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Posts with (in my wholly-biased opinion) particularly fetching photos

GABS 2012: Day One Photos

So, I’m back in my dear old Melbourne taking full advantage of my well-timed unemployment to attend GABS: the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular. It’s rather a treat, and will warrant a proper write-up (or several), but I just want to use the last few moments before my sleep-deprived brain implodes to upload a few photos.

— The Location

The venue — the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens — is right in my old neighbourhood (at the end of my genuinely lovely one-time ten minute walk to work, in fact), and it’s freakin’ gorgeous. The bars were in the East and West wings, renamed as the “Malt” and “Hops” Ends; the latter seeming to have just a bit more going on, which nicely fits the current state of the market and its fashions. The center contained a stage upon which a good collection of bands performed — usually slightly too loud.

Main Hall, looking East
Main Hall, looking East
Fountain and park outside
Fountain and park outside
Main hall, ceiling
Main Hall, ceiling
The Hops End
The Hops End
The Malt End
The Malt End
Main Hall, center
Main Hall, center

— The Beer

The selection of beer on offer — nearly sixty mostly-one-off brews from New Zealand and Australia — is headcrushingly varied and enticing. It skews somewhat to the experimental and odd, but not in a stuntish or boringly overblown way. The huge bars were well prepped and keyed mainly towards serving five-sample tasting trays, with payments all handled by familiar and ubiquitous tokens that help you forget just how much you’re spending. I kept things fairly sedate — I was slightly less sleep-deprived than now, but still extraordinarily so and had odd-job volunteer work to do off and on through the night. I had a tasting tray of the five mildest beers on offer (all ≤4.5% ABV), but later rewarded myself with a proper-glass nightcap of Garage Project’s ‘Double Day of the Dead’, a worthy (and embiggened) reincarnation of my Favourite Beer of 2012. There’s plenty more I want to try, but I am going to three more sessions; there’s time.

The Big Board part 1
The Big Board part 1
The Big Board part 2
The Big Board part 2
The Big Board part 3
The Big Board part 3
Bar 01, prepping
Bar 01, prepping
Bar 04, serving
Bar 04, serving
$2 GABS 2012 Token
$2 GABS 2012 Token
Row of taps
Row of taps
Sessionable tasting paddle
Sessionable tasting paddle
Double Day of the Dead
Double Day of the Dead

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.

8 Wired ‘Batch 18’

8 Wired 'Batch 18'
8 Wired ‘Batch 18’

This is ‘anniversary beer’ done right. And good god damn is it done right. I am peculiarly fond of ‘occasion beer’ and so do love it when brewers mark special moments with special beers. But when they’re afterthoughts, or half-assed, or tokenistic, then they’re just sad. Tuatara’s ‘X’ Anniversary Ale last year was one of those (for me, and just to pick the example that comes most-readily to mind) with its bungled packaging and uninspiring recipe — though it has to be said that this year’s offering was considerably better on all fronts, but we’ll get to that in its own turn, soon enough. Suffice it to say, though — as I already have done, twice — that ‘Batch 18’ is no let-down; it’s a freakin’ masterpiece.1

8 Wired really did hit the ground running back in late 2009, with a lovely brown ale (which came to be known as ‘Rewired’, but initially carried the somewhat-awkward name ‘All of the Above’), then an attention-grabbing local-produce-celebrating pale ale (in ‘Hopwired’), and onwards to an ever-expanding frequently-impressively-experimental range of beers. Most-recently, the still-relatively-new brewery’s rise was marked by taking out the “Best Brewery” gong at the beer awards this year — an achievement that was utterly deserved and generated seemingly-none of the usual beer geek grumbles or quibbles with such awards.

But ‘Batch 18’ was in the works long before that. According to Søren’s characteristically-useful label text, the plan was to celebrate an “anniversary” with their eighth batch, setting calendar-based timing aside and leaning instead on that numeral in their name. Things were way too busy when #8 rolled around, so they pushed it back to #18; do it right, or don’t do it at all. I just love that;2 it takes balls to delay something obviously-occasion-based past its actual date, merely in the name of doing it right — just try, those of you with spouses,3 to skip an anniversary and see how much compensatory awesomeness is required in return. This, though? This gets away with it; it’s massive and elaborate and you wouldn’t want to’ve done it in a rush. It’s a big imperial stout, fundamentally, but definitely isn’t just a slightly blinged-up version of their bloody-lovely ‘iStout’. Rather, it’s brewed with two different yeast strains, dosed up with jaggery (a raw sugar, which throws in some interesting flavours and helps kick the alcoholic strength up a few notches), infused with coffee, aged for a few months in oak barrels, infused with more coffee — before finally being bottled up and wrapped in a gorgeous-but-simple label that implores you to a) share, and b) be brave.

So I did, and I was. After I was done for the night, I sat at the bar and poured out five glasses — while admittedly bogarting the biggest glass for myself. We were all struck by the forceful nature of the nose of it, on first whiff. This was not a beer that was shy about letting you know that a lot would be going on in the glass. It doesn’t warn you away, but it does warn you nonetheless. There’s a distinct booziness to it (it is 12.5%, after all), and that must help waft all those aromas up out of the glass. All the components are quite obviously doing something, and can certainly be picked out individually if you try hard enough — but it’s also a deft exercise in Flavour Jenga; they’re piled in a great big stack, but not precariously or without balance. They combine in interesting ways, too, stitching together into interestingly-unexpected notes like the “blue cheese and pears” comparison that Jono hit upon.

I’ve got two more of these, sitting in my stash at work. I should drag one out now (well, not now, since it’s 4.30am as I write this) and have it in celebration of the Champion Brewery trophy, and then I might just leave the other bottle to sit and wait until their calendar-birthday rolls around later this year. Søren was pretty sure that the coffee flavour would ease right off over time, but it was still nicely present in the bottles we had at a Weta Digital beer tasting not too long ago — so there’s an element of Science! to my plan, not just an attempt at delayed gratification and blatant act of hoarding. Thought it is those, also.

Verbatim: 8 Wired ‘Batch 18’ 3/6/11 500ml ÷ 5 with Peter, Haitch, Jono + Katie (the new girl) 12.5% $15-ish @ Reg. Bloody nice idea, well pitched and executed bang on. A little terrifying in your nose, but not in a bad way. Fumey + funky — blue cheese + pears, we think. Definitely hot + lingering on the palate, and you can definitely taste all the components. I said “definitely” twice. That’s telling. It’s a bit crazy, but in a charming kind of way, not (just) an off-putting one.

8 Wired 'Batch 18', blurb
8 Wired 'Batch 18', blurb
8 Wired 'Batch 18'
Diary II entry #109, 8 Wired 'Batch 18'

1: Hell, given the elaborate recipe and execution, it comes close to being a “masterpiece” in the older-school sense of the thing that signifies the turn from journeyman to craftsman. But that’s not how the Brewer’s Guild works, these days, despite the name. I have to say that, now I mention it (to myself so far, obviously), I can’t shake the suspicion that it’s a pretty neat idea…
2: I’m a habitual procrastinator, as you might be able to discern from the disparity between the dates of Diary entries and the dates on which they appear, here. When I feel the need to defend myself, usually just to myself, this is the line I run most often.
3: “Spice”?

Monteith’s ‘Single Source’

Monteith's 'Single Source'
Monteith's 'Single Source'

Once more unto the brandwank, dear friends, once more.

— Not quite Henry V

This one positively reeks of being a project out of the marketing department rather than one with its origins in the brain of a brewer, beer drinker, or normal person. At the time I’m putting this post together (in early July), a cursory Google search still more-readily produces write-ups concerning the beer’s branding (such as its packaging and website) than it does things which address, you know, the beer itself. The ‘pitch’ is simple: a beer produced using ingredients from just one barley farm, and just one hop farm.

But immediately, of course, there’s a snag. That’s not “Single Source” at all. I’ve mentioned two farms already. And then there’s a brewery in Timaru — not at either farm, and not anywhere near the home of Monteith’s in Greymouth on the West Coast. The water is from the area around the brewery, but the yeast is from god-knows-where and doesn’t actually rate a mention. So that’s four sources for a modern beer’s four canonical ingredients, two (i.e., half) of which aren’t really discussed, and a muddling of a historic (small-town) brewery with a modern (national) ‘brand’. If they were talking about an estate beer, made with barley and hops grown at the brewery, it might be worthy of the title — and such things do exist.1 Here, they’ve gone 1) catchy name, 2) half-assery.

Their precious Latitude / Longitude references don’t even make any damn sense. The location given for the origin of the hops — with its six decimal places — traces them to the grower’s front garden, rather than his fields. There’s some mention of the hop-farmer thinking his Southern Cross hops were particularly suited to the ‘microclimate’ in his garden in the official writeup, but there don’t appear to be any actually growing in that part of his property, and if they are just from his front yard, how ridiculously few have they used? Then, the coordinates for the barley — with their even-more-insane seven decimals — appear to point to the farmer’s driveway, or at least the hedgerow that runs along it. Something’s amiss; given their relative proportions in the brewing process, there’s just no way you could be more precise about the source of your barley than of your hops. And I called attention to their decimal places for good reason: six digits narrows you down to a tenth of a metre, seven digits basically gets you within a single centimeter. It’s an utterly stupid degree of “accuracy”, one that is just bursting with wank and ironically so “precise” it’s just obviously wrong. Three decimal places would pinpoint an area of roughly a hundred-or-so metres, and would thereby count as information rather than just bullshit.

On top of that, as Matt Kirkegaard pointed out (when he held his nose and read their over-inflated press release), it’s an absolutely bizarre kind of self-undermining bullshit if you stop to think about it for more than a second. It accidentally implies all sorts of terrible things about the beers in the same range: that they’re made without any real care or attention paid to the quality of their ingredients, that they’re utterly divorced from their roots (fitting for ‘Radler’, perhaps, but hardly inkeeping with the story for their ‘Original Ale’), and they’re not really worth protecting from getting lightstruck and skunked. If you go to conspicuous lengths to emphasise something apparently-worthy about one of your products, it starts to look rather odd that you aren’t really worried about that allegedly-serious concern when it comes to your others.

This isn’t remotely unique to Monteith’s and “Single Source”, of course. The same thing happens with the aggressively ‘all-natural’ marketing of Steinlager “Pure” — just what the fuck sort of witchcraft and chemical buggery and radioactive goo are they telling me is lurking in regular Steinlager? It’s probably partially a by-product of different projects being farmed out to different ad agencies, but it’s in particularly stark relief with this black-bottled, relentlessly brandwanked beer — especially given the fuckups the execution of its ‘story’, and the incredible sameyness of the product. And they have the unmitigated gall (amidst a fancy-pants website that tries desperately to be Down Home and simultaneously Ultra Modern) to describe their goal as:

A beer that didn’t need to rely on hype to be appreciated. A beer for the love of beer, if you like.

To which I have two-and-a-half responses: 1) like balls — and 2) if that was the plan, then a) you failed, and b) why all the, you know, hype? The beer isn’t terrible, at least. It’s the usual kind of basically-faultless but basically-featureless sort of thing we’ve come to expect from this corner of the market. It felt a bit like the label copy had been written in advance, or by someone who’d never met the beer (or perhaps a dictionary); it definitely wasn’t “aromatic”, though it did have a funk-free and pleasant mild nose, and it was certainly more in the realm of what normal people would call “smooth” than “crisp” (the lager-advertiser’s fallback adjective).

If we put it in its proper context of overly-marketed mild-to-flavourless lagers with delusions of grandeur, then I suppose I’d rather have one of these than a Budweiser. In that sense, and in that sense alone, it’s alright. But, to borrow the masterful conclusion from Hadyn Green’s piece on the subject:

In the end the fakers always lose, or run off following some other trend… Craft beer is like comic collecting, antiquing, cave diving, wine drinking or any other hobby — the interest for the enthusiast is the story. But the story can’t be tacked onto a paper-thin attempt. No one cares about the director’s commentary on a terrible film.

The beer itself is a non-disaster, and yet everything about “Monteith’s Single Source” is a clusterfuck of awfulness. Each word literally fails; the ad-man’s version of the world requires that you 1) ignore “Monteith’s”, lest you think less of their other products for lacking the prized black bottle, 2) not understand the word “single” or have any idea what goes into a beer or how many varieties might be used, and 3) not actually look up the “source” using the coordinates provided, in case you realise that their absurdly long string of digits is rather hollow and stupid and possibly some peculiar sort of geographical / mathematical equivalent to the kind of large, flashy (and, you know, overcompensatory) cars some men feel the need to be seen driving.

Verbatim: Monteith’s ‘Single Source’ Lager 13/5/11 330ml 5% @ MH Some 30th Birthday resonance with my Steinlager Edge, and a nice reminder that Moa aren’t the only local brandwankers. The ‘pitch’ is offensively daft, overwrought and ironically-damning of their main range. And it’s not single source, is it? The beer is freakishly pale — maybe the black bottle blocks out too much sun… Faint nose, mercifully funkless. Certainly not “aromatic”, though. Nice intial feel (though it’s more smooth than “crisp”), but the flavour, such as it is, is quickly tied to a piano and pushed off a bridge. It’s very nothing. A sad, wasted opportunity.

Monteith's 'Single Source', wanky ramble
Monteith's 'Single Source', wanky ramble
Monteith's 'Single Source'
Diary II entry #102, Monteith's 'Single Source' Lager

1: So no, marketing division, this isn’t “a revolutionary new beer”. Even if you had made something genuinely “single source”, you wouldn’t have been the first.

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).

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.

Little Creatures Single Batch Oatmeal Stout

Little Creatures Single Batch Oatmeal Stout
Little Creatures Single Batch Oatmeal Stout

It’s hardly a secret: I loves the Little Creatures, I do. It continues to pain me greatly that only the Pale Ale is available over here in New Zealand — as much as I freakin’ adore it, they’ve long make other brilliant things and have relatively-recently started doing these ‘Single Batch’ runs.

Coincidentally, I was just (before writing this up) listening to the first episode of Radio Brews News, a new podcast from some fine folk over in the Big Country. One of the topics of conversation was another Creatures ‘Single Batch’, a recently-released Märzen. Apparently it wasn’t overly well-received, with the general sense among some of the Beer Geek Crowd (not really shared by those on the podcast) that one-offs should be over-the-top, and anything shy of crazypants is a disappointment. Which, frankly, is bonkers. Firstly, there’s a solid case to be made that a Märzen which knocks your socks off is, at least, not quite right; they’re pretty easy-going things, by design. And secondly, I do tire of that undercurrent of thinking that only the big-and-brash are worth celebrating. There’s a lot to be said for well-made pieces of relaxing and restrained loveliness. Like this.

Also rather coincidentally, I’d recently been talking about Beer-and-x Matching. I know basically nothing about food,1 so I’m all at sea when it comes to the finally-fashionable field of beer-and-food matching. Perhaps to compensate as much as for the inherent fun of it, I was recently talking about beer-and-music matching on the Twitterthing — so I’m listening to Talking Heads while writing this, for reasons that’ll be apparent if your Music Trivia skill is high enough2 — and Pete Brown also brought up the subject of beer-and-books matching with excellent timing and linking it to a discussion of the broderline-synesthesia I sometimes try to hide behind when my ‘tasting note’ comparisons get particularly-loopy. But the best x is as true as it sounds twee to say: good beer goes best with good people.3

And this beer was linked to several. My friend Kirsten bought it for me when she was over in Melbourne for work, going so far as to lie about not being able to get any to bring home and leaving it to send me all geek-giddy when I just discovered it in her fridge. We didn’t get around to drinking it, distracted by good bars and good food as we were, so I thought it’d make a good bar-warming thing to split with Scott at his new pub — though it took us a few months to finally have it. Good thing I’m an alarmingly-patient fellow, sometimes; I was dead keen to try this. But it all worked out nicely; we had some good stories to share, and were joined by my flatmate (and our mutual friend and former colleague) Megan, and my friend KT. Just bloody marvellous.

So it was in good company, but it didn’t rest and try to coast on that advantage; it was delightful all of its own doing, as well. It was a wonderfully deft stout — only 4.2%, and with a light, silky body that still managed to have a real smoothness to it (presumably thanks to the oatmeal). The coffee-in-a-chocolate-milkshake flavour is delicious and not overblown — but still easily enough to warrant the sip-and-savour that a much heavier beer normally calls for or demands. I say in my notes that I was on a good stout run — which I am, and which I can tell you (from flipping forward a few pages) continues a good while yet — but that’s a two-edged thing; this could’ve been eclipsed by other recent beers, if it wasn’t something special. But it was just what I was looking for, exactly what I was hoping it’d be, and totally worth waiting for. Now I just have to find a suitable occasion for my second bottle…

Verbatim: Little Creatures Single Batch Oatmeal Stout 16/4/11 @ HG with Scotty, at last. Related a Good Story About Malthouse, so it seemed apt. 568ml — “pint-sized!”, 4.2%, and that [is] apparent in its lovely-lovely lightness. Deliciously smooth coffee / choc-milkshake wave a few seconds in. Just what I wanted, again. I am on a good stout run. Scott’s bottle-opener, “Freddie”, went well, given Pipsqueak’s logo. It’s deft, and confidently-understated. Plus I got to split it with KT, as well!

Little Creatures Single Batch Oatmeal Stout, brewers' scribble
Little Creatures Single Batch Oatmeal Stout, brewers' scribble
Little Creatures Single Batch Oatmeal Stout
Diary II entry #91, Little Creatures Single Batch Oatmeal Stout

1: Dinner tonight was scrambled eggs. That’s just about as elaborate a meal as I have ever prepared, or ever realistically aspire to prepare, on my own. Though, in my defence: they were excellent; the Three Boys Wheat I had complemented them wonderfully; and I’m not terrible as a sous-chef, so long as you find enthusiastic ignorance amusing, rather than irritating.
2: If not: Talking Heads released an album called Little Creatures, back in 1985. It and the live-in-the-bottle nature of their first and flagship product combined to inspire the name of the brewery, so the story goes.
3: Helpfully, good people drink good beer, as Hunter reminds us.

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).

Dogfish Head ‘60 & 90 Minute’ IPAs

Dogfish Head ‘60 & 90 Minute’ IPAs
Dogfish Head ‘60 & 90 Minute’ IPAs

And really, how better to follow a charmingly old-school, relatively-sedate IPA than with a pair of hop-mad ones; two rungs on a ladder of crazypants by the mad geniuses at the Dogfish Head brewery. My flatmate Ollie and I each had a half-glass of their ‘60 Minute’ IPA and ‘90 Minute’ IIPA1 — the time references how long the brew is boiled for, and they just keep biffing more hops in every minute, on the minute.

There are two others in the range; a stronger, stickier ‘120 Minute’ (way up at 18%) and a ‘75 Minute’, which is a 50-50 blend of the 60 and the 90 which is then barrel aged, with yet more hops. These two are much more readily-available, though — the 90 Minute was the original, but it’s the 60 Minute which is currently their biggest-seller. I’ve had them individually before, and they make for a hell of a side-by-side comparison.

Both are positively a-sploding with classic Northwest-U.S. hop flavours.2 60 Minute is generously described as the ‘sessionable’ one of the set, but that’s probably only true relative to the others; it is still 6% and pretty wonderfully solid, all on its own. The 90 Minute is then instantly recognisable as the same idea, just with the volume turned up considerably — from how you might have it when unselfconsciously dancing around the house on your own, straight to something that’ll instantly annoy the neighbours. But to hell with the neighbours. You just have to crank things up stupidly occasionally. And this beer does that. Maybe you couldn’t have it every day, but maybe you wouldn’t want to. It’s that one day of madness and excess that you enjoy ridiculously, but which you couldn’t indulge in too often — lest you run out of money, liver cells, close friends, or chances at diversion from the criminal justice system (whatever you burn through most readily when you party just a bit too hard).

They’re both bloody marvellous and choosing between them is so agonisingly difficult that I personally just recommend you do as we did, here — better to break the rules with a Gordian Knot kind of move than to wind up like Buridan’s Ass, if I can just crazy with the references for a moment. These are the sort of beers that inspire that enjoyably-geeky sort of rambling and blathering, as you can see from the near-nonsense in my notes.

Verbatim: Dogfish Head ‘60 & 90 Minute’ IPAs 11/3/11 6% + 9% both 12 floz. Ollie and I are having half each, on the occasion of the new job. 60 is happiness all day, every day; 90, one massive hit, once a day. It’s Sophie’s Choice. I love how recognisable the progression is. 90 is just that leap upwards in aroma, sharpness + intensity — and just straight up the nose to the forebrain. 60 is the preacher saying “Can I get a flavour?” and waving his hands. 90 is the response from a thousand-strong congregation.

Dogfish Head ‘60 & 90 Minute’ IPAs
Diary II entry #75.1, Dogfish Head ‘60 & 90 Minute’ IPAs
Dogfish Head ‘60 & 90 Minute’ IPAs
Diary II entry #75.2, Dogfish Head ‘60 & 90 Minute’ IPAs

1: Those links are highly recommended, by the by. Both feature pretty good notes, and nice little videos featuring a bit of backstory about the beers and the brewery — including some high-tech and no-tech gizmos, and the origin of their otherwise-rather-odd name. You can see Sam’s easy and infectious enthusiasm in the videos, too. Despite being one of these new-fangled beer celebrities (what with his documentary series and its collaborations and all), he seems to remain a thoroughly-lovely chap — we briefly worked behind the same bar at the beer festival last year, which truncates the hell out of my Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (Beer Nerd Edition) paths.
2: The hop varieties are from the Northwest, at least. Dogfish Head itself is in Delaware. But any mention of Delaware just makes me think of Wayne’s World, and thereby proves distracting.

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.