Over the decade I’ve been taking handwritten notes of my beer-drinking experiences, I have inevitably developed an idiosyncratic Style Guide.1 Broadly — though there are exceptions early on as the pattern developed, and sporadically throughout as I either forgot my own practice or thought of some now-lost rationalisation for a variance in some particular case — it’s like this: beer names are all capitals in the pen-and-paper form for easier cross-referencing, but otherwise just regular Title Case, with single-quote marks around a beer’s name when it’s a name, in the proper noun sense rather than a style descriptor. So Epic Pale Ale, but Epic ‘Mayhem’, if you follow. But this one, the latest in Monteith’s white label Brewer’s Series,2 necessitated I reach for the double-barreled scarequotes instead.
Objectivity is hard to find — and usually not worth looking for — in the beer world (or any other sensory pursuit), but I think I can comfortably say that this is no American Pale Ale in any sane sense of those words. Beer writer Neil Miller got a freebie in the post3 and Tweeted that it’d come with a package of Citra hops. The obvious jab — “Hey Monteith’s, the hops go in the beer…” — swiftly ensued, but turned out truer than anyone could’ve known: the beer has damn-near zero aroma or hop flavour, and certainly none remotely in the ballpark that “A.P.A.” would entail and require. I was instantly put in mind of the pale ale in Lion’s ridiculous ‘Crafty Beggars’ range4 — both smelled more like an empty glass that had previously held beer than one which currently did. It was insipid, incredibly boring, and what extra flavour did manifest itself as it warmed up a little and I grudgingly proceeded down the glass was not the kind that was welcome. The 40 I.B.U. — “International Bitterness Units”, a doomed-but-useful way of trying to measure the palate-punch of hops — on the label implies a relatively easy-going pale ale, sure, but this was so insubstantial as to amount to a cruel joke.
Because the problem here is that this kind of massive mislabeling cuts both ways. It’s not just that beer nerds and brewers should feel affronted to see a venerable and popular style being so poorly aped, it’s that anyone who likes this could well be horribly surprised if ever they buy a true-to-style American Pale Ale. Everyone would be better served if this was marketed as Heineken Trading As Monteith’s Brand Fermented Product Number Sixteen, instead; as it is, no matter how much you know about the words on the label, you know nothing about the beer inside — and vice versa . That it comes from the same sprawling conglomerate who’ve long abused the term “India Pale Ale”5 on a sweet and caramelly brown lager, as well as selling a “Radler” that isn’t a Radler, should put them firmly On Notice. It could always be pure incompetence and ignorance — and we are supposed to presume cock-up before conspiracy — but it’s so consistent that it looks more like deliberate piss-taking and deception. It’s as if Tony Mercer, the putative head brewer, is channeling Tony Soprano, running around the style spectrum and trying to ruin people’s idea of what each variety of beer can really be — much like the latter drove all over Jersey to meet with all the best divorce attorneys just so his wife couldn’t hire them later. A company of this scale could be a properly-wonderful provider of accessible ‘gateway’ beer and fridge-friendly stuff for the masses however nerdy or not, but sadly they seem to prefer wallowing in nonsense and pretending to be all kinds of things they aren’t.
Original notes: Monteith’s “American Pale ” 18/3/14 @ home. 5.7% “40 IBU”, freebie from a retailer perhaps best left unnamed. I really want them to join the real world and start playing ball. They could be such great gateway providers. But no. They’re either taking the piss, or are just totally incompetent — or, I suppose, marketing is one and brewing is the other, each doing their share. This is damn near free of aroma. It’s like that Crafty Beggars Pale was. An empty glass. Bland, slightly buttery. Utterly boring, until it warms and worsens. Just horrible. That this is labeled “APA” is a problem for everyone. Are they Tony Soprano-ing all the beer styles?
1: “Decade”? Crap. I missed my own note-taking anniversary. Probably because I have the kind of memory issues that necessitate note-taking in the first place. “Inevitably” because the Diary started just after (my first round of) University finished. ↑ 2:Paging Dr. Freud, meanwhile. A “Brewer’s Series” does seem like a strangely-blunt admission that the main range is dictated more by the marketing and accounting departments, doesn’t it? ↑ 3: Almost certainly both because I am a notoriously grumpy bugger, and I am not a proper professional writer, I tend not to get sent samples. Indeed, a stickler in my own weird ways, I would (and have, on occasion) usually turn them down. Notable exceptions, though, are the bottle of Epic’s ‘One Trick Pony’ IPA that Luke Nicholas generously sent me on each version’s release (because I helped name the series), the couple of bottles Moa sent me (before I could get around to telling them not to; I’ll find a home for those soon…) — and this, which came from a bottle store who were somewhere between mystified and outraged by it, and wanted to share the experience around. ↑ 4: I hear a rumour that the Crafty Beggars brand has failed to meet expectations, and will be axed. The big breweries sure are fickle with their new ideas. Meanwhile, I am still happy calling the whole experiment “ridiculous”, with the proviso that the everything in its right place principle did render one of its members worthwhile on a very specific occasion. ↑ 5: Occasionally, you hear a minor defence of D.B. along the lines that they appended the “East” to IPA and thereby made up a nonsense new style and so technically aren’t bullshitting anyone. Sadly, that fails on two counts: “East India Pale Ale” really is the original style term, and D.B. explicitly (and very, very wrongly) link their product to the Usual History of IPA. ↑
In this, as in all things, context is king. Perfect circumstances can rescue the naffest of beers — and mismatchings of time and/or place could equally ruin the most otherwise-charming. Today, Wellingtonians were rightly beside themselves with the sheer loveliness of the weather out there, seizing upon this as the first real Saturday of the summer by pootling around in boats, sitting in the warm sunshine, or hurling themselves off a pier and into the still-actually-rather-brisk-now-you-mention-it harbour. Myself, I was gardening.1 My deeply-ingrained nocturnality is slowly and awkwardly (but painlessly enough) giving way and I’m becoming a little more ambitempstrous2 as I slowly discover worthwhile things about the daylight hours the Normals inhabit.
Meanwhile, there was a Crafty Beggars ‘Wheat As’ in my fridge, thanks to its — potentially ironic — inclusion in a little Thank You parcel the Brewers’ Guild gave me after I helped go over the Beer Writer Of The Year nominees earlier this year. Since I was hugely not a fan of it the first time I had it — as an inherently-underwhelming thing as well as because of its annoying halo of brandwank — I resolved to give this “bonus” bottle its best-possible go. A few hours of serious hack-and-slash dig-and-heave garden rehabilitation provided exactly the right opportunity to climb the goat-track to the Thinking Chair in the back corner of the property to take in the view,3 eat some delicious cheese, and have a beer.
And it was, I’ll cheerfully admit, fucking glorious; properly refreshing, flavourful but not distractingly so, it went gangbusters with the cheese (and its surroundings), and had the added benefit of being a sessionable four-point-zero percent. Given the price-point these things seemed to be pitched at — doubtless to serve as a bulwark against Independent / Asahi’s rather-aggressive (and successful!) attempt to carve out some market share — it could prove one of the bargain buys of the summer. If — always a crucial “if”, and always up to the individual — you can bring yourself to hand over your money to its producer.
If you’ll forgive the loose extrapolations from a single (but sublime) moment, this impossible-to-overstate element of context is a good part of the reason why I can never bring myself to push the “ratings” buttons in Untappd, and a strong element of my ongoing leeriness of beer awards. What would I be rating any particular beer against — my assumptions of what it was going to be like, its reputation, its “style” (defined by its marketing department, or someone more “objective”?), or how it fit the particular occasion, no matter how little thought I gave to my selection? And likewise, what hope can any number of potentially-bloody-marvellous beers have of being at their best in a little tasting glass, among scores of broadly-similar relatives, at a table full of weary judges?
I would happily stand up in any beer geek support group and say “Hi, my name is Phil Cook and, just the other day, I acutally bloody loved a Crafty Beggars ‘Wheat As'”. Hopefully, this is part of what separates the enthusiasts from the snobs. I won’t be rushing out to buy more — Lion aren’t in boycott territory,4 but I think there always plenty of more-deserving candidates for a dose of my meagre monies — but, in context, it was great. If you need me, I’ll be up in my Thinking Chair, mulling that over.
1: And then I hurled myself off a pier. ↑ 2: Apparently the actual word is “cathemeral”. ↑ 3: Caveats: 1) it’s a rental, not “mine” (nor even “my bank’s”) in the ownership sense, 2) there’s a seriously perilous goat-track to get to this spot; it’s not even vaguely representative of the rest of the place. I hope my Middle Class credentials are unsullied after you’ve seen my Harbour Views. ↑ 4: Unlike, you know, some people. ↑
The days are just packed. There’s a mixed-blessing over-abundance of wonderful beery stuff in my life at the moment; much of which I’d love to be writing about, but I’m finding — for the moment1 — it’s all jostled up in my brain and forming a bit of a tangle. This happens from time to time, I’ve found, and is attributable to various causes which range from the everyday to the idiosyncratic. Back when I was a bartender, ranting and raving, armed with a beer and a keyboard, in the middle of the night, it was easier to navigate — partially because it seems I really am a nocturnal person attempting (with various levels of success) to live a day-walking life. As much as I love it, and as much as off-the-cuff rambling (whether praise or condemnation) about beer flows as freely as exhaling, I have found myself in mildly-daunted bordering-on-freaking-out mode a few times,2 and thereby unusually quiet. Which doesn’t seem a very me thing to be at all, so enough of that. This online incarnation of my Diary actually started as a way to start my brain moving properly again — more about that, another day — so we’re hopefully back on a well-worn path.3
I met this beer last week, as we prepped for a Craft Beer College tasting (at which I was co-hosting — so, you know, disclosures) which included it as part of a run-down on the role of different malts in the making of craft beer. Graham Graeme Mahy, the man behind 666 Brewing,4 is one of those insufficiently-sung (if not actually “unsung”) characters in the local industry, and his beers reputedly never last long on Hashigo’s taps. ‘Black Se7en’ leaps bodily down that numerological well that brewers seem so attracted to, referencing not just the Pitt-Freeman movie wherein Kevin Spacey is the bad guy and there’s a severed head in a FedEx box,5 but 7 hops, 7 malts, 7% ABV and 77 IBU. It’s a little belabored, especially when you learn that “666” itself is a similar nod to Mahy’s June 1966 birthday, but the resulting beer is unarguably worthy.
I neglected to make any notes or take a photo of the glass I had on the night (since I was, you know, working), so I resolved to swing by Hashigo on my way to work the next day — which did mean committing to a pre-noon beer for the sake of these ramblings; the things I do in the name of research and completeness. It’d been yanked off the taps to clear the way for a Fresh Hop Friday tap takeover, but evidently I wasn’t alone in thinking it worth re-visiting, as Sam & Dave had emptied the line into a jug rather than down the drain. And — generally speaking, whatever the time of day — I do love a Black IPA, both as a consumable liquid and as an intellectual exercise. Beer styles are useful things, but reifying them and pretending they have any kind of actual independent existence and/or any real stability over time is just madness and likely to turn you into some kind of pedantic trainspotting anorak — and, worse, diminish your enjoyment of tasty things. “Black IPA” is almost singularly capable of doing some peoples’ heads in — and this is the one that finally got to me, with all its aggravating deliciousness.
Aggravating because this really does make a nonsense of the idea of a Black IPA. There’s a lot6 to be said / pondered / argued about the style (such as it is); what it should be called, what its defining characters are — and whether it exists at all, or deserves to. I’m perfectly happy with a world that contains both Hoppy Porter and Black IPA, and I’ve recently been convinced that “Cascadian Dark Ale” isn’t as daft a term as I initially thought. I like the Scrabble Bag Full Of Adjectives approach to beer style naming wherein brewers seem comfortable just throwing terms together in novel ways that are nonetheless capable of economically communicating their intent. Meanings evolve, concepts are recombined, and nothing is carved in stone. Beer is like that partially because language is like that.7 So I think there can be Hoppy Porter which isn’t Black IPA, and vice versa; I’d see it as a matter of emphasis, and starting point — which element you’re tweaking, which is your curveball adjective and which is your foundational noun. But ‘Black Se7en’ isn’t like that, it’s merely-black IPA, with a shameful lower-case b.
That’s because Black Se7en is apparently brewed with a surprisingly-contemptible product from Weyermann (a German malting company, and one of the world’s giant beer-ingredient providers) called “Sinamar®”. A dark roasted-malt extract, its sole reason for existing is to impart colour without a traceable hint of flavour. Brewers have some clever tricks for minimising the extract of roasty flavours from malt — like throwing it in the mash tun at the last minute as the wort is run off — but this just seems like a bridge too far. That it touts the avoidance of additive-listing regulations and compliance with the (god-damn motherfucking) Reinheitsgebot as advantages betrays the pointless sneakiness of it as mere food colouring. Why not release a whole freakin’ rainbow of Se7ens — what was the point of the blackness? Or is it some kind of very-devious post-modern meta-level commentary on the state of the “style”?
If you’re reading this, I’ve probably ruined your chance to run a fair test, but if you can put a glass in front of someone without telling them how it’s made, it’d be fascinating to see what they make of it, and whether they report any flavour notes that you’d expect from darker malts. They shouldn’t, given the design, but I couldn’t help second-guessing what the hell was going on in my brain as I drank it. Perception is like that, of course, but the interestingness of the exercise couldn’t quite soothe my outrage at the thought of all that effort going to jump through hoops for mere colour and compliance with a “Purity Law” for which there exist no sufficiently-large scare-quotes. It put me in mind of all the engineering effort poured in to making modern life, and particularly its gadgets, fit within ludicrously-strict readings of religious rules about the Sabbath. There’s a lot to admire in the ingenuity, and a certain charm in the mindset, but it just seems like a tragic misapplication of cleverness.
The beer’s damn good, though. And that calmed me right down.
Original notes: 666 Black Se7en IPA 3/5/13 @ Hashigo, on my way to work. Had this for a CBC tasting last night, and it’s motivatingly interesting + delicious. Actual, literal Black IPA, in instructive ways. Some influence of the gdmfing RHGB. (7%, leftovers for Fresh Hop Friday.) So weird that this should be so worthy but philosophically annoying-but-fascinating. It’s gorgeous, IPA-aromatic, satisfyingly bitter, too-drinkable for 7% (especially at breakfast!), balanced + damn good. But… but… Why black? Why?
1: Where “the moment” = the last few months, admittedly. Let’s go with deep time. ↑ 2: Particularly, I’ll freely admit for the sake of brain-clearing, with the editorship of The Pursuit of Hoppiness, which I inherited when Kate Jordan moved over to the Melb.. It’s a damn fine publication, and I’m excited to have a crack at it, but it’s been an oddly-intimidating thing to tackle, given its pedigree, its profile, and the fact that a whole bunch of people pour work into it. I’m very much accustomed to working on my own, in the dark. The transition’s proving tricky, but I’ll get there. (He says, as he hacks out a personal blog post for the sake of greasing the rusted cogs of his mind — and if you can’t air a mea culpa and a minor confessional in the footnotes of your own website, what the hell is the point of having one?) ↑ 3: An apt metaphor, since my other brain-cranking trick mostly involves hopping on my bike and going for a blat around some of Wellington’s many bays and up and over a few of its equally-many hills. The cycling-fanatic and craft-beer-nerd crossover is almost as strong, it turns out, as the beer-geek and geek-geek overlap which I’ve revelled in for years. ↑ 4: The website’s run-down of their beers is depressingly out of date, but experience shows that this happens with basically every brewery, there being way too many items forever on the To Do list — a point beautifully lampooned by the in-progress page for Panhead. Graham Mahy, however, earns all sorts of bonus points for using the word “plethora”, something I’ve loved since Three Amigos. He’s also apparently the true creator of Moa’s original beer, now known as ‘Methode’ — which further suggests that they can continue to fuck right off with their incessant suggestion that Josh Scott is “the brewer”. ↑ 5: Er, Spoiler Alert, I suppose. (Or maybe it’s a UPS box. I can’t recall.) ↑ 6: See — just for example and just from myself — the entries for Yeastie Boys ‘PKB’, Deschutes ‘Hop in the Dark’, Croucher ‘Patriot’, Golden Ticket ‘Black Emperor’, Funk Estate Black IPA (which seems to be my fullest exposition on the idea), and Left Coast ‘The Wedge’. Close reading of those will probably reveal me even contradicting myself in my take on the phenomenon, but that’s kind of my point. ↑ 7: In my favourite modern example, “peruse” is shifting from meaning reading thoroughly to mere browsing.a “Lager” comes from the German word for storing something away, but almost all modern lagers are brewed at breakneck speed. “Stout” was once an adjective appended to a subset of porters, but has come to be seen as a noun for a separate category; one of many kinds of non-porter ale. ↑ — a: In a brilliant coincidence, I found an article on the point which also references Three Amigos. 8: By which I mean two hundred and something, I think. I’ve got a stack of coasters and Post-Its and such to transcribe back in to the actual Diary, so I’ve somewhat lost count. ↑
It is, apparently, Brandwank Monsoon Season. At least I won’t suffer for material.1 As was spotted by the eagle eye of Dominic (from Hashigo Zake) some months ago in the Trademark Registry, “Crafty Beggars” is a new brand / imprint / stealth-fake-brewery2 from one half of the local duopoly, Lion. And these days, if you’re talking about them, you’re probably talking about Emerson’s,3 not this shit. I haven’t had my say about that bit of news, yet, it’s honestly been too vexing; I’m firmly in the middle on the issue, finding much of the positive and negative feedback to be Missing The Point. But more about that another time, inevitably. Suffice to say — for now — that if you, my dear hypothetical reader, still harboured hopes that Lion’s acquisition of Emerson’s was a sincere and honest investment in craft beer, this should give you pause.
“Someone should make a craft beer you can actually drink”, the bottle’s text declares as the raison d’être of this new range. Nine un-named brewers, going “rogue” from a parent company which also goes un-named, apparently felt that way and set out to make these “crafty, but not too crafty” beers. It’s an act of staggering dickishness and pointless absurdity, a petty swipe at a corner of the industry that Lion a) pretend to also occupy, already, and b) just acquired two large chunks of. The necessary implication is that Mac’s, Little Creatures and Emerson’s are either “not craft” or “not drinkable”. I phoned Lion, to ask which of those two options was now their official stance, and was handed around a little bit but eventually put in touch with their “Brand Manager, Craft” — though I still haven’t been given an answer… If you were a new operation, that tagline would token near-pathological arrogance, but here it’s weirdly worse.
Brandwank is one thing — a vile and detestable thing — but this kind of internally-incoherent brandwank is more annoying by an order of magnitude. How the fuck does no one in the company feel sufficient shame, when one business unit contradicts another, to pull the plug on a campaign like this? As I mentioned when deconstructing some nonsense from the other giant ultra-conglom in the local market, D.B., my favourite example was when Jim Beam was marketed with the slogan “If it ain’t Beam, it ain’t bourbon” and Maker’s Mark was touted by the same company as “the World’s finest bourbon”.4 It just seems so pathetic a trick, such a lazy failure of imagination, and it says nothing good about what they must think of their customers; that kind of half-assed deception seems to require believing them to be stupid or (against all evidence) completely disinterested in where things actually come from.
Last time I had some unkind things to say about a mega-brewery’s fake “little guy” offerings, I drew some criticism for not trying the beer first. Which baffled the hell out of me, since I was explicitly commenting on the marketing. Which is, you know, a separately-existing thing. But in the investigative spirit — which is very close, it turns out, to the morbid curiosity that causes humans to rubberneck on traffic accidents — I grabbed one of each, and I’ve had them here at home tonight.5 And they’re meh — which is me being as unjustifiably generous as it is me being abnormally monosyllabic.
(Meanwhile — in the later spirit of “fuck it, I should empty the Naughty Corner of my fridge while I’m at this” — while I’m writing, I’m polishing off my remaining bottles of those “Resident” beers from Boundary Road / Independent. And I haven’t changed my mind. They are, just as they were, technically competent — vastly moreso than most of the “Boundary” beers — and a recognisable echo of something that might’ve been a good idea before the cost-compromises involved in up-scaling a pilot batch bit hard, and before the beers were filtered to within an inch of their lives and probably robbed of much character. But they sure aren’t good, they sure aren’t special, and they sure as fuck weren’t worth the fuss, the wank and the insults to the local industry that they brought with them.)
Skepticism is just mandatory when three styles of beer appear in a range at precisely the same ABV, especially when that’s an usually-low number. All three “Crafty” beers are 4.0%, which should — given the vagaries of local excise tax rules — raise the suspicion that they’re aiming at a price point, rather than a flavour. I love sessionable beer with an inappropriate passion, but I do ask that the lower strength exist for reasons more to do with the brewer’s designs and the drinker’s plans for their evening, rather than it being dictated by a formula in some arcane spreadsheet. And so, speaking (as I parenthetically was) of the “Resident” beers, these seem to be targeting those, given that Boundary Road placed theirs at a looks-like-a-loss-leader price and proceeded to carve themselves out a sizable chunk of the sales statistics. It looks like Lion have conjured something to claw that back, perhaps after seeing sales of their Mac’s range take a hit. But then why make a drive-by implication that their other “craft” offerings are “undrinkable”? Who the fuck knows? (Also — as an addendum to the “Meanwhile”, above — I’m changing my mind. For their relative lack of flavour and character, these “Resident” beers are camped out on the border of being intolerably bitter.)
The “Crafty” pilsner, ‘Good as Gold’, was worryingly pale and anemic-looking; close to that Budweiser-esque piss-yellow you’d only call “straw gold” if you were being paid wodges of cash to do so. It put me in mind of my ‘Chosen One’ tasting session — but, mercifully, of the non-candidate dummy options like NZ Pure. And if that memory comes as a relief, we’re in dark times indeed. It didn’t stink of faults, sure — none of these beers did — but it just had a limp tinned-apple-flavoured-baby-food nose that definitely wasn’t appealing and sure as hell didn’t convey “pilsner”. ‘Wheat As’ was reassuringly hazy, given how often macro brewers wimp out and apply their ultra-fine nano-scale filters to seemingly everything, and did present some appropriate spice-and-citrus-peel notes. But Belgian-derived witbier-ish stuff hasn’t ever been my thing, so I don’t feel entirely qualified to rule it in or out. Given the two-and-some-bucks-a-bottle price point these seem to be landing at, it’s at least possible that this one represents a bargain — a deal with the inveterate shitbags in the Devil’s marketing division, perhaps, but all the same a bargain. And then the disappointingly un-punny / seemingly un-referential ‘Pale and Interesting’6 commits a devastating act of metaphor shear by pouring like Speight’s and making you realise that these are Speight’s 330ml bottles.7 It’s billed as a “smoother take” on a pale ale, which is always a worrying thing to hear from a mega-brewery, and presents as so watered- and dumbed-down that it — just like its inexcusably-bland cousin from the duopoly’s other half, Monteith’s IPA8 — smells like an empty glass that used to have beer in it, rather than a vessel which currently does. The “tinned fruit” aspect of the nose from the pilsner returned, only this time it was reminiscent of peaches — and even then only if they’d been unceremoniously disposed-of into a cardboard box.
In summary, these aren’t good. They aren’t fuck-awful, hurl-them-at-your-enemies bad, either — but that’s hardly worth praising, is it? Given the pitch, this horrible “craft but drinkable” bullshit they’re swaddled in, they’re an abject failure. They are neither recognisably craft, nor particularly drinkable. Basically every single member of the already-extant Mac’s range — with the possible exception of the new Shady Pale Ale, about which I hear plenty of terrible things — is head-and-shoulders better than these, and well worth the extra dollar.
But wait, what? Back to the pilsner, “Good as Gold”. That’s the name of a beer from the Coromandel Brewing Company, isn’t it? Here we go again, it seems, with the brandwank-engines of the Big Two churning in the absence of a connection to the Almighty Google. I called the design agency responsible for the “Crafty Beggars” work,9 and their Director told me that the beer names were their creation — but Lion obviously have final sign-off on these things, and someone should’ve known / should’ve checked / should’ve given five seconds’ thought to the possibility that someone might’ve found the same reference fitting. But no, here’s one of the Big Boys, charging around making bullshit claims left and right with no consideration of how it affects a) their other products, or b) anyone else’s.
This is why I can’t be optimistic about something like Lion’s acquisition of Emerson’s. These huge, sprawling, many-branded companies — like D.B., Lion and Independent — are shot-through with the wrong thinking, the wrong incentives, too many bad-habit-ed Suits, perverse internal competition, and are the kind of hydra-headed monsters with which it constantly proves impossible to reason. They, at the meta / corporate level, are the “rogues” in this business, and not in the lovable-and-rakish sense; these are proper loose cannons, capable of any damn wreckage, accidental or otherwise.
Verbatim: Crafty Beggars Range — ‘Good as Gold’, ‘Wheat As’, + ‘Pale and Interesting’ 20/11/12 @ home. This is Lion, pulling an epic dick move. Design blogs are all over it, but I just don’t get it. Naff as. All 4%, 330ml — in a Speight’s bottle, in fact. 1) Shockingly pale and clear — and the name was taken, guys… Reminds me of the Chosen One tasting. A can of tinned apple baby food. 2) Actually hazy! Proper adjunct flavours. Not my style, so hard to judge. 3) Looks like Speight’s. Same non-aroma as Monteith’s. Cardboard box, into which tinned pears were dumped.
1: Not that I ever do, of course, grotesquely-far behind in my notes as I am. But after we’re done here, we’re going to have to have words with the newly-appeared “Hancock & Co.” brand. Sheesh. 2: They’re not proud enough to say “a new beer from Lion” or “brewed by Lion”, but also not subtle enough to give the brand its own street address or 0800 number. That middle ground makes no sense. 3: Note for aliens / cave-dwellers / normal people: Lion recently purchased local craft beer legends Emerson’s. The jury is well-and-truly out on whether or not this is a Good Thing. 4: Funnily enough, they also didn’t get back to me when I contacted the parent company and asked them to pick which (if either) was true. 5: As often happens, I’m behind in the Diary in the additional sense of having lots of scraps of paper lying around with notes as-yet-untranscribed into the actual physical book itself. Tonight’s notes were therefore written up, as is common, on the back of a coaster (and photographed for ‘proof’, rather than scanned). Now I almost feel I owe the boys from ParrotDog an apology for soiling their merchandise so. 6: ‘Pale to the Chief’? ‘Pale and Hearty’? Surely there was scope for something. It’s just a bit of a drop off a thematic cliff after the other two. 7: Maybe they have a whole bunch spare now they’ve started selling Speight’s in “Imperial Pint” bottles, which are inadvisably labelled as such. Local laws which prohibit the use of non-metric measurements might be obsolete and stupid — and indeed they are — but they are still on the books. 8: Just look at the blurb on the tap badge. That should win an award for unjustified overstatement. 9: A very early Alarm Stage on the Brandwank Detector is triggered if, as here, a Google search for a new beer / brewery / brand returns oodles of write-ups of the design work before you can find anyone talking about the actual product. And I know this is largely a matter of unimpeachable aesthetics, but I just don’t see what the praise is about. This design is hugely boring. It’s the spending-money-to-look-poor nonsense of a thousand intolerable Trustafarian fuckheads. Yawn. The same agency’s work on Steinlager Purea is, I’d say, vastly superior in every way. — a: Though that product’s pitch also falls foul of this same “Crafty Beggars” problem, in that it implies worrying things about the other products from the company, just like Monteith’s Single Source did.
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.
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.
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.
It is, for some reason, traditional that here in Wellington trans-Tasman flights arrive Eastward around midnight and depart Westward just before sunrise. I suppose it makes its own kind of sense, but it does mandate some bleary-eyed mornings and lead to the occasional un-bookable blank evening if you’re excitably waiting for a plane to land. On this particular day, Emma was inbound for a holiday and I was parked up at Hashigo with her High School friend and former flatmate Joaquin — who, for reasons of pronunciation and my weird sense of humour, I simply refer to (not just in my notes) as “The Spaniard” — while we waited for the time to head to the airport to meet her late-night arrival.
My first beer, Croucher’s take on a Hoppy Red / India Red Ale, is apparently named after their two junior brewers — Dave and Dave — rather than anything, you know, boob-ish.1 It didn’t have the vibrantly glowing redness of Bright Brewery’s ‘Resistance Red’, instead appearing more like a somewhat-paler version of that hazy crimson in the prototype batch of 8 Wired’s ‘Tall Poppy’, which was a minor-league disappointment. Overall, the beer was enjoyable, for sure, with nicely fresh fruitiness about it — but I just couldn’t shake the oddness of a slightly minerally / flinty note. In addition to a slightly-too-thin body, I just kept being reminded of tonic water2 and became gripped by thoughts of an equally-red gin to go with it. Which is madness of a kind that I can’t entirely blame on the beer, certainly, though I should stress that I subscribe to the belief that gin is amazing — and so anything that puts it to my mind is work a look. ‘Double D’ tastes like a First Draft, but one that’s well on its way to its goal.
It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, and I found myself with time to spare, so I had another. And I spent some time struggling to figure out what to have next before noticing the ‘Apothecary’ Amber badge on the handpull right in front of my face. I’ve had a few Raindogs beers — including one during the podcast recorded between this Diary entry and the previous — and they’ve all been solid so far. This was no exception, and succeeded in being just the right beer for the moment. Perched on the handpull for the photo, it was appropriately “Amber”, but under the lights and sitting on the white Daily Menu it managed to seem redder than the intended red thing before it. It suited the (sparkler-ed) handpull really nicely, pouring with a smooth off-white head that made it look like a (widget-ed) Kilkenny, while tasting more like one from a neighbouring, much more exciting alternate universe than the stuff we’ve got here in our World. It was velvety and sessionable, with a really delicious burnt-toffee finishes that goes on for ages and ages. Or at least long enough to bide your time with, until you’re due at the airport.
Original Diary entry: Croucher ‘Double D’ 7/6/12 (6%, $11, 425ml) @ Hashigo with the Spaniard while Emma’s in the air. Hoppy red ale, but not sirenny like Bright’s. Hazy ruddy amber. Nicely odd nose + taste. Flinty? Like tonic water in that minerally fruitiness. Makes me want red gin, not that that’s a thing. And then a Raindogs ‘Apothecary’ Amber (4.9%, $8, 380ml) which is nearly as “red”. Lovely and smooth and easy, like Kilkenny from a non-boring alternate universe. Lovely burnt-toffee note and a long finish. Just what I wanted.
1: They’re obviously also going for the bra-size-pun, of course. But the fact that they do have two Daves on staff and the fact that they also drop a Dr. Seuss referenceentirely excuses the laddish humour — in this case — if you ask me. 2: Speaking (as I was) of 8 Wired, prototypes, red beers and tonic water — Søren’s experimental low-alcohol ‘Underwired’ had a similar note and a similar cast, so there might be something in the water chemistry or something about that red malt that kicks up that minerally taste, to me.
That right there is a real contender to win the Outstanding Achievement of Awesomeness in Tap Badge Design award.1 It’s fair to say the craft beer scene in our little nation punches well above its weight, but it’s worth also pausing to celebrate the easily-arguable notion we’re also rather spoiled in the design department.2 Beer’s a weird thing, art-assets-wise; it’s some peculiar mix of the bland, the offensively naff, the apparently-homemade, the fine-but-boring, the showy and overblown — with, at the top end, plenty of cleverly-done and extremely effective designs and occasional moments of pure freakin’ genius.3 Liberty’s main run is definitely of the clever-and-effective sort, and this comes from that final bracket of brilliance.
I’m a comic-book nerd from way back, and I just love how this takes the larger format of a pumpclip (compared to a tap badge) and crams the space full of a shambling horde of wonderfully classic-looking hideous beasts, who are familiar and yet not just copyright-infringingly lifted from somewhere else. If you were so inclined, you could stretch that into a nice metaphor for the beer itself, since — in this incarnation as the most-recent installment of Galbraith’s utterly-genius cask ale series — it’s assuringly recognisable and excitingly different at the same time. And you can enjoy that interplay from either direction, depending on whether your default position is closer to the world of handpulled pints in a nice quiet pub (making this nicely supercharged) or bigger and brasher U.S.-style hoppy pale ale (in which case, the low-carbonation delivery makes this one quite charmingly sedate).
The beer’s big, but it’s definitely a friendly giant — just like the brewer, if you were keen to needlessly pile on metaphors purely because they work. The booze is high — relative, particularly, to things usually served off the pump — and the hops are plentiful, but the way they’re put together makes the whole thing lush, fat and delicious. The fullness of it and the fruitiness of the flavours made me think of pineapple barley sugars — if such things exist; are the yellow ones intended to be pineapple? I can never quite tell — and it made for an incredibly satisfying pint on a lovely night at the pub. “Queen’s Birthday weekend”4 makes for a predictably-quieter-than-usual Friday evening in town and that, to me, is a marvellous thing. There was a veritable boatload of Liberty on tap in addition to this thing — which also existed in a cask-conditioned gravity-pour version, perched on the bartop.
I don’t have the kind of hyper-palate that found the cask and handpump versions massively different. That said, I only had a little sample of the former, which proved queue-inspiringly popular when it was tapped, though now I wish I’d taken the chance to side-by-side pints of the two. I was definitely at the bar in a celebratory rather than investigatory mood; my notes went largely neglected as I just enjoyed the company and the beer. The quieter-than-average night and the Liberty-packed taps upped the proportion of “beer people” in the room, and it was great — like an End-of-Week Bumper Edition of Tuesday’s long-standing Beer Geek Church. Jo seemed to be having a great time, and was definitely in fine form when George and I sat down with him (and Mike, from Tuatara) to record a podcast the next day.
The local craft beer community is fortunate to have Jo; he seems really generous with his time and his expertise (which includes wonderfully-minute details of brewing and engineering), and he’s possessed of a worryingly unique sense of humour. And the beer-drinking public is damn lucky to have his beers on the market. I can’t remember ever having one that seemed naff or wide of its target. There’s a very-credible rumour — though no official confirmation, yet — that there are soon to be much great numbers of Yakima Monsters roaming the world, with a vastly-more-voluminous contract brew coming up.
Yakima Monster was born, together with Yeastie Boys’ Motueka Monster, out of a nice little meta-competition run between their brewers alongside Malthouse’s long-running West Coast IPA Challenge. The two pit American- against locally-grown hops, and the latter has already been promoted to full-scaled production as ‘Digital IPA’.* That beer has a regular place in my cupboards and provided the perfect ‘occasion beer’ with which to mark my own nerdy observance of Alan Turing’s centenary. If I can readily stock my beer-stash with bottles of Yakima Monster, my house will be even more of a home.
* Correction, the next morning: As Joe (with an -e!) notes in the comments below, Digital IPA wasn’t originally Motueka Monster, it was Motueka Warrior — the Yeastie Boys half of their head-to-head from a different year’s IPA Challenge.
Original Diary entry: Liberty / Galbraith’s ‘Yakima Monster’ 1/6/12 6% on handpull, and a smidge from the cask on the bar, thanks to Steph. After a day in the Garage with Joe5 + Mike, now hanging with Hadyn6 + Narelle. Oodles of Liberty! It’s everywhere. So is Joe. This is lush. Not scary at all. Like pineapple barley sugars. Fat and delicious. Not a huge difference from the cask — just a little more apparent bitterness, maybe? It’s a quiet-ish evening (“Queen’s Birthday” weekend), but a lovely night at the pub. And suddenly there’s a Yakima Scarlet in front of me. Huzzah.
1: Which admittedly doesn’t yet exist, but should. 2: Thanks to the work of — among many others — Barry Hannah, Anton Hart, and the folks at Deflux. 3: Examples? Off the top of my head, per category: 1) The Peak beers or Stoke’s main range, 2) anything from Pumpclip Parade, and possibly things like Wanaka Beerworks’ ‘Lady’ and the Bennett’s beers, 3) Mussel Inn (though not, in that case, in a bad way; it suits them, charmingly-odd hippies that they are), 4) Sprig & Fern, maybe, 5) Moa, naturally — and 6) Three Boys, Renaissance, Yeastie Boys and Hallertau’s Main Range / Numbered Four, then 7) things like Garage Project’s ‘Day of the Dead’a and especially Hallertau’s ‘Heroic’ Range, i.e., the big 750ml bottles with the mock-classical relief art. I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I honestly think ‘Stuntman’ might just be the Best Beer Label Ever, Anywhere; it’s gorgeous, classy, and understatedly hilarious at the same time. — a: Again: disclosures, disclosures. 4: Scare-quotes made necessary by a) it not being the actual birthday of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and b) by me being the sort of Republican (in the philosophical / small-r / non-U.S. party political history sense) who’d rather not celebrate these things at all. 5: It wasn’t until I was writing up the podcast we recorded the next day that I checked around online and found that the preferred / consensus abbreviation for Joseph is, in this case, just “Jo”. 6:Hadyn’s got an uncommon-but-not-unheard-of spelling for his name, and I occasionally blank out on just how it goes. I’m rather pleased with the little trick I came up with, in my handwritten notes, to split the difference between my two best guesses.
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.
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.
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.
To re-cap, almost cretainly unnecessarily: beer has alcohol in it, alcohol is massively regulated and subject to substantial taxes, and the vast bulk of beer on the market is made by a few giant companies (themselves usually part of sprawling industry mega-conglomerations) and produced at a rather striking profit. The inevitable tensions ensue, and are knotted into a sticky tangle by politicians’ divided loyalties, a rather surprising level of ignorance about the relevant statistics and the strange ease with which humans can apparently be whipped into a moral panic about this stuff.
Towards the end of 2010, a review of the local liquor licensing laws has in full swing and this beer emerged as a relatively subtle incarnation of the recurring to-and-fro between the regulator and the regulated. The whole thing was still swinging this time last year, when I eventually decided I really should try the beer and stick it in The Book — and the debate hasn’t stopped yet, as these things usually possess a fair amount of inertia. The beer’s release wasn’t presented as anything topical, of course, but the veneer of bullshit that it was wrapped in was fairly transparent, to sufficiently-cynical eyes — in my own honest opinion, at least.
The official story — complete with websites, full-page newspaper ads, and a big-money TV / cinema advertising campaign — was that this was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of an iconic beer developed by Morton Coutts, who D.B. have taken to parading-around like some kind of inventor folk-hero.1Apparently, Arnold Nordmeyer’s 1958 “Black Budget” jacked up taxes (on imported beers) and Export Beer came to the rescue of the working man. Except that’s exactly the sort of tax change that local breweries (before they were absorbed into international conglomerations) would’ve lobbied for and the factory-blokes in the ad were unlikely to’ve been drinking imported beer in the first place.
So desperate were they to ‘land’ the story, they drenched it in typically-depressing ultra-gendered language and resorted to using clips of the 1951 Waterfront Lockout as if they were footage of popular uprisings against the alleged beer-and-fun tax. For the latter, they were given a tentative little smack by the Advertising Standards Authority — the former (i.e., the sexism) is still just business-as-usual, sadly — and forced to withdraw the ads a few weeks early. But I doubt they cared; this was never about the Export Beer: you just don’t celebrate a beer this hard when you’ve already given up on it, in favour of a watered-down version, nearly a quarter-century ago.2 If you were so fucking proud of this thing that you’d fanfare its 50th anniversary, wouldn’t you have let the product survive to see its thirtieth birthday? The brandwank drones on about the quote Export Family unquote, but carefully avoids mentioning how that family’s eldest member was quietly taken out to the woodshed, unmourned, in the late eighties.
The anti-government / anti-regulation tone of the whole campaign was laid on incredibly thick, with the narrator also getting in a “never trust a man who doesn’t drink” barb (Nordmeyer apparently didn’t) — and whole thing has a clankingly-awkward tension between its pro-working-class pretensions, the reality of it as a series of ads made by suits for hundreds of thousands of dollars,3 and its coming out of a company who also produce beers which pretend to be imported and are branded as “premium” this-or-that in an effort to spin them so they appeal to just the “toffs” who are so casually derided in this campaign.4 And all of that — the overblown manner, the nastiness, and the fundamental lack of any kind of logical coherence once you look too closely — tell you what this really was: politics. Parliamentary committees and commissions start to review liquor regulations, and someone who makes a metric butt-tonne of money selling booze engages in a little sabre-rattling and murmuring that they brought down a government once, and so could do it again. Predictable, almost boring, and faintly depressing — although, strangely mercifully, a bit of an ineffectual damp squib.
So just like the beer itself, I suppose.
Verbatim: DB ‘Export Beer’ 6/7/11 745ml Quart bottle 2pk ÷ 2 w/ Peter. 5.35%, amusingly. [Transcribed later, since I couldn’t find a black pen…] All sorts of ad-man nonsense, again. And since they actually missed the 50th they cite,5 I think Martin’s right. Incredibly pale yellow; between Bud & Molson. Likewise in taste. No faults, some trace of nice fruit in the middle. But very nothing-much.
1: Morton is no relation, it should be stressed, to local craft beer luminary Steph Coutts — she does seem occasionally nervous that people might assume a connection. And on D.B.’s recent heavy-handed use of the Coutts name, it’s worth pointing out that there’s something distinctly uncomfortable in the way that it’s all really ramped up in recent years since Morton died in 2004 and is no longer around to have his own say. I’ve heard enough conflicting second- and third-hand reports of things said by the man that it doesn’t seem straightforwardly obvious he’d be keen to see these recent uses of his name and likeness. 2: ‘Export Beer’ was replaced, in 1987, by ‘Export Gold’ and ‘Export Dry’. Both are lower in ABV than their predecessor — and the more-popular Export Gold significantly so at just 4%. Given the way excise tax on alcohol works in New Zealand (where stronger beers attract proportionally more of a levy), it’s hard not to see the downsizing of the beer as precisely the kind of number-crunching tax-policy-first decision making that they so gleefully pilloried Nordmeyer for. 3: Case in point: the ads are narrated from the point of view of Morton Coutts’ barber, a humble working-class dude who sympathises with the pub-going factory-worker chaps across the road. He’s about as folksy as he could possibly be without becoming literally nauseating — but (according to a write-up in the NBR) he’s voiced by Roger McDonnell, founding partner of Colenso BBDO, member of the TVNZ Board, and presumably a dweller in the toppest of top tax brackets. 4: This sort of tension is inevitable in giant conglomerated producers of the sort who talk about their products primarily as “brands”, and it never ceases to amuse my peculiar brain. I think my favourite was when Jim Beam was marketed with the “if it ain’t Beam, it ain’t bourbon” line and Maker’s Mark was bandied-about as “the World’s finest bourbon”. Since both are produced by the same people, I wrote to them and ask how exactly the fuck both statements could be true — and if one was just brandwank, would they at least tell me which? Unaccountably, I received no reply. 5: I initially thought they missed the anniversary, but it seems I was wrong about that — though they did cut things mighty fine, releasing this beer right at the end of 2000. As you can see from my Diary, I drank this around-about this time last year; stocks evidently lasted several months (hell, it might still be around; I’m not sure), and someone from D.B. had rather-misguidedly dropped off samples at the Malthouse. My bottle was one of those, since no one else was remotely likely to reach for it, and I’m capable of deriving different kinds of enjoyment from bland-but-brandwanky beer.
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.
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.
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.
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.