Tag Archives: Porter

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.

Tuatara Porter (doubly modified) & Croucher ‘Mrs. Claus’

Tuatara Porter (with pinot and cherries) and Croucher 'Mrs Claus'
Tuatara Porter (with pinot and cherries) and Croucher 'Mrs Claus'

There some beers that you want to like, but you just can’t. Both of these were near-misses, for me, so I lessened their Diary-polluting effect by consolidating them into one entry.

Pinot and porter are usually a great match — Hallertau do a wonderfully-mad ‘Porter Noir’ with barrels home to the usually-wild Brett yeast, and the Dux de Lux did a very nice (more ‘normal’) take on the same a while back. I like Tuatara’s Porter, but maybe it wasn’t ‘heavy’ enough to survive its time in the barrels — it had thinned out a lot, to the point that I didn’t like it at all when we had it flat from the handpull. It was decent when we had it on the regular taps, the lower temperature and the bubbles helping to hold it together, maybe. But here, pouring through a hopinator full of cherries, there was just too much going on and the porter wasn’t big enough not to be overwhelmed. The three sets of flavour — porter, pinot, and cherry — were just all too mild. First thing in the morning, after stewing overnight, it was at its best — but it was just all cherry, then.

And then, after Croucher’s enjoyably-odd ‘October’ IPA, ‘Mrs. Claus’ was a real disappointment. They were going for a Christmassy spiced-up Scotch ale, and I do like my spicy beers and my Scotch ales — but something just went wrong here, for me. Maybe it was just too cinnamonny, or maybe it just wasn’t at all suited to the handpull we had it on — it is tasting better, now that we’ve gassed it up and cooled it down a bit. But I wasn’t able to shake the feeling that I already knew a lovely fruitcakey beer in Renaissance’s stupidly-lovely ‘Stonecutter’, and this just couldn’t compete.

(Weirdly, one of the guys from the Arrow Brewing Company was in the bar on the night I’m writing this up — 28 January 2011 — and so I was reminded that they made an out-and-out Christmas Cake beer too. They had it at Beervana 2010, and Halena and I loved it to bits — it being the only thing we could think to have to follow Dogfish Head’s surprisingly-awesome Punkin’ Ale. So yeah; the offerings from Renaissance and Arrow make ‘Mrs. Claus’ doubly redundant, sadly.)

Verbatim: Tuatara Porter (Barrel-aged and with cherries) & Croucher ‘Mrs. Claus’ 29/12/10 two near misses, on a very quiet day. George keeps harrassing me for ‘dislike’ entries, so here’s one. These are real let-downs. The porter was nice enough on the bubbly tap, un-cherried, but here’s just too much at once, for a beer that lost a lot of body in the barrel. That made it limp + horrid on handpull, and here it just makes it too weak to stand up to all this tart + sour fruit. ‘Mrs. Claus’ is a stab at a ‘Christmas Cake Ale’, and is a spcied 6% scotch ale. I like their beers, but this fails to follow Stonecutter’s goodness — cf Emerson’s Southern Clam & Three Boys Oyster — if you can’t stand up to something already existing, don’t bother. It’s very metallic, too — tastes like the handpull hasn’t been cleared, though it has. Unpleasant, like being stabbed with a cinnamon-edged rusty old knife.

Tuatara Porter (with Pinot and cherries) and Croucher 'Mrs. Claus'
Diary II entry #48.1, Tuatara Porter (with Pinot and cherries) and Croucher 'Mrs. Claus'
Tuatara Porter (with Pinot and cherries) and Croucher 'Mrs. Claus'
Diary II entry #48.2, Tuatara Porter (with Pinot and cherries) and Croucher 'Mrs. Claus'

Epic / Dogfish Head ‘Portamarillo’

Epic 'Portamarillo' tap badge
Epic 'Portamarillo' tap badge

I really have turned around on Epic’s beers over the course of a few years. For too long, Luke’s products were just the perfect embodiment of that trend that bored me so horribly wherein More Hops All Other Considerations Be Damned became such a trendy and habitual thing to do. Yawn, I say, despite loving a hop-stupid beer on occasion. I just hate to see one element of a many-faceted thing elevated above all others and paraded about as if it’s the key to everything for all situations.1, 2

‘Mayhem’ met me halfway, being a hop-focussed but actually balanced beer which I really enjoyed, and lately, Luke’s finally gone that final step and made some beers which let other factors entirely take the leading roles. His collaboration with England’s Thornbridge brewery produced a pretty-damn-good stout, and this ‘Portamarillo’ might just be a proper turning point, rescuing Epic from One Trick Pony status. Because honestly, no matter how good any particular pony’s one trick is — yawn.

So. Continuing along the collaboration train, Luke joined forces with Sam Caligione of the famously-experimental Dogfish Head brewery. Working together for part of Sam’s Discovery Channel TV series, they made a uniquely New Zealandish beer by smoking tamarillos over pohutakawa and cramming them into a smooth, boozy porter. Because why not? It sounds ludicrous, but works absurdly well. I drank a lot of it myself, as we quickly went through some two-hundred litres from the taps at work. The porter is relatively light-bodied for its strength, leaving room for the gentle smokiness and a delightfully-random tart fruitiness.

Better yet, they brewed it twice. Double-better-yet, we got to try some of the U.S.-brewed version at work, when we threw a bit of a shindig for the Near Enough Fifth Birthday of the Epic brewery. It was a great little exercise in how much difference little changes can make — the Dogfish version being much smokier, the peculiar ‘sweetness’ you get from heavily-smoked malt stealing the show more from the tart fruit. The U.S. version was only available because Sam had some in his luggage, the Epic batch is still kicking around in bottles in the better sorts of retail outlets; you should get some if you haven’t yet — or just get more.

Verbatim: Epic / Dogfish Head Portamarillo 15/12/10 @ MH, for Epic’s Fifth-ish Birthday. The NZ brew is on tap, and we’ve got a bottle of the US batch to try. It’s an awesomely odd idea: Porter with Pohutakawa-smoked-Tamarillo. The US is darker is body + bubbles and — to me — plays up the smoke more, whereas the fruit is stronger in the NZ. The US has a crazy bitter / spicy late finish, the NZ seems smoother. But I really dig both.

— so then (16/12/10), I was stopped on the street today by a regular who was asking about my blogthing. Which was enjoyably weird. But he also mentioned that Luke’s version was less smoked than Sam’s, because he didn’t want that tail-end astringency. I really must get around to watching the Making Of TV show, but it’s nice to know I was on the right track.

Dogfish Head 'Portamarillo'
Dogfish Head 'Portamarillo'
Epic / Dogfish Head 'Portamarillo'
Diary II entry #41.1, Epic / Dogfish Head 'Portamarillo'
Epic / Dogfish Head 'Portamarillo'
Diary II entry #41.2, Epic / Dogfish Head 'Portamarillo'

1: The same thing, lamentably, happens with my related obsession: Scotch Whisky. There, you get “peat freaks” like you get “hop heads” with beer — indeed, I think there are similarities to be drawn all over the place between peaty whiskies and hoppy beers, but that’s a little too tangential even for a footnote, perhaps. Myself, I love peaty whiskies. But not all the time. Not to the point where in absolutely all cases would I think that a whisky would be improved by more peatiness. So it is with hoppy beer.

2: And don’t you have to worry — at least a little — when you read something adorned with a “Add More Hops” background or a title like “I’m Here for the Hops” or “The Pursuit of Hoppiness” whether you should be discounting (in the sense of moderating-down, not “ignoring”) what they say about beers with a different emphasis? I read all three aforementioned sources avidly, but wish they didn’t position themselves so lop-sidedly. They might defend themselves by saying these things are (half?) in jest — but then, why are all the jokes lined up in that one direction?

Emerson’s Brewers’ Reserve: ‘Grace Jones’ Porter

Emerson's 'Grace Jones'
Diary II entry #34, Emerson's 'Grace Jones'

The Emerson’s brewers are here doing their own version of the Barry White joke I made in reference to their Oatmeal Stout. Not that I’m claiming credit, of course. But it’s nice to have a “thinking alike” moment now and then.

Much like the recent Southern Clam Stout, ‘Grace’ does make for another worthy successor to ‘Barry’ — especially given the texture-smoothifying oats they’ve used here (which were obviously also in the Oatmeal Stout, hence the name). They cite the Anchor Porter as an inspiriation, implying higher-than-usual levels of hops which showed up, to me, as a nicely ‘zingy’ edge around all that delicious chocolate flavour.

I do like Emerson’s London Porter a lot, but also wish they’d put something like this into permanent production — it’d be nice to have a bigger, ‘stoutier’ option on the roster, too. Which does of course bring up the question of stout versus porter, since here’s me saying that this is ‘stouty’. I’d just been reading Martyn Cornell’s masterful mythbusting post on the topic, so it was on my mind and lead to an oddly-heated discussion with some of the Beer Nerds. Myself, I’m perfectly happy with the realisation that a lot of what we Nerds have in our heads about the ‘classic styles’ is alarmingly-modern, actually, and pretty much entirely non-historical. That’s not a big deal; the terms are still useful enough — and this happens to our entire language anyway, all the time. I don’t really see why some people get bent out of shape and spend their time so passionately reifying descriptions that were always pretty loose and negotiable.

You can still be grumpy — and believe me, I am — about egregiously silly unilateral attempts to lock up or modify bits of the beer-related lexicon — he says, looking at you, D.B., and your nonsense-faced defence of the ‘Radler’ trademark you know damn well you should never have applied for, nor been granted — without turning into a total anorak who fights for hard-and-fast distinctions where there needn’t be any.

Verbatim: Emerson’s Brewers’ Reserve: Grace Jones 10/11/10 guest @ MH 6% The Beer Club folks had this, and I scandalised them with the thought (from Zythophile) that there just isn’t a principled stout / porter distinction. They got oddly mad + defensive. Anyhow, I’d had this at Nerding one night a few weeks ago; we all liked it then, but I didn’t diarise it. Is lovely. Very dark, with ruby highlights. Apparently inspired by Fullers & Anchor porters. Pretty worthy, really. Massively chocolatey, smooth (oats!), but with a nice zingy edge.

Beer 101 Tasting Session

Beer 101 tasting session empties
Beer 101 tasting session empties

George (the gifter of the original Diary) organised a little tasting session at his house for a few friends of ours, with me playing the Informative Nerd. I’ll be the first to admit that I made them all run a bit of a marathon, but we hit most of the Big Styles, did some Interesting Comparisons, and had a whirlwind tour of the Long and Rambling History of Beer.

There’s a lot more variation in beer than there is in, say, wine or whisky, so a fairly zoomed-out overview can go a long way towards making people more ‘conversant’ in the basic styles, why they are what they are, how to figure out what they’re in for by looking at the bottle, and to help people discover what is (and isn’t) Their Thing.

I can’t help but notice, though, that I utterly failed to fulfil Jessie’s request / demand for a “super-awesome” Diary entry. I’m definitely more of an improvisational entertainer than an on-demand one — and that curry was seriously distracting. Especially after all that beer.

Verbatim: Beer 101 10/10/10 I have to write something super-awesome, says Jessie. No pressure. Tasting session & history lesson at George & Robyn’s, with Jessie + Simon + Pip. Great chance to get my nerd on, and evangelise to Robyn. We had: – Wigram Spruce Beer – Hoegaarden – Hofbräu Munchner Weisse – Köstritzer – Pilsner Urquell – Mussel Inn Golden Goose – Tuatara Porter – Invercargill Pitch Black – Emerson’s Bookbinder – Fuller’s IPA – Epic Pale Ale – Three Boys Golden Ale – Chimay Blue – Kriek Boon. And now, George + Pip have wrangled us a curry. Bloody marvellous.

Beer 101 tasting session empties
Beer 101 tasting session empties
Beer 101
Diary II entry #23.1, Beer 101
Beer 101
Diary II entry #23.2, Beer 101

Yeastie Boys ‘Pot Kettle Black’

Yeastie Boys 'Pot Kettle Black'
Yeastie Boys 'Pot Kettle Black'

‘PKB’ — as it quickly became known; the full version of the name is meant to highlight the seeming-contradiction in a beer being both hoppy and dark — was the first Yeastie Boys release. It also — appropriately enough — went on to contradict their usual modus operandi by returning for batch after batch (slightly tweaked, each time). It’s now intended to be available year-round, in these fetchingly-labelled 330ml bottles.

The rumour around Beer Nerd circles was that this first bottled batch had its hops ‘backwards’, with the result that there was less emphasis on the citrussy American Cascade hop front. I’m not sure whether it’s true or not — there is a disturbing little trend, even among properly-geeky craft brewers, of ‘covering up’ these little accidental variations that happen from time to time — but even if it is, from my tasting of this first-batch bottle, it’d only mean this was effectively another minor ‘remix’, and still a delicious, conspicuously-hopped, rich dark ale.

Deciding how to style-tag ‘Her Majesty’ was difficult enough, but this one complicates things in its own way, too. In both cases, I’ve opted for ‘Porter’, and Porter is how PKB was initially pitched, although always with things like “American-style” or “hoppier-than-usual” appended to the front. Truth is, this really deserves credit for being part of the emergence of what will amount to the newest craft beer style: Black IPA. More and more breweries are experimenting in this direction, with frequently-delicious results.

Yeastie Boys 'Pot Kettle Black'
Diary II entry #4, Yeastie Boys 'Pot Kettle Black'

Verbatim: Yeastie Boys ‘Pot Kettle Black’ 8/9/10 330ml from Stu himself @ Beervana time. 6% The first bottled Yeastie, and the rumour among the beer nerds is that the hops are backwards, lessening the Cascade focus. (In this batch, at least.) Seems plausible, but that would only ever relegate this to “delicious Porter” — [with] a touch more zip + zest than usual. Ooh, it grows, though.

Tuatara Porter

Tuatara Porter
Tuatara Porter

Verbatim: Tuatara Porter. A quiet little achiever, this one. On hand pump at das Malthaus, and so lovely and smooth and, well, flat. A nice way to ease yourself (and others) into drinking dark beer, it’s subtly coffee-ish and toast-ish and slightly chocolatey. A surprisingly good pre-lunch pint, too.

Afterthoughts, November 2010: After a long run of having the Tuatara IPA as my habitual after-work drink (roughly around the time of this ‘entry’), I think the porter has eventually become my favourite of the range. Especially on the handpull at work.

And in the background there is the deliciously nerdy fivethirtyeight.com (now deservingly subsumed into the New York Times webpage). I do love watching politics unfold, and am definitely fond of actual data, rather than talking heads wobbling their faces and venting their half-baked opinions. FiveThirtyEight and (the earlier, but somewhat more basic) electoral-vote.com thus necessitated that we be armed with a laptop as we watched the election. We did get some funny looks, but we also started a trend; just this week at the pub, people were gathered around, just as we were, to watch the American midterms. The most-recent local national election was up on the big screens, too — despite the result, there, it was nice to have something playing other than sport upon sport upon sport.

Three Boys Porter

Three Boys Porter
Three Boys Porter

Verbatim: Three Boys Porter. One of very-few good things about Christchurch, these guys make a lovely few brews, and the porter is an especially good way to end your evening.

Afterthoughts, October 2010: Firstly, I can’t believe I actually drank something else after the Skull Splitter. No wonder I didn’t actually write anything down for this one. I probably couldn’t. Secondly, damn the lighting in this pub used to be a lot uglier (he writes, as he sits at the bar after work and tinkers with his webthing).

But thirdly, the Porter Flood. The text on the label reads, in part:

Such was the popularity of porter in old England that legend has it townsfolk drowned when vats at a local brewery burst, flooding the streets.

Which always struck me as tosh. (And there is a lot of nonsense, in the historical ‘legends’ surrounding beer and brewing; we’ll get to a lot of those, eventually.) But I was delighted to discover that I had under-estimated the weirdness of the world. The porter flood actually happened, just a bit more than 196 years ago in London, when the maturing tank (a behemoth of a thing, at several hundred thousand litres) burst at the Horse Shoe Brewery. The ensuing carnage claimed a few lives, and a few buildings. It must’ve been insane.

Since the anniversary (October 17) of the event happens to be so coincidentally close to the time when I’m writing this, a useful piece recently popped up in a local(ish) paper; it’s worth a read.

After-afterthoughts, still October, still 2010: I’ve stumbled upon an excellent beer blog, Zythophile, and found that the writer there has very nicely covered the story of the Flood, in a book of his and a follow-up posting. Even more worth a read.