Tag Archives: from New Zealand

Golden Bear ‘Black Magic’

Golden Bear 'Black Magic' IPA
Golden Bear 'Black Magic' IPA

The night before writing this up, I was going through the neglected second half of Diary One and getting it all scanned. I found my first mention of Golden Bear in the entry for Beervana 2009. It’s hardly auspicious; a pale ale of theirs is down as the day’s only dud — its one-word annotation is simple: “Pleh”. Not exactly a promising start, but one swiftly remedied as their subsequent mentions have either been moderately or glowingly positive.

And for this ‘Black Magic’, we’ll be somewhere in between “moderate” and “glowing”, I think. The name turns your mind to the recent Unnameable Trend, but the beer very-definitely isn’t black; it’s certainly very dark, but it’s a rich brown through which you can actually shine a light. The not-quite-black shows up in the flavour, too — there isn’t the roasted toastiness of a porter or stout, or ‘Black IPA’, come to that. What you have instead, especially as the hops start to pile bitterness onto the back of the palate, is a smoked Toffee Pop.1 It really is delightfully peculiar.

I was out for a wander and a beer or two since my non-nocturnal friends, with whom I’d been having dinner for Robyn’s birthday, had all retired for the night. As I noted in the Diary, I’d taken along a bottle of Dogfish Head ‘Midas Touch’; several of the people at the dinner were also at a beer tasting I hosted a while back where I had massively talked it up. Though never a “beer person”, Robyn’s always willingly tried whatever George and I have (increasingly desperately) thought she might maybe-maybe enjoy. It’s been a long time coming, but she did rather like it. Which just goes to show you that all is not lost; no one is unreachable. Beer’s just that diverse, I guess — though you might have to reach for an obscure-and-expensive bottle of an imported recreation-of-an-ancient-brew to get there.

Verbatim: Golden Bear ‘Black Magic’ IPA 2[6]/3/11 on tap @ HZ 6.4% $10 After dinner for Robyn’s birthday, at which we re-tr[i]ed Midas Touch; delish. And Roo liked it! At last! Anyway, this, weirdly, isn’t Black IPA. It’s brown. Very dark brown, but definitely not black. Malt comes through very toffee / choc / caramel — smoked Toffee Pops, given that late bitterness, maybe. That does build nicely, too. Quite a peculiar thing.

Golden Bear 'Black Magic' IPA, tap badge
Golden Bear 'Black Magic' IPA, tap badge
Golden Bear 'Black Magic' IPA
Diary II entry #81, Golden Bear 'Black Magic' IPA

1: Note for aliens from other jurisdictions: I mean the biscuit, not the Damien Rice song, which I hadn’t heard of until it occurred to me to write a clarifying footnote. It (again the biscuit, not the song) is a delicious little thing — a small crunchy puck of lightly malty goodness, covered in a relatively-gooey caramel (nicely variable with temperature, so a from-the-fridge one is massively different from a hot-day-picnic one), and then entirely encased in a thin shell of chocolate.

NZ Craft Beer TV ‘Mash Up’

NZ Craft Beer TV 'Mash Up'
NZ Craft Beer TV 'Mash Up'

It is basically true that boys will take any excuse for a roadtrip. If the proposition also includes visiting basically every operating craft brewing in the entire country, it becomes quite literally amazing that what became ‘NZ Craft Beer TV’ didn’t exist sooner. But now it does, which is handy. Luke Nicholas (perhaps inspired by his time with Sam from Dogfish Head and his documentary-making crew) hopped in a van with Kelly Ryan (his colleague / returning expat / new hire / underling from his Epic Brewing Company), a Camera Guy and a Sound Guy — and they hit the road.

Proper ‘episodes’ will hopefully be on the interwebs — and perhaps the actual-teevee — soon, but along the way they were also working on a nearly-all-in “collaboration brew”. (Because why not?) We had a big ‘Meet the Brewers’ night at work recently, so Luke and Kelly were in town, and among the goodies brought along on the night was a preview keg of the beer: ‘Mash Up’.1

Kelly, who was blogging along the way, wrote up the story behind ‘Mash Up’ in a long-form and well-worth-reading post. I had a peculiar pang of paranoia (or perhaps just vanity) when I got to the part wherein he explains why they chose to brew a hoppy pale ale, predicting that the choice would bring charges of one-trick-pony-ness. I’ve accused Luke having a one-trick-pony past — although, ironically, I brought it up because I thought his collaborations (with the aforementioned Sam and with Kelly himself, back when he was at Thornbridge) were lately rescuing him from that. But as he says, pale ale is as good a bet as any since it’s a) a massively popular trend, and b) a great way to show off something we do so very well here in the Little Country — namely that we grow freakin’ gorgeous hops.

But I still think it’s rather too generous to call this a “collaboration”. It isn’t, in any normal sense — and probably couldn’t ever be, realistically. Luke and Kelly have instead kept part of their brain ticking over as they traveled and met umpteen brewers and beer-industry-folk and have made a fair crack at capturing the mood of the local scene as they saw it, with pretty-solid justifications for each of their ingredient choices. Personally, I’d have thought it was a perfect opportunity to keep a running collection of handfuls of each brewer’s favourite malt, or a single pellet / flower of their most-loved hop, or whatever. Those could’ve been biffed into a full-size brew of ‘Mash Up’ as a token-but-real representative from their respective homes — without materially effecting the recipe. Something along those lines could’ve made the “collaboration” aspect more weighty, but after all it’s their show, not mine.

And the result is unarguable, anyway. From the preview keg that we had, I can report that this stuff is delicious. If this is ‘liquid zeitgeist’ for the New Zealand craft beer community, then we are in damn good shape. The appealing pale colour — just look at the thing shine, almost outclassing our beer engine’s freshly-polished brass bits — is an effective advertisement for a simple malt character which leaves plenty of room for the hop flavours to really shine, but which in no way wimps out or falls apart into annoying thinness. Oodles of zesty freshness comes from those hops, but they’re not overdone and don’t seem like they’re fighting in the glass; the flavours of each just nicely mingle together and make for a bloody lovely pint. The whole thing holds together like an enjoyably civilised conversation with three affable chaps in comfortable surroundings. I’m sometimes not a big fan of hop-forward pale ales on handpull, but this went like gangbusters.

Verbatim: NZ Craft Beer TV ‘Mash Up’ 2[4]/3/11 on handpull @ MH. The day after Meet the Brewer night, shout[ed] by some going-back-home whisky nerds. The “collaboration” aspect is a paper-thin veneer; consultation writ loose as they travelled around. And am I being paranoid or vain if I think the “one-trick-pony” comment in the write-up (on them selecting pale ale) might be directed at me? Anyway, this is tasty. Lovely simply malt character, and nicely-done selection of hop notes. Zesty + fresh. Actually really-well-suited to handpull. It’s definitely-not a Time-magazine style averaging,2 and they missed a golden opportunity for using a Token Handfull of each brewer’s favourite malt. But hey. We can’t all be Exec. Producers. And this is, all on its own, rather lovely.

NZ Craft Beer TV 'Mash Up'
Diary II entry #79.1, NZ Craft Beer TV 'Mash Up'
NZ Craft Beer TV 'Mash Up'
Diary II entry #79.2, NZ Craft Beer TV 'Mash Up'

1: Depending on how much you know about brewing, it’s possible that the name is funnier than you think. It’s not just a repurposing of the word for a remixing and mucking-about-with that applies to half the pop-culture stuff worth watching on YouTube — mash is also the word for an early stage of the brewing process where the grains are all thrown together in hot water, ready for fermenting. I do love a good punny name, I do.
2: I think this is an instance of my Rubbish Memory, a recurring annoyance which is after all why I started keeping a Beer Diary in the first place. I thought I could recall a recent Time cover with a computer composite ‘average’ face of humanity. But the best I can find is a similar thing they did in 1993, but that wasn’t what I had in mind — which likely means that I’m thinking of the wrong magazine, and that I’m crap at the Google.

Golden Ticket ‘Black Emperor: NZ’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croucher ‘Patriot’

Croucher 'Patriot', my first proper pint of
Croucher 'Patriot'

So here we are again with the ‘Black IPA’, which I’ll just go with calling it for now (the brewery themselves went with ‘American Black Ale’) and which it seems is cementing itself as quite the trend — though to take a stab at for how long would be patently foolish, as always.

I like these hoppy-but-black / black-but-hoppy beers, as I’ve said a few times before. So I was excited to try Croucher’s ‘Patriot’, since I’m usually rather fond of their stuff — their ‘Vicar’s Vice’ is the only counter-example that comes readily to mind; it was just very much Not My Thing, but it seemed pretty well received by plenty of others, so I’ll just chalk that one up to the blessed subjectivity. Oh. Oh, wait — he says, flipping through his Diary a bit — there was also ‘Mrs. Claus’; I didn’t like that at all. But apparently the little memory-management trick I pulled on my future self by sneaking it into a double-whammy entry worked quite well. Which is nice to know. So let’s press on quickly and pretend we didn’t remember, future-future self…

But this. This impressed me pretty quickly. I was sufficiently enamoured of my first try of it — on Saint Patrick’s Day — that I took a quick snap of my taster glass. And I realise that you don’t all have anywhere near the particular kind of odd brain that I do, so please just trust me when I say: that’s rare. I had my first proper full pint — and thereby made a Diary entry — a few days later. Then had two more pints that day. And have had several more since; its differentness doesn’t outstay its welcome. Compared against its siblings in the Unnameable Style, I found it a bit lighter and thought it was deliciously Jaffa-ish,1 which is probably down to the usually-distinctly-orangey Amarillo hop they used. Really rather delightful, and easily capable of making friends with people ordinarily shy of both the very-dark and the conspicuously-hopped. Which is something of a clever trick, to say the least.

Croucher 'Patriot'
Diary II entry #76, Croucher 'Patriot'

Verbatim: Croucher ‘Patriot’ 19/3/11 5.5% on tap @ MH, shouted by a regular. I am really liking this Black IPA trend, whatever we wind up calling it. This one’s all about the Jaffas, with the very orangey Amarillo hop in abundance. Very smooth; weird but not overwhelming at all. Much better than Croucher’s other recent one-offs, so I hope it joins the roster; which is rumoured. On the name issue, Croucher have gone with “American Black Ale”, which I don’t like because of the breezy “American = hoppy” assumption. This will be a tricky style to name.

Croucher 'Patriot', taster
Croucher 'Patriot', my first taste of
Croucher 'Patriot', my third pint of
Croucher 'Patriot', my third pint of
Croucher 'Patriot', tap badge
Croucher 'Patriot', tap badge and style name

1: Note for aliens from far-flung lands: I mean the chocolate-and-orange flavour of the eponymous candy, rather than the presumably-just-oranges flavour of the actual orange variety — nor do I mean to imply that the beer somehow tastes like a historic port city in Israel. Damn I love the many and varied things you can learn from a Wikipedia Disambiguation Page — and I positively adore the fact that there exists a page entitled ‘Disambiguation (disambiguation)’.

Emerson’s ‘1812’ IPA

Emerson's ‘1812’ IPA
Emerson's ‘1812’ IPA

My impromptu round of Kegtris was apparently enough to earn me a second pint, this time of the also-just-tapped Emerson’s ‘1812’. The fashion for hop-tastic IPA being what it is, old-school classics like this are often unfairly passed-over. “Old-school” is obviously a fairly relative term, given that ‘1812’ isn’t old in IPA-itself terms — but it’s still pretty grandfatherly in the New Zealand craft brewing sense. It was an early example of local beer getting ‘noticed’ on the international stage, too; Michael Jackson (the beer and whisky writer, not the ‘other’ one, obviously) selected it for his 1998 book Beer (which was about as definitive, in its day, as its maximally-simple title suggests) and it’s even one of the dozen that also make the cover.

There are a few stories about the name. 1812 the year is a bit too early to be anything-much to do with the style itself,1 so it’s often suggested that there’s some slightly-too-clever reference being made to the beer’s hoppy ‘overtures’ (hur-hur, very punny), but there’s also the odd-and-maybe-related fact that 1-8-1-2 are the last four digits of the brewery’s phone number. All this numerology and allusion-chasing is enough to make me remember just why the fuck I gave up on watching Lost.

But no matter. It’s a catchy, simple name. And a charming beer; a nice counterpart to modern, flashy, boistrous pale ales (as much fun as they no doubt are, when the mood for them strikes). The malty body is delightfully smooth (particularly off the taps, I thought), and there’s a very pleasant, gently-building marmaladey fruit character comfortably mooching around in the glass. Just a bloody marvellous sit-and-sip kind of a pint.

(And no, the bar didn’t get lighter inbetween this and the ‘Rapture’ that preceeded it. Rapture was on the front taps, and I was a little rushed by the General Populace surrounding me, so I didn’t muck about and obsess as much as I ordinarily might. With the 1812 on tap at a much-quieter end of the bar, I set up a proper long exposure shot. Hence the blurry people. I do like my new toy, I really do.)

Emerson's ‘1812’ IPA
Diary II entry #74, Emerson's ‘1812’ IPA

Verbatim: Emerson’s ‘1812’ IPA 11/3/11 on tap @ MH, also. Further reward! And a chance to show off the camera, since a few stoppers-by were seeing me do some updates + having a tinker. If memory serves, this was a very early notable New Zealander. And it’s very tasty. B[y] current standards, it’s astonishingly mild, of course, but it’s always good to go old-school occasionally. Smooth malt body, nice, almost marmaladey fruitiness in there.

1: At least when it was known by that term. But from the opposite angle, 1812 is quite a bit too late to have much to do with the origins of beers vaguely of this sort (whatever they were called) and/or their export to India.

Yeastie Boys ‘Blondie: Rapture’

Yeastie Boys 'Rapture'
Yeastie Boys 'Rapture'

As much I was enjoying the relative novelty of a Friday Night Off, I was also having a Bit Of A Day. The Gonzo and the writing helped somewhat, but when I returned to the Malthouse and saw that a few tap beers had run out, necessitating a fridge shuffle, I volunteered to sort it out. A dose of Kegtris — with its unique combination of heavy lifting, organising things into neat piles, and near-zero temperatures — is always good for my Zen, peculiar creature that I undoubtedly am.

Colin (the Overboss) was grateful for the Free Labour, and so offered to make it Slightly Not Free by shouting me a pint of the just-tapped ‘Rapture’ as reward when I finished. And it made for a lovely after-exertion restorative.

Whereas its crisp-and-snappy ‘Europa’ version was brewed with a ‘clean’ German Kölsch yeast, ‘Rapture’ was fermented with a Belgian abbey yeast and its light body of mild malt and understated hops provides a perfect showcase for just exactly what sort of difference that choice entails. It’s very easy-going, but delightfully interesting; the funkiness from the yeast is in no way overbearing or confrontingly odd, it’s just quirky fruity goodness. Flavour-wise, it put me in mind of some sort of halfway-hybrid of Tuatara ‘Ardennes’ and Yeastie Boys’ previous Belgian-esque brew ‘Plan K’, although it has a lighter body than either of those.

‘Europa’ was pretty damn tasty, but if I had to choose between Blondies, I’d go with this. The sheer interestingness of a much-lighter-than-usual Belgian ale — the usual stereotype of Belgian brews being rather hefty isn’t universally accurate, but it’s the stereotype for good reason, nonetheless — earns ‘Rapture’ quite a few points with me.

Verbatim: Yeastie Boys ‘Rapture’ 11/3/11 on tap @ MH, reward for a (necessary) day-off dose of Kegtris. The second of the ‘Blondie’ pair of summer ales, this time with a Belgian abbey yeast. The lightness of the base really lets the unique yeasty flavours dance arond a little. Not all crisp + snappy like its sister, smooth, quirky fruitiness instead. Really rather fun. Massively reminds me of something, but I’m struggling to spot what… Not Ardennes or Plan K — but maybe their bastard daughter? Not overpoweringly funky, just easily so. And I’ve just unexpectedly landed on a nicely odd food match: Vintage Cheddar & Red Onion Kettle Chips (i.e., Purple Chips). The easy-going funkiness is in them, too. I am so fucking low-brow, sometimes.

Yeastie Boys 'Rapture', Hashigo tap badge
Yeastie Boys 'Rapture', Hashigo tap badge
Yeastie Boys 'Rapture'
Diary II entry #73.1, Yeastie Boys 'Rapture'
Yeastie Boys 'Rapture'
Diary II entry #73.2, Yeastie Boys 'Rapture'

8 Wired ‘Hopwired’ (Saison yeast)

8 Wired 'Hopwired', Saison yeast edition
8 Wired 'Hopwired', Saison yeast edition

Just when we got a couple of kegs of the ever-delightful Hopwired back in at work, I heard that Hashigo had a keg of an experimental Saison-yeast variation. Which sounded like a prime opportunity for ‘Science!’. I jokingly suggested to Dave that we should pour some pints, brave the Liquor Ban and meet halfway for a side-by-side tasting. He found the good plan buried in my nonsense, and brought a little-wee-flagon of the Saison-edition in to me at Malthouse. Bloody marvellous.

And what a fine experiment it was. Hopwired is a fantastic show-off of both brewing know-how and flavourful local hop varieties. Here in the Little Country, we’ve made passionfruity Riwaka hops, lemon-limey Moteuka hops, white-wine-grapey Nelson Sauvin hops — just to pick three that you’ll find in Hopwired, nicely heaped into a big bowl of fruit salad and then thrown, with some vigor, into your face. In a surprisingly-enjoyable way.

Saisons are, generally, light-but-complex, summery ales descended from Belgian farmhouse brews — and one of their unifying features is a certain funk brought on by the particular yeast used. It’s a difficult thing to describe; it’s a bit of a “know it when you see it” situation. Think of that distinctly woods-y, barnyard-y, slightly-too-real scent that the outdoors produces on occasion.

In Hopwired, the yeast softens that hurled-fruit-salad aspect off somewhat, and insinuates oodles of that musty, funky character. Perhaps because Hopwired is a good deal oomphier than the bones of a Saison would ordinarily be, that charmingly-freakish side is firmly in check, though; it doesn’t obnoxiously overwhelm things at all. There’s a wineyness in there too, which was vaguely reminscent of that in Dogfish Head’s stupidly-lovely ‘Midas Touch’ — it didn’t really taste like actual wine; more like what I wish wine was. Altogether a worthy beer, very worthy as an experiment, and a fascinating side-by-side. I’d almost always opt for the original ‘vanilla’ Hopwired myself, if it were down to one or the other, but this was cracking good fun.

8 Wired 'Hopwired': Saison yeast
Diary II entry #71, 8 Wired 'Hopwired': Saison yeast

Verbatim: 8 Wired ‘Hopwired’: Saison yeast 7/3/11 wee flagon gifted from David @ HZ. Experimental batch of the back-on-our-taps-too Hopwired. Smells like Science! Definitely changes the nose; musty + funky, softening off the fruit. Similar things happen in the face. Not scary-funky, just good old-fashioned James Brown funky. Hints of winey / sour flavours, but not too much. Really rather fun, though I would almost always be in the mood for the original.

Moa ‘Five Hop Winter Ale’

Moa '5 Hop'
Moa '5 Hop'

I’ve railed about it before, but Moa’s appalling brandwank annoys me sufficiently that it still buzzes in my brain as I enjoy something like this, one of their actually-rather-lovely offerings.

Praise first, praise first; stifle the rant for a moment. ‘5 Hop’ is a delicious E.S.B., richly flavoured and deftly balanced. It’s warming without being so stodgy you’d only want it on a cold evening, and nicely pitched at 6.2% — strong enough to warrant taking your time with.

So, wait, why the hell is it called “Five Hop Winter Ale”? That name manages to evoke two different things that this beer isn’t — it’s neither hop-focused, nor particularly wintery. It’s an E.S.B.. That’s a thing. You can call it that. You do call it that, in an afterthought buried at the end of the label or in the tasting notes on the website. Were you just trying to stick the word “hop” on something, since you launched this at the height of the “more hops = more good” fad?

While I’m at it, this sort of crap is an ongoing problem with the Moa Brewery, and it will be very interesting to see what does and does not survive the currently-underway ‘retooling’ of the branding. Given the prominent appearance of the nonsense phrase “super premium”1 on the new tap badge, I’m not massively hopeful things will get much better — though I’m fascinated to find out which bits will get worse.

Setting aside for the moment such annoyances as their daft implication that they’re the only brewery in the country (in existence, perhaps?) to bottle-condition their beers,2 let’s focus for a moment on just one part of their labels: the arch of text over the logo. Moa ‘Original’ premiered with a banner of “Premium Lager of New Zealand”, with ‘Noir’ then heralded as “Premium Dark Lager of New Zealand” and ‘Blanc’ cleverly cast as “Premium Wheat Beer of New Zealand”, subtly brushing aside the apparent reality that their wheat beer is also a lager, rather than the ale you’d almost certainly otherwise expect. Things then go all a bit whack. ‘Harvest’ (a lager with cherry flavouring) gets “Premium Alcoholic Harvest Beer”, which seems to imply three falsehoods — i.e., that the previous three aren’t alcoholic, that this isn’t made in New Zealand, and that “Harvest Beer” means anything at all.3 Then, ‘Five Hop’ and ‘St. Joseph’ get lumped together and mysteriously relegated to the less-descriptive category of “Premium Alcoholic Beer”, before things utterly collapse into a singularity of oddness when their ‘Weka’ lager is billed merely as a “Premium Alcoholic Beverage” — what, is it not actually a goddamn “beer” at all, any more? Just how worried should I be that they so studiously avoid that word, all of a sudden?

This kind of barely-coherent buzzword salad drives me nuts. And makes me sad when I think that it actually probably works often / well enough that some people can convince themselves that it’s worth it. To me, this is brandwank, and I detest it — particularly when it’s so clumsy and contradictory as this. Dear whomever: If you’re going to be an Evil Advertising Bastard, could you at least be a better writer, please?

Verbatim: Moa ‘5 Hop’ 28/2/11 @ Malthouse, w/ Mike the rep.. I’ve always thought this was just oddly-named. Why emphasise the hops, unless you’re going all-out pale ale? It’s a very nice ESBish kinda thing, really. Rich + malty, nicely fruity hops. They’re in the middle of a brand redo, and a push into Australia. Must try and see if the journalist hat fits me…

Moa, new tap badge
Moa, new tap badge
Moa '5 Hop'
Diary II entry #69.1, Moa '5 Hop'
Moa '5 Hop'
Diary II entry #69.2, Moa '5 Hop'

1: Seriously, can marketing people stop pretending that “premium” really means anything, here? The only way for it to ring true at all is to take it at its literal meaning of “more costly”. So maybe this really is an “exceptionally rare” (to hijack Moa’s current slogan) example of honesty in advertising.
2: The phrase “New Zealand’s native Moa is the only beer to be fermented in the bottle, like French champagne” appears on their current homepage. A longer blurb on the section labelled “Discovery” also implies the same, describing the brewing process and ending with “The result is a beer unlike any other — clear, exquisite and bottle-fermented” — the first adjective is outright false, the second subjective and the third hardly unique.
3: Well, it almost means something. If you said those words to any normal / sane kind of Beer Nerd, they’d think you were talking about a pale ale made with as-fresh-as-possible hops, a “wet-hop” beer like Thornbridge ‘Halcyon’ perhaps — just to pick the first one I found in my Diary.

Liberty Brewing ‘West Coast Blonde: Amarillo’

Liberty 'West Coast Blonde'
Liberty 'West Coast Blonde'

On February 26th,1 Hashigo Zake hosted an amazing fundraising night, donating all of their takings between 6pm and midnight to raise money for a local mental health charity and the Red Cross effort in Christchurch. My plan was to stop by late shortly before midnight, after spending my Saturday night hanging out with some friends. But when Pieta realised she’d been locked out of her apartment and that her key was with her flatmate on the other side of town, it was me and my bike to the rescue. Which was all very fun and random, but it did put me in the mood / give me the need for something light and refreshing once I arrived at the pub.

And damn, was this it. Joseph Wood of Liberty Brewing had donated kegs of his West Coast Blonde, and it was precisely what I needed. The Amarillo-hopped version was on tap at the time (it exists in two differently-hopped varieties, and a a few kegs of both were delivered), and it reminded me a lot of Stone & Wood’s ‘Draught Ale’ (now renamed ‘Pacific Ale’) — and I mean that as a compliment because I freakin’ love that stuff2 — what with the multi-faceted fruit-salady-ness, the gorgeous hazy strawish appearance, and the ability to make a person feel human again. For Liberty’s first official release, it’s pretty damn promising (and apparently also rather lovely in its Simcoe-hopped incarnation). But we already knew it would be, especially after his stupidly-awesome ‘Summ!t’ IIPA, which was an unofficial third entrant in Malthouse’s West Coast IPA Challenge last year — and which very much stole the show.3

Verbatim: Liberty ‘West Coast Blonde: Amarillo’ 26/2/11 donated to HZ for their Christchurch Quake / Mental Health fundraiser, which was apparently a huge hit, raising $5K+. Full Marks. I’ve just been biking around a bit tonight, so needed something light + refreshing. This is very much it. Lovely pale + hazy straw. Fruit[] salady, with edges of smokeyness. 5.5% (I still can’t draw fives.) Crisp + dry finish, compared to a nice NZ Pils by some. Really rather reminiscent of Stone & Wood Draught — though I should say “Pacific” now. Stunning burps.

Liberty 'West Coast Blonde' tap badge
Liberty 'West Coast Blonde' tap badge
Liberty 'West Coast Blonde: Amarillo'
Diary II entry #66, Liberty 'West Coast Blonde: Amarillo'

1: i.e., “today”, if you’re playing along with the fiction wherein I update these things as I go, rather than in fits of productivity days or weeks or months (or years!) after the fact. And please, do play along.
2: We had it at the Malthouse after each of the two most-recent Beervana beer festivals. Which puts it in that awkward Grey Area of Not Uploaded Yet Diary Entries. Sorry about that, but take my word for it; its appearances are met with fairly glowing reviews.
3: I’d direct you to its entry, but, er, Grey Area (see above, n2) again. Sorry.

Beer 121: New Zealand Beer for Americans

Beer 121 tasting session lineup
Beer 121 tasting session lineup

I do like a chance to get my Nerd on, have a ramble over some beers and do a bit of evangelising. Work normally provides me with plenty, but I’m always up for ‘extracurricular’ ones, too.

Here, the brief was to lead some visiting Californians on a little tour through the local scene. For the occasion of her wedding party, Jessie — who described herself as growing up “within crawling distance” of the Sierra Nevada brewery — was playing host to her parents (her father is himself a proper Beer Nerd and writes for Northwest Brewing News), her sister and a friend-from-way-back. And since Jessie, her husband Simon, and George and Robyn (who were joining in and providing the venue) had all been in on a previous ‘Beer 101’ tasting session, I figured I’d bam the class code up a few notches and call this ‘Beer 121’, in honour of the Constitutional Amendment that undid that whole Prohibition nonsense.1

The lineup was:

  • Tui — I got so many weird looks when I told people I’d be opening with this — and when I, great big Beer Nerd that I am, was seen buying a six pack. I honestly think it’s mandatory, though, on several grounds: 1) Its history and connection to our own local flirtation with Prohibition, the ultra-daft Six O’clock Closing Era. This is flavourless and limp, but it is so for a reason. 2) It is arguably the definitive modern example of the ‘New Zealand Draught’ style born of that time; it certainly regularly wins awards as such. And so far, that’s the only style that this little country is usually regarded as birthing. 3) Its enduring popularity — it’s one thing to have an enjoyable tour around a country’s best microbrews, but to completely ignore the crap which still sells by the millions all around it would just be weird. Tui is our Bud Light, and you should at least know what you’re avoiding — and why.
  • Emerson’s Pilsner — Swiftly to something tasty, then. I made the argument that ‘New Zealand Pilsner’ could plausibly be our next “indigenous style”, perhaps somewhat saving us the national embarrassment of the above. And at least one spot had to go to an Emerson’s beer, in recognition of their longevity in the local good beer game. Its crisp, snappy fruitiness was an instant hit, and we’re still struggling to come up with a suggestion for a Something Vaguely Similar that the Californians can seek out now that they’re home again. (Help welcome.)
  • Tuatara APA — Next, an example of a local run at an American style; perhaps the American style, and certainly one which sprung up from the area where our visitors live. I picked this one over the other usual candidate (Epic Pale Ale), since this has some more-local points in its favour (being a Wellington beer) and because I think it’s just currently more interesting than its obvious inspiration. For the record, the Californians were in agreement that this was pretty spot-on APA; those that liked such things like this — and those who don’t usually like the pale ales back home didn’t go for this, either.
  • 8 Wired ‘Hopwired’ IPA — This, then, is a beer clearly inspired by big hoppy American pale ales, but it ups the ‘local flavour’ by using only New-Zealand-developed hop varieties, providing a great excuse to show them off. Also much more multi-faceted than the Tuatara above, it definitely began to win over the doubters that one struck.
  • Yeastie Boys ‘Pot Kettle Black: US remix’ — Talk of ‘rockstar’ brewers and of contract brewing made for a nice segue between the Hopwired and this really rather serendipitous beer. I was planning on using standard-edition ‘PKB’ anyway, for its inherent loveliness and interestingness and for the connection with the ‘Black IPA’ trend that seems to be bubbling up here and in the States — but to have a ‘US remix’ available? Bloody marvellous timing. It was also the only beer of the night that I was also tasting for the first time. And suffice to say I really should see if I can grab a bottle and give it its own Diary entry.
  • Epic / Dogfish Head ‘Portamarillo’ — And then to finish, what more could you ask for than a New Zealand / U.S. collaboration? Especially when the beer in question is so deliriously idiosyncratic and uniquely ‘local’, with its flavours of tamarillo smoked over native Pohutakawa, our ‘national Christmas tree’. Sacrilicious.

Brilliantly, Jessie even made sure that there was Apple Pie for afters; what else could we have had? Its blistering awesomeness and the fun we were having matching it with the remains of the PKB and the Portamarillo (and then experimenting with little Ice Cream Floats with each — which were excellent) explains why I entirely failed to make an actual paper Diary entry to memorialise the evening.

Beer 121, tasting glass forest
Beer 121, a shiny forest of tasting glasses
Beer 121, obligatory apple pie
Beer 121, obligatory (and fantastic) apple pie

1: Fittingly, there’s also a rather-charming craft brewery named after that clever and worthy (if slow) legislative rethink. I’ve had their ‘Brew Free or Die Hard’ IPA, but its Diary entry is still stuck in the infamous Not Uploaded Yet limbo.