Tag Archives: from New Zealand

Funk Estate Launch / Black IPA

Funk Estate Black IPA
Funk Estate Black IPA

Tuesday, for the vast majority of four long years at the Malthouse, was my standing night off. Which is the kind of predictable-planning luxury that, in the bartending business, is quite a rarity indeed. They were originally granted so that I could go to pub trivia and eventually grew to include a fortnightly and shamelessly-nerdy Dungeons & Dragons night. And somewhere along then way, back when ParrotDog and Garage Project had their Official Launch Shindigs (and the latter went on to make recurring appearances with their 24/24 phase), Tuesday at Hashigo turned into Beer Geek Church.

They’ve kept something going each week for nearly a year now, and there’s always a good crowd of friendly beer nerds in attendance. And — just occasionally — there’s a colossal heaving throng of people, both nerdy and newb, crammed into every inch of available space, beery cheek by beardy jowl. The launch night of Funk Estate was definitively one of those, in the tradition of the aforementioned P.D. and G.P. premieres before it. Like those, this was the début of a new locally-based brewing operation,1 with the added magnetic effects of their main brewing-brain being a Hashigo bartender and a first-keg-goes-out-free launch policy, which shouldn’t ever be underestimated as a method for causing H. sapiens to congregate in dense numbers.

They’ve already got other brews fermenting / conditioning away, but this first release was an as-yet-unnamed Black IPA,2 picking up on a relatively-recent trend in craft brewing that’s only had a few touchdowns in New Zealand so far — notably in Yeastie Boys breakout single3 ‘Pot Kettle Black’ and Croucher’s ‘Patriot’. I’ve struggled (in a curious and nerdy way rather than one that caused any real stress) with this whole “Black IPA” lark, and whether it’s really a thing or if there’s any real reason not to just say hoppy porter, forgoing making up a new Capitalised Style Term in favour of just using an adjective. If anything, Funk’s beer was instructive — in that I think it’s the latter.

Maybe I’m being pedantic — that does sound like something I’d be — but I’d say that a Modified IPA needs some kind of aggressive / assertive hop presence, be it up the nose or on the palate (or, of course, both). There are mild IPAs, to be sure, but those aren’t the ones you’d be talking about were you to pick up the term and transplant it onto a hybrid style. You’d be better off referencing the classic, the archetype, the ur-IPA, when you plonk those three letters somewhere new. Shaun of the Dead deservedly labelled itself a “RomZomCom” because it had genuine romance, full-on zombies, and proper comedy — not vague flirtation, unspecified undead things somewhere in the background, and occasional subtle wordplay. Similarly, Braid is a ‘puzzle/platformer’ because it really is absolutely and full-throatedly both, at the same rewardingly mind-bending, joy-migraine-inducing time.4 So no matter how perfectly-hilarious the hero’s one-liner when he dispatches the villain, the movie’s not automatically transformed — by that alone — into an “Action Comedy”; likewise, no matter how deft your hop addition, your black beer doesn’t necessarily slot into the weirdly-shaped and still-forming “Black IPA” box.

If this wasn’t black, nothing about this would make you instantly reach for the IPA label, but there’s room for a hoppy-and-black thing to not be a “Black IPA”, and still be worthy and wonderful. And this was their first release, perhaps it fell short of the bitterness and punch they intended and maybe it’ll change — but ultimately I genuinely don’t care much for labels and taxonomy (as much as they’ll very-happily distract me a while). This was delicious; rich and sumptuous with metric oodles of chocolatey malt layered with fruity and gorgeous hop flavours. Launch night was a cracking success and I’ve had several tremendously-enjoyable pints around town since, often happily one after another. Shiggy (the aforementioned main brewing-brain) is a passionate and talented homebrewer and is sure to come up with some gems. The local market is increasing in population at a formidable rate, but it still doesn’t feel crowded or even very “herd-ish” at all; everyone’s doing their own thing, and there’s still plenty of room — though I am starting to wonder how soon I’ll need a third notebook.

Original Diary entry: Funk Estate Launch / Black IPA 22/5/12 @ a jam-packed Hashigo. Although I’m writing this much later, such was the jam-packed-ness. Parrot / Garage syndrome, plus buildup + bartender + free beer factors = people all up the stairs. The debut beer is a Black IPA, sufficiently far from the big boom that it doesn’t just seem an act of fashion. Here with Pete + Tim + George, crammed by the wall with no room for notes. The beer is delicious, rich + black with lovely fruity hop notes. But, if anything, not BIPA. Which is weirdly presumptive, for a non-thing, but maybe this is instructively “hoppy porter”. If it were non-black, it’d be closer to ESB — no hop punch or brutality. IPA — to me — need[s] some, whether up the nose or on the tongue. And this is heaps less roasty than PKB (confirmed in-between the tasting-and-writing, for this). But who gives a fuck about style? Not me, other than for positioning. It’s lovely, several-pints-able, and everyone’s having a grand old time.

A veritable throng at the Funk Estate Launch
A veritable throng of people at the Funk Estate Launch
Diary II entry #220.1, Funk Estate Launch / Black IPA
Diary II entry #220.1, Funk Estate Launch / Black IPA
Diary II entry #220.2, Funk Estate Launch / Black IPA
Diary II entry #220.2, Funk Estate Launch / Black IPA

1: Contract brewing, for now, at Aotearoa Brewery (home of the Mata beers)a and with what looks like a few side-batches on the go on the little (i.e., 200L) kit at Massey University. In the local scene at the moment, the “for now” in the previous sentence is pretty-much mandatory, given how frighteningly / surprisingly / inspiringly fast ParrotDog have made the jump to a concrete-and-steelb brewery of their own. Denise Garland, having returned to blogging a little while ago, wrote a great little backgrounder on Funk Estate and also filed a report from Launch Night.
— a: Weirdly, I’ve never enjoyed a Mata beer, though I’ve now enjoyed plural beers to be contract-brewed on their kit. Their own range, in my experience, has always fallen foul of naffness or faultiness. Or, unforgiveably, both. And I know I’m always quick to whine about marketing, but theirs also has an off-puttingly clunky, fudge-and-booties at the market kind of air about it, somehow — with a genuinely awkward sideline of gender politics: a giant banner on their website currently blares “Truth Be Told / Mata Ales & Lager / Passionately Brewed & Handcrafted / By A Woman”, in an apparent collision between buzzword-marketing and some kind of broken haiku.
— b: I’ve learned, with my recent high doses of in-brewery time, that the traditional English idiom “bricks and mortar” (to denote a proper physical thing in business terms) is massively outmoded.
2: ‘Blaxploitation’ was floated as a suggestion by several people — including myself, I believe — which does seem to fit the branding and the beer, although I can’t help but wonder whether four boys of European and Asian descent will ever run into strife with that aesthetic.
3: Given the multitude of musical references in Yeastie Boys beer names, it’s hard not to make an analogy in kind; and it really does fit nicely with their yearly ‘remixes’ and re-imaginings. It wasn’t their first release, but you could think of it as the first recorded single of a buddingly-famous live-jam band (since it was the first of their range to be regularly bottled), and it was certainly the first to emerge into very-many peoples’ attention with its stunning success at Beervana, like Elbow’s ‘Seldom Seen Kid’c winning the Mercury Prize in 2008 after they’d been making albums for years.
— c: Which, probably-not-coincidentally, I’m listening to right now. I should see if I have any funk.
4: I’m probably safe in assuming most of you have seen Shaun. To those likely-very-many of you who’ve never played Braid: seriously, try it. It’s a stunning piece of work, and will ruin your brain in tremendously enjoyable ways — imagine if Darren Aronofsky had made Super Mario Bros..

Yeastie Boys ‘Gunnamatta’

A later / right-now / not-long-ago bottle of Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamatta'
A later / right-now / not-long-ago bottle of Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamatta'

It’s rather fitting that, now I’ve finally finished uploading my GABS Weekend notes, I actually have a proper Diary entry for the beer that started my trip. At the preposterously unfortunate time of four-thirty in the morning — around-about when I’d usually be contemplating going to bed — I arrived at the airport, after two hours’ sleep, a deficit from which I never really recovered1 until I slept most of the Tuesday After. But what kept me going, other than caffeine and giddy geeky excitement, was this.

Jos (from Garage Project) had a cheeky little unlabelled 330ml sample bottle,2 and we3 split it — in those appalling, bleary-eyed and boring interminable moments between the ferociously early check-in times they impose and the actual get-going time — just to set the weekend rolling in style. In low-brow, from-the-bottle, borderline problem-drinking style, but style nonetheless. It tasted fairly seriously promising, went on to be a huge hit at GABS (winning their People’s Choice vote), and left me with a powerful urge for more.

And when I got back to Wellington, it was on tap at Little Beer Quarter, so I popped in for — what turned out to be — several. But my photos from the night were a little sub-par, owing both to enjoyably distracting company and LBQ’s eye-friendly but camera-testing lighting. So I’m having another one right now,4 since I needed another photo (such sacrifices I make), since I can buy one at Staff Price from Hashigo now (and it nicely matches the slightly tea-housey decor and paired admirably with my noodles), but mostly on account of it being fundamentally utterly fucking gorgeously delicious.

Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamatta', LBQ tap badge
Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamatta' tap badge at Little Beer Quarter

It’s “Earl Grey IPA”, made with the Blue Flower variety from a local company, and it’s really rather astonishing that it doesn’t seem to’ve been done much / at all before. I’ve had a few green tea IPAs, but I’m a black tea guy through and through, myself. There’s the germ of an idea in the back of my head — the [redacted] secret I allude to in my notes — of how to use a (‘proper’) black tea in a beer, but this wasn’t it; this is just one of those style-bending strokes of genius that it’d be unfair of us to come to expect from Yeastie Boys, but which they seem to be able to pull off with uncanny grace and ease.

The citrussy aroma and hop bitterness of the IPA base go perfectly with the likewise (bergamot orange) fruit flavour and tannic edge of the tea. In hindsight, it seems blindingly obvious; the profiles of the two things are so similar and simultaneously so different in a way that succeeds spectacularly well. And the bait-and-switch of it makes for charmingly confusing drinking, as the flavours settle down after each sip and lull you into forgetting about the additional (delightful) weirdness that successive tastes deliver — at least until that tannic feel builds up and/or you find yourself having distinctly different kinds of burp. Alice is also right on the money when she pointed out (with her own sneaky-preview bottle) that the dryness of it really helps; all that fruit flavour and that not-insubstantial strength could’ve quickly gotten teeth-furryingly sweet. With typical cunning and knack, Stu and Sam and Steve avoided that and just melded two independently-wonderful things into one happy marriage. It’s marvellous stuff.

All that, and it’s a lovely liquid tribute to Australian songwriting legend Paul Kelly, named in particular for a track of purely blissful, reverb-soaked, salty and twang-tastic surf rock (itself, in turn, a reference to a break off Mornington Peninsula in Victoria). And if you’re tired of surf rock, you might just be tired of life.

Original Diary entry: Yeastie Boys ‘Gunnamatta’ 16/5/12 @ LBQ’s BGW 6.66%, apparently. This is my second go — I missed it at GABS — after a cheeky bottle shared at the airport on Friday. Paler than yer usual IPA, clear and positively honking with the blue-flower Earl Grey. Not a subtle adjunct, but one that fits stupidly well. Unexpectedly completely transforms the burps. Weird this hasn’t been done more often; the citrus, oily + bitter flavours are made for each other, really. I really want to try my [Trade Secret Redacted],5 now.

Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamatta', label blurb
Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamatta', label blurb (feat. Paul Kelly)
Diary II entry #219.1, Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamatta'
Diary II entry #219.1, Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamatta'
Diary II entry #219.2, Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamatta'
Diary II entry #219.2, Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamatta'

1: And about which I haven’t yet stopped whingeing, evidently.
2: Having a taste several hours before the doors of the Exhibition Building were due to open and unleash GABS upon the world (or the beer-people of this corner of it, at least) was a bit of an extra thrill since all the festival’s beers were supposed to be embargoed until the curtain went up. Several breweries jumped the gun, for reasons best known to themselves. Most that I knew about were at the definitely-forgivable end of the spectrum; little single-keg sneak-peeks in a single bar, almost just testing the waters. Some, notably Tuatara, had more full-on pre-GABS launches but had the decency to mask things (somewhat) by using different names for the same beer in different circumstances. The real sore thumb was Epic’s ‘Zythos’, which — although, let me stress, a fucking lovely beer — had been ubiquitously available long before I even owned a plane ticket to Melbourne. I’ve no idea why they did that, but it wasn’t uncommon to hear a GABS-attending geek declare themselves “done” when they’d had 56/60 of the beers from the Big Board; three weren’t available (through various freight disasters and the like) and the other one was Zythos, which was ‘everywhere and not worth worrying about’.
— a: Updated later, 11 July 2012, to add: I’ve since heard it explained (from inside Tuatara) that there was some kind of misunderstanding between the production side and their Australian distributor, which lead them to (inadvertently) break the embargo. Which does help the situation somewhat, but is certainly the sort of thing that the brewery should’ve been more active in explaining — especially as they geared up to release a slightly different beer here in New Zealand under the same name as their GABS entry.
3: i.e., Garage Project’s Jos & Pete, Hashigo Zake’s Dom & Dave, and meb — united as we were in both GABS-attendence and in holding tickets on the very same flight over to Melbourne.
— b: Then still-unemployed but now employed by both aforementioned companies, coincidentally.
4: Well, I was when I started. Then I realised that I didn’t have all the photos I needed on my server already so couldn’t get it all done remotely, from the pub. So I came home and, unable to resist the logic of it (coupled, especially, with the seasonal coldness of my house at the moment), I fixed myself a pot of Earl Grey tea. And then, rather brilliantly and while writing this very footnote, I received word from much-warmer Sydney that Emma’s just about to crack the bottle she took home after her recent Wellington holiday.c So it seems I’ve sunk so much karmic investment into the idea of “occasion beer” that now the universe conspires to have them happen around me, entirely unbidden.
— c: She’s not usually a black tea person, but is rating it very highly — pleasantly surprised that it really does taste like tea, and comparing it (very favourably) to a “white Earl Grey” tea she recently found.
5: Back in the early days of uploading my Diary entries, I stumbled upon an old note with a bit of a story that wasn’t really suitable for public consumption. The transition from private notebook to ease an addled memory to something visible on the internets — to several tens of people — is still a weird one for me to think about; only about half the entries are written with the eventual scanning-and-publishing present in my mind at all. (GABS probably kept me thinking about it, in this case.)

GABS Glass #1: Garage Project ‘Double Day of the Dead’

Garage Project 'Double Day of the Dead'
Garage Project 'Double Day of the Dead'

At GABS, I was understudy for Local Taphouse’s Guy Greenstone, who was set to host ‘Beerista’ introductory tasting sessions at the ‘Craft Beer College’ series of free seminars running at the festival. He had a run-in with pneumonia, but was looking hearty during Friday’s Session One, so I seemed to be in the clear. Until about ten minutes before showtime. I was called in, hurried upstairs — from the front door, where I’d been head-counting for the security guys — and stumbled through (well, it seemed to me; apparently it went fine) a fun little chat about on How To Taste A Beer And Thereafter Ramble A Bit About It — with much-appreciated help from Pete Mitcham. Tremendous fun, in the end, but a bit hectic and nerve-wracking on short notice and (as I keep pleading, I know) little sleep.

So: a beer. A proper glass thereof, no mere tasting paddle would do. And no other beer made as much immediate sense as Garage Project’s ‘Double Day of the Dead’ — the miraculous resurrection / version 2.0 / GABS 2012 Special Edition Reprint of ‘Day of the Dead’my favourite beer of 2011. Weirdly, given the tactical shift I made just recently, this also amounts to my first-ever actual Diary entry here online for a Garage Project beer. Which feels very odd given how often I bang on about them in the podcasts (one of which was recorded with them, in their actual garage)1 and how very-many of their beers are waiting in my notebook ready to be uploaded (soon — ish), but these are the consequences of falling way behind in my rambling.

The beer, like its first edition, is a strong (and moreso, second time out) black lager, made with cocoa, agave syrup (i.e., the precursor to Tequila), and smoked chipotle chili. I vaguely recall something being mentioned about a dose of vanilla, too, for this batch — but I have a notoriously crappy memory. It’s got a lot going on, but all the components get along harmoniously and feel like they’re there for a reason. Despite a somewhat-similar shape but a briefer bill of adjuncts, it feels quite a lot more purposeful than Resolute’s ‘Zaragoza’, for example. The booze and the chili add a comforting-but-confronting warmth, the agave (with the vanilla, if I didn’t just hallunicate its mention) seems to smooth out the base nicely, and the cocoa has the wonderfully dusty quality of the tiny little shards of smashed hollow Easter chocolate. It’s fantastic, and was just exactly what I needed.

GABS bought a lot of each beer — running back-of-the-envelope calculations on what the event must’ve involved, money-wise, damn-near did my head in earlier today — and must’ve taken the entire run of many beers that appeared. Not quite so with this one, I was able to tell those jealous Wellingtonians who could only live their Spectapular through me and my all-day Twitter ramblings. There’s a small amount stashed aside and we’ll probably see some of it around town soon. And hopefully some more a few months’ from now, for the Día de los Muertos itself — after it spends the intervening time on holiday in a bourbon barrel. Which is a pretty fucking exciting prospect, if you ask me.

And as I mention in my notes, a proper-glass at GABS was a little on the steep side, price-wise — this was a relative bargain, at $10 worth of tokens, roundabout in the middle of a $6 to $16 range2 — but that’s probably inevitable, given the nature of the event as one stocked almost-entirely with one-off brews. Plus, it pays to remember, that’s me writing as someone a) presently unemployed, b) spending New Zealand dollars in Australia with a non-delightful exchange rate, and additionally c) a person who earnt those slightly-limp New Zealand dollars on criminally-underpaid bartender wages.

Original Diary entry: GABS Glass #1: Garage Project ‘Double Day of the Dead’ 11/5/12 Reward for crash-replacing the host of Beerista. Proper glasses are crazyexpensive, though I can see why. Two notches up in strength, and I can tell: a little booze-heat evident before the chili heat. Cocoa — upgraded to Whittaker’s — is lovely and dusty in that weird way I like. Still nicely balanced and well-assembled, given its many adjuncts. (A dash of vanilla this year, I think they said.) A worthy resurrection.

Diary II entry #213.1, GABS Glass #1 - Garage Project 'Double Day of the Dead'
Diary II entry #213.1, GABS Glass #1 - Garage Project 'Double Day of the Dead'
Diary II entry #213.2, GABS Glass #1 - Garage Project 'Double Day of the Dead'
Diary II entry #213.2, GABS Glass #1 - Garage Project 'Double Day of the Dead'
Garage Project 'Double Day of the Dead', with mask
Garage Project 'Double Day of the Dead', with one of many, many masks3

1: When it was incredibly empty, in hindsight. There was a big comfy couch where the brewhouse now stands and barely enough spare space to swing a proverbial cat. It’s been replaced by all sorts of lovely shiny stainless steel.
2: The low end was populated by a surprisingly-varied collection of beers not necessarily united in gentler strength or simpler-looking recipes whereas the high end of the territory was held by Renaissance’s Oak-aged edition of their much-loved and marvellous ‘Stonecutter’. Despite the high price, I kept hearing good things about it from various visitors — and the GABS organisers did make the wise and simplifying move of making all tasters one token, whatever the price of their full glass.
3: With apologies for the considerably crappier camera in my phone, not the ultra-lovely one I always have in my bag. I suppose I was just enjoying my beer to much, and didn’t think to re-take the shot with the mask, after snapping that image for the Twitters.

GABS Paddle #1: Everything ≤ 4.5% ABV

Tasting Paddle #1
Tasting Paddle #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resolute ‘Zaragoza’ Molé Stout

Resolute 'Zaragoza' Molé Stout
Resolute 'Zaragoza' Molé Stout, twice

Last week was massively distracted, in my brain and many others, by the run-up to GABS and Good Beer Week in Melbourne — but it (i.e., the week) still found time for the (North Island) launch of a new contract brewer in the local scene, Resolute Brewing. Well, for a given value of “new”, at least, since it’s the work of Nathan Crabbe, formerly part of contract-brewing operation Golden Ticket. He’d departed that gig for a job brewing at Harringtons but evidently had a relapse of the do-your-own-thing itch and is back in the game as Resolute.1

He pitched his Beer #1 as a ‘Molé Stout’, inspired by — and brewed with many/most of the same ingredients as — a traditional Mexican mole poblano sauce, namely chocolate, chili and (very many) various spices. Which immediately puts me in mind of last year’s beloved ‘Day of the Dead’ from Garage Project,2 but they’re very different beers, despite their rather-similar initial impressions. Surprisingly light (in both colour and alcoholic weight — the latter not quite as intended, I was told), Zaragoza was definitely promising and well put-together, especially considering its two-dozen-odd ingredients — they weren’t fighting like angry cats in a bag, though they weren’t making much noise of whatever attention-grabbing kind, come to that. Subtlety is no bad thing at all, but it was a little unexpected in this case. To me, it massively suited warming up rather a lot and developed into something like the (friendly) ghostly apparition of an astonishingly decadent chocolate brownie — all the flavour, none of the stodge. If anything, it could use more meat on its bones, but it wasn’t worryingly thin.

Resolute and Golden Ticket, side by side
Resolute and Golden Ticket, side by side

Golden Ticket, meanwhile, has continued in the hands of Nathan’s former business partner Ally McGilvray and has been making some lovely beers — like ‘Black Emperor’ (a “black pilsner”) and ‘Champion Malky’ (a characterful golden ale) — one of which was on handpull right beside this one, fittingly enough. I’d had two pints of Zaragoza and realised I had time for another half of something before I had to head off, and was unable to resist the fittingness of the two beers side by side and one after another. I also got that photo of the badges together — Hashigo’s difficult lighting mandated using my camera’s HDR trickery and the multiple exposures made Dylan’s photobomb ghostly and spectacular. ‘Brown Marvel’ is a charmingly quaffable take on an American Brown, a nicely balanced mix of a little malty roast and a little fruit hop. And as if to underscore the surprising lightness of Zaragoza, this “brown” seemed a shade or two darker in the glass than the stout which came before it.

Original Diary entry: Resolute ‘Zaragoza’ Stout 8/5/12 @ HZ for BGC,3 its North Island launch. R is Nathan, formerly of Golden Ticket, then Harringtons, then on his own again. Brewed at the resurrected Twisted Hop, which is neat. I’m not enough of a foodie to know much about Molé, but chili-choc is the general idea. Only 4.5% (intended to be %5-ish), and very-brown, not black. Surprising lightness of body isn’t bad, but I was keen for some stodge. Tastes very brownie, but with utterly un-brownie texture. Hints of vanilla emerge (whether from actual vanilla or not). Chili isn’t of the hot kind at all. This isn’t a patch on DOTD, but it’s equally not at all bad and a promising start. — Then, appropriately, Golden Ticket ‘Brown Marvel’ (5.5%, $8, 380ml) Which is, oddly, darker. Pleasantly easy-going. Suits handpull. A little roast, and a little fruity hop.

Golden Ticket 'Brown Marvel'
Golden Ticket 'Brown Marvel'
Hashigo's Daily Menu, Resolute-ified
Hashigo's Daily Menu, Resolute-ified
Diary II entry #211, Resolute 'Zaragoza'
Diary II entry #211, Resolute 'Zaragoza'

1: There’s no real suggestion of a falling-out, or at least none that I’ve picked up on. It just seems to be the case — and fair enough — that since Golden Ticket had, by now, put out more beers without Nathan that it had done with him it’s become Ally’s thing.
2: My favourite beer of 2011, a black lager with cocoa, chili and agave syrup — which was also launched with appropriate timing, having its debut on the actual Dia De Los Muertos, November 1. ‘Zaragoza’, equally fittingly, made its first-first appearance on Cinco de Mayo.
3: I habitually refer to Hashigo’s ‘New Release Tuesday’ as “#BeerGeekChurch”. They became ‘a thing’ with the Garage Project’s 24/24 phase, and have continued since. There is always a decent crowd of lovely beer nerds to hang out with; it’s a brilliant part of the week.

The ‘Chosen One’ Choosing

Choosing the 'Chosen One', blind
Choosing the 'Chosen One', blind(ish)

‘Boundary Road Brewery’ needs scare-quotes around it, because it’s not properly a thing. It’s a sub-brand of Independent Liquor, who were recently acquired by Japanese supergiant Asahi, and they’re trying to position themselves as a “craft brewer” alongside the pseudo-craft imprints of D.B. and Lion (i.e., Monteith’s and Mac’s)1 and elbow their way into New Zealand’s long-standing mainstream duopoly. Part of their launch campaign was to open one of their beers up for a bit of a public beta. The ‘Chosen One’ would exist in three possible variants, which they’d maybe send you (and 998 others) if you answered a quiz correctly, then you could vote and the favourite would go into full production. Not, I have to say, an inherently terrible idea — think of it, generously, as an idiot’s version of the Garage Project ‘24/24’ phase.

My friend Martin Craig — of the lamentably-now-parked NZ Beer Blog — somehow became taster #999+, side-stepping the quiz and just getting an ‘Official Beer Tasters’ Pack’ in the post, unrequested, and he hit upon the idea of a blind-ish tasting. We’d try the three candidates, with two other Independent-brewed mainstream pale lagers, and throw in a control: Mussel Inn ‘Golden Goose’, something of a darling of the local scene, sentimental favourite and — let’s say — the Thinking Drinker’s golden lager.

'The Chosen One', tasting pack
'The Chosen One', tasting pack

I’ve done a few rather-official blind beer tastings2 over the last year and I’ve had a bucket of fun and learnt a whole pile of learnable things, but I just can’t shake the oddness of them. Time and again, I’d be sitting there, attempting to fairly judge something on a several-point scale, and stuck wanting to know what the beer said about itself before really feeling I could say much about it.3 It’s probably down to my history as a bartender, that ‘consumer’-ish focus, and it’s difficult for me to shake. (And I suppose I don’t think it should be shaken.)

Blind tastings are good for many things, and they excel at one thing in particular: fault detection — the technical merits (or lack thereof) can leap out of a sampling glass, when you don’t know what you’re getting and your loyalties and sympathies are all quieted. But this? This was an ordeal. It wasn’t entirely blind — we knew what our six beers would be, but they were shuffled and properly anonymised, at least — but it was a cavalcade of awfulness. Perhaps this was karmic payback for my All-the-Trappists tasting last year; this was The Crappest Dance Card, if you like.

Mercifully, Golden Goose stuck out like a sore thumb. Or rather, it stuck out like the only non-injured digit on an otherwise horrificially-mangled and apparently-diseased hand. I was briefly worried that it wouldn’t, that my fondness for it would prove more imagined and circumstantial than real or deserved. But no. All five Independent beers were awful, stuck in that truly tragic territory were more flavourlessness would be an asset, so highly did they stink of faults. On balance, the potential ‘Chosens’ were worse than their existing stable-mates, which didn’t bode well for Independent’s ‘craft’ excursion — and nothing I’ve tried of theirs, since, gives me reason to hope otherwise — and absolutely nothing about them gave the impression of a genuine attempt to market-test three different ideas.

Boundary Road 'interview' (DrinksBiz, Feb-Mar 2012)
Interview with Ben Shaw, Boundary Road's marketing manager

It’s brandwank all over again, I’m afraid. There’s nothing sincere about any of this, it seems. “Craft” here is a cloak, a gimmick, and potentially an unfortunate thing for those of us with a love of actual craft beer — if Joe Public is finally moved to see what “this craft beer stuff” is all about and he picks up some Boundary Road, I couldn’t blame him for being scared off (or at best just underwhelmed). Independent Liquor make under-license local clones of famous foreign names like Carlsberg and Kingfisher, an act of brand-first wankery of the highest order, and they make a dizzying variety of RTDs, some of which come in a three-litre box, for fuck’s sake. If your portfolio includes both of those things, then I submit you are an Industrial Alcoholic Beverages Manufacturer. You just aren’t within shouting distance of being a “craft brewer”.4

It’s all so boringly predictable, too. Geography, for example, seems to be a weak point (or at least a strange obsession) when the brandwankers attempt to dress up mass-market industrial lager as ‘craft’. While Monteith’s (or their ad agency) couldn’t quite figure out how to work their GPS, and Boundary Road / Independent seem to have trouble looking at a map — or out their window. The bumf keeps insisting that they’re “nestled in the foothills of the Hunua Ranges”, but no; they’re in an industrial park no more than two kilometres from State Highway One, in the Southern outskirts of Auckland. Google Maps is hardly a secret spycraft gizmo, so that sort of myth-making is just insulting and pointless. But they just can’t help themselves.

With Asahi-money behind them, ‘Boundary Road’ are going to make a real run at the New Zealand market — and are doing fairly well, sales-wise, from what I can gather. But it’s just so cynical and fundamentally crap that I just can’t cheer them on even when they give the Current Big Two a fright or a poke in the ribs; they’re not on “our side”, and they’ll be perfectly happy as one member of a Future Big Three if they can swing it. They’re demonstrating more of the same zero-sum thinking as the mainstream guys always do, rather than the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats market-growing outlook that is so characteristic of the actually-craft sector — on a good day.

Original Diary entry: ‘Chosen One’ Choosing 28/6/11 with Martin @ MH. #1: Slightly hazy. All others clear. Colours all damn close. Straw nose. Big feel. Bitterness evident. #2 Brings grimness to the nose. Much thinner. More metal? Coarse bubbles. #3 Less grim, but not pleasantly straw like 1. More metal in the nose. Tinned fruit. Middling body. More to it than 2, but not all in good ways. #4 Stinks. Fumes, eggs. Sour in the face. Thin. Cardboard. Hoping it’s the older one… #5 Half the nose of 4. Something wrong in the flavour. Thin, too. #6 Head retention strikingly ok. Sugary sweet. Oddly unnatural. Sweet apple.

Unblinding: #1: Golden Goose, #2: ‘A’, #3: NZ Pure, #4: ‘C’, #5: Frontier, #6: ‘B’.

'The Chosen One', instructions
'The Chosen One', instructions
The Chosen One Choosing
Diary II entry #117.1, The Chosen One Choosing
The Chosen One Choosing
Diary II entry #117.2, The Chosen One Choosing

1: I almost feel bad, lumping Mac’s and Monteith’s so closely. They are near-identical efforts, branding-wise, but I think it does have to be admitted that many of the Mac’s beers are reliably non-horrible and the sorts of things that a “beer drinker” can console themselves with in a mainstream-tied venue. I don’t think I can say the same of the Monteith’s beers.
2: I was on the panel of one for Consumer magazine, and the most-recent annual Capital Times one.
3: To elaborate, but not derail things completely: I don’t feel like I can rate a beer without knowing how it positions itself, because that’s how people ‘judge’ beer in their daily lives — against its claims. Something that “does what it says on the tin” is a laudable thing in itself, when you’re handing over money. Beers are judged in classes, but outside of formal competitions these are usually pretty loose, so it’s hard to critically evaluate something that is “pale ale” without knowing if it’s trying to be, say, rambunctious or sedate. Huge hoppy flavour would be a bad thing in a beer that said it was mild.
4: Admit it, the odds were slim that a post with a ‘brandwank’ tag wouldn’t include a mention of Moa — but in this case they truly brought it upon themselves. In January 2012, they put up a post on ‘Craftwashing’ — which is indeed exactly what this is — but couldn’t save themselves from pissing a lot of people off with a needless swipe at contract brewers and a hefty dose of irony in that they themselves come damn close to breaching the spirit of their own Third Commandment given how strenuously they distort the role of their “figurehead”, Josh Scott. If you are as drenched in disingenuous marketing as Moa are, you simply don’t get to lecture the likes of ‘Boundary Road’; people in glass houses should perhaps reconsider their projectile-throwing hobbies.

Liberty / Mike’s ‘Taranaki Pale Ale’

Liberty / Mike's 'Taranaki Pale Ale'
Liberty / Mike's 'Taranaki Pale Ale'

If it weren’t for that Firestone, we’d have just had ourselves a three-peat of Liberty beers here in my Diary. Unlike the others, though, this has Liberty’s Joseph Wood in Collaboration Mode. It’s an emerging trend in the local scene, and Joe’s one of the keenest participants, it seems — he worked with Yeastie Boys for their ‘Warrior’ and ‘Monster’ beers, was part of the hophead ‘Four Horseman of the Hopocalypse’ supergroup (with Hallertau’s Steve Plowman and Epic’s Luke Nicholas and Kelly Ryan), and joined in with the NZ Craft Beer TV ‘Mash Up’ project. Hell, he’s even said he’s keen to collaborate with me, in what could be the greatest-ever excuse for a summer roadtrip. In a sense — in, I pause to stress, a positive sense — he’s something of our industry’s Timbaland, in that regard.1

So here we are with a Taranaki Team Up; New Plymouth’s Liberty and Urenui’s ‘Mike’s’ / White Cliffs. Fortunately for all concerned, they brewed this one at the latter, which has nearly ten times the capacity of the former. Because if this had been overly-scarce, things could’ve easily gotten all Mad Max as us beer geeks squabbled over the dregs. It was a crowd-pleasing thing of oomph and deliciousness, loaded with that kind of enthusiastic fruit-bowl boistrousness that we’ve come to love 8 Wired’s ‘Hopwired’ IPA for. The comparisons to that really are inescapable and rather strong, but — just as I said with the also-striking resemblance between Three Boys’ Oyster Stout and Emerson’s Southern Clam Stout — you’d be very hard-pressed indeed to find something more worth emulating. TPA has popped up a few times since, and seems to have slightly drifted towards the ‘healthy bronze’ end of the colour palette, rather than its initial ‘luminous gold’.2 But it continues to be great fun, continues to be somewhat-dangerously-drinkable (given its heft), and will hopefully make a few more appearances over the summer.

As my notes lament, I was meant to be bartending at Matariki (speaking, as I was quite-recently, of beer festivals), but some administrative snafu best left forgotten meant that I’d just be doing my regular gig that day. My pint of TPA helped compensate very nicely indeed — not least because it (and the batch-to-batch Hud-to-Hud comparison that Stu from Yeastie Boys had arranged for a few of us geeks to celebrate the second edition of the equally-boozy ‘Hud-a-wa”), put an uncharacteristically-cheerful shine into the start of my work-day, bless it.

Verbatim: Liberty / Mike’s Taranaki Pale Ale 25/6/11 7.1% on tap @ HZ, after Hud-to-Hud batch trial with Stu, Martin, Tim, Amy, Shannon & Annika. Another improm[p]tu geek con. They’re all off to Matariki, and I was meant to be. Sadface. So a pint + a pie before work. Hazy, pale peach. All the big-crazy fruit salad, a la Hopwired. Fruitier than a row of tents, says Martin. It’s like Emerson’s Southern Clam after Three Boys Oyster; name one token more worth emulating.

Liberty / Mike's 'Taranaki Pale Ale', tap badge
Liberty / Mike's 'Taranaki Pale Ale', tap badge
Liberty / Mike's 'Taranaki Pale Ale'
Diary II entry #116, Liberty / Mike's 'Taranaki Pale Ale'

1: If I hadn’t already compared one of his beers, the staggeringly awesome ‘Never Go Back’itself to Samuel L. Jackson, that’d be even more apposite and more obviously-positive. There was a time, which probably just coincided with me watching more movies, where he just seemed to be in everything, and awesome in everything — stealing the show in tiny little bit parts like right at the end of Out of Sight. The man’s been in over a hundred films, for God’s sake; Wikipedia feels obliged to put his ‘Filmography’ on its own page, and just look how many cram into each year.
2: My photo doesn’t quite do it justice. Perhaps because of the lighting in Hashigo, or perhaps because mine was from fairly far down the keg (if I remember rightly), and things can get extra-hazy with hop-loaded goodness — just like they did with my ‘Taranaki Session Beer’, coincidentally enough. Alice Galletly had a similar problem, lamenting that her plastic-on-a-picnic drinkware didn’t do it justice. But just check out Kevin McLellan’s photo — Alice and I ain’t lyin’; that stuff was gorgeous.

Uploaded, at last: 4 December 2011

Liberty ‘Taranaki Session Beer’

Liberty 'Taranaki Session Beer'
Liberty 'Taranaki Session Beer'

Just like anything worth doing is worth doing well — a hat-trick of great big black beers, all three of which are weird and wonderful in their own ways, just to pick an example entirely at random — so too is any pattern worth keeping at all equally worth smashing to pieces. So here’s me, leaping off my big boozy plateau into a delightful little mountain stream of midstrength loveliness — and writing up my second Liberty beer in a row, which helps make up for their relative absence from here (as against how often they were mentioned in the podcasts, and in person).

And I do bang on about session beer a lot, I suppose. Certainly more than Normal People. I first had this around about the time we recorded our podcast episode dedicated to mistrength beer, but it unaccountably goes unmentioned. Making up for that, as I put this post together, I’ve finally gotten around to adding a “Sessionable” tag, which will hopefully continue to attract a steady sequence of delicious pints of beer. Also, I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am that I can now describe something other than my beloved Hallertau ‘Minimus’ itself as being broadly “in the Minimus mold”. The comparisons really are inescapable, what with this being a hoppy golden ale / very-pale pale ale and in the same booze-bracket as its friend from further North.

Hallertau have taken to slightly-tweaking Minimus in response to changing seasons / ingredients / random dice rolls / shifting whims / whatever / all of the above, and its ‘Winter’ incarnation had just hit the taps at work the night before. On blearily blinking into the unforgiving daylight the next morning — because it was morning, you understand, not because of over-indulgence: I was, after all, drinking Minimus — I somehow managed to read and comprehend a message on my phone to the effect that NZ Beer Blog’s Martin and Yeastie Boys’ Stu were having a beer at Hashigo and suggesting that I should join in. When I also read, on the Twitters, that they’d just tapped a keg of Taranaki Session Beer and that 8 Wired’s Søren was also on his way in for a pint, the thought of an Accidental Beer Nerd Convention was irresistable. And so off into this frequently-awful overlit thing you all call “daytime” I ventured.1

And well done, all of you that made my uncharacteristically-early start so worth-while. That beer was delicious, deserving of high praise even if I wasn’t such a weirdo about my midstrengthables, and the company was bloody marvellous. If anything, TSB was a touch sweeter than the Winter Edition of Minimus, and Liberty’s Joe had apparently tried some clever trick (the details of which were not entirely over my head at the time, but which have long since turned to mist and evaporated from my brainpan) with his water chemistry to help get around the basically-inevitable problem of the slight ‘gap’ in the palate that happens when you dip back down to this kind of weight. Even if you happened, at the time, not to care about the bonus of Something Sessionable, this is glorious.

It must be said, also, that if you can make a big-ass imperial stout and one of these with equal grace, then you’re doing very well indeed. After a few conversations back and forth, Joe floated the idea of me heading up to the ‘Naki to join in a Liberty Brew Day and maybe doing a ‘collaboration’ (ludicrously one-sided as it’d be, with me playing Second Assistant Who Tries Not To Break Things). Given the range encompassed by this thing and the one right-before it in the Diary, I’m rather deliriously spoilt for choice. (But I do have a few ideas…)

I’m glad I got the physical Diary in the shot, too. It’s been a while since it made an appearance, and I think I lined it up behind my pint after Stu commented that the thing-itself was rather surprisingly smaller than he’d assumed, after seeing its scans on here. My handwriting, just by the way, is tiny — when I started school, there was some horrible mental collision between those oddly-hugely-lined exercise books they make you use and the regular-random-notepaper my Dad let me scrawl in at home. It permanently broke my sense of appropriate scale for the handwritten word, accidentally turning me into a very effecient indeed user of paper. Even two-hour law school lectures wouldn’t see me use more than both sides of a single sheet of A4.

Verbatim: Liberty Brewing ‘Taranaki Session Beer’ 21/6/11 3.7% on tap @ HZ. Mini beer nerd convention by accident, with Martin + Stu + Søren. Towards the end of the keg, hazy barley-sugar orange. After (Winter) Minimus returned to MH last night. What a turnaround after the last three! This is similarly-pitched loveliness, maybe a little sweeter with slightly-less of that inevitable palate-gap, perhaps.

Liberty 'Taranaki Session Beer'
Liberty 'Taranaki Session Beer'
Liberty Brewing 'Taranaki Session Beer'
Diary II entry #114, Liberty Brewing 'Taranaki Session Beer'

1: Anyone who bothers to check metadata would discover that my photo is timestamped at slightly-before 2pm. Which you might not think is “the morning”. But you have to remember Warren Ellis’a rule: if I’ve been awake for less than two hours, then it’s morning, no matter what the goddamn clock says.
— a: I mean the author, not the musician.

Originally posted: 22 November 2011

Liberty ‘Never Go Back’

Liberty 'Never Go Back'
Liberty 'Never Go Back'

And so here my notes complete a hat-trick1 of ten-per-cent-plus black-and-glorious monster beers. It happened entirely by accident — presumably helped by the contemporaneous feeling that Winter Was Coming — and now also occasions one of those nice coincidences that seem to happen (as I mentioned last time) when I’m this far behind with my rambling-uploadings: as I sat down after work to start putting this post together, I had two other oatmeal stouts. The first was a glass of the absurdly-delicious Ballast Point ‘Sea Monster’ we have on tap at work at the moment, and the second, firmly in the the spirit of “bugger it, let’s give these guys (yet) another chance,” was Stoke’s new one. Given my prior history with their beers (and no other real intervening changes on trying them several times since that almost-infamous Diary entry), I can relatively-cheerfully report that Stoke ‘Bomber’ was largely faultless, but it just wasn’t the sort of liquid luxury that I love in my oatmeal stouts — and I bloody loves oatmeal stout, I do.

But enough about those; they’ll get their own posts soon enough.2

I’ve been regularly praising the beers from Liberty in the podcasts — I often forget to prepare a list in the few days before recording, and Joseph Wood’s beers float readily to the top of my brain when George asks for a suggestion. Up until right now, the only one to appear on here was the Amarillo-hop version of his West Coast Blonde, which I had at Hashigo way back in February, on their genius-and-generous Fundraiser Night. Since then, bottles — bloody-great-big lovely 750ml bottles with that cute newfangled re-sealable plastic enclosure-thing — have been popping up fairly regularly, although the batch sizes are still very small indeed. I had a way-too-enjoyable time, back in May, when I inherited the remains of a some-of-everything tasting session that included a few experimental beers and plenty that have since shown up as ‘proper’ releases. It was a broad range, with interestingness and goodness present in sufficient quantities that I was delighted to be in possession of what were basically just dregs, and it featured some perilously-strong beers; I wound up very cheerfully drunk.3

‘Never Go Back’ is a suitably-dramatic way for Liberty to return here, certainly, and I freakin’ adore it. It’s got a peculiar Samuel L. Jackson quality about it — you know, like how Emerson’s Oatmeal Stout was all Barry White — that makes you just want to use the word motherfucker in an endearing and complimentary way. A big-ass glass of pure blackness, it smells like some kind of overclocked, rocket-fueled Hershey’s chocolate syrup and is ridiculously smooth. The word “velvet” is not remotely out of place, in the label blurb. Compared against something like 8 Wired’s ‘iStout’, I’d say it wasn’t as confrontingly bitter and punchy — by which I don’t mean anything inherently positive or negative, they’re just different; that side of iStout is very well integrated into the whole and is probably a massive part of what makes the iStout Float such a delight. And maybe that’s partly also down to all NGB’s gorgeous oatmeal smoothness, which makes such a big beer worryingly and brilliantly and perhaps-unexpectedly drinkable. The image that came straight to my mind — a mind that supervenes on a brain that had had more than one beer in the >10% bracket, remember — was of wearing silk pyjamas and leaping into a bed adorned with silk sheets… then finding yourself in a heap on the floor on the far side of the room after skipping frictionlessly off the surface. Never Go Back does something like that; it’s so velvety that it’s surprisingly easy, given its massiveness. Well that, and it could easily leave you in a heap on the floor, too.

But you’d be a happy heap. And that’s what counts.

Verbatim: Liberty ‘Never Go Back’ Imperial Oat Stout 20/6/11 10.6% — what a plateau! 750ml ÷ 3 with Tim & Amy. So big and lovely. Boozy, for sure. Fumey chocolate syrup. Powdery cocoa feel to it. Would make excellent stout floats. Definitely velvety, so much so that the body is oddly easy; it’s the silk pjs / silk sheets problem.

Liberty 'Never Go Back' Imperial Oat Stout
Diary II entry #113, Liberty 'Never Go Back' Imperial Oat Stout
Liberty 'Never Go Back', label text
Liberty 'Never Go Back', label text
Liberty Brewing samplers
My collection of Liberty Tasting Session Dregs

1: Possessed, as I am, of little-to-no sporting ability, such metaphors are likely rarer-than-average in my ramblings. But I like that one a lot — and used it for my three-peata of Hashigo Diary Entries that concluded with Coronado’s ‘Islander’ IPA — largely because, just as I hoped when I first heard it in my awkward teenage cricket-playing days, the original story involves an actual hat.
— a: Not wanting to overuse “hat-trick”, I went with “three-peat” there, instead, just vaguely remembering it from American sports commentary. But then I looked it up. And it turns out that it’s trademarked for commercial uses by some former basketball coach. So, once again: fuck trademark abuse, really. That’s insane. It’s a totally natural and obvious way to bend our beloved English language. Even the many and mongrel authors of the Wikipedia managed to assembled a metric boatload of ‘prior art’. The law graduate in me (buried deep, I assure you; don’t worry), just got a little bit angrier.
2: Given a generous interpretation of “soon enough”, at least. Maybe one on Geological or Cosmological timescales.
3: Just to be clear, the adverb “very” here modifies both the “cheerfully” and the “drunk”.

Originally posted: 7 November 2011

Moa Imperial Stout

Moa Imperial Stout
Moa Imperial Stout

It looks rather frightful, that Moa, doesn’t it? Maybe even sufficiently angry-faced that it hardly seems like a herbivore at all, in fact. I honestly still can’t tell if I like the kitsch of it, or if I just think it’s hideous. Something similar happens with the ludicrously-extravagant coasters — just how much money poured into the marketing budget that embossed leather-and-felt coasters got the green light? Like I’ve said possibly too-many times before,1 the brandwank with Moa is relentless, and I’m depressingly unsurprised to report that (as of the time of writing, in mid-October — I’m way behind, I know) it continues unabated.2

Like I said with an earlier pint of ‘Black Power’, the awfulness of the aura of ad-crap the surrounds a Moa beer and trails along behind it like an unforgiveable stench is such that it might get in the way of actually enjoying one of their beers.3 For me, Black Power just wasn’t a worthy enough thing to pierce the fog and make itself enjoyable in spite of all that — but a stonking-great barrel-aged imperial stout? Now that did the trick.

It was helped somewhat by circumstances — not that it really needed much help — in that we had it and several of its siblings pouring at work at once, in a little version of the sort of ‘Tap Takeovers’ that happen semi-regularly at the Local Taphouses (if that is indeed the plural) over in Melbourne and Sydney. And such things are all very fun in and of themselves, of course: excuses and occasions and theme-ifying are some of my favourite things about a night at the pub. But for me, for multiply-peculiar me, a Tap Takeover is extra-special because it means Kegtris it means a bloody-great Herculian dose of Kegtris, it does — and when it was all done, of course, someone had to make sure that the beers were pulled through and ready to go. Oh, the chore of it all.

And honestly, I really can quiet the fumingly-outraged part of my brain for a little while, with this. It’s just stupidly fantastic: utterly enormous, but not overblown, and it doesn’t come across as trying to do everything at once in a sad one-man-band kind of attention-grabbing — in that (and in its weight, and its barrel-aged-ness — but in not much else, other than its hometown, come to think of it), it’s quite reminiscent of 8 Wired’s masterful ‘Batch 18’. I tried some side-by-side with a little glass of the Scott Base Central Otago Pinot Noir, partially because I assumed (given the founding-family connections) those would be the barrels involved and partially because I just can’t bring the classic Pinot Noir flavours to mind off the top of my head, as ignorant in Matters of the Grape as I am. I’ve since been informed by Dave Nicholls — the brewer, despite what their ad-men might say,4 a (mercifully) excellent chap who just gets on with the making of the beer while largely ignoring the dissonant background buzzing of the marketing machine — that they weren’t the barrels in question, but the comparison was still instructive and I suppose you’d have to have some sort of super-palate to spot, in a 10.2% stout, differences drawn from varying vineyard’s barrels.

There’s a lot of flavour left in those barrels, it seems, and it melds into the stout in surprising and delightful ways; plenty of tart fruit notes, bordering on sour almost, fill in the edges of the beer, taking the whallop out of some of the bitterness and booze you’d otherwise expect from a thing like this. You can’t really tell whether they achieve that through some clever complimentary-flavour trick on the brain, or if they’re just using a more low-brow “Look over here, instead!” tactic. But ultimately you won’t care about the how of it, because the result is worryingly drinkable for the punch it steal conceals in its multi-talented self.

If Moa’s brandwank doesn’t rile you as much as it does me, then just go and get one of these, simply because it’s delicious. But even if you are as infuriated by their ad-men as I am, consider this one worth the trouble, a nice reminder that at least someone there still knows what they’re doing — and a rare and philosophically-instructive example of a situation where the price you pay in conscience (since you’re giving those ad-men a not-inconsiderable sum of money — the thing which is, after all, how they ‘keep score’) might actually be worth it.

Verbatim: Moa Russian Imperial Stout 16/6/11 10.2%, Jesus. Hideous branded glass, as reward for an epic round of Kegtris for tomorrow’s takeover / migration, and all that Moo. The fruitiness from the Pinot barrels do massively set it apart, but are very well integrated. Not just tacked on, you know, like their brandwank. Really couldn’t resist. Enjoying their better beers is a real see-saw. Why does ‘Estate’ = bareknuckle boxing, where ‘Reserve’ = motorcycle? Oh wait. Vice, versa. Shows how superfluous + devoid of meaning, I guess. Wait. The beer. Gloriously huge, but still not overblown. Dangerously drinkable. Whole riots of fun.

Extravagant Moa coaster
Extravagant Moa coaster
"Super Premium Beverage"
"Super Premium Beverage"
Moa Russian Imperial Stout
Diary II entry #111, Moa Russian Imperial Stout

1: Such as when writing / ranting / rambling about: the ‘Black Power’ chocolate wheat beer, beer-and-marketing in general, their ‘Five Hop’ ESB, or their (two attempts at a) pale ale — the basic point is that Moa are grossly (but deservedly) over-represented on the ‘Brandwank’ index page.
2: Maybe, maybe there’s a touch of irony in all this. Or an attempt at such. Alice Galletly — of the excellent ‘Beer for a Year’ blog, which makes an absolute mockery of my way-delayed posting schedule — mentioned (in passing), her assumption that their “Handcrafted Super Premium Beverage” tagline (visible on the reverse of the Scary-faced Moa Glass, pictured above) was tongue-in-cheek. I certainly hope so. I hope they’re just rubbish at ironic humour, rather than an actual pack of appalling wankers. Perhaps I’m all jaded and cynical, but I just can’t be that charitable.
3: They are now, in this regard, the opposite of how the Stoke beers were when I first met them. Those I wanted to like, but I just couldn’t. They’re dipping their toes quite enthusiastically into a bit of brandwankery, themselves, but I do keep trying them occasionally to see if I can like them yet. But alas; not yet.
4: Criminally, you could diligently read — on a heavy dose of anti-nausea pills — the entire corpus of Moa’s marketing materials and not have any clue who Dave was, what he did, or even that he existed at all. Presumably, a Suit in Auckland thinks that pushing the myth of Josh-as-the-man-who-still-runs-everything is more ‘marketable’. For that, and their likely-myriad other sins, they deserve a kick in the pants.