was an exhaustive set of five. Shamefully so, since it was from Moo Brew, who’ve made any number of worthy things — including beers that comprised the bulk of a huge shipment which made its way over to the Malthouse and gave me my as-yet Greatest Ever Kegtris Challenge.

So — no better way to say Sorry than to buy a glass of beer, I suppose. ‘Belgo’ turned out to be a genuinely charming little bugger; deliciously quaffable at the magic four-point-five mark, and a perfectly endearing little mongrel1 from mixed American Pale Ale and Lightly-Funky Belgian parentage. Hoppy-x is a still-ascendant trend, in new-beer-style terms, and most “hoppy Belgians” seem, to me, to’ve leapt to the higher ends of booze and flavour intensity — big fat Belgian meets overblown and brash American. But not this. This is just quietly doing its thing, doing it well, and not making a fuss; the contrast was truly welcome and appealing.

Moo Brew's non-Belgian Pale Ale
Moo Brew's non-Belgian Pale Ale

It was so calmly done, in fact, that the skeptical circuits of my brain (of which there are many) were fired up and beeping and buzzing. Together with the weirdly understated and underexplained tasting note in the Big Book — “Moo Brew simply asked us to let the punters be the judge of this…” — and the existence of their similarly-pitched (but non-Belgian) Pale Ale, this seemed to be one of those Happy Accidents with which the craft beer industry is not-infrequently blessed but rarely comfortable openly talking about (for no properly worthy reason).

Rescued mistakes — of pitching the wrong yeast, or slightly buggering-up the recipe, or of unexpected brew-to-brew sequence effects — have given us Yeastie Boys ‘Red Rackham’ (essentially a Belgianised ‘Hud-a-wa”), Invercargill ‘Men’n Skurrts’ (a slightly smoky scotch-ale-esque thing of pure joy inadvertently caused by the Rex Attitude brewed before it on the same gear), Liberty Brewing’s ‘Alpha Dogg’ (a mildly mangled brew of ‘C!tra’), and West Coast’s Amber Ale (a contracted beer that wasn’t quite what the contract-ee intended) — purely to name my favourites and the ones that leap most-readily from my broken memory. This happens a lot, and there is literally no point in dumping a drinkable-but-different beer entirely down the drain. Making beer is expensive, and there are many ways to non-fatally fuck it up.

‘Belgo’ has, post-GABS, joined the official Moo Brew range and been given its own little piece of that utterly-gorgeous label art that its definitely-non-bastard siblings possess, so I’m entirely happy to take Moo at their word that this is something entirely intentional and a stroke of genius rather than of luck. But fundamentally, I don’t mind. Whether ‘Belgo’ has its origins in one or not,2 I like these Happy Accidents; craft beer is ripe for occasional doses of evolution-by-grand-mutation rather than over-cautious design — I just wish we were more open in talking about them when they happen.

Original Diary entry: GABS Glass #4: Moo Brew ‘Belgo’ 13/5/12, with sincere apologies for missing it off Paddle #1. ($8, 4.5%, 380ml) Rich golden colour, surprisingly. Nice easy funk, great quaffing mongrel1 ale. Weirdly understated tasting note in the book — late sub-in? Not what they planned? No idea, but the result is unarguably just kinda nice. After-work Belgian. Can’t shake the suspicion it’s a rescued mistake.

Moo Brew 'Belgo', looming
Moo Brew 'Belgo', looming large under the Big Dome
Moo Brew 'Belgo', tasting note
The Big Book's tasting note for Moo Brew 'Belgo'
Diary II entry # 217, GABS Glass #3: Moo Brew 'Belgo'
Diary II entry # 217, GABS Glass #3: Moo Brew 'Belgo'

1: It’s probably obvious, but perhaps worth underscoring,a that I only ever use the word “mongrel” in a positive way. I am very much a Cosmopolitan, in political-philosophy terms,b and a big fan of anything that causes a happy breakdown in overly-defended boundaries.
— a: Hence the two footnote anchors pointing to the same clarification (above).
— b: That Wikipedia article is totally worth a read, not-least because it starts from an Apollo Program photograph of Planet Earth and winds up talking about Art Deco architecture and thereby nicely encapsulates just the kind of Mongrelism I’m talking about.
2: [Swooping in with a late-breaking footnote mere minutes later to add:] Through the magic of the Twitters, I’ve since heard from Moo Brew that this was indeed an completely-intentional piece of cleverness (in my praising terms, not their own) rather than the Happy Accident I wondered about at the time and above. I really should’ve asked, in hindsight, but the idle ponderings were in my original Diary and I do like to keep these write-ups firmly in its spirit. (He says, partially attempting to excuse the journalistic failure, but also completely sincerely.)

GABS Paddle #2: Random Favourites

Tasting Paddle #2
Tasting Paddle #2

The final Sunday-afternoon session of GABS was considerably lower-key than the ones which came before. There were fewer attendees (a shade less than the Friday afternoon session, perhaps would-be visitors were off being dutiful offspring for Mother’s Day), and the whole machine of the thing was running with now-practiced smoothness such that I, an early duties / backup volunteer had a particularly-early knockoff. Time, then — this not being rocket science — for a beer or several.

My first paddle was everything I could find from the ‘sessionable’ weight class of ≤ 4.5% ABV — I inadvertently overlooked the sixth on offer, Moo Brew’s ‘Belgo’, but I’ll get to that next — and for my second set of five, I decided simply to round up the beers from places I knew and was fond of for one reason or other. It did wind up rather a rag-tag collection, style-wise (though skewing heavily ‘Belgian’), and a sensible drinking order took some figuring-out, again. But I think I managed it; this was a fun little ride.

Starting with Bridge Road’s ‘God Save the Lager’ was daunting — since it’s a 7.5% Imperial Pilsner and I hadn’t really eaten breakfast before heading in to town — but made the most sense, style-wise. A return to tasting paddles made it re-obvious that a little / warmish / plastic sample only ever gives you a hint of a beer’s real character, but ‘G.S.T.L.’ seemed a nudge drier and ‘spicier’ than Epic’s ‘LARGER’ — though it definitely shared the element of being potentially very dangerous indeed. Also, “Imperial Pilsner” seems now to be well and truly a thing; it’ll be interesting to see how it goes, as a (sub-)style. Then, Doctor’s Orders ‘Plasma’ White IPA looked to be an obvious second, and shares the quality of having a style-name with an unexpected adjective in front of it. But really, where else to go, after Black IPA,1 Red IPA and good old-fashioned — what do we even call it, now? — Regular / Middlingly-Brown IPA. The hazy-and-pale body makes you think “white” in Belgian-Wit-esque way, and the hops come through with enjoyably-peculiar notes that made me wish I’d given it a proper-glass try. I’ve had many glasses of Doctor’s Orders ‘Iron Lung’ black pilsner, so he’s got an obvious fondness for the stylistic colour-curveball and certainly seems to have the knack.

I’d had a little sip of the ‘Bob’s Farmhouse Ale’ from Murray’s when I understudy-hosted the ‘Beerista’ seminar during Friday night’s session but it was all a little lost in my personal bewilderment and hurry. It was, at this more-civilised pace, delicious. Cleverly named for both their original location (before they moved the brewery to a headland North of Newcastle and put a charming little pub on Manly Beach) and its super-saison(ish) style, it’s alarmingly drinkable for its massive dose of booze, and genuinely fun and funky while it’s at it. The Little Creatures / White Rabbit ‘Little Rabbit’ that followed, however, was a little more vexing. A collaboration between my long-loved Fremantle favourite and their (also fondly regarded) country cousin, it just seemed to fall well short of its promise. From the outset, it was — for its style — unsettlingly, needlessly clear (that’s it on the far right end of my tasting paddle, above, glowing much like Bridge Road’s souped-up pilsner) and seemed way too strong given its stated inspiration was Westmalle’s table beer. And even if that latter reference was just them reaching / being a bit generous / fudging things for the sake of ‘marketing’ and standing out in the Big Book of Many Blurbs, its strength just came across as too unbalancingly hot. It was nice, but still kinda sad, in context.

Then finally, the black sheep of the paddle: Seven Sheds ‘Black Elephant’, which I reached just as I noticed brewer / beer writer Willie Simpson on a nearby table. A few of his books were instrumental in the transitioning of me from Clueless Drinker to Something Of A Beer Geek and now — as you know, if you’ve made it this far — Part-time Beer-related Rambler. So I just had to embrace the moment of geek-out and say Hi, and am relieved to report (as I always have been able to, so far in this industry) that he turned out to be a lovely chap and very approachable. Fittingly enough for a writer-brewed beer, the Big Book’s tasting note — “a complex riot of roasty notes” — was bang on. ‘Black Elephant’ is apparently a blend (recipe-wise, I believe, rather than just piping two tanks together) of two Seven Sheds regulars; a Belgian strong ale (‘Elephant’s Trunk’) and a spiced strong dark ale (with the throw-back-ish name ‘Willie Warmer’).2 And it tasted like just that; hugeness, spice, richness and the charming eccentricity of a mad old codger in a quiet pub.

Gumbo Kitchen Po' Boy and fried shrimp
Gumbo Kitchen Po' Boy and fried shrimp

Just to repeat myself, this tasting paddle was early in the Sunday session after almost no breakfast. And, to repeat praise from my general post-GABS ponderings, food at the festival was frequently fantastic. None moreso, to my mind, than the ‘Beef Debris’ Po’ Boys from the fine young folks at Gumbo Kitchen. I liked it so much I had one each day, and treated myself to this feast (he says, gesturing sideways) for the final day. There was a fried shrimp option for the po’ boy, but I could never tear myself from the sure-fire deliciousness of the beef. So I asked for a side of fried shrimp with my sammich, resulting in a glorious pile of omnomtastic goodness. After a boozy tasting paddle and this epic heap of endorphin-crackling delight, I had quite the happyface firmly affixed to my skull for a good while into the afternoon.

Original Diary entry: GABS Paddle #2: Random Favourites. 13/5/12 Happy Mothers Day. Quiet Sunday session, but a nice mood. (32) Bridge Road ‘God Save the Lager’ (7.5% Imperial Pilsner) Spicier than ‘LARGER’, though temperature and plastic make comparison tricky. Nice and dry. Could be deadly. (20) Doctor’s Orders ‘Plasma’ (7% White IPA) Nicely ‘white’ — cloudy, pale, like a witbier — peculiar hoppy nose (but again; limitations). Nice flavourful bitterness. Would be worth a shot. (25) Murray’s ‘Bob’s Farmouse Ale’ (9%) Pete Mitcham told me the name refers to the new location. Oak-aged, hazy + nearly as pale as #20. We had this at Beerista and it’s great fun(k). Love it. (57) Little Creatures / White Rabbit ‘Little Rabbit’ (6.9% Belgian) Similar colour as prior, but unexpectedly clear. Strong, given the stated inspiration (Westmalle’s table beer), and quite ‘hot’. Big round fruit from Noble hops (probably). (50) Seven Sheds ‘Black Elephant’ (7.8% Black Trappist) Willie Simpson! (Minor geek-out impending…) Fittingly, the note is bang on. “A complex riot of roasty notes.” Hell yes. Weird + good. Soy-saucy. [And he was perfectly nice about the geek-out.]

Tasting Paddle #2
Tasting Paddle #2
Diary II entry #216.1, GABS Paddle #2: Random Favourites
Diary II entry #216.1, GABS Paddle #2: Random Favourites
Diary II entry #216.2, GABS Paddle #2: Random Favourites
Diary II entry #216.2, GABS Paddle #2: Random Favourites

1: There are a couple of them in my Diary on upcoming pages — local boys Funk Estate put out a new one I’ve been liking / drinking a lot lately which whole-heartedly embraces the contradictory style-term — so I’m sure I’ll have a proper re-airing of the sometimes-vexed issue of “Black IPA”.
2: It gets the okay, I think, simply because his actual name is Willie. Otherwise, it’d be just so appallingly worth of an entry on Pumpclip Parade (well, if it had a pumpclip) — the label test even has the very Dad-joke-ish note “Guaranteed to warm the extremities”.

GABS Paddle #1: Everything ≤ 4.5% ABV

Tasting Paddle #1
Tasting Paddle #1

As I’ve mentioned a few times when talking about GABS, my Friday was very sleep-deprived; I only had two hours sleep on Thursday night — my nocturnal nature meshes not at all with early-morning flights — and wound up awake for some twenty-six hours. So I took it very easy, those first two sessions.

I’m a dedicated flag-bearer for midstrength / sessionable beer, and was delighted to see that in a festival of (mostly…) one-offs, I was still able to assemble a paddle-worth of beers at-or-under 4.5% ABV.1 They were pleasingly varied, style-wise (though that did make figuring out a drinking order rather perplexing), which I took to be a good sign of the increasing health of this corner of the industry.

I started with Croucher ‘ANZUS’ — as did the festival, since this was officially beer #1 on the Big Board, and a fittingly trans-Tasman2 way to begin what really was a genuinely Australasian festival. The Little Country wasn’t just there in a tokenistic way; a quarter of the beers were from over here, and from what I’ve read, a lot of Australians had a pleasingly eye-opening experience with New Zealand craft beer. ANZUS is a 2.7% hoppy pale ale, which puts it in the same family as Hallertau ‘Minimus’ and Liberty’s ‘Taranaki Session Beer’, and if that family is determined to have more offspring then I’ll gladly give them all the oysters and tax breaks I can to encourage the activity. Minimus was my ‘Beer of the Year’ for 2011, together with its brothers-from-other-mothers, so I’m positively delighted to see more of them around. It was delicious, and well-balanced — no easy trick at that ABV — and refreshingly bitter. So far as one can tell from a festival-thimble, at least. It’d make a cracker addition to their full range — hint hint, Paul, hint hint.

Next was the Sarsaparilla Stout from country-Victoria’s Grand Ridge, a brewery I have some extra fondness for after a particularly-excellent birthday evening-and-morning spent there years ago. I didn’t notice the mention of licorice in the book until after my first sip — and man do I hate licorice — so the very-much black jellybean nature of the thing was an unpleasant surprise. But if that’s your thing, this’d be a damn-handy four-percent sweet stout to have lying around for wintery afternoons. The Mash3 ‘Koffee Stout’ was only a touch stronger (or 0.3 of a touch, depending on how you calibrate these things), and muchmore my speed, caffeine-fueled organism that I am. Sessionable coffee stout sounds like perfect Writing Beer, to me.

I finished with a Pair of Weirds, one minor, one major. Hargreaves Hill’s ‘La Grisette’ was a bit of a history lesson, in both beer-style and words-of-French-origin terms. The basic idea seemed to be of a blue-collar after-work Belgian; a less-funky old-style Saison, perhaps. The flavours evoked a lot of sweetness, at first, but it dried right out at the back of the palate and could indeed make for a wonderful hot-day restorative. But then, damn. Feral’s ‘Watermelon Warhead’ was one of those beers that was the talk of the festival — in the “no, fucking seriously; try it” sense. An intensely sour Berliner Weisse, dosed with Watermelon juice and fermented in Chardonnay barrels, it was face-puckeringly surprising and brain-tinglingly fantastic. Alice Galletly likened it — in this growd of nearly-five-dozen beers — to a palate-cleansing sorbet, and that’s bang on.4 Making things even more impressive, it transpired that the ABV in the booklet (2.9%) was essentially a work-in-progress guess / estimate / number read of freshly-rolled dice; the beer was more likely around one point nine, making it handsomely the most flavourful — and most charmingly odd — “light beer” I’ve ever had within grabbing distance, or been tempted to grab.

Diary II entry #212, GABS Paddle #1: Everything ≤ 4.5% ABV
Diary II entry #212, GABS Paddle #1: Everything ≤ 4.5% ABV

Original Diary entry: GABS Paddle #1: Everything ≤ 4.5% ABV 11/5/12 in this absurdly gorgeous building back in the beloved Melb. (1) Croucher ‘ANZUS’ (2.7%) A little warmer thant I’d like, but still. In the Minimus mold, obviously, more bitter? Hard to tell from 85ml. (34) Grand Ridge ‘Sarsparilla’ Stout (4%) ~ and licorice root really evident. Black jellybean. Subbed for a hop addition, so rather sweet. (58) Mash ‘Koffee Stout’ (4.3%) Much more my speed. Tasty, but subtle. (36) Hargreaves Hill ‘La Grisette’ (3.8%) A style I’ve never heard of, but kind like. Feels like it’ll be sweet, but dries right out. Weird, but worthy. (55) Feral ‘Watermelon Warhead’ (2.9%) My first Berliner Weisse, and it’s exactly as sour as I’d like. Tart and indeed Watermelonny. Still nicely round.

1: There were actually six in the book, it turned out. I missed one — Moo Brew’s ‘Belgo’ — entirely. But, to atone, I had a whole glass on the Sunday. You’ll see it here soon.
2: Let’s just ignore, provisionally, the rather-fraught third (‘US’) member of that Treaty and focus on the ‘A’-‘NZ’ relationship for a moment — my guess is that Croucher are referring, all at once, to being a New Zealand beer at a festival in Australia, brewed in a vaguely-American style.
3: This being from Mash Brewing in WA, not from the Mash Collective which operates out of Stone & Wood in NSW (which also had a beer in the lineup). It’s probably a very good sign that breweries are proliferating rapidly enough that their names are starting to collide.a
— a: See also, for example, New Zealand’s plural ~Dog beers: ParrotDog, Rain Dogs, Black Dog.
4: Watermelon Warhead was also tied — with a Wig & Pen beer that became my GABS Glass #3 — for the lowest-posted official IBU rating, at a ‘paltry’ 6. Which just goes to show you, among all the hop-fashion and bitterness-chasing, that sour beers really can deliver intensity from a whole ’nother direction.

Invercargill ‘Sa!son’

Invercargill 'Sa!son'
Invercargill 'Sa!son'

Invercargill Brewery really is the unsung workhorse of the local beer scene — or insufficiently-sung, at least. I was re-struck by that thought when I was writing about their utterly-delightful ‘Pitch Black’ stout, and I’ll take the chance to just repeat myself now, if you don’t mind. If, while staying busy running contract-brews, you can produce a range that includes a stout, an easy and accessible lager, and a motherfucking saison — then you are a very clever chap, indeed.

Saison is, as a style, well within the realm of the weird — both for its inherent, peculiar, funky and contradictory flavours and for the genuine oddness of some of the devotees it attracts (though they’re not quite as peculiar, in the main, as habitual gueuze-drinkers). One of the local craft beer scene’s elder statesmen, Fraser McInnes (who may not ever forgive me for using “elder” or “statesman” to describe him) is especially fond of them and was, for a while, helping us out at the Malthouse. On a Friday, his going-home time roughly coincided with my half-way-through time, and so I picked this up to share with him when he was done and I was in need of a mid-shift treat.

The seemingly out-of-place exclamation point is, I believe, a reference to the often-forgotten fact that when D.B. registered their now-infamous (and still-standing) “Radler” trademark, they also snagged “Saison” — despite that being equally daft, for the exact same reasons. D.B. did quietly abandon the Saison mark,1 so the Bowdlerised version isn’t really necessary, but it remains a nicely-timed and well-aimed poke in the ribs — clever and funny enough that my Inner Sarcastic Bastard easily wins out over any complaining from my Inner Punctuation Nerd.

And it was delightful. The background-level of peculiarity never got in the way of the deliciousness of it all, which was a very welcome trick for it to pull. It’s gorgeously light and fruity — the label is absolutely right that there’s tangerine and passionfruit flavours kicking around in there, but the zestiness of the thing really made me think particularly of the dry, powdery sparkle you get flying off the freshly-ripped peel of a tangerine on a hot day. We were drinking this in a fairly-seriously wintery patch, but now that the weather has turned back towards the warm-and-sunny, I’ll definitely have to give it another go — the label’s text says that the beer tastes like a “bittersweet memory of summer”, and that couldn’t have been more bang on, really. And there was certainly a properly-Saisonny funk going on in here, too; they hadn’t just wimped out and sacrificed it entirely, for the sake of more mass-market appeal. It was firmly in the background, but it was artfully placed there for balance’s sake, rather than relegated to an out-of-the-way corner, in shame.

Verbatim: Invercargill ‘Sa!son’ 3/6/11 330ml $5.50 @ Reg 6.5% ÷ 2 with Fraser, since this is very much his favourite kind of thing. Nice DB-prod with the name, too. Does exactly as it says; light fruit nose (they say tangerine & passionfruit — which is right, but with the powdery peel of the former, too); zesty body that still manages to be nicely smooth under the lively bubbles. Deftly funky, not fraughtly so. Actually pretty damn lovely. Given the current weather and its suitability for their opposite, their “bittersweet memory of summer” note is perfect. The funk-level is James Brown on the stereo next door — when you were in the mood to listen to him anyway, but too lazy to get out of your chair.

Invercargill 'Sa!son', bottlecap
Invercargill 'Sa!son', bottlecap
Invercargill 'Sa!son'
Diary II entry #108.1, Invercargill 'Sa!son'
Invercargill 'Sa!son'
Diary II entry #108.2, Invercargill 'Sa!son'

1: God knows what they were planning on doing with it. I’m not sure if they intended on creating some non-saisonny “Saison” — much like their 5%, no-lemonade “Radler” — or whether they were going to try and buy some exotic, foreign-language flair for their “Summer Ale”. In any case, cooler heads prevailed. If only they had with the whole sad Radler debacle.

Renaissance / 8 Wired / Yeastie Boys ‘Rescue Red’

Renaissance, 8 Wired, Yeastie Boys 'Rescue Red'
Renaissance, 8 Wired, Yeastie Boys 'Rescue Red'

Around a year ago, Luke Nicholas was talking to Sam Calagione and was able to apparently-accurately say that their ‘Portamarillo’ would be New Zealand’s second-ever collaborative brew — after the also-with-Luke Epic / Thornbridge Stout. Now, they’re everywhere.

To maybe-needlessly hammer the point: Galbraith’s Alehouse is currently hosting several brewers as part of a ‘Great Brewers Cask Ale Series’; Liberty and Mike’s made a neighbourly project in the form of a ‘Taranaki Pale Ale’; what the Epic-led ‘Mash Up’ lacks with its loosely-defined sense of “collaboration” it more than makes up for with its relatively-massive scope; and at this year’s IPA Challenge at the Malthouse alone, damn-near half the beers were collaborations to some degree or other.1

They seem like such a characteristically beer industry thing, too. I’m not sure if the wine folk are too snobbish to ever put their heads together and make something in the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ spirit of a collaboration — perhaps they consider their boat sufficiently risen, or perhaps I usually just stay far enough away from grape juice that I don’t hear of such projects, if they do exist. Whatever; they’re a wonderful thing, and it’s great news that the trend (a very North American thing, it’d be fair to say) has crashed upon our shores. Long may it, and the spirit that propels it, continue.

And so here with are with ‘Rescue Red’, as it eventually came to be known, after a flurry of potential titles. A three-party project from Renaissance, 8 Wired and Yeastie Boys, it was brewed as a fundraiser for relief efforts in Canterbury and Queensland. Brew day was documented by Jed Soane, and the official write-up is well worth a read (and not merely by the usual standards for press releases). It’s a suitably multi-faceted thing; a sessionable, hoppy amber ale, fermented with a saison yeast. I like all of those features — in descending order, essentially — but it kept throwing enough curveballs that even after several decent-sized tastes, I wasn’t sure if I liked it. I continued to go back to it, though, which probably entails that I did like it — or at least I was a) fascinated, and b) non-repulsed.

Entirely fittingly, then, its actual appearance in my notes reigns supreme as the Grand Champion Distracted Diary Entry Of All Time; I entirely abandoned my first attempt, unfinished, and had to start afresh the next day. On the night of the initial datestamp, Jillian — her the Newfoundlander of the cigarette-lighter sign-writing — showed up at work just as I was finishing a round of Kegtris. It wasn’t long until she was due to continue her overseas explorings and head over the Big Country, so we took that as a fair-enough excuse to make a bit of a night of it — which involved borderline-gatecrashing a house party at which neither of us really knew anyone, dancing like lunatics to a fucking-marvellous and entirely-random ragtime band,2 and some generally-enjoyable wandering-around-town. Awesome fun. Hence the ‘Nope; I’ll write about this later’.

In the end, I’m fairly sure I did enjoy ‘Rescue Red’, although it probably picked up a few Circumstantial Bonus Points — not that I ever object to those; hardly-relevant surrounding happenings are always going to colour your opinion of a thing, and you’d be a fool to try and stop them entirely doing so. It was definitely quirky and interesting, without being obnoxiously so in that awful trying-too-hard kind of way. The saisonny funk, conspicuous hops and rich red malt all got along together very well, however much they might look clashy on paper — after all, it might appear that organising a fridge, someone else’s party, and a chance encounter with swing music wouldn’t work well together, either; these things can surprise you occasionally. And you’d do well to let them.

Verbatim: Yeastie Boys / 8 Wired / Renaissance ‘Rescue Red’ 26/5/11 4.8% on tap @ MH $10, but not so bad, because proceeds go to Queensland & Canterbury. “Hoppy red saison”, they say, with typical disregard for… everything — 27/5/11, restarting, with another. I was too distracted last time. Not in a bad way. I keep trying this, because I’m not sure if I like it — but I guess this kinda means I do. It’s enjoyably peculiar, but not overly or flashily so. Gorgeously red, too. Faintly berry-ish, the funk making it like cranberries on the turn.

'Rescue Red' tap badge
'Rescue Red' tap badge
Rescue Red
Diary II entry #105.1, Rescue Red
Rescue Red
Diary II entry #105.2, Rescue Red

1: i.e., Yeastie Boys and Liberty, twice; Townshend and Greig McGill of Brewaucracy; Moa’s Dave Nicholls with some help from Malthouse Overboss Colin Mallon; and a ‘Four Horsemen’ hophead supergroup collaboration in the shape of Luke Nicholas & Kelly Ryan of Epic, Steve Plowman from Hallertau, and Liberty’s Joseph Wood, again.
2: Namely, the Roseneath Centennial Ragtime Band. They play pretty-regularly around Wellington, it seems, and there are sample tracks available on their MySpace page.a
— a: Meanwhile, Myspace still exists?

Lindeman’s ‘Cuvée René’

Lindeman's ‘Cuvée René’ Gueuze
Lindeman's ‘Cuvée René’ Gueuze

And now for something completely different. Because gueuze beers are different in a staggering and mind-bending way. Some people are entirely horrified by them, despite otherwise being big beer nerds. Other people would drink them all day and all night and go a bit kittens-with-catnip at the mere sight of one. Myself, I’m somewhere in the middle. (Though it’s the latter people who freak me out more than the former. By quite a margin.)

Brewing is a delightful mix of Bucket Science and Rocket Science — it calls for meticulousness roughly as often as it demands a healthy dose of “fuck it; biff that in and see what happens”. And so while you’ve got brews that call for very-particular strains of yeast, carefully cultured over decades and gently prodded in some desirable direction, genetically speaking — you’ve also got beers that are basically made by quite-literally leaving the windows open and just running with whatever-the-Hell drifts in on the breeze. Then these beers, the lambics, go out of their way to emphasise their oddness by using older, dried (and so less-potent) hops and usually fairly easy-going malts; a subtler canvas upon which the Jackson-Pollock-y crazypants of their random yeasts can shine. Lambics often have fruit (or fruit syrup) added, but a “gueuze” is an unsweetened blend of young and old lambic, and they get a bit… eccentric.

It’s one of those Belgian styles which quickly calls for the word funk. Surprising adjectives flow from people who are praising these things: musty, sour, medicinal, cheesy. The blessed subjectivity is in sharp relief; devotees and detractors will describe them almost identically, really differing only on whether on not they personally find those characters appealing. Tim and I probably enjoyed drinking this more than we enjoyed it, if that makes any sense. It was a hell of a ride: an enjoyably confusing and confronting barrage of sensory assaults clanging around and in a strangely fascinating way, like when forgotten change works its way out of the pocket of your jeans as they go around in the tumble-drier. It’s baffling, but never quite enough to make you give up. Each sip put a pained and alarmed look on our faces, but it was never very long before we went back for more; you just can’t not, somehow. The sheer weirdness of it prompted some hilarious conversation.

Sticking with obviously-positive descriptors for a moment, this had the sharp tartness of a cleansingly-acidic white wine. The fruit flavour in the forefront of my mind was crabapples — and I’m a sucker for crabapples, since I grew up with a tree full of them in the front yard. But there’s just no denying the scarier flavours: an imperfectly-made homebrew cider, the too-clean chemical smell of hospital disinfectant, the spiky aroma of a bowl of lemons just about to start rotting, and the dried-sweat stench of a gym towel that sat neglected in a corner somewhere and missed last week’s round of laundry.

But like I say, people who love them love them. Try one when you’re feeling brave — or give one to someone who foolishly says something like “just get me a beer, anything, I don’t mind; beer’s beer”, if you’re feeling particularly bastardly.

Lindeman's ‘Cuvée René’ Gueuze
Diary II entry #88, Lindeman's ‘Cuvée René’ Gueuze

Verbatim: Lindeman’s ‘Cuvée René’ Gueuze 11/4/11 $16 ÷ 2 with Tim @ MH. He had an embarrassing run-in with a Lambic, way back; threw it out, thinking it was off. Ah, our pre-geek days. Lovely hazy gold. Turning-fruit, hospitally nose. Amy freaked out: nappies with lemons growing in. The sterile-chemically-ness is in there. Along with the usual crabapples I like. It is confronting. Hard to imagine the people who’d casually drink it. Tim: homebrew cider. Totally. A glass of gym-towel; dry and sweaty.