Tag Archives: from New Zealand

Yeastie Boys ‘Pot Kettle Black: 2010 U.S. Remix’

Yeastie Boys ‘PKB Remix 2010’
Yeastie Boys ‘PKB Remix 2010’

And so then I followed the unknown with something more familiar — as the Tragically Hip once advised,1 seemingly referring to those times when the unknown is a disappointment. It’s also fitting that Diary II would celebrate its Hundred with a Yeastie Boys beer, since their ‘Her Majesty’ was there to break it in back in September last year. 100 entries in 244 days doesn’t strike me as too-bad an average, especially considering that the 300-ish of Diary I took six years on account of some serious slackness and patchiness.

A bottle of regular-edition PKB also showed up in the first-few pages of the new notebook, and I briefly touched upon the ‘remixes’ then — but what I didn’t mention is that they initially kinda pissed me off. Looking way back in my notes, in the original book in June 2009,2 I was delighted by the peculiarity of PKB and its expectation-ruining mix of conspicuous hoppiness and big rich blackness. Then it goes to Beervana (appearing as Beer #19 in my Diary entry for the day)3 and takes out the Stouts & Porters category and wins the Peoples’ Choice award — an impressive melding of meritocracy and democracy which is so far unique. And then it reappared a few months later in a “Stout Remix” incarnation. The original had won the accolades and generated the buzz, and so people were drawn to the Yeastie Boys badge when it showed up on the taps, but they were getting something else. It’s not like I was outraged — by now, you’d probably recognise when that happens — but the bait-and-switch of it struck me as messing with people, or somehow poor form. It took until the following January before a (positive) mention of the First Remix appeared in my notes, when we tapped the last keg of it, at work. The beer had conditioned beautifully, and there’d also been a few more Yeastie Boys beers released in the meantime — the side-by-side comparative Nerdherders,4 an explicitly-vintaged ‘His Majesty’, and the style-bending ‘Plan K’ — which demonstrated the experimentalism that we now recognise as Their Thing. Mild discomfort averted. Now, I get it.

With the original-ish-edition now also regularly available (and with label text that nicely explains what’s going on), the remixes are the perfect way to have your cake and eat it too; a best-of-both-worlds situation if ever there was. The Second Remix, this U.S.-hopped variant right here, was an absurdly-welcome member of my ‘Beer 121: New Zealand Beer for Americans’ tasting — but I’d never gotten around to having more than a sampling-glass-worth until Jono generously brought this into work to share. Working part-time with us while he’s studying journalism, he’s originally a Coffee Nerd who is fast becoming One Of Us Beer Geeks. So we rambled away about our mutual fondness for Hunter S. Thompson, and the vexed question of the difference between porter and stout — great-big 750ml bottles of delicious beer are perfect for such occasions.

Like its First Remix brother did, it was also aging gracefully — getting on towards a year old and still tasting outrageously fresh and fantastic. The typically-citrussy notes of the bold and brash American hops made it reminiscent of Croucher’s ‘Patriot’, though the PKB seemed to have a good deal more solidity where Patriot has sharpness and snap — neither end of the spectrum seems to me less worthy than the other; they’re just different. We were both also struck by the distinct elements of umami we were getting out of it — it’s not uncommon (in my experience) for both devotees and detractors of some black beers to find them oddly-evocative of soy sauce, and I suppose this is what’s at play, since it’s something of an overlooked flavour sensation and thereby harder to put your finger on.

Coincidentally, I’d had a bottle of the regular-edition not too long previously and had also been watching episodes of The Office — in both its (English-language) incarnations. And it occured to me that there you have it, right there; that’s what’s going on. The differences are just as striking as the similarities, the ways in which it changed make perfect sense when you understand the context from which the ingredients are derived — and it’s perfectly-possible to imagine any given person liking one, or the other. Or neither, or both. You couldn’t fault anyone for their particular pair of opinions on the two options. You’re just left marvelling at the variety of the human species, and grateful that there’s a lot of good beer (of dizzyingly-varied differing types) to go around.

Yeastie Boys ‘PKB Remix 2010’
Diary II entry #100, Yeastie Boys ‘PKB Remix 2010’

Verbatim: Yeastie Boys ‘PKB Remix 2010’ 7/5/11 ÷ 2 with Jono @ MH 750ml 6.8% while rambling about HST, journalism + Flying Dog on the stout-porter difference. At a year or so old, this is still outrageously fresh + delicious. Cascade puts it in the camp claimed by Croucher ‘Patriot’ — totally chocolate oranges. With a good whack of the umami sideline that makes us white people say “soy sauce!” occasionally, with a good grunty porter. We’ve got some first-edition PKB in the fridge. Must see how that’s going.


Yeastie Boys ‘PKB Remix 2010’
Yeastie Boys ‘PKB Remix 2010’, blurb #1
Yeastie Boys ‘PKB Remix 2010’
Yeastie Boys ‘PKB Remix 2010’, blurb #2
Yeastie Boys 'Pot Kettle Black', regular edition
Yeastie Boys 'Pot Kettle Black', regular edition

1: In ‘Courage’ from Fully Completely (1992). As I write this up, it was very-recently Canada Day, so I’ve had the Hip stuck in my brain for a week or so. My fondness for them is one of those data points that go together with my weird accent and convince people that I ain’t from ’round here.
2: We had a really fun launch night at work for Pot Kettle Black and a Hallertau-brewed homebrew-competition-winner with the utterly-masterful name ‘Bring Your Daughter to the Porter’. Each was available on handpump and on tap, and I happened to have the night off. I spent a long time plonked on the end of the bar, happily going through several pints of each. In hindsight, neither was a session beer — my notes have them as 6% and “6-point-something%”, a failure of accurate record-keeping which tells you all you need to know.
3: Talking of ill-advised “sessioning” (as I was, above at n2, obviously) I worked after that Beervana visit, and then signed off at midnight because it was officially my 30th Birthday. Six more beers appear in my notes after that, which mostly proves how stubborn my Diary-keeping habit had finally become after years of slackness. I did very little on the Actual Birthday. Which suited me just fine.
4: As I’ve mentioned before, I love these Variant Edition experiments. They’re a great exercise in Science!, an eye-opening learning opportunity, and a great way to discover what you like / don’t like / prefer — and why. Yeastie Boys started with the Nerdherders (varyingly-hopped bitters), and did something similar with their Monsters (varyingly-hopped hoppy pale ales) and their Blondies (an abbey-ish ale and a Kölsch-ish ale produced by different yeasts).

Moa ‘Black Power’

Moa 'Black Power'
Moa 'Black Power'

It really is difficult to separate the thing-itself from its surrounding fog of incidentals. This is your old-school philosophy headache, right here; what are the properties, and what are the mere relations — and which are the essential properties, and which are just accidental? What the philosophers seem to have unaccountably neglected is that this problem gets massively more difficult when the incidentals in question bug the fuck out of you.

Given the recent sharp uptick in their brandwank, it’s hard for me to fairly approach a new Moa beer. I’m still entirely capable of liking their stuff — and, spoiler alert, I was recently renderly properly giddy by the re-apperance of their barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout — but it’s probably easier for the older, pre-buyout pre-brandwank bonanza stuff to endear itself, like their ‘Five Hop’ still does. Anything new has nothing (by way of good associations, in my head) to guard against all that bile-raising bullshit seeping down into it and getting damn close to ruining its chances of a fair hearing. But I do try, I really do.

An edict came down from On High which reduced the range of potential after-work freebies, which struck me as a fairly mad idea — but of course it would. Moas (Moai?) on tap were still fair game, and we had this, which was a one-off and another Marchfest offering. It was billed as a chocolate wheat beer, and named ‘Black Power’. And my eye starts twitching, and I can feel the rage starting to warm up in the back of my brain.

“Black Power”? Really? The 2011 Marchfest gave itself the under-title “the craft brewing revolution continues” and returned to a Che Guevara motif they’d used a few years previous. Most of the festival beers go along with the theme, to greater or lesser degrees, but a quick glance down the list of names leaves this one standing out fairly glaringly in the lacking-class department, referencing as it does a still-existing and still-violent local gang. After the Breakfast Beer Fiasco,1 this just stank of another tilt at conning the media into providing free advertising — mercifully though, as best I can tell, they pretty-much failed. And after the boringly sexist bullshit their marketing department has been indulging in lately,2 a “chocolate wheat beer” just seemed nakedly pandering; a simple-minded trick for winning over the women in attendance, given a cartoonish and stereotypical view of what women might drink.

Maybe not. Maybe the name was more genuine, and less tactical. Perhaps it didn’t even come from the marketing department’s Outrage Generation Subcommittee. Given a black beer, it might’ve just been an ill-considered joke, not an attempted con. And quite-possibly the chocolate wheat beer plan wasn’t shallow demographic-chasing; it could’ve just been an honest attempt to make something interesting and do an autumnal merge of the typically-summery and traditionally-wintery. This is a real problem, one of many, with brandwank: it breaks the trust between the producer and the consumer, and makes it damn hard to give credit where credit might be due. All motives become suspect, and design or business decisions just look like yet more bastard ad-man villainy.

Against all that haze, I did try to give this a fair shake. But I just didn’t like it, and I really do think that was the thing-itself, rather than its accidental or relational properties. Wheat should give a certain amount of texture that does go well with chocolatey notes — like it does in the bloody-marvellous Emerson’s Dunkelweiss, and vaguely like what oatmeal can do for a stout — but this was just disappointingly thin. What chocolatey flavours there were tasted too much of just that: chocolate flavour, in the synthetic sense, not the genuine article. Despite the limpness and the underwhelming taste, by the end of the pint it still managed to build up a filmy sticky sugary feeling in my mouth like you’d get from a pint of Red Coke after months of drinking only the Black or Silver versions. As I hinted above, Moa are capable of making a black beer with enough presence to knock your out of your shoes and leave you grinning on the floor. This one, though — much like ‘Moa Noir’, their regularly-produced black lager, if you ask me — is just a little too little to stake out a worthy corner of the lighter end of the spectrum. The relationship between what it could have been and what it was is a little too close to the one between a thing and its shadow; outline recognisably similar, substance very different. But if I start bringing Plato’s Cave and its related baggage into all this, we’ll fly right over our per-session Philosophy Limit.

Moa 'Black Power'
Diary II entry #99, Moa 'Black Power'

Verbatim: Moa ‘Black Power’ 7/5/11 from the reduced staffies selection @ MH. On which, don’t get me started. This was a Marchfest offering from Moa, and it seems to be the intersection of stunt naming and pandering styling, in that it’s a “chocolate wheat beer”. I’m lacking in details, there being no official write-up lying around online, but it ain’t no Emerson’s Dunkelweiss, that’s for damn sure. The body is limp, the wheatiness hard to find in the glass, and the chocolate tastes fake, such as there is. It’s like actual-strawberry vs “strawberry flavour”. This is a sad simulacrum of a non-bad idea; a fifteen-year-old’s cartoon version of something that could be worthy.

1: Essentially the first real act of the Rebrand was to announce the “launch” of a “breakfast beer”, which raised the ire of a fairly reactionary anti-alcohol campaigner who — right on cue — described basically any pre-noon (or pre-evening?) drinking as “pathological”. The media had a “controversy” to report on, and Moa quickly assumed their pre-prepared mantle of Battler and Victim and Struggling Local Business and All-round Top Bloke Just Havin’ a Laugh — transparent rag of polyester horseshit though it obviously was, to anyone who cared to look. ‘Breakfast’ wasn’t even a new beer; it was just re-packaged ‘Harvest’, something they’d made for years. The whole sad story was addressed, in some exasperated detail, in episode 2 of the Beer Diary Podcast: Beer and Marketing.
2: For example, just on the subject of their ‘Breakfast’ beer (see above, n1, obviously), it was billed using such phrases as “finally, a beer the ladies can enjoy” presumably for the simple reason that there’s fruit in it. Moa’s marketing people evidently have a way out of touch view of the current relationship between beer (good and bad) and the number of X chromosomes a person happens to have.

Sprig & Fern ‘Harvest’ Pilsner

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

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

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

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

But yeah, the other thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeastie Boys ‘Rex Attitude’

Yeastie Boys 'Rex Attitude'
Yeastie Boys 'Rex Attitude'

With my beer photos, I vacillate wildly between 1) painstakingly setting something up, mucking about with lighting and re-arranging things far in the background (even when they aren’t mine and when doing so is a nuisance to someone else, I’ll admit), and 2) just getting it done-in-one, cinéma vérité style (if you’re feeling generous; just go with slapdash, if you’re not). My Little Creatures Stout is a nice recent example of the former, this is a classic case of the latter.1

Firstly, I was just too busy having fun. I was at Weta Digital, hosting a beer tasting at which ‘Rex’ was the Not-Very-Surprising-Actually Special Guest Surprise Seventh Beer — its highly-anticipated official launch was the next morning, so I couldn’t really say I had a “surprise” without it being a rather-obvious one. Secondly, if I did re-shoot this, it wouldn’t be at Weta Fucking Digital, would it? The beer geek population overlaps surprisingly-much with the computer geeks — I’m a professional one of the former, and an amateur of the latter kind, and here I was hanging out with people who were the vice versa, essentially.2 One great thing about unashamed geeks is how well we get along with other geeks, whatever their particular domain; we just love that combination of over-enthusiasm and scarily-specialist knowledge, wherever we find it and no matter what it’s about.

‘Rex’ is a seemingly-mad proposition for a beer: a 7% golden ale, with the entirety of its malt heavily peat-smoked in the manner of that which would usually go into a fiesty Islay whisky. Smoked malt is hardly commonplace in beer, but local things like Invercargill’s ‘Smokin’ Bishop’ and 8 Wired’s ‘Big Smoke’ make for nice introductions. Peat smoked malt is something else again, though, with its sharper and simply smokier smoke — and the Received Wisdom is that you shouldn’t use more than a fraction of it in a brew. And how better to test the Usual Line than by crashing right through to 100% and seeing what happens? This is your swift-kick-in-the-pants sort of science — in the fine tradition of Newton sticking a needle in his own damn eye-socket to figure if he was on the right track about the optics of human sight, or of Joseph Kittinger jumping back to Earth from the edge of space to test whether a parachute system for jet pilots was feasible.

It is, I mean to say, ballsy. It was pretty-much impossible not to have an extreme reaction to it; our favourite part of bartending for a while after its release was to watch people have their first taste. In my handwritten notes, I mention hoping that Jed would get some good reaction shots, since I knew he’d be at the launch the next morning. And damn, did he ever. If anything, Stu seemed slightly disappointed that more people at the launch weren’t disgusted by it. I’m not sure how much of that was politeness, knowing he was around, or whether it was down to the self-selectingly beer-geek-heavy crowd we had — or bits of both, of course. But I do like it when something doesn’t mind going out on a limb in the knowledge it’ll be hated in some quarters; that’s basically how the world avoids descending into an amorphous grey goo, after all.

The nose is what gets you, and generates those now-famous reactions. This unassuming little pale golden beer has an aroma that just hurtles out of the glass and charges up your nose, like a crowd of demented pixies wearing golf shoes and in a vengeful hurry to headbutt you directly in the brain. An intense smokiness, to be sure, but one that apparently changed quite a lot over time,3 and one which (to me, at least) lacked the scarier chemical notes from the wilder South Coast Islays — those memorable “burning wetsuit” and “broken bottle of iodine” notes of a Laphroaig, for example. It’s still confronting, because you just easily can’t prepare your mind for it, but the smoke is somehow still light and delicious once you take a few sips; it swiftly becomes good smoke, not scary smoke, a softer version of the “righteous smoke” in BrewDog’s Islay ‘Paradox’, not the sort that might wake you up in terror at night.

The golden ale body is genius, perhaps the masterstroke of it. Other smokey beers I’ve enjoyed have tended to big gloriously big heavy-footed things with a delicious sideline of smoke — 8 Wired’s ‘Big Smoke’, to me, is like having the best porter of your life while you just happen to be relaxing near a campfire. Here, because you’re way up at 100% peated malt, you just clear the stage and let that one element do its thing, with everyone else providing only minimal backup and balance.

It’s a great lesson in the blessed subjectivity: even people who hated it could attest to it being well-made — it is a thing that is perfectly doing what it sets out to do, and that fact changes not a damn depending on who likes it and who doesn’t. And if you didn’t like it, fair enough. I can totally see where you’re coming from, won’t at all try to convince you otherwise and am happy to just have all the more for myself. It is utterly different, and — from my experience on the dispensing-side of a bar — whether or not you’ll like it correlates not at all with any obvious thing about you, your opinion on beer, your opinion on whisky, on peculiar old-school French techno, or on the proper colour for pants.

Yeastie Boys 'Rex Attitude'
Diary II entry #96, Yeastie Boys 'Rex Attitude'

Verbatim: Yeastie Boys ‘Rex Attitude’ 29/4/11 330ml x 4 ÷ with the Weta crowd, as a Mysterious Something Special for our tasting. Since it was an ‘obvious’ “surprise”, I had to lie. But it was heaps of fun, before + during. Reaction shots are hilarious; I hope Jed gets some goodies. It’s all peat, but without the scary chemistry-set-on-fire side of a South-coaster. The golden ale body is the master-stroke, for sure. So much fun.

1: Or, compare the photos for the also-Yeastie ‘Rapture’ and the just-after-it Emerson’s ‘1812’. I was, in that instance, flustered by the abundance of people around me. For someone who works late nights in a frequently-busy bar, I’m remarkably crap with crowds.
2: We also had a few relative-neophytes to the wonderful world of Good Beer who just jumped in in the spirit of trying something new and hanging out after work. One of them, a self-described “I’m not really a beer person” person, wound up absolutely loving the Twisted Hop’s bloody-great-big Imperial Stout, ‘Nokabollokov’. I love it when that happens; you really never can tell what will work as some particular someone’s Gateway Beer — that’s why you just keep trying.
3: Kick-in-the-pants science, remember? The chemistry of these things is untested; this is it being tested, right there in these bottles.

Defamation ‘Beetnik’ IPA

Defamation 'Beetnik'
Defamation 'Beetnik'

Stuck in the not-yet-uploaded limbo of the latter half of the first Diary is a stout by my now-flatmate; a big, delicious thing called ‘Cottonpicker’. That was the first time I’d been moved to enter a homebrewed beer into my notes. And this here is the second. You could look at that as a) a fairly shitty average of one per hundreds-of-pages book, or b) evidence of high standards. Personally, I think it’s both, and will look to remedy ‘a)’, now that I know a good few more excellent homebrewers.

And you might not be seeing this more widely-available any time soon, but we’re on the cusp of a bit of an explosion in Wellington-based and Wellington-ish brewing: the Overboss and Over-overbosses of the Malthouse are soon to set up a brewpub-type-thing on Bond Street and beers should soon be available from two new nano-breweries,1 in the shapes of the fittingly-named the ‘Garage Project’ in Aro Valley, and Kereru Brewing2 out in the Hutt Valley. My days of occasionally lamenting or wondering about how this town, of all towns, doesn’t have any breweries within its limits are numbered in the small numerals, it seems. And — speaking of homebrewers, you see — a fair-few local folk are poised to make the switch from brewing in their basements and whatnot to contract-brewing at various places around the country; look for names like ParrotDog and Revolution Brewing very soon.

And not long after, with any luck: Defamation Brewing, the project of David Wood, a manager from down the road at Hashigo and the maker of this — a charmingly-odd IPA made with beetroot. Because why not? I’d tried it a while earlier, and was quite taken with it, when he’d brought some in for a little ‘brewshare’ evening at Malthouse. The weirdness of its ‘pitch’, and its striking colour — which did show up best in a smaller glass, as you can see below — gave it a bunch of uniqueness points, but it stood on its own as a well-made beer on top of all that. Even if you were blindfolded against its striking first impression, the beetroot would still come through in an unexpectedly-welcome earthiness that seems to help set off the significant lively American-esque hop flavours — in the contrasting-and-amplifying manner of that little bit of rock salt on posh chocolate, or (similarly) of the oysters in Three Boys’ masterful stout.

It made for a very nice little consolatory beer after the tragedy that was my particular bottle of Mikkeller ‘Statesman’ — Dave happened to’ve stopped by my pub late in the evening, and I was recounting that sad tale when my perennially-slack memory kicked in and reminded me that a full bottle of Beetnik was sitting in my personal stash in the keg chiller. Perfect timing, and pretty damn good remedy.

With “little guys” like these turning into slightly-bigger-guys in the brewing game, it’s a bloody marvellous time to be a great big beer nerd. The next few months will doubtless see a whole bunch of new names in my little Diaries; bring ’em on, I say.

Verbatim: Defamation ‘Beatnik’ IPA [I still can’t believe I didn’t get the punny spelling right; I love punny names] 20/4/11 donated by David, who was just in earlier tonight. I was sharing my ‘Stateside’ pain, and so thought this might nicely compensate. Big American hops, after all. Beetroot, though? For colour, to mess with people, including yourself. And for that “earthyness”, which, sure enough, is here in spades. Heh. Spades, how apt. It looks like a Kriek Boon, complete with the pinkish foam. Really well made, and bloody interesting. And after ‘Cottonpicker’, we’re now averaging one homebrewed beer per Diary. Two goodies, too.

Defamation 'Beatnik' IPA
Diary II entry #95, Defamation 'Beatnik' IPA
Defamation 'Beetnik' IPA, taster
Defamation 'Beetnik' IPA, taster
Defamation 'Beetnik' IPA, on the swirl
Defamation 'Beetnik' IPA, on the swirl

1: By which we mean the step smaller than “micro”, of course — not actually “nanoscopic”.
2: i.e., named for the native “Wood Pigeon”. New Zealanders seem rather fond of this source of brewery names. Even if you set aside Tui — since it’s not really a separate brewery anymore, and isn’t really a proper beer (please excuse the lapse into snobbery on this occasion), or isn’t the beer it says it is, at least; please, can we set aside Tui? — there’s Tuatara, Moa (with a ‘Weka’ sub-brand), and there was briefly a Kea Brewing. I’m sure other charismatic-and-endemic animals will be seized upon, yet, but I’ve also always thought that  “Native Animal Brewing Company” itself would make a nicely postmodern homage.

8 Wired ‘iStout’ Ice Cream Float

8 Wired 'iStout' Float
8 Wired 'iStout' Float

My brain and I often don’t get along very well. It gives me these peculiar and mysterious and very annoying headaches way too often, for example. But one night, it served me up a dream about an iStout Ice Cream Float, and I was clever enough to take the hint. The label has suggested it since the beer was launched, but I’d never gotten around to having one. Silly, silly me. Clever brain for reminding me, in its feverishly weird way.

I was — in the dream, you understand — just hanging out with the Rolling Stones, initially talking about the lamentable state of music journalism. As you do. We got to pondering the difference between learned skill and natural talent — in music to begin with, but then in beer. I brought up Søren, the wizard from 8 Wired; sure, he’s had a lot of relevant university-level education and doubtless oodles of practice and slog, but it seems equally clear that there’s just something somehow inherently brewerish about the man. He can put you in mind of those musicians who are just that extra bit better than their peers but then also seem more relaxed and effortless at the same time. Since they’re Not From Around Here, the Stones didn’t know who I was talking about, so I set off — from wherever-the-Hell-we-were, in my dream — to fetch some iStout and some ice cream. And then I woke up.

Once properly alive — you know: after coffee — I wandered the long way to work, and grabbed the necessaries, fighting through that particularly-peculiar sort of déjà vu1 that comes with repeating the actions of a recent dream (without its more-surreal circumstances, of course). It was a Friday shift, and I wasn’t closing, so I knew I’d have some sit-down time to enjoy this when I was done. And I was burbling with excitement all evening; it just seems like such a deliriously decadent thing to do, some fabulous fusion of childish and grown-up treats. Which is how it turned out, really. It didn’t remotely disappoint.

iStout, on its own, is fantastic. It’s massive and glorious and rich and desserty (or at least nightcappy) all on its own. If you’ve never had one, sort that out tout suite. Buy two bottles while you’re at it, so you can have one of these the next night — or straight after, if you’re feeling a bit wild and have nothing to do in the morning (these are 10%, after all). It’s plenty big enough to not be overwhelmed by a generous dollop of good ice cream, and the two make for an awesome adults-only milkshakey masterclass in contrasts and complements. Depending on where you sip from, how much you prod the ice-cream-blob around the glass, or where you stick your spoon, you’re presented with a whole spectrum of flavour — from face-meltingly smooth chocolate loveliness right through to the face-punchingly awesome bitterness of a good Emergency Wakeup Coffee.

I’ll still concede that it sounds like a bit of a crazy thing to do, hurling a lump of frozen dairy product into your pint. But I absolutely insist that you try it.

Verbatim: 8 Wired ‘iStout’ Ice Cream Float 15/4/11 $12 @ Reg, Kapiti Choc/Vanilla $3 @ Star Mart. 10% 500ml. I had actual dreams about this. And it’s everything I ever wanted it to be — although the Rolling Stones aren’t here… The bitterness of the stout makes for awesomely unexpected curveballs of flavour to the face. It’s like a grown-up milkshake. I got looked at very strangely, making this. Partially for the ingredients — and camera, book + tripod — but also for the huge idiotic grin on my face. The bitter curveballs seem to be thrown from someone hiding in the bubbles — spoonfulls of foam have it most. Feeling tipsy after having a “milkshake” is odd.

8 Wired 'iStout' Float, close-up
8 Wired 'iStout' Float, close-up
8 Wired 'iStout' Float, serving suggestion
8 Wired 'iStout' Float, serving suggestion
8 Wired 'iStout' Ice Cream Float
Diary II entry #89, 8 Wired 'iStout' Ice Cream Float

1: Spookily-enough — and speaking of Oddities of the Brain — I was just consulting the Blessed Wikipedia to get the uppy and downy accents the right way round (High School French was a long time ago) and I stumbled upon the related weirdness of jamais vu. That’s apparently the thing I was talking about rather recently, wherein the known-to-be-familiar suddenly becomes somehow alien and strange; I got it while writing about Heather Ale’s ‘Grozet’ ale, and overusing the word “weird” (ironically).

Emerson’s ‘Taieri George’

Emerson's 'Taieri George' 2011
Emerson's 'Taieri George' 2011

A third appearance, here, for dear old ‘George’. Not because it’d changed a whole bunch, or any other newsworthy reason — rather because the Diary was always about recording bloody-marvellous beer moments as much as it was for keeping notes of the new to guard against my hopelessly-crap memory.

The weather was getting wintery, I’d had a long week at work, and was just keeping to myself and turning my Sunday into a ‘Domesticity Day’ full of neglected laundry and other household stuff that is somehow even easier to fall behind on when you work nights. I wandered to the supermarket in the evening and realised there was room in the week’s budget for a nice bottle of beer — well, it’s more fair to say that I slightly rearranged the week’s budget to make sure there was room. We’d been selling the new batch of this at work, but I hadn’t had a chance to have one yet, so the What To Buy decision was unusually-easy.

Just-about everyone compares this to hot cross buns. Perhaps that’s partially down to the Easter-ish1 timing of its annual release, but there’s an undeniable similarity in both the spice flavours and the malty bigness. What there bloody-well isn’t, though, is any of the godawful glugginess of a hot cross bun nor any of their horrible here-and-there raisins — an inexcusable waste of grapes, if you ask me. I guess this is the danger in these comparisons — and I’m not sure if my frequent fondness for slightly more whacked-out and metaphorical ones counts as me trying to avoid that problem, or makes me even more prone to it. I guess the point is this: even if you’re appalled by the ‘received tasting note’ for something, taking a gamble might prove rewarding. And: Taieri George is a stonking great pint of seasonally-apt deliciousness, year after year.

Also, there’s a rare-ish glimpse of a beer perched right here (he says, gesturing beside the keyboard he’s currently using, on his desk at home). At-home beers much more often tend to be comforting, sessionable old-standbys rather than the sorts of things which (usually) make the Diary — the actual physical thing-of-which is also right there, behind the BrewDog coaster, in its second incarnation. The original Diary (now full) is on the bookcase, just out of shot. These things really do exist.

Emerson's 'Taieri George'
Diary II entry #87, Emerson's 'Taieri George'

Verbatim: Emerson’s ‘Taieri George’ 10/4/11 $9 from NW, at home, after a Domesticity Day and a PKB. The traditional dark, dark ruby. Nice spicy nose; cinnamon + nutmeg — but then, I can’t cook and can never remember the canonical ones. 500ml 6.8% We always say Hot Cross Buns, but this is so much nicer. I mean, it’s a liquid, so it avoids that horrid gluggy stodge, and retains the nice spicey flavours. Perfect on an Autumn night.

1: Seriously, ‘moveable feasts’? What the Hell sort of history-keeping descends to that level? Easter is arguably the most theologically-important event in the Christian story, and everyone’s okay with its anniversary swinging wildly from March 22 to April 25? That kinda freaks me out, as an ‘outsider’. The Wikipedia page on the ‘Computus’ problem makes for baffling reading, leaving me wondering why no one succeed in fixing a damn date — and suspecting that all that peculiar mathstronomya was a way to confound the ‘common people’ and maybe also something of a make-work program for monks who otherwise didn’t really have that much to do.b
— a: You start from the 21st of March (but there’s a schism over whether you use the ‘new calendar’ or the old one) because that’s the vernal equinox (except it’s usually not), wait until the next ‘lunar month’ starts (which will happen at the ‘new moon’, though there’s a fudge-factor built into deciding just what counts, for that) and then you add fourteen days, because that’ll take you to the next full moon (except it often won’t), and then (finally) you look to the next Sunday — that is apparently “Easter day”. I think.
— b: Except the Trappists, of course. They make beer. So I’m more okay with them.

Yeastie Boys ‘Hud-a-wa” Strong

Yeastie Boys 'Hud-a-Wa''
Yeastie Boys 'Hud-a-Wa''

A new Yeastie Boys release is usually accompanied by an informal round of Guess What The Hell The Name Refers To. Ordinarily, it’s something musical — and often something alarmingly obscurely musical, more to the point, so you don’t really feel bad when the allusion sails clear over your head. Guesswork was enjoyably hopeless, here, as they’d changed trains entirely and gone with an old family nickname — “Hold the Wall”1 — for an ancestor who “once held up a wall while his workmates escaped from a collapsing mine”. So, something suitably big, and strong, and full of character, right? Damn right.

But it may well get away from you, this one. A rewarding and enjoyable pint; one you won’t tire of easily, for sure. It’s a beer with legs and which can walk, as one of us at work put it, referring to the longevity its interestingness supplies — provided, crucially, that you remember there are some scary hobnail boots on the end of those legs, because this is a beer which could kick your ass if you forget that it’s 6.8%. Its suitability to the colder turn of weather coinciding with its launch caused a few people to lose track of that fact.

My early reaction to it amused my colleagues as I rode a rollercoaster of big hoppy zing, massive fruity fatness, and delicious malty oomph. They’re all nicely commingled in a proper pint, but in my first tasting glass they conspired to line up in order and take turns slapping silly grins on my face. After a day or two, I usually settle on a super-brief description to give curious customers and my phrase for this evolved quickly into “marmalade on malt biscuits” — another in a long line of Cliffs Notes that sound a little gross when you think about them too much, but which somehow capture the mood, the fun, and maybe the point. And I don’t even like actual marmalade or malt biscuits, singly. But their hypothetical marriage comes instantly to mind with the deliciously zesty hop fruitiness covering (but failing to smother) that hugely malty foundation.

Apparently (as I write this up way too late, with May turning into June), a second batch is on the way and Stu has been nearly-obsessively pointing out that the recipe has changed around quite a bit — which is, partly, just par for the course for these guys if you think back to ‘Pot Kettle Black’ (or indeed anything else that they’ve released more than once). It’ll be interesting to see how it varies, but so long as it still stands up to its name (and namesake), it’ll be worth a go.

Yeastie Boys 'Hud-a-Wa'' Strong
Diary II entry #85, Yeastie Boys 'Hud-a-Wa'' Strong

Verbatim: Yeastie Boys ‘Hud-a-Wa” Strong 5/4/11 just on tap @ MH, after Kaibosh & Nerding. I had a little taste and loved the hopzing-fruit-malt rollercoaster, so am having a full one before going home. Very clear, gorgeous red-hinted rich dark amber colour. The story behind the name is a good one — and caught us all off guard by not being music-related. Easily straight up with Old 95 or Golden Pride or whatevs. Huge malty aftertaste, like biscuits. Positively oodles going on in there, but stitched very smoothly together. Zesty marmalade on malt biscuits.

1: Rendered in appropriately-old-timey Scots, which our (mostly-Scottish) Overboss at the Malthouse assures me should be pronounced much closer to Hud-a-war than the initially-tempting Hud-a-wah.

Cassels & Sons ‘Elder Ale’

Cassels & Sons 'Elder Ale'
Cassels & Sons 'Elder Ale'

Lawks, I’ve fallen way behind on the updates again. The value of t has crept up to about 60 days. I knew it’d been a while, but the absurdly blue sky in this photo — compared against the much more me-ish weather we’ve been having laterly — really tipped me off. Excuses include occasionally-stonkingly-high levels of busy-ness at work, and a few technological problems I’ve been having with plugins not playing nice with other plugins.

But no mind; onwards!

This was me ‘auditioning’ a beer I’d never had before, contemplating its potential inclusion in a beer tasting I was running for some folks at the ACC. The brief was ‘A reintroduction to the New Zealand craft beer scene’; just a nice general run-down on ‘what’s happening’ — and you won’t be able to talk much about that for quite a while yet without mentioning the long shadow cast by the February earthquake. I’d recently watched a video featuring the aftermath at the Cassels & Sons brewery which was equal-parts horrific (in the wreckage), amazing (in the near-misses) and inspiring (in their obvious ‘fuck it; we’ll get back on track’ attitude); if you haven’t seen it, you should. I resolved to include one of their beers in the line-up, and given that it already included quite a few darker, weightier things, I thought I’d give this one a go.

And really, it’s a perfectly lovely thing. Nice, mild golden ale with a distinct-but-not-overblown fruity sideline from the Elderberries1 Elderflowers. At a nudge under 4%, it fits anyone’s definition of ‘sessionable’ and so would be a freakin’ marvellous barbeque-and-general-summer-mooching companion. It was a pretty big hit at the tasting, and I just found it a good bit more enjoyable than I ever found, say, Mata’s vaguely-similarly-pitched honey and feijoa golden ales.

The next tasting I did on a basically-identical theme was a few weeks into the colder weather, so I swapped out this for their ‘Dunkel’ without even bothering to give it an audition like this one had. It quickly justified that decision, winning over the crowd and proving to be a nicely roasty dark lager — which apparently pushes it closer to being more-properly a Schwarzbier; the distinction between the two was a bit beyond my Beer Geek horizon, but this was a perfect time to learn. (Isn’t it always?) Here’s hoping these guys — and everyone else down there — get back to normality real soon.

Verbatim: Cassels & Sons ‘Elder Ale’ 30/3/11 $8 @ Reg, at home, auditioning for a beer tasting @ ACC on Friday. Lovely bottles, and nice to see some of their stuff after the earthquake, though it’ll be a while before they’re running again. 3.9% Elderflower-ed [that should be Elderberry-ed] ale, here. L&P-looking, flowers-and-funk nose. Decently quaffable and interesting. Nothing much, but not really trying to be. Middling near-golden ale, with an interesting sideline. Definitely good in the Sun.

Cassels & Sons 'Elder Ale', swing cap
Cassels & Sons 'Elder Ale', swing cap
Cassels & Sons 'Elder Ale'
Diary II entry #84, Cassels & Sons 'Elder Ale'

1: Edited, 2 July 2011: I keep making that mistake; I fixed it when writing up my notes, but still made it here. Sheesh. Thanks to the Cassels crew for the incoming link, and the correction.

Beer 121: The Audiobook

Beer 121 tasting session lineup
Beer 121 tasting session lineup

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

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

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

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

— #1: Tui “East India Pale Ale”

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

— #2: Emerson’s Pilsner

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

— #3: Tuatara APA

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

— #4: 8 Wired ‘Hopwired’ IPA

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

— #5: Epic / Dogfish Head ‘Portamarillo’

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

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

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

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