Tag Archives: Lager

Sprig & Fern ‘Harvest’ Pilsner

Sprig & Fern 'Harvest' Pilsner
Sprig & Fern 'Harvest' Pilsner

So yeah, there’s that. If you haven’t noticed it, or the reference escapes you, let’s set it aside for a moment and deal with the important thing first — you know, the beer.

This marks a brilliant return-to-form for lagers in the Diary, since it’s the first one in there since Budweiser. What a freakin’ turnaround. As I say in my notes, it was hardly “pilsner weather”, but I’d been keen to try this stuff since hearing about it last year. It’s a seasonal release by Nelson’s Sprig & Fern which is timed for Marchfest — which, in turn, coincides with the hop harvest. And it’s properly to-theme by using fresh (“green” or “wet”) hops, a trick often used to great effect in pale ales.1 Marchfest attendees (both nerdy and not) came back raving about this with a uniformity and sincerity that made me fairly confident it wasn’t just Holiday Beer Syndrome. An opportunity for proof arose when Hashigo got themselves a keg, but it was tapped while I was at work and zooming out of the tap. In a fit of excellentness, Dave set me aside a rigger and dropped it off on his way home — just as he’d done for 8 Wired’s Saison-yeast-ified ‘Hopwired’, stand-up gent that he keeps proving to be.

It sat in the fridge with the rest of my Personal Stash for a day or two, waiting for a suitable occasion which it found in the guise of an abnormally-productive day off and an enjoyable evening of Nerding with friends. I plonked myself on the end of the bar and then entirely failed to share very much of my one-litre flagon. It’s one of those beers that justifies selfishness as easily as it would make for evangelising material; something you don’t really want to share, but which could work wonders if you did. All “not sure if this is the right weather for it” worries were quickly punctured with a swift jab of crisp-and-hoppy deliciousness. It was like a trumpet solo blaring out into a quiet autumn night from a suburban rooftop; brash and bold, but clear and wonderful. The Internets are often Not Much Help when it comes to one-off brews and were so with this, so I’m in the dark as to just which freshly-picked hops we’re talking about, but I don’t particularly mind — they’re lush and fresh and fantastic, flavourful enough that they’re not remotely one-note even if it is just a single variety in there. On a sunny day in Nelson, it’d be absolute bliss; little wonder all the excitable, happy-faced reports from people who made the trip over to the Other Island.

But yeah, the other thing.

Dave and his fellow Hashigoans couldn’t help but nod towards the peculiar story of “Chil Pook” on the label. It’s something I’ve avoided mentioning until now, since I’m still not quite sure what to make of the whole saga, but I can hardly let their reference go unexplained. You see, my handle on Twitter is @phil_cook2 and so someone registered @chil_pook, in the manner of a seven-year-old’s first attempt to speak ‘in code’, got themselves the same distinctive icon as mine and… and… I’m not sure.

It’s not really within shouting distance of actual satire (with which I’m totally on board, whoever the target, even if it’s me), and if it’s some unfortunate soul who feels I’ve wronged them in some way, then why not say so, under your own name?3 Their posting is sufficiently erratic that we’re left with few clues as to who they really are or what precisely introduced (and occasionally seems to re-introduce) the bee to their bonnet. It’s all just a bit sad, in the end — especially since an unhealthy proportion of their material seems to be variations on a High Schoolish x-is-gay line; I’d have hoped anyone of beer-drinking / beer-giving-a-damn-about age would be past that.

I do find it very strange that I so-quickly attracted my peculiar orbiting stalker, though a few people (some fellow beer geeks, some normals, some in-betweens) have thought of it as a sort of strange badge of honour. I can kind of see their point, but I hope it isn’t wrong of me to still wish for a funnier parodist.

Verbatim: Sprig & Fern ‘Harvest’ Pilsner 3/5/11 1L rigger from Dave @ HZ, had @ MH, after a relatively-productive day off. Hardly pilsner weather, but buggrit. And Happy Birthday Karen! This stuff is legendary among Marchfesters, and now I know why; is delicious! Juicy as hop-goodness; zesty and brash but not too bitter. Halena was dubious of the nose — not being a hop-fiend — but was a huge fan. I’m in the dark about which fresh hops, but then I remembered about the Internets, and then the Internets were no help. Sadface. And with a second pint to get to know, I’m still unsure. Quite citrussy, sure, but certainly not one-note.

Sprig & Fern 'Harvest' Pilsner
Diary II entry #98.1, Sprig & Fern 'Harvest' Pilsner
Sprig & Fern 'Harvest' Pilsner
Diary II entry #98.2, Sprig & Fern 'Harvest' Pilsner

1: My first experience of such things was with Mac’s ‘Brewjolais’, a sadly-now-retired rare example of one of the Big Breweries making something genuinely interesting, and my most-recent one (off the top of my head) was Thornbridge’s ‘Halcyon’. Wet-hopped pale ales were probably brought back to the beer-drinking public consciousness with Sierra Nevada’s ‘Harvest’, a beer which proved so popular that they added a ‘Southern Harvest’ which utilises one of the many advantages of living on a big spheroid: that there are two hop seasons, if you’re willing to travel a bit — fittingly, since I’m talking about Marchfest, their other-harvest uses New Zealand hops, getting them on a plane a.s.a.p. in a Carbon-footprint-nightmare-inducing exercise in deliciousness (my Diary entry for which is stuck in the infamous Limbo, sadly).
2: Aggravatingly, when I got around to signing up, both @philcook and @beerdiary had been recently snatched up; one by a spambot, one by someone seemingly in the U.S. who does (sporadically) record their drinking habits and finds.
3: There have been a few peculiar / pathetic / both pieces of anonymous internet slagging-off in the local beer scene, lately. It’s something that deserves fuller attention — and which deserves to wither swiftly and drop off — but I should return to it properly later, and not High Horse things here and now, since my brush with it is (so far) so trifling and lame.

Beer 121: The Audiobook

Beer 121 tasting session lineup
Beer 121 tasting session lineup

I’m not sure if any / many of you are sufficiently curious about this to actually push play — whether to eavesdrop on a tasting session, or just to have a sample of my peculiar untraceable accent (and occasionally-substantial lisp) — but we had buckets of fun doing this ‘Beer 121: New Zealand Beer for Americans’ thing, and so I’ll share it regardless.

Two of the attendees proved themselves deviously useful: Jessie (a Californian friend and the catalyst for the event) surreptitiously recorded the proceedings on her fancypantsphone, and George (who was learning to use Audacity for an upcoming beer-related podcast project we’re working on — about which more very soon indeed) edited the thing into beer-sized chunks, and pruned out the more extreme you-had-to-be-there tangents and irrelevances.1

The original post probably makes for something ranging between helpful and compulsory companion reading, since I used the space there to explain what was going on in my brain when I chose the lineup. I’ve also added ‘show notes’ to each beer here, to provide references / ramblings / corrections as required.

Hopefully-temporary note, 31 May 2011: Apologies for the absence of an in-post player. The whatsit that was generating those turns out to be conflicting with the whatsit that handles the gorgeous pop-up display doodads for my photos and Diary scans. As you can tell by the handwavey substitute-words, there, I’m not quite geeky enough to sort that out on my own, just yet. And since every post has pop-up images, but only this one had audio files in this format, something had to give. They should still work as downloads or as in-browser plays, though…

— #1: Tui “East India Pale Ale”

  • Solid data is hard to come by — questionable brewery press releases or absurdly expensive market reports don’t really count — but us New Zealanders do drink masses of this stuff and its barely-discernibly-different siblings. I’ve never heard anyone outside of a state of enthusiasm-induced delirium suggest that craft beer accounts for more than 10% of sales.
  • The ‘Six o’clock swill’ lasted longer than I thought: Pre-WWI to post-WWII. How unforgiveably dim that it spanned a whole generation.
  • Tui is conspicuously sweeter than its otherwise-samey brethren (from my memory, at least), so I always believed the story that it was literally coloured-up with caramel. Hopefully they just use some sweeter, darker malt, but I doubt it — D.B. have conspicuously skirted the ‘sugar question’ on their website.
  • Likewise, D.B. aren’t massively forthcoming on which beers continue to use continuous fermentation. Their ‘How Beer is Made’ flowchart just silently splits in half and doesn’t bother to say which beers take which route.
  • The confused and depressing Tui ratings I mention can be easily found on RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com.
  • And seriously, Penny-farthings are as fascinating as they are stupid.

— #2: Emerson’s Pilsner

  • There was a “Germany” when Pilsner was developed (in 18-42, not 18-seventy-mumble), but it’s not the “Germany” we have now. European history is complicated and seemingly nowhere more so than Deutschland — but I’m told that Bavarians are basically still Bavarian first, German second, anyway.
  • My ‘history and context of pilsner’ is roughly cribbed from Pete Brown.
  • And I don’t mean to short-change this bloody-marvellous beer; we did talk a lot more about it (I feel guilty that its chapter is shorter than Tui’s, I admit), but it was peppered with frequent sidetrackings as we tried to find a suitable North American substitute — still with no success, by the way; suggestions welcome.

— #3: Tuatara APA

  • Jessie had previously described herself as hailing from “within crawling distance” of the Sierra Nevada Brewery.
  • The hops used (at launch) were described in an official blog post. I believe they’ve recently (i.e., after this tasting) joined in several other breweries in switching (largely? partially?) to the new Falconer’s Flight hop blend. The flavour certainly changed around a bit rather suddenly — not for the worst, necessarily, but I still think it’s rather poor form to not, you know, say so.
  • As I finally write this up, Tuatara APA is two weeks shy of its First Birthday, and is still branded “Limited Release”.
  • Synethesia is both inherently interesting and very useful for describing beers — at least in this near-metaphorical, non-pathological form. Flavour seems somehow more subjective than the feel / mood / overall thingness you can sometimes convey if you employ peculiar and emotive similies instead.

— #4: 8 Wired ‘Hopwired’ IPA

  • Number 8 wire isn’t named for a metric or imperial sizing; it was just a more-or-less abritrarily-numbered step on the British Standard Wire Gauge. As the son of an engineer, I can’t tell you how horrified I am to hear myself saying (even for a brief, uncertain and recanted second) that it was 8mm — it’s around half that, sheesh.
  • I’ve gotten the Søren-and-Monique story a little mangled; I blame the fact that for ages, Søren was too busy making good beer to have time to get a website built, so I had to rely on third-hand biographical snippets passed around the Beer Nerd community.
  • Plant & Food Research is the current name of the government-owned entity responsible for hop research and development. NZ Hops is someone you can actually buy these things from, and provides very handy / very nerdy data sheets for the different cultivars.

— #5: Epic / Dogfish Head ‘Portamarillo’

  • My original post has this as Beer #6, but it’s just occurred to me (listening to myself refer to PKB as the one we’ll “finish off with”) that that’s wrong. It was the plan (as you can see from the lineup photo), but we decided to step away from hoppy things so we could step back, fresher.
  • From what I can tell, the Beer Nerd Biography Whisper Mill let me down a little here, too. Sam wasn’t a Levi’s model as a pre-brewing job, he did a Levi’s shoot as a brewer. I think. Google is still letting me down a little, here. The point remains, though, that you have to admit he’s a good-looking man.
  • There is a ‘Brew Masters’ TV show website — and, you know, ahem, torrents.
  • Three Boys ‘Pineapple Lump’ Porter got deservedly-good write-ups online.
  • I had both the Epic / Dogfish Head & Dogfish Head / Epic versions together when ‘Portamarillo’ first appeared in my Diary.

— #6: Yeastie Boys ‘PKB 2010 U.S. Remix’

  • I finally had a bigger dose of this stuff just a few days before writing this up. The ‘New Guy’ at work, Jono, brought in a bottle which he generously halved. Its entry should hopefully be up shortlyish, and it was still tasting marvellous.
  • ‘Pot Kettle Black’ is indeed a Wilco song; so there you go.
  • Stout-versus-porter is a fun topic on its own, but the Usual Story does work well enough for PKB versus PKB Stout Remix.
  • My Diary entry for Deschutes ‘Hop in the Dark’ has my thoughts on the vexed question of just what the hell to name this style.
  • This is the end of the notes.

1: I don’t remotely mean to imply that I don’t endorse the sidetrackings — random table-talk and distractions can be a good chunk of the fun at a beer tasting. Beer is a social drink, after all. But particularly in a crowd where most of us knew each other fairly well, we perhaps got a bit in-jokey and peculiar for a wider audience.



Poorly-justified trademark nonsense and brandwank that flies in the face of the plain meaning of words are rather topical at the moment — for the avoidance of doubt or subtlety, I’m looking at you, D.B. and Moa — and so it is the perfect time to finally enter into my Diary the arguable Granddaddy of such: Budweiser.1

The beer itself is basically universally reviled among the geeks. It’s pretty much synonymous with mass-produced bland fizzy water. They brew it with rice for fuck’s sake; if nearly a third of your grain bill is rice, you’re intentionally minimising the flavour of the end result, or cutting corners to save money to the point of absurdity — or, you know, both.

I was always faintly embarrassed, therefore, that I had never personally tried this thing that my Nerd Brethren hated so passionately. I spotted it in the fridge at Public,2 ascertained that it was the genuine article (rather than a “brewed under license” clone, as we so often do here in the Little Country at the End of the World), and then popped next door after work. In the interests of fairness, I tried desperately to avoid reading their preposterous label text and focus on the beer, first. I’ll repeat that, here.

It is piss-gold. That is absolutely the word for it; everything you ever heard about it looking like urine is true — although, as someone who used to work at an organisation who published helpful guides about these things, I can tell you that it does look like the whiz of a healthy person who drinks around about the right amount of water, if that helps at all. The nose is either absent or pleasantly-but-very-mildly fragrant. Nearby flower arrangements in the bar were particularly numerous (or convinced I was a Bumblebee, or something) and were rather perfumed, themselves, but I can at least say that the beer was basically lacking in the godawful rotten funk I get from most bog-standard mainstream lagers.

I found it difficult to taste anything much, initially; the over-riding sensory impression of ‘Fizziness!’ drowned out all other neural activity for quite some time. It was dry, but weirdly grainy and sweet at the same time. The dreaded ‘Macro Funk’ did slowly emerge as I went / as it warmed a little, but it was certainly a good distance from being the worst beer I’ve ever had in my life. To use a classic Faint Praise metric, I’d instantly choose it over a local clone of Heineken or Amstel, for instance.

But damn. Any time with this beer just amounts to time to savour the utterly absurd boasts on the label. Starting with the attempt at implying Worldwide availability / domination with the buckled-belt logo’s “Europe; Asia; Africa; Australia”: the word you’re looking for to go in that last slot is Australasia, you monkeys. (Or Oceania, if you’re feeling modern.)3 And then there’s this:

We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age.

The only way for that not to be an outright, ridiculous, intentional lie is to keep the man who writes the label text in a very small box, cut off from the world. I can, off the top of my own rubbish-memoried head, probably name a hundred or more beers which would make a falsehood of that sentence — unless they aren’t talking in per volume terms, which would just make them history’s worst-ever statisticians.

Nevermind the pathetically-sad registration, by local giant D.B., of the word “Radler” for a beer which isn’t even a Radler;4 this is the most abysmally lame brewing trademark. They mimicked a brew which had been released in the U.S. the year before (1875), verbatim-copied its name — which was just an origin term, in German — and legally locked it up for themselves. It should’ve never been awarded, and later courts should’ve booted it out summarily, or at least forced them to abide the concurrent marketing of things under the same name which happened to be actually from the place that the word implies.

This is the problem with brandwank. This is it in a little brown bottle. The beer isn’t inherently abominable; it’s just not, whatever you’ve heard. I was as surprised to learn that as anyone would be. It’s limp and bland, not liquid evil. But the yards-thick, completely fucking ass-faced aura of marketing horseshit which surrounds it makes me thank the non-existent gods that I didn’t hand over any of my own money for the one I had. I’d feel sullied and cheap and stained to the core if I did — but I’d still very-swiftly whisk one from a barbeque chilly bin that otherwise only held Tui and Beck’s.

Diary II entry #80, Budweiser

Verbatim: Budweiser 2[4]/3/11 @ Public $8, but shouted. Awesome. 4.9% “Bud Heavy”, says their American, since Bud Light is so ascendant. I can’t believe I’ve never had one. The pale straw colour is the first impression (well, after the brandwank-drenched label). 355ml. And you really do have to say “piss gold”. The nose is grainy, and very faintly perfumed; could be the flowers in here, even. Feel isn’t as thin as I’d assumed, but very fizzy. The usual Macro Funk isn’t as bad here as in many I’ve had; Heineken is certainly worse on that score for example. Strange combination of dryness + light sweetness in the body. Not horrific, certainly. Oh, the Funk does build a bit. But not my worst ever.

Budweiser, ingredients
Budweiser, ingredients
Budweiser, boast and bad geography
Budweiser, boast and bad geography
Budweiser, best before
Budweiser, best before

1: Rather than being anyone’s Granddad, Budweiser would rather introduce itself to you as ‘King of Beers’. And then expect you to curtsey, presumably. I’m enough of an anti-monarchist that that’s hardly helping it endear itself to me, but the main problem is that actual-Budweiser was long known as “the beer of Kings”, so Anheuser-Busch’s slogan is double-pronged dickishness.
2: Or [public] — with a unique, mysterious, and unreproducible p-u ligature — if their typographer is to be believed.
3: The question of what isn’t and isn’t a “continent” (and thereby how many there are) is a tricky one, but absolutely no one except Anheuser-Busch follows the ‘Budweiser Label Model’.
4: And fuck; don’t get me started. Or at least beware, if you do. There’s a court date looming. I’m sure I’ll have more to vent about it — one way or the other, depending on the outcome.

Golden Ticket ‘Black Emperor: NZ’

Golden Ticket 'Black Emperor: NZ'
Golden Ticket 'Black Emperor: NZ'

If you’ll forgive me going all self-referential for a moment,1 I’ll quote myself from Twitter:

So Golden Ticket ‘Black Emperor: NZ’ is rather good. The phrase “pleasantly surprised” is a double understatement.

I was at Hashigo, and conscious of the usual delay that exists between me writing a Diary entry as I try something and it winding up actually online, here.2 I wanted to give this a little plug for its inherent goodness, but also because of the circumstances. I wasn’t kidding when I said “double understatement” — pleasant isn’t a strong enough word for a beer this tasty, and suprised was similarly inadequate; I had hated Golden Ticket’s previous two releases. The entry for their second beer (‘Summer Babe’) is by far the longest in my first Diary, and it’s fairly full-flightedly ranty.3 But a few people had insisted that I should give them a third chance — a rare thing, if ever there was — and I’m glad I did, especially since I had missed the original edition which had preceded this local-hops variant.

At first glance another member of the Unnameable Style of hoppy-but-black / black-but-hoppy, ‘Black Emperor’ throws an interesting curveball in that it’s a black pilsner rather than a hopped-up porter or blackified IPA — so it’s lager, rather than ale; it’s from the parallel universe where the Unnameable beer you’ve started to enjoy but have barely gotten to know yet suddenly shows up sporting a sinister goatee. Beer, in its awesomely sprawling variety, will always confound any sort of broad generalisation about these things, but the Standard Line is that lagers are crisp and short where ales are more rounded and long. As many issues as can be taken with such a distinction, it’s not entirely wrong, at least — and this peculiar beer seems a decent exemplar of it.

So it’s a case of a recent trend for Something Different made An Extra Bit Different Again, which really does make it enough to jettison all worries about style names out the window, so the tearing-your-hair-out which would otherwise ensue doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of your pint — let alone your entire day. It’s simultaneously rich but crisp and refreshingly sharp, and it’s coffee-ish but equally-bristling with hoppy zing. It is, in short, interesting. And I rate interestingness very highly indeed — it just accompanies tastiness so very well, don’t you think? Black Emperor was — as I said — a pleasant surprise in having both. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next.

Golden Ticket 'Black Emperor: NZ'
Diary II entry #77, Golden Ticket 'Black Emperor: NZ'

Verbatim: Golden Ticket ‘Black Emperor: NZ’ 22/3/11 on tap @ HZ 4.8% An interesting one, for a few reasons. Firstly, I like it. And hated their previous two. This NZ-hopped version is, I’m told, better than the original, so maybe they’re in a steep climb. And after all this Black IPA talk (I wrote up ‘Hop in the Dark’ last night), this is black pilsner. So the Spock-with-goatee lager-alternate-universe brother. Proper black, espresso bubbles. Big rich coffee flavour, nice fresh hoppy zing. It’s an interesting excerside in lager v ale, and the usual line basically holds up: the body is lighter, the finish shorter, the edges sharper.

1: Well, even if you won’t; it’s me that has the keys to this thing.
2: Currently, for recent entries, t≈13 days; I’m writing this up late at night on April 4 (by my reckoning).
3: I really should link to it, I know. But it’s stuck in that increasingly-tragic Not Uploaded Yet grey area that has befallen the latter half of Diary One.

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.

Wanaka ‘Brewski’

Wanaka 'Brewski'
Wanaka 'Brewski'

This must be the first bar-but-not-“beer-bar”-bar in the Diary for quite some time. Either I should get out more, or more places should stock more interesting beer. Or, you know, both.

I’d signed out of work early (ish, if I must relativise these things for you “normal” daytime people), and was trying my hardest to be the guy who drank the last of the wonderfully-odd Portamarillo. I nearly made it, honestly, but was convinced by my good friend Pieta that what I really needed was a night out and a bit of old-fashioned silliness. So Mighty Mighty beckoned, as it does.

People did look at me strangely when I set up to take this photo (the darkness necessitated my camera’s little tripod, which always increases the wtf-stares), but I’ve long since left behind the days when I’d feel weird about that. And the result was totally worth it, and not a bad effort after all that Portamarillo, if I do say so myself.

I’ve had ‘Brewski’ before, and I basically suspect it’s a “holiday beer” — something that people associate with enjoyable circumstances, which they then project into the thing itself. People do ask for it a lot, at work, and swear blind to its utter loveliness — but they do that about umpteen samey crisp little South East Asian lagers, and they do it for Fiji Bitter too, come to that. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; I’m a big advocate for keeping the ‘circumstantial’ side of beer enjoyment firmly in mind. I just think I’ll stick to having this stuff just when I’m actually in Wanaka. It was a bit too thin, and the one-note hop focus is oddly-chosen (they use Motueka hops alone in all of their three brews, apparently), so after finally Diarising this, I quickly switched to a Hop Rocker, to be honest.

That said, the brewery has reportedly been recently sold, so maybe we’ll see some more genuine interestingness and less mere-but-decent holidayishness soon.

Wanaka Beerworks 'Brewski' Pilsener
Diary II entry #55, Wanaka Beerworks 'Brewski' Pilsener

Verbatim: Wanaka Beerworks ‘Brewski’ Pilsener 12/1/11 4.8% 330ml $8 @ Mighty Mighty. An early night, in which I attempted to personally kill the Portamarillo, lead here, at the literally-dragging by Pieta. She’s having a Castlepoint, I’m having this. And terrified the Indie kids by taking a photo. I had this way back in actual-Wanaka, so why not repeat & Diarise. Well, mostly because the band is painfully “ironic”. The beer is oddly-funked, and very pale. I suspect it’s a holiday beer, fondly remembered for circumstance.

William Bull ‘Red Angus’ Pilsener

William Bull 'Red Angus' Pilsener
William Bull 'Red Angus' Pilsener

There is a particular joy in trying a beer you’ve never heard of before; you’re totally free from expectations. But that does also often give you a moment of extra pause, in case you ’embarrassingly’ wind up liking something that’s not well regarded. I try to resist that, though, since I prefer to emphasise subjectivity and situation as key bits of the beer-drinking experience.

Anyhow, this stuff was rather charming on a sunny day that I’d filled up with mooching in the sun and riding my bike. It was part of a small set of beers that my friend Glenn had luggaged over (as he’s done before, bless him) from Australia when he was in town for work. Despite being something of an Honorary Australian, it was totally unfamiliar to me, and I was pleasantly taken aback by first the odd name, then the somewhat-peculiar label — then the bloody-lovely hazy golden colour, after which followed an inviting-enough (fruity and slightly spicy) aroma, and finally a nicely rounded-out thirst quenching little lager. I still have no real idea how it’s perceived over in the Big Country, but I think it’s totally worth a go — interesting enough to stand apart, but not an excercise in foot-shooting difference for difference’s sake. The label certainly over-enthuses about how unique it is, but that’s a sad fact about marketing these days, more than anything else.

William Bull 'Red Angus' Pilsener
Diary II entry #38, William Bull 'Red Angus' Pilsener

Verbatim: William Bull ‘Red Angus’ Pilsener 30/11/10 at home, gift from Glenn — another mulement! 345ml 4.8% Very odd label, somehow, and a weird slogan: “pure grain fed beer”. 5 malted grains — taste and texture suggest we’re not only talking barley. Which does keep things interesting, but also lends a somewhat ‘homebrewy’ side. It’s a pleasant hazy straw gold; though the nose isn’t as “wild” as billed, the fruit + spice nudges are there. Certainly not bad, and interesting enough to be going on with. Meanwhile, it definitely seems that summer’s arrived. So this suits a day of mooching + biking very well.

Beer 101 Tasting Session

Beer 101 tasting session empties
Beer 101 tasting session empties

George (the gifter of the original Diary) organised a little tasting session at his house for a few friends of ours, with me playing the Informative Nerd. I’ll be the first to admit that I made them all run a bit of a marathon, but we hit most of the Big Styles, did some Interesting Comparisons, and had a whirlwind tour of the Long and Rambling History of Beer.

There’s a lot more variation in beer than there is in, say, wine or whisky, so a fairly zoomed-out overview can go a long way towards making people more ‘conversant’ in the basic styles, why they are what they are, how to figure out what they’re in for by looking at the bottle, and to help people discover what is (and isn’t) Their Thing.

I can’t help but notice, though, that I utterly failed to fulfil Jessie’s request / demand for a “super-awesome” Diary entry. I’m definitely more of an improvisational entertainer than an on-demand one — and that curry was seriously distracting. Especially after all that beer.

Verbatim: Beer 101 10/10/10 I have to write something super-awesome, says Jessie. No pressure. Tasting session & history lesson at George & Robyn’s, with Jessie + Simon + Pip. Great chance to get my nerd on, and evangelise to Robyn. We had: – Wigram Spruce Beer – Hoegaarden – Hofbräu Munchner Weisse – Köstritzer – Pilsner Urquell – Mussel Inn Golden Goose – Tuatara Porter – Invercargill Pitch Black – Emerson’s Bookbinder – Fuller’s IPA – Epic Pale Ale – Three Boys Golden Ale – Chimay Blue – Kriek Boon. And now, George + Pip have wrangled us a curry. Bloody marvellous.

Beer 101 tasting session empties
Beer 101 tasting session empties
Beer 101
Diary II entry #23.1, Beer 101
Beer 101
Diary II entry #23.2, Beer 101

Twisted Hop ‘Sauvin’ Pilsner (with Hallertau hops)

Well now. This was a rollercoaster ride.

Twisted Hop 'Sauvin' Pils on the Hopinator
Diary II entry #16.1, Twisted Hop 'Sauvin' Pils on the Hopinator

1) Kegs of Twisted Hop Pils arrive at work, and the people rejoice — I’ve said before that this stuff is a frontrunner candidate for All-Time All-Staff Favourite at work. 2) The Overboss announces his plan to run this through the Hopinator, overlooking at opportunity to just stick it on on a Friday night and likely blam through it in delicious short order — and the people get apprehensive. 3) It goes on, with the Hopinator loaded with Hallertau hops, and I try it shortly after. I certainly didn’t hate it, maybe because it reminded me of my beloved ‘Minimus’. Still, it seemed like it just would’ve been better as-is. Why mess with a Good Thing, especially with the Good Thing is that damn good?

Twisted Hop 'Sauvin' Pils on the Hopinator
Diary II entry #16.2, Twisted Hop 'Sauvin' Pils on the Hopinator

4) I try it again the next day. Which turns out to be enough time for the hops to really stew into the beer. And everything goes to hell, changing my mind about all the “it’s not great but” slightly-positive aspects. Instead, it’s now as if someone has presented you with a tea cosy made from the skin of your dead cat. It just reminds you of the cat, and makes you miss them — and, if push really came to absolute shove, you’d have thought there’d be better uses for a catskin, anyway.

I wondered if something lighter would’ve worked better (maybe white grapes, or the Sauvin hop itself?), but I think anything would have soon over-stewed and presented its own version of the Catskin Problem. Basically, taking a beer that is so remarkable and wonderful and lovely simply because it is such a deft touch of a thing and then ramming it full of some superfluous flavour is simply pants on head retarded.

Twisted Hop 'Sauvin' Pils, as is
Diary II entry #16.3, Twisted Hop 'Sauvin' Pils, as is

5) A week later, the next keg goes on, unmolested — and the people rejoice once more. Imagine… imagine if someone resurrected your dead cat. And then, they presented them to you in the morning, so you were still all groggy and confused, and initially assumed that you were just dreaming. But, no… there it is, just like you remember.

Harrington’s ‘Saddleback’

Harrington's 'Saddleback'
Harrington's 'Saddleback'

Given the nature of the place he runs, our Overboss can be a surprisingly… incurious drinker, sometimes. He’s very-much fond of what he’s fond of (i.e., American Pale Ale), and doesn’t seem to much wander into other fields. But hey, that does leave me (as resident Beer Nerd) with a fairly steady stream of samples to try, so no complaints.

Harrington’s make a broad range of beers, and they make them very well. They don’t often make anything whacked-out and loopy, preferring instead to make simpler, easy-drinking instances of various styles. We were a little weirded-out by the tasting note’s inclusion of a reference to “toffee” flavours, since that’s eerily close to a classic brewing fault — but I didn’t really think such was in there, anyway, except perhaps as a slightly growing sweetness in a beer that is generally crisp and light, with a cidery / winey feel to it. As much as I enjoy some crazypants in my beer sometimes, I also have a lot of time for things like this, and like Mussel Inn’s Golden Goose: simple, clean, quaffable lagers that should be rights be much more popular than the oddly-rank somehow-leading commercial examples.

Harrington's 'Saddleback' Lager
Diary II entry #12, Harrington's 'Saddleback' Lager

Verbatim: Harrington’s ‘Saddleback’ Lager 20/9/10 4% sample that Col. didn’t want. 500ml. We were weirded out by the ‘toffee’ note on the label; sounds oddly like a fault. But no matter, I don’t really think it’s in there. More crisp and light, with that borderline cidery / winey feel. Very slight build into a sweetness, maybe. But this happily joins the likes of Golden Goose and such; simple, clean + quaffable