Tag Archives: Sessionable

Beers which are sessionable / midstrength (or very-nearly so)

Beer Baroness ‘Unite’ Pale Ale — at a Moa Tap Takeover

Beer Baronness & Pink Boots 'Unite' Pale Ale (LBQ, 17 July 2014)
Beer Baroness & Pink Boots ‘Unite’ Pale Ale

Feminism, as they say, is1 the radical idea that women are people too. By very simple extension, women can be beer enthusiasts, bar owners, beer writers, and brewers. There’s a lot more to say on the subject, obviously, but it’s not really my gig to hold forth given my obvious lack of lived experience — a Very Special Podcast Episode was recorded this weekend which will probably elaborate thereon, instead, and that reminded me about this tasty beer and its somewhat-unusual context.

LBQ — that is to say, Little Beer Quarter; a well-established bar here in town which happens to be owned by women — was hosting a mini-tap-takeover by Moa, a company with something of a well-deserved reputation of boorish, sexist and otherwise-bigoted marketing. The high-water mark, such as it is,2 was perhaps their relentlessly shitty IPO document, but their offenses — both stunningly major and perplexingly minor — would probably be just too depressingly exhausting to fully catalogue. Their outright dismissal of women as potential consumers (nevermind investors or just non-ornaments) sees them fail at the earliest possible moral hurdle and earned Moa a spot on my own personal (and mercifully short) Boycott List.

Amended Moa signage (LBQ, 1 May 2013)
Amended signage at LBQ — editing down Moa’s dickish “Finally, something drinkable…” slogan

The tension here — that between the character of the bar and of the brewery3 — was noted a fair amount online, with many surprised that LBQ would give Moa the oxygen, after freely taking (gentle) jabs before. Personally, it was admittedly gratifying to be reminded that I wasn’t alone in holding a grudge. A lot of people will independently bring up their history of appalling marketing and cite it as a reason for not buying their beer, skipping their offering at a festival, or not going to an event of theirs. We are, after all, enjoying a preposterous embarrassment of riches in our options in the beer world, so it’s relatively easy to boycott something for over a year and not really feel like you’re missing out at all. Consumer choice wide enough allows consumer judgement on any criteria they feel like applying — which is precisely how things should be. Moa, it has to be said, had been keeping their heads relatively low, lately;4 it looks like they thought they could just slink away from their prior bullshit and have everyone quietly forget about it — and it looks like they were wrong. Re-starting with a sincere “we screwed up — we acted gross, and we’re not going to do it again; we’re actually mostly going to get out of the way and let the beer speak for itself” could do a lot.5 They’ve conspicuously failed to make any kind of attempt in that direction, and that’s unfortunate for all concerned.

And maybe LBQ were still giving them a nudge in the ribs even as they hosted this perhaps-premature event, because on the afternoon of the takeover, they announced that they’d tapped a keg of the Beer Baroness-brewed edition of ‘Unite’ Pale Ale, the International Women’s Day collaboration beer. So I had that, for my own point-making circumstantial reasons, but I’ll eagerly have it again for its inherent deliciousness because it was just splendid. Nice how that works out, sometimes. A zippy little sessionable pale ale, it was very much My Thing — and a fresh batch is reputedly On The Way. The titular Baroness is Ava Wilson, who is also the manager of the ridiculously wonderful Pomeroy’s Pub, convenor for the NZ chapter of the Pink Boots Society (soon to have its inaugural meeting, and the mothership of which organised the global brewday), seminar-wrangler for the Great Kiwi Beer Festival, and an all-round superawesome individual. If you, like Moa’s marketing suits, live in the same country as Ava and you still don’t think women could be “beer people” then I submit that you are an ignorant retrograde.

I would at least hope — in a rare fit of optimism — that the craft beer ‘community’ was on the whole a welcoming, safe, and enjoyable place for women to be. Better than ‘the average’ (non-beer bars and festivals, the public at large..?), maybe, somehow. But it’s a long way from perfect, and every awful bit of sexist branding, all the tired old stereotypes and presumptions that never quite die (see, e.g., how often people think “girly beer” might actually be a category, and what it’d consist in, and why), and every crappy bit of treatment women still endure in bars — they’re all worth calling out and resisting. So yes, among my self-chosen descriptors, I’ll wear “feminist”6 as happily as I do “beer geek”.

Diary III entry #24: Beer Baroness 'Unite' Pale Ale
Diary III entry #24: Beer Baroness ‘Unite’ Pale Ale

Original notes: Beer Baronness ‘Unite’ Pale Ale 17/7/14 @ LBQ, amid a Moa tap takeover, so at least partially for irony + point-making. But the thing itself hardly needs an excuse; really nicely zippy + zesty hoppy little 4% thing. Not hugely weather-appropriate, but the bar is super cozy anyway. Lots of interesting reactions to this event, but my take is just that it’s premature. Apologetic fronting-up, then the charm offensive and re-focus on the beer.


1: If I felt like quibbling — and, let’s face it, I basically always do — I’d say “begins with” rather than “is”. But it’s a damn fine slogan, and at least damn close to the mark. 
2: With “water” in a decidedly euphemistic sense, let’s say. 
3: “…or at least its marketing department”, as the usual caveat goes — including from me (e.g., footnote 1 in my post on the IPO itself). And while it is true that the beers range from fine to great and the brewer himself is indeed a lovely chap, there comes a point where something goes on long enough and everyone involved really is at least a little bit culpable by association. 
4: Well, other than hiring Shane Warne to front their product in Australia. Which makes little goddamn sense for several reasons, not least of which the boofhead reputation he’s transparently struggling to shake. Against their otherwise softly-softly tactics of late, I’m pretty much at a loss to explain that one. Perhaps it’s a mistake to try to attribute a rationality behind it at all; it might just show their instincts. 
5: Just because someone will always come along and set a worse example, I suppose it’s at least a relief they aren’t just trying to obliviate their past misdeeds and erase them from the record (except for one example that we’ll get to later…) — unlike WilliamsWarn, whose foray into #everydaysexism was made all the sadder for their reaction to criticism.
6: Simplicter. I was in the habit of saying “~ ally”, but I’ve lately been convinced otherwise
†: Coincidentally, in the inadvertent extra delay in getting this online, the guys at the Ale Of A Time podcast uploaded an episode wherein they also address the sexist branding / beer-naming problem. So at least it’s getting a little more air and pushback — though I take a stronger line than both of them. 

Everything in Its Right Place

Crafty Beggars 'Wheat As', in context
Crafty Beggars ‘Wheat As’, in context

In this, as in all things, context is king. Perfect circumstances can rescue the naffest of beers — and mismatchings of time and/or place could equally ruin the most otherwise-charming. Today, Wellingtonians were rightly beside themselves with the sheer loveliness of the weather out there, seizing upon this as the first real Saturday of the summer by pootling around in boats, sitting in the warm sunshine, or hurling themselves off a pier and into the still-actually-rather-brisk-now-you-mention-it harbour. Myself, I was gardening.1 My deeply-ingrained nocturnality is slowly and awkwardly (but painlessly enough) giving way and I’m becoming a little more ambitempstrous2 as I slowly discover worthwhile things about the daylight hours the Normals inhabit.

Meanwhile, there was a Crafty Beggars ‘Wheat As’ in my fridge, thanks to its — potentially ironic — inclusion in a little Thank You parcel the Brewers’ Guild gave me after I helped go over the Beer Writer Of The Year nominees earlier this year. Since I was hugely not a fan of it the first time I had it — as an inherently-underwhelming thing as well as because of its annoying halo of brandwank — I resolved to give this “bonus” bottle its best-possible go. A few hours of serious hack-and-slash dig-and-heave garden rehabilitation provided exactly the right opportunity to climb the goat-track to the Thinking Chair in the back corner of the property to take in the view,3 eat some delicious cheese, and have a beer.

Crafy Beggars 'Wheat As' for lunch
Crafy Beggars ‘Wheat As’; part of your complete breakfast

And it was, I’ll cheerfully admit, fucking glorious; properly refreshing, flavourful but not distractingly so, it went gangbusters with the cheese (and its surroundings), and had the added benefit of being a sessionable four-point-zero percent. Given the price-point these things seemed to be pitched at — doubtless to serve as a bulwark against Independent / Asahi’s rather-aggressive (and successful!) attempt to carve out some market share — it could prove one of the bargain buys of the summer. If — always a crucial “if”, and always up to the individual — you can bring yourself to hand over your money to its producer.

If you’ll forgive the loose extrapolations from a single (but sublime) moment, this impossible-to-overstate element of context is a good part of the reason why I can never bring myself to push the “ratings” buttons in Untappd, and a strong element of my ongoing leeriness of beer awards. What would I be rating any particular beer against — my assumptions of what it was going to be like, its reputation, its “style” (defined by its marketing department, or someone more “objective”?), or how it fit the particular occasion, no matter how little thought I gave to my selection? And likewise, what hope can any number of potentially-bloody-marvellous beers have of being at their best in a little tasting glass, among scores of broadly-similar relatives, at a table full of weary judges?

I would happily stand up in any beer geek support group and say “Hi, my name is Phil Cook and, just the other day, I acutally bloody loved a Crafty Beggars ‘Wheat As'”. Hopefully, this is part of what separates the enthusiasts from the snobs. I won’t be rushing out to buy more — Lion aren’t in boycott territory,4 but I think there always plenty of more-deserving candidates for a dose of my meagre monies — but, in context, it was great. If you need me, I’ll be up in my Thinking Chair, mulling that over.

Contemplating context
Contemplating context — and garden layout, and sunburn, and how my life has changed

1: And then I hurled myself off a pier. 
2: Apparently the actual word is “cathemeral”
3: Caveats: 1) it’s a rental, not “mine” (nor even “my bank’s”) in the ownership sense, 2) there’s a seriously perilous goat-track to get to this spot; it’s not even vaguely representative of the rest of the place. I hope my Middle Class credentials are unsullied after you’ve seen my Harbour Views. 
4: Unlike, you know, some people

GABS Paddle #1: Everything ≤ 4.5% ABV

Tasting Paddle #1
Tasting Paddle #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty ‘Taranaki Session Beer’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted: 22 November 2011

Yeastie Boys ‘Fools Gold’

Yeastie Boys 'Fool's Gold'
Yeastie Boys 'Fool's Gold'

Given its provenance, I think it’s safe to assume that the name here is more a Stone Roses reference than an Iron Pyrite one. But hey; you never know — just when you think you’ve got their naming scheme figured-out, they do go and change things on you.1

If you’re me — and I am, if you think about it — the name works especially since it combines my fondness for golden ales with the fact that my nieces have long called me “Uncle Fool”. I don’t know whether it started from classic two-year-old language-mangling or from a particularly-early activation of the Cook Family Bastard Sarcasm gene. But it passed from Niece I to Niece II, and will probably become part of Nephew I’s lexicon, once he starts finding his words. I kinda like it, I must say.

Meanwhile, the value of t has embiggened itself embarrassingly, thanks to recurring computer issues and a particularly vicious visit from an hospitality-worker winter lurgy. So this is fast drifting into the dark recesses of my already-enfeebled memory, but I can say that I absolutely loved it — short on particulars why as I admittedly am.

But it all makes sense, in a weird sort of way; I was at Hop Garden again just yesterday (for their absurdly-sublime burger, which had Yeastie Boys ‘PKB’ as an ingredient, no less) and something about the absolute depths of a stupidly-freezing winter night does make at least part of your mind turn back to warmer days — even if you are famously fond of colder weather and are basically-obliged to think back that far anyway, since you’ve become so far behind in uploading your Beer Diary.

As I say, I’m always up for a good golden ale — they’re the warm-weather obsession which matches my winter fondness for oatmeal stouts — and this was a nicely punchy one that suited a snackfest of Hop Garden’s big-fat-fries and salt-and-pepper squid (the latter matching unusually well, with its higher-than-usual pepperiness). To me at least, Fools Gold straddled the line between your modern light-and-lush golden ales and your more-classic paler-than-pale English pale ales; different, but still delicious. I only managed to have a couple of pints before it was gone from the City’s taps, so I presume I wasn’t the only one who found it a charming little uncomplicated and worthy thing. Peter and I were just mooching around town in honour of the fact he was finally free of his University responsibilities — and, given my nearly-interminable history with those places, I have complete sympathy with the need for a pint or several to mark the ending of such things.

Yeastie Boys 'Fool's Gold'
Diary II entry #106, Yeastie Boys 'Fool's Gold'

Verbatim: Yeastie Boys ‘Fool’s Gold’ 31/5/11 on tap @ HG, with Peter, who is now free of Uni, and with fries + salt-and-very-pepper squid. Apparently 4%, which is marvellous. Pitched as “pale ale”, it’s a nicely punchy golden. It was handpulled @ HZ, but I always prefer these bubbly. Goes gangbusters with “dinner”, such as I have. More forceful than a lush Three Boys Golden; but just different, not remotely ‘inferior’.

1: Personally, I’m really hoping it’s actually a reference to a Fool’s Gold Loaf — a sandwich (I use the term oh-so-loosely) popularised by none other than Elvis Presley. Fittingly, it’s a hollowed-out whole loaf, crammed with a jar of peanut butter and a whole ’nother jar of grape jelly — and a motherfucking pound of bacon. I’m seriously tempted to make one and maybe go on to produce a whole series of Elvis Meal Time videos.

Invercargill ‘Pitch Black’

Invercargill 'Pitch Black'
Invercargill 'Pitch Black'

The aforementioned ‘St. Bernard’ was proving a popular guest, and comparisons to ‘Pitch Black’ (made, unprompted, by quite a few people) had kept up enough that a couple of circuits of my ever-skeptical brain had started to fire up and crackle with the question of whether we were all just being nostalgic for that weirdly-long-lost (on tap, at least) old favourite. And I never really get annoyed with those careful, questioning bits of my brain — because they provide a damn-good excuse to retry something, you know, for Science!’s sake.1

Nostalgia, and its opinion-inflating effect, can be fairly problematic in the beer world — as much as it can be anywhere else, I suppose. People often seem overly-fond of something they discovered on holiday, or think something isn’t as good as it used to be, or swear that something imported is always “better back home”. None of those are nonsense scenarios, of course: the enjoyment of beer is an ineliminably circumstantial thing, some recipes really are sacrificed over time (given the need to make ever-increasing quantities, or in an attempt to chase a more mainstream drinker — or both), and — all else being equal — something probably is better close to its source than after a long journey. Memory in general is problematic, of course. Mine, particularly so — hence the Diary itself.

But no, on this occasion, we’re all good. Every positive thought that lingers in your mind about Invercargill’s sessionable little stout is probably bang on. I tried this again, after probably more than a year, and after a relative boatload of delightful little somethings-similar — and it was still crackingly fantastic. There is some serious wizardry involved in cramming such dense deliciousness into such a small four-point-five-percent frame. That’s cleverness, that is; artistry, even. It’s got the flavour of a much-heavier thing — big, smooth, coffee-milkshake smoothness. In its own terms, in its own weight division, it is damn close to perfection — and you have to suspect that, in a head-to-head, it could beat the tar out of a fair few members of the heavyweight classes. If Pitch Black started liberally quoting classic Muhmmad Ali smack-talk, there’d be no cause for complaint — on the simple (and also-very-Ali) grounds that it ain’t braggin’, if it’s the truth.

And once you pause for a minute — hell, take six-minutes-forty-nine-seconds, and watch the relevant episode of NZ Craft Beer TV — to consider the dizzying range that they release under their own name and the stuff they brew for Yeastie Boys and the Mussel Inn and others, you really have to be a little bit in awe of Steve Nally and his little brewery near the end of the World. If you happen to be wearing a hat, take it off to them — if you’ve not got one on your noggin right now, go get one; they deserve the gesture.

Invercargill 'Pitch Black' Stout
Diary II entry #104, Invercargill 'Pitch Black' Stout

Verbatim: Invercargill ‘Pitch Black’ Stout 23/5/11 330ml 4.5% Speaking of which! $8 @ MH Worried we were just being nostalgic, but inspired to test after Jono had one earlier. And no, we’re good. This stuff is delicious. Big flavour on a lightweight thing, and very well balanced. Coffee milkshake kinda smoothness to it, with a nicely cocoa-powder bitter fizzle at the end.

1: I’ve always had a bit of a case of science-envy. I mean, I have a humanities degree. I never get to do actual science, though I have plenty of friends who do (in some very impressive ways), so I tend to overstate things when I do anything properly experimental.

Townshend ‘St. Bernard’s’ Oatmeal Stout

Townshend 'St. Bernard's' Oatmeal Stout
Townshend 'St. Bernard's' Oatmeal Stout

I bloody loves Oatmeal Stout, I do — especially in the winter; it’s basically the off-season equivalent of my recurring summertime Golden Ale obsession. There is just something absurdly comforting about a good one, and I’ve been blessed by more than a few fine examples, lately, ranging from sessionable ones like this or my recent Little Creatures ‘Single Batch’ Oatmeal Stout, to crazy-big things like Liberty’s ‘Never Go Back’ (coming up in a few entries’ time, spoiler alert).

Delightfully, also, just as I was scanning this batch of Diary pages and uploading a fresh chunk of photos, my house was filled with the ridiculously-promising aroma of an oatmeal stout brewing. My flatmate has one on the go — it’s currently in the cupboard under the stairs, happily burbling away and fermenting, and is yet another reminder that I really should get back to brewing, myself. (Although if I start taking photos of and writing notes about beers I’ve made myself, everything might collapse into a singularity of weirdness — however necessary the note-taking will be, given my rubbish memory.)

A sessionable-or-nearly-so handpulled stout is a brilliant thing on a cold evening, and this one is the closest we’ve ever come to placating our one regular who has never quite forgiven us for no longer having Invercargill’s ‘Pitch Black’ as a permanent fixture (or even as an occasional guest; it’s been ages since we’ve had it on tap, mysteriously). I’m entirely unsure whether we’re supposed to go with the -nerd or -nard pronunciation, but that might be down to my general dislike of dogs and non-membership of any sort of tradition that gives a damn about “saints” — come to that, I’ve no real clue whether it’s named after the dogs, one of the eponymous saints, or any of the other various candidates.

Martin Townshend himself was at work not long ago, in town for our ‘West Coast I.P.A. Challenge’. He seemed a properly lovely chap, and that moment where you get to wander up to a brewer, shake their hand, and say “you make great beer” is always a great one. I do love that beer remains like that; you can still do that without seeming strange or fanboyish, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a brewer who’d give you a “and who the fuck are you?” look in return — they all seem genuinely chuffed to know people like what they make.

And Townshend really can be relied upon to make lovely and likeable beer, and their old-school authenticity appeals to a good number of our English / formerly-English / just-a-lot-of-time-in-England regulars. This stout was no exception; dry, fresh and light (with a cleanness that my weird-seeming “licking the inside of a used instant coffee jar” note attempted to convey), but still possessed of a very satisfying presence and bitterness. It didn’t last long on our taps, victim of its own success and all, but hopefully it’ll be back soon.

Verbatim: Townshend ‘St. Bernard’s’ Oatmeal Stout 19/5/11 pint on tap @ MH. From Nigel, with Kevin et. al.. Second only to Pitch Black, we say, as a sessionable black beer. Dry, powdery — like licking the inside of a used instant coffee jar. Not at all stodgy (which isn’t to imply that stodgy is always bad, of course); surprisingly light but still rich. Satisfyingly bitter.

Townshend 'St Bernard's' Oatmeal Stout
Diary II entry #103.1, Townshend 'St Bernard's' Oatmeal Stout
Townshend 'St Bernard's' Oatmeal Stout
Diary II entry #103.2, Townshend 'St Bernard's' Oatmeal Stout

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.

Cassels & Sons ‘Elder Ale’

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

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

But no mind; onwards!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallertau ‘Minimus’

Hallertau 'Minimus' tap badge
Hallertau 'Minimus' tap badge

A common complaint of mine is that overstrong beers are too much in fashion (or habit), and that midstrength, sessionable numbers are sadly neglected by the local brewing scene. Granted, the stalwart exception to that trend is the utterly bloody marvellous Emerson’s Bookbinder, but still; more options is more good.

A smattering of other sessionable goodies have shown up over the years1 but none so face-meltingly awesome, if you ask me, as Hallertau’s ‘Minimus’. (The name comes from its over-strength IPA sibling, ‘Maximus Humulus Lupulus’.) We had it last summer, motored through it in short order, and continually begged Steve for some more. It’s just lovely; either a very pale pale ale or a massively-hopped golden ale, and is totally sessionable at 3.8% — a statistically-insignificant nudge stronger than Bookbinder, it makes for an awesome summer counterpart to that wonderful stuff. Fresh, light but stonkingly flavourful, it has both thirst-quenching zip and interest-keeping yum in healthy quantities, appropriately hitting some Maximus-esque hop notes quite heavily. Its second incarnation, which came with a ludicrously-beautiful tap badge, is billed as a “Breakfast Pale Ale” — but even if that is a stretch, it’s not by very much.

Speaking of the badge — which is done in bas relief, and goes wonderfully with Hallertau’s gorgeous pseudo-classical rebranding — I actually had to re-scan this Diary entry to capture the amendment I had to make to note that some complete fuckpants stole it, one busy night. If you’re thinking — as I briefly was, I’ll admit — “hey, fair play, that is pretty cool; you don’t secure it well, you’re asking for it to be stolen”, I should add that they also stole all the other badges from that bank of taps, so their haul includes such pieces of naff as a Tiger and an Export Gold badge, I believe. So I doubt they’re some over-keen beer souvenier collector with whom I might sympathise — well, would sympathise, would consider being, even. More just a random fuckpants, as I say.

Verbatim: Hallertau ‘Minimus’ 18/11/10 3.8% back on tap @ work, with a gorgeous new bas-relief sculpted tap badge. Hallertau’s pseudo-classical branding overhaul is awesomely done. And this stuff is lovely. The world needs more good midstrength. It especially needs midstrength this freaking good. [30/11/10: The badge got stolen!]

Hallertau 'Minimus'
Hallertau 'Minimus'
Hallertau 'Minimus'
Diary II entry #36, Hallertau 'Minimus'

1: A few with their own Diary entries, even, but there’s still quite a backlog of historical things in the Not Uploaded Yet pile. Apologies.