Tag Archives: from the United States

Stone’s ‘City Tap Takeover’

Stone 'W00tstout' — in collaboration with Drew Curtis and Wil Wheaton (Malthouse, 13 March 2014)
Stone ‘w00tstout’ — a collaboration with Drew Curtis and Wil Wheaton, and therefore mandatory

Late-breaking news that beers from Stone, a legendary but rather isolationist Californian brewery, would be available “legitimately” in this part of the world was greeted with some surprise by local beer geeks. Stone have never exported to New Zealand (nor even to all parts of their own country) and Greg Koch, co-founder and figurehead of the brewery, is famously opposed to “grey market” imports and goes out of his way to encourage that the consumption of beer be “fresh-and-as intended, or not at all”. And indeed, plenty of the incredulous reaction was vindicated; in the end, it transpired that an announcement of impending distribution was a tragic (and strange) miscommunication. But what we Wellingtonians did get — and what Melburnians soon will get — turned out to be a super-sized, double-venue’d, fairly-freakin’-serious tap takeover. There was a subtle lingering awkwardness in that the night’s hosts — Malthouse, and its younger brewpub sibling, Fork & Brewer — have always dealt in the kinds of mainstream offerings and parallel-imported beers1 that Greg so righteously rails against, but still. The result was a shining example of How To Pub:2 the beers I had were only uniform in their excellence, and the mood in both bars was wonderful to partake in.

One of few real criticisms of the night was that each venue’s beer lists weren’t published anywhere and you had to fall back to scouring Untappd / Twitter / Whatever for clues, if ping-ponging between bars seven hundred metres apart seemed inconvenient. But just before leaving work, I spotted (somewhere online) that Stone’s new sessionable ‘Go To’ IPA was on at the F&B, so I headed there first. I did technically already own, waiting for me at Malthouse, a glass of the ‘w00tstout’ Stone brewed in collaboration with Drew Curtis (of Fark.com) and Wil Wheaton (of, well, Plenty Of Awesome Things) having stopped by the bar earlier keen-bordering-on-paranoid not to miss out on it but equally conscious of its over-ten-percent punch and the work I had left to be done — including driving a delivery van. In any case, starting with an Imperial Stout doesn’t often bode well, so thankfully the unexpected prospect of a midstrength hoppy pale was enticing enough to distract me.

Stone 'Go To' IPA (Fork & Brewer, 13 March 2014)
Stone’s relatively-new ‘Go To’ IPA

After an alarmingly-shaky start a few years ago (in both the brew~ and ~pub departments), the Fork does seem to be finding its feet. Co-hosting events like this — and doing so rather well — can only help to demonstrate that. Meanwhile, ‘Go To’ was delicious and exactly what I felt like: a properly thirst-smacking lush golden body with a massive hop aroma hurtling up the nose to shock a fading brain back into alertness — and also to cut through the worty wafts of a brewpub in mid-brew. The Americans in general have a reputation for their superboozy beers (lacking a ramping-up excise tax regime to discourage them), so it was gratifying to see a sub-five-percenter go against the trend — and then to spy another (the ‘Levitation’: a maltier, smoother and calmer affair, utterly perfect for pint #2) and to have that, too. I then wound up helping a friend work his way through a flight of tasting glasses, having sips of four much-madder beers — white wine barrel-aged ‘Cali-Belgique’; Matt’s Burning Rosids,3 brewed in honour of an employee killed in an accident at the brewery; Perfect Crime; and Vertical Epic 11.11.114 — which were all well put-together, diverse, interesting, storied, and at least a few leagues North of merely “good”; great fuel for sipping and rambling.

But my w00tstout kept calling from down the road, and didn’t disappoint once I retrieved it. I think I spent a full hour with it, a massive thing of madness and deliciousness with plenty going on — the collision of two of my own particular kinds of geekiness in such a lovely beer made for an utterly sublime experience. A few more tasters from the relatively-bonkers end of the spectrum followed — a white-wine barrel aged saison called ‘The Tiger Cub’; and the red wine barrel-aged version of the ‘Cali-Belgique’ I’d previously tried — which both just went nicely with more sipping and rambling with regulars and colleagues from my Malthouse days. I switched back to having pints of the saner stuff, afterwards, and found the everyday Pale Ale and IPA both to be buckets of fun and just as worthy as the weirder ones, in their own ways. The bar was in absolutely fine form, and despite the critical eye that a former staff member would naturally have, it probably still hasn’t been equalled when it really gets a run-up and goes in for full-noise beer events.

Stone Takeover taps (Fork & Brewer, 13 March 2014)
Stone Takeover taps
Stone Takeover taps (Malthouse, 13 March 2014)
Stone Takeover taps

The beers were all good. They were stupidly and consistently good, forming a range of genuinely impressive scope with properly skillful execution. But one of the surprising lessons learned from having a cross-section of such legendary things in front of me was that we’re doing pretty damn well, here. It’s one thing to leap at the chance to try them, to let yourself be blown away by them, and to drift blissfully through a fair few glasses — but don’t despair that they’re not more-readily available down here. Even with only a token factoring-in of scope and history, the local (and here I mean “Australasian”) breweries are easily pulling their weight.5 Damn right I’ll be visiting Stone whenever I find myself even vaguely in California’s orbit, but as these beers were running out one by one last week, I wasn’t mourning; I’m not even close to done learning about the things within reach to worry very much. ‘Go To’ was great — but so are Liberty’s ‘C!tra Junior’ and Panhead ‘Quickchange’, just for example; I could go on.

'Fizzy yellow beer...' (My house, 14 March 2014)
“Just what I feel like right now” is — I relatively-humbly submit — another good ending for a sentence that starts with “‘Fizzy yellow beer is…”

Close to midnight, I went in search of a suitable nightcap, and found it in the form of Stone’s 2010 Imperial Stout; a giant velvet exclamation point to end a lovely evening. Epic Brewing’s Luke Nicholas6 was commandeering the sound system (for better or — occasionally — worse), as he does, and Greg Koch jumped up on the bar for some old-timey-style evangelism, which was kind of adorable and awesome but also put me back in mind of a few misgivings. I’m all for broadening peoples’ notions of what beer can be, but there’s an uneasy inconsistency in Stone’s off-and-on-again absolutism about some things: Greg’s fanatical anti-grey-market stance is awkward standing in front of a fridge featuring more than a few such bottles, and preaching about the unenlightened “on this very street” is a little strange in a bar that will happily — and rightly — sell them a faux-import Heineken right now. The event could’ve been staged in collaboration with (if not at, for reasons of scale) Hashigo Zake, for example, if moral purity was a paramount concern. And against all that reaching-out rhetoric, something like “Fizzy Yellow Beer Is For Wussies” clashes horribly. Not least because of the simple fact that several of the Stone beers on offer that evening were objectively-speaking both a) fizzy and b) yellow — nor the even-better point that, with everything in its right place, even the simplest, blandest, most-unfashionable and “mediocre” beer can be just the thing for the moment. The real problem here is a simple breach of the Ethics of Comedy: the Fizzy Yellow Beer line makes fun of the mainstream drinker, not the often-duplicitous producer, and amounts to the sin of “punching down”. If we’re going to be evangelising — and please, let’s — we’d be better off not trying to snark and smile at the same people simultaneously. Beers as good as these actually do very well at speaking for themselves, anyway.

Diary III entry 11a: City Tap Takeover
Diary III entry 11 part 1: City Tap Takeover
Diary III entry 11b: City Tap Takeover
Diary III entry 11 part 2: City Tap Takeover (cont.)

Original notes:7 City Tap Takeover 13/3/14 @ F&B, to start. 1) ‘Go To’ IPA 4.5% just as Colin, Luke + Greg arrived. The place is jumping — but very worty as Lester is still going. Fucking delicious, hugely hoppy, golden + fabulous. Massive, uppy, but not angry. Gorgeous. Nice to see this place crammed with happy — if starstruck — nerds. 2) ‘Levitation’ 4.4% Another session beer spied, and therefore ordered. Really nice comparison; vastly maliter, less hoppy, less spiky + fizzy in presentation. Glassphemy, too, in a Coopers glass — sure sign of a busy bar. Loads of good people + good vibes. (Helping with Kit’s tasters: Cali-Belgique (White Wine) 8.8% Matt’s Burning Rosids 10.5%, Perfect Crime 6.8%, and Vertical Epic 11.11.11 9.4% Just shows a great breadth. 1) is like unpuckering Funkonnay, says Kit, and he’s on to something. 2) is like a jasmine bonfire, serious but lovely. 3) more forgettable after just a sip, but you quickly get that in a crowd. 4) Holy hell, #freshisnotbest. Big explosion, despite its age. Spicy, which might help it on that front.) 3) @ Malthouse, now. W00tstout! @wilw’s beer, among others. I bought one at 2pm, out of sheer FOMO. Which wasn’t necessary in the end, but totally worth it. The only plausible case for insurance, really. So good. Tonnes of smooth, boozy flavour. Pecans evident but not obnoxious. Just sublime. It took over an hour, and it was marvellous. Then two little tasters: The Tiger Club (White Wine) 8.9% and Cali-Belgique (Red Wine) 8.8% — And, fuck it, a pint of the flagship Pale 5.8% Everyone’s having a grand time. The staff are in their element, and the bar is — as it always did — kicking arse in Beer Event mode. The a Stone IPA because why not. Greg’s on the bar, and Luke’s on the sound system. It’s vintage Malthouse, and it’s bliss. And then, while I was looking for a nightcap, a sour-face-inducing Gueze came out, for the VIPs, I guess. 6) Imperial Stout 2010. There we go. That’ll do.

Greg Koch and me, barely (Malthouse, 13 March 2014)
Greg Koch and me, just barely — I was taking photos in the bar when he borrowed my camera for an impromptu selfie, with the settings evidently way out of whack for such a thing

1: And rightly so I hasten to add, for reasons that flow from their physical locations, market niche, and from the fundamentally-usually-rather-overblown nature of the anti-grey panic in the first place. The scare-quotes are very firmly only “legitimately” in this post’s first sentence because, despite Greg’s fevered use of words like “illegal black market” (see the footnotes of the above-linked entry), the sale of his beer here has always been legal under NZ law whether he likes it or not — and whatever the valid concerns there might be with the practice. (Also, to pre-emptively split hairs, I’m not certain that the F&B stocks / stocked grey beer, but they definitely trade in mass-market stuff.) 
2: Without meaning to imply that there’s only One Way, of course; I just had a surpassingly wonderful very quiet-and-civilised night at Golding’s, drinking plural Panhead beers, eating delicious pizza, and watching the Cosmos re-make. 
3: It turns out that the Rosids are a group of flowering plants, including — no surprise, in context, once you learn the first half of this sentence — our friend the hop. 
4: One of those joyful-and-t00-rare moments when the Americans’ maximally-stupid middle-endian month-first date notation won’t drive me mad. 
5: I’m fairly sure it was Luke Robertson who nudged me into keeping this in mind, but I can’t remember if he did so on the Twitters, his blog, or in his podcast. I recommend you follow all three. 
6: Who must’ve been a contributing cause to this event happening in these places, friend and collaborator of the manager — and fellow oddball hophead to Greg Koch — as he is. 
7: I’m on to my third actual Beer Diary, but the power cord for the scanner has fritzed out, so I’m having to make do with somewhat-difficult-to-stage photos, for now. 

Small, but Perfectly Formed

Anchor 'Steam', as a Boilermaker
Anchor ‘Steam Beer’®™, as (most of) a pretty-bloody-marvellous Boilermaker at Stitch

Still enjoying my Sydney sabbatical — especially now the heat has eased somewhat — I’ve been reconfirmed in a small thought about small bars, of which this town has increasingly-many, thanks (apparently)1 to a relatively-recent law change. I had a bit of a ramble recently on the podcast about licensing laws and will need to return to the topic properly now that New Zealand’s “reforms” are in effect, but for present purposes my concern is that our current (and former) rules were applied almost entirely uniformly, whatever they are. There’s always a certain facile attraction in blanket legislation, but my recent wanderings have reinforced a simple point perhaps too-often overlooked: you are insane if you treat all licensed venues alike.

There is a lot wrong with the prevailing Antipodean drinking culture, and I’m not remotely suggesting that “small bars” are flawless2 or the complete answer to anything. But you have to applaud Sydney for its neat little ecosystem of different-sized places doing different-styled things, giving varied ideas and formats an airing and seeing what works. Treating every venue as if they were heaving, recklessly-discounting, neighbour-nuisancing boozers just because that seems an easier way to tackle genuinely-existing3 problems will wind up causing a tonne of needless collateral cultural damage. A lot of New Zealand’s new rules seem unfortunately destined to make life harder for exactly the kinds of operations that represent (on their good days) a more-enlightened approach to things-with-booze-in.4

From my bartender-training days, I remember “test-tube shots” being specifically called-out and demonised in the materials as if they were somehow inherently a sign of ill-advised drinking. But here one was at Stitch — a supercute basement bar in downtown Sydney, decked-out with a suprisingly-successful sewing machine aesthetic (including dozens of vintage Singer machines, and treadle-equipped tables to sit and drink at) — and it’s hard to imagine that an eighteen-dollar Boilermaker5 of a mini-Old-Fashioned and a dependable American import6 is ultimately implicated in many worrying and/or unhealthy nights out. Instead, it was a thoughtful and delicious little addition to their overall offering, perfectly capable of being Enjoyed Responsibly. If you can’t handle even the small amount of nuance needed to allow for just those kinds of possibilities,7 you need to get out of the policy-making business. All drinks are not created, or served, equally.

1: I’m a Foreigner; forgive me if I get the details and/or the history wrong. And by all means — and as always — corrections, clarifications and continuations are more than welcome. 
2: This post’s title, to head off any observant but poorly-read pedants, is an irresistible little English cliché (of weirdly-uncertain origin, apparently) more than anything else. 
3: Although almost-always overblown. We do love a good Moral Panic, as a species, it seems. But that’s another post for another time — and will require a lot more references (though Pete Brown does a damn-admirable job in pulling a bunch together for semi-regular and enjoyably-sharp rants thereon). Meanwhile, just have a look at the scaremongering quote from the Hotel Association rep. in the above-linked Time Out article. Battle lines in the policy debate aren’t as simple as regulators versus retailers; the huge operators will happily slag off the small to try and lobby against losing their advantages. 
4: Indeed, recalling the spectacular tin ear I complained about the other day in regard to Wellington’s advertising, our Council’s first draft of changes for the local area included the creation of a ghetto — styled as an “entertainment precinct” — which would’ve hugely favoured the City’s obviously-problematic operators and seriously hampered further evolution of the increasingly civilised fringe. I remember being outraged by the incredible wrong-headedness of the idea around podcast-recording time; fortunately, it was abandoned. 
5: See also Whisky + Alement, next time you’re in Melbourne, for a really excellent range of deftly-matched [Craft] Beer + Whisk[e]y combinations. 
6: Albeit one with a bit of an identity crisis, to be fair; the brewery bleats on nonsensically about how “traditional” and “small” it is while a) committing the classic Big Business sin of trademarking a style term and b) producing 20ML already and planning under c) it’s new mega-corporate owners to d) quadruple capacity. 
7: And then, once your imagination’s nice and warmed-up, to contemplate rules, conditions, and fees that differ appropriately in response to the character of the place in question… But again; details another time. 

Left Coast ‘The Wedge’

Left Coast 'The Wedge'
Left Coast 'The Wedge'

It appears I might have “Black IPA” on the brain. Or hoppy porter, at least — the question of whether the one is the other is an enjoyable piece of modern beer taxonomy for me to ponder as I have a nice glass of something-dark on a wintery evening. I suspect I drink more dark beers in cooler weather,1 and Wellington is capable of serving up a bastard-cold evening every now and then. The local market is keeping me well-stocked, too: the few-days-before-this Funk Estate launch, the new Black Rye IPA from Renaissance (which is a few pages after this, further down the Diary), and — from the looks of it2 — there’ll be three-or-so at the West Coast IPA Challenge at the Malthouse next Friday night.

We had a bit of a house-warming shindig one night not long ago, here at my new (ish — we were slow in organising the party) flat, and I have a strange relationship with parties; I often find myself at a point of people-overdose and want a break. My occasionally-acute aversion to crowds and noise and such is often surprising to people who met me through the fact that I was a bartender for ages upon aeons, but the bartending was genuinely secondary to the prior fact of me being nocturnal. But the great thing — it turns out — about being a host of a party from which you fancy some time off is that your room is right there.

So I hid myself away for a while, wrote up a post — the one about my visit to Josie Bones, which did make me ravenously hungry — and drank this lovely thing. Another U.S. West Coast import from Hashigo, I’d picked it up from Regional, where Kieran and I had a bit of a Black-IPA-related ramble in which he was also3 saying things along the lines of overt hoppiness as necessary but not sufficient for something to be properly “Black IPA”; it being more about the character of that hoppiness. He pointed to ‘The Wedge’ as an example of something that should probably more-properly be “hoppy porter” — but which was no less worthy, for it.

It was exactly what I needed, in a break and beer. A generous 640ml (ish — peculiar Americans and their non-metric measurments…) bottle of loveliness, it kept me company while I hacked away at my keyboard and had genuinely delightful smooth, slightly smoky body that didn’t really even hint at its not-insubstantial strength. It was all chocolate and fruit, with a more-wintery kind of nose than Funk Estate’s beer, but I start to get hopelessly out of my league, sometimes, when it comes to identifying particular fruits or their flavours. To me, it tasted gloriously reminiscent of Whittaker’s Berry & Biscuit chocolate,4 with that Black-Forest-esque berries-and-cherry thing going on.

Again, if I had to categorise — if I’m given the taxonomy question like some kind of much-more-fun but much-less-productive travelling naturalist — then this ain’t Black IPA. But that’s just good-natured (I hope) fastidiousness and a concern for how getting the label text right and as helpful as possible is important in terms of ‘outreach’ to new customers / fresh good-beer-converts / anyone with imperfect information and impermanent guidance we can rely on (i.e., all of us). Here, the label is all hops-hops-hops in now-familiar style, but I can’t resist thinking that they’re simultaneously overstating their case and selling themselves short. They weren’t face-punchingly bitter hop notes such as you might get from a West Coast IPA with the h-word on the label that frequently,5 and the chocolatey malt they enriched (and gave that high-dose-cocoa edge) deserved to be called more than “a twist”. This was a fucking marvellous beer; well-balanced and worthy, whatever its label. And once I’d finished the bottle — and hit the Big Blue Publish Button on the post I was writing — I re-emerged from my room and rejoined the party.

Original Diary entry: Left Coast ‘The Wedge’ 26/5/12 @ home, hiding from a party. Writing some blog instead, and with Black IPA on the brain. This is almost smoky, though I did warm it well, and with a duller-fruit nose than PKB or Funk. Struggling to Name That Fruit, as I do. Emma’s beloved Berry & Biscuit chocolate, almost. (7.1%, 1 pt 6 floz, $15-ish) Beautifully smooth + soft. You’d never suspect 7%. This is pitched as BIPA but is in instructively-similar territory to the previous.

Left Coast 'The Wedge', while blogging
Left Coast 'The Wedge', while blogging
Left Coast 'The Wedge', label blurb
Left Coast 'The Wedge', label blurb
Diary II entry #221, Left Coast 'The Wedge'
Diary II entry #221, Left Coast 'The Wedge'

1: I assume. I haven’t actually charted anything, yet. But I do keep meaning to. There should be some amusing number-crunching, graph-making pseudo-mathematics lurking in my Diary.
2: Croucher Patriot was a (fantastic) hoppy-and-black-thing / American-style Porter / American Black Ale / Black IPA, and a ‘Cascade Patriot’ is on the list of contenders. The Yeastie Boys and Liberty Brewing are also again releasing twin beers, as Motueka and Yakima Raven. The place names signify the origin of the hops in each version (N.Z. or U.S.), and — especially after very red Jo’s Yakima Scarlet — Raven pretty-strongly suggests a Black IPA.
3: By “also” I mean like what I was saying about Funk Estate without meaning to imply that Kieran felt the same way about Funk’s beer. I honestly can’t remember which box he thought it best fit.
4: Something I’ve become familiar with (and fond of) through Emma’s enthusiastic-to-the-point-of-obsession liking for it; it accounted for a sizable fraction of her luggage allowance.
5: Given Hashigo’s maximally-cautious method of importing these things, I think it’s disregardably-unlikely that this was a more-aggressive beer that’d just rusted and atrophied down to the milder-mannered thing I met. But I suppose you never know.

The Fourth of July (Last Year)

Anchor Porter, on or after the 4th (depending on your point of view)
Anchor Porter, on or after the 4th (depending on your point of view)

One of the genuinely-many delightful things about celebrating “occasion beers” keyed to non-local occasions is that the magic of timezones can grant you quite a bit more time — in case you’d like to keep the party going, or just if you’re the forgetful and distractable sort.

So I didn’t get around that absurdly sexy Anchor Porter right there until the local day-after the Fourth, which was probably still the actual Fourth, since ours is a large-ish and sedately-spinning planet, around which it takes a while for daylight to circuit. No harm, no foul, right? But gawd is Anchor Porter sexy, in a bookish and interesting way that a hack Hollywood director would be obliged to convey by having it take its glasses off and let its hair down.1 Which is me anthropomorphising to a worrying extent, I realise, but I run of out words to describe the reliable-but-perpetually-exciting loveliness that the beer’s always granted me. I was, therefore, almost glad to’ve run out of time on the local Fourth; it deserves your full attention.

So there we were, last year,2 celebrating the Fourth while we worked, in the company of a handful of lovely people, most of whom could credibly claim some degree of other of Americanness and with a fittingly-fantastic array of four U.S. beers with gloriously-ostentatious tap handles happily assembled.

Victory 'Hop Wallop'
Victory 'Hop Wallop' IPA, a classic case of 'ugly label, gorgeous beer'
Brewaucracy 'Punkin Image, Ltd.', with pumpkin pie
Brewaucracy 'Punkin Image, Ltd.', with my first-ever pumpkin pie
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011'
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', after everyone else had finished theirs







My first beer of the night — the rumours are true; one of the few unalloyed joys of bartending is that you occasionally / frequently drink while you work (although the hours and the pay sometimes drive you to it, on balance) — was a ‘Hop Wallop’ IPA from Victory in Pennsylvania, generously shouted-by and shared-with our friend Kimmy (who, if memory serves, hails from nearby). Apparently originally a hop-harvest seasonal, it has all that lovely, intensely-aromatic high-velocity fruit salad kind of zip. It was heady doses of lushness and gorgeousness at the front, quickly replaced by a surprise bitter punch in the neck before it ran off and hid long enough for you to be lulled back by the nose. (Then wham-rinse-repeat happily all the way down the glass.)

We were also lucky enough to all split a rigger / growler / flagon3 of Brewaucracy’s then-new ‘Punkin Image, Ltd.’, a pumpkin beer and, as such, something very American while being not at all Fourth-ish. They’re traditionally Thanksgiving-related things, but when you’re displaced on a spherical planet, the seasons get all ass-backwards. So another of ‘our’ Americans, Annika, made proper pumpkin pie, and an unmistakable home-comfort happiness dawned on very many faces. Except mine. Mine was a face full of skepticism and doubt, since I’ve long held to the maxim that Pumpkins are Pig Food and Pigs are People Food; for peoples to eat pumpkins would be to inadvisably leapfrog the food chain. But I’d previously tried Dogfish Head’s pumpkin beer, and was astounded to find myself enjoying it, so I gave them both a chance — and can happily report that I am, weirdly, very fond indeed of both pumpkin beer and pumpkin pie as much as I still detest pumpkin pumpkin. Maybe it’s a texture problem, with the actual thing, or just the fact that — in both the pies and the beers — any flavour they might’ve had before they went in is completely swamped by deliciously soothing and satisfying winter spices.

Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', with womens
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', with delightfully-mad womens
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', blurb #1
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', blurb #1: on style and origins
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', blurb #2
Yeastie Boys 'Her Majesty 2011', blurb #2: on sexism and beer







And finally, I had (in my personal stash, secreted in a corner of the fridge) a great-big bottle of the then-new vintage of Yeastie Boys ‘Her Majesty’. Sharing it with a bunch of my favourite beer-geeky women made enough sense just leveraging off the name, but the label on this vintage went out of its way to deliver a beautiful fuck you to the sadly-prevalent sexism in this business, and that firmly cemented the idea. A rather-radical departure from the previous year’s edition — with which I began my second Beer Diary — other than in the Belgian-yeast department, I have vague memories of it causing some consternation at the Matariki Winter Beers Festival, but I definitely recall enjoying its dry, peachy funk. But it couldn’t really fail, when served according to the directions: “Enjoy responsibilty with friends, laughter and music”. Done.

This year, I’ll be helping out at Hashigo which — owing to the formidable stock of West Coast U.S. beers they import and the statistically-significant fraction of expats in the local craft beer community — is traditionally a busy one. They’ve rather spectacularly one-upped my “Four of July” from Malthouse last year, with eight visiting Americans in a row all along their main bank of taps. Should be a great lark.

Diary II entry #121, The Fourth of July
Diary II entry #121, The Fourth of July

Original Diary entry: The Fourth of July 4/7/11 working @ Malthouse with Petey & Halena. 1) Victory ‘Hop Wallop’ IPA ÷ 2 with Kim, who shouted for the occasion. 8.5% 355ml nicely pale + hazy. Big nose, blunter fruit salad cf. Hop Wired etc., nice big bitter sting, but not lingeringly so. So kind [of] like Punk, in that see-saw 2) Brewaucracy ‘Punkin Image Ltd.’ with Annika’s pumpkin pie! Which is hardly-usual for the Fourth, but this is the other hemisphere. Both were delicious + smooth. So my Pumpkins are Pig Food stance doesn’t apply to pie or beer, it seems. 3) Yeastie Boys ‘Her Majesty 2011’ with Haitch, Amy, Shannon, Annika + Kim — some of my favourite beer-geeky women! Total colour / weight inversion from 2010, but still Belgian & Odd. Light, dry, fruity — peachy, I thought. But what do I know? 4) Anchor Porter. Well, that was the plan. I forgot it until the next night. Such a fucking marvellous thing. Rich + fabulous.

1: Much to the consternation of geeks and just-plain-decent-thinking people alike; we know you can be perfectly sexy with your still hair up and your glasses still on.
2: I’ve been enjoying the increased topicality of posting closer to the day I actually drink a beer, but I’m resolved not to let those beers that I had to vault right over languish unpublished forever. I’ll try and make one calendar year the high-point of my slothful delay, switching back-and-forth between historical and current posts as I go — but leaving that mind-breaking back-dating scheme I formerly used entirely to its retirement.
3: Depending on your linguistic heritage, knowledge of Antipodean slang terms, and/or the state of local trademark law.

Alaskan Winter Ale

Alaskan 'Winter Ale'
Alaskan 'Winter Ale'

The best-laid plans and all that, right? Four different U.S. imports arrived in the keg fridge at work in the early stages of last winter, and all four had glorious great big ostentatious American-style tap handles. I quickly hatched a plan (not just within the bounds of my own head; I told the right people and made the relevant notes) to put them all side-by-side on the 4th of July. It just seemed to make sense. But these things had a way of undoing themselves and I’d show up to work in the days preceding the Americans’ collective birthday and find that one or other had been cracked, with or without its marvellous handle, and placed in some random corner of the taps. Sigh.

But. But — it turns out that if the proverbial man with the best-laid plan (and possibly the mice) is extraordinarily stubborn, faced with a quiet weekend night shift, and entirely comfortable with spending a few hours in the keg chiller, shuffling hefty things into organised piles in a zero-degrees-Celsius environment — the Zen Art Of Kegtris1then you might just witness a resurrection of that plan. And, as you can see from the handles arrayed behind my glass, that’s exactly what happened. It was, in its own way, beautiful. If I do say so.

July 4th tap handles
The Four of July

The reshuffle was a Saturday night, and I was (uncharacteristically) also working the Sunday — which is when I had this, as a little reward for getting everything done and ready for “tomorrow”, the 4th. I’ve entirely forgotten which lovely friend of mine I happened to bump into before work who shouted it for me as I mooched around before my shift — I’d turned up early, even further out of character and probably due to the disorientation of the schedule change.

It made for a great start to my workday, not least because 6.5% ABV in a light and sweet and gorgeously perfumed little ale helps to put a bit of a shine on your face, if you skipped breakfast. Comparisons to local-oddity ‘Captain Cooker’ from the Mussel Inn are meant as sincere and complimentary. They’re both charmingly peculiar, enjoyably different, and really interestingly tasty. And seriously, the tap handle is a fucking great big snow-covered tree. With a weirdly adorable eagle on the top. I still can’t believe the Powers That Be were content to leave that sitting in a dark cupboard, but I’m glad I overruled them.

Original Diary entry: Alaskan Winter Ale 3/7/11 From the four, all properly in place at last. Much paler than we expected, light amber. Smells like Christmass + shortbread, candy sweetness. Made with spruce, which help justify the already-awesome tap handle. Has that Captain Cookery sweet perfume. 6.5%-ish. Lovely start to a Sunday at work.

Alaskan 'Winter Ale', tap handle top (Malthouse, 3 July 2011)
Alaskan Winter Ale's tap-handle eagle
Alaskan Winter Ale, tap handle base (Malthouse, 2 July 2011)
Alaskan Winter Ale's tap handle base
Diary II entry #120, Alaskan Winter Ale
Diary II entry #120, Alaskan Winter Ale

1: Which really does seem to be a ‘me’ word — a fact that makes me deliriously proud. I do hope it catches on. If it does, I’m totally adding “neologist” to my CV.

Firestone Walker ‘Velvet Merlin’

Firestone Walker 'Velvet Merlin', tap handle
Firestone Walker 'Velvet Merlin', or at least its glorious tap handle

Karma is a bitch, sometimes. One day, I upload a podcast in which I make a flippant reference to wishing that trench foot isn’t lost from the world — I’m not even sure why I did; these things just ramble out of my brain, sometimes — and the very next day, I’m faced with a metric crapload of kegs to shuffle around in the chiller when I’m wearing my worn-out leaky hiking boots (rather than my ass-kicking hefty steel-toed factory-worker boots — which are also wearing out, truth be told). It didn’t get genuinely horrific, but it was conspicuously less fun than Kegtris usually is.

But — in yet another of those instances wherein the universe finds a way to reassert the relevance of a Diary entry, no matter how inexcusably belated — some of kegs in that swag were Firestone Walker’s ‘Double Barrel’ Ale, a beer which I’ve liked for ages, and am dead keen to have on tap. All the Firestone beers I’ve had so far have been charming, in their own ways. And this thing was an absolute delight to have as a guest for a little while. As you may be able to see on the awesomely ostentatious and typically-American tap handle, it’s another oatmeal stout, and I (to reiterate) bloody loves oatmeal stout, I do. This was the first to be tapped of a swag of American imports that we had stacked in the fridge, and its awesomeness and the sheer delightful silliness of that stonking-great handle proved a brilliant tease for the four more that were destined to go on together on the Fourth of July.

It was, to my no-surprise-at-all, just glorious. Positioned in a very pleasant middle-ground between the very-light likes of Little Creatures’ one-off oatmeal stout and enjoyably-worrying heavyweights such as Liberty’s ‘Never Go Back’, it’s smooth and silky and decadent without feeling overly or guilt-inducingly so. Nothing leaps out of my memory (or my notes) to really distinguish it from others of its kind, other than its nicely-built goodness. But that’s a fine and lovely thing, just to be doing what you do do well in an un-flashy and self-assured way. This does that.

Basically the only thing even remotely wrong with it is the name. There’s nothing inherently wrong about it — slightly obscure or bizarre as it might be, it does kinda work: “velvet” is certainly a word that anyone who makes this beer should feel entirely free to use, and “Merlin” is the nickname of their Brewmaster, Matt Brynildson. The tragedy is that is was once called Velvet Merkin. And that’s a whole bunch funnier. “Merkin” is seriously close to being an inherently funny word, and is well worth looking up if you’re not entirely sure what it means or why it might’ve been the name for this thing. I have — as you might have picked from the fairly-liberal swearing or from the short-form rants on the topic — a proudly defiant anything-goes approach to the English language and just hate to see people needlessly flinch from “bad words”. It’s the name of a beer, for fuck’s sake; you have to be legally an adult to buy it anyway, and this is such a gloriously outmoded word that it’s hard to imagine anyone clever enough to know it being simultaneously wowserish enough to have it give them the vapors and make them need a lie-down. But they self-censoringly changed the name when it graduated from being a one-off project, and that’s just kinda sad.

Just like oatmeal stout, swearing (and “bad language” more broadly) is one of the joys of life. Both take skill and timing, both are nourishing to body and mind, and both are capable of shocking and delighting — in turns or at once. Mister Fry is definitely with me on the swearing, and I can’t help but assume he’d be partial to a bloody-marvellous oatmeal stout, too. He just seems the type, don’t you think?

Firestone Walker 'Velvet Merlin' Oatmeal Stout
Diary II entry #115, Firestone Walker 'Velvet Merlin' Oatmeal Stout

Verbatim: Firestone Walker ‘Velvet Merlin’ Oatmeal Stout 24/6/11 5.5% on tap @ MH, with the glorious tap handle. Revising my July Four plan, but I’ll still jump in while it’s here. Ari Sr. shouted us a round! Loving the oatmeal stout these days. This is nicely placed on the number line between the Creatures and the Liberty. Smooth + light + lovely. Some silk sheets, but not too many. All very well put together, nothing seems to upstage obviously.

Belatedly uploaded: 29 November 2011

Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Black Barleywine

Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Black Barleywine
Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Black Barleywine

Well now. It has been a while. Again. The value of t has graduated to the triple digits and is going to need a serious hammering to get back to a civilised size. So: roll sleeves up, make sandwich, brew tea, forget about tea, grab beer, roll sleeves back down because it’s actually kinda chilly, remember about tea, curse bad memory, and back to it.1

I’ve long been a sucker for an Occasion Beer, and brewery anniversaries are a great excuse to try something new and celebrate what you’re all about. They’re results aren’t always spectacular; Tuatara basically phoned it in with their ‘X’ ale, if you ask me (although this year’s XI was a massive improvement on pitch, execution and all fronts — it’ll show up a little later in the Diary). But at the other end of the naff-awesome spectrum is 8 Wired, who knocked the ball out of the park and pretty much brewed the Platonic Form of the Anniversary Beer with their masterful ‘Batch 18’. Sierra Nevada, facing their unquestionably-milestonish 30th birthday, undertook a project of suitable size and scope, and which also nicely demonstrated their (relative) Elder Statesman status in the craft brewing business and the getting-shit-done capacity that that entails.

For a few years, they’d brewed an ‘Anniversary Ale’ for their birthday, basically a variant-edition of the Cascade-heavy pale ale that made them famous — and basically made “American Pale Ale” into a thing at all. With the big three-oh coming up, and since they were never only all about the pale ale, they broadened the scope of the Birthday Project to include multiple brews, in several styles, made in collaboration with all sorts of industry notables. Two of the series made it as far as us: an ‘Imperial Helles’ (a genuinely-interesting embiggened lager that managed to build something relaxed and worthy where a superficially-similar thing like Crown ‘Ambassador’ instead almost drowns in its own wank — I had mine on my 31st birthday, which seemed appropriate enough), and this.

It’s a glorious big-in-every-direction kind of thing; huge and boozy and rich and many-layered. Weighty and thick, it had a peculiar combination of sweetness and savory smokiness that made it like some Mad Science hybrid of birthday cake and birthday steak. My notes inevitably don’t do it any justice; this is another Distracted Diary Entry — not to the point where I had to take a do-over the next day, as I did with after the Random Ragtime Band Incident — since my friends Aran (that’s him in the red hoodie, attempting / succeeding at a photobomb) and Maeve were in town before heading off to pack up one house, move into another, then pop over to Italy to get married. As you do.

Freakishly, just as I finally type this up way too late, they were in the bar again tonight for the first time since. These things happen alarmingly often: Rex Attitude’s second batch appeared just as my tardy notes appeared online, and the same thing happened, if I remember rightly, with Hop Zombie. My slackness does have a weird way of keeping me relevant, somehow (in peculiar senses, at least), but I should take the time to promise (but not guarantee) that I am trying to trim it down…

Sierra Nevada '30th Anniversary' Black Barleywine
Diary II entry #112, Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Black Barleywine

Verbatim: Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Black Barleywine 20/6/11 10.2% ÷ 3 w/ George & Aran (Maeve is driving) George had the Moa R.I.S. before this, fittingly. He says its more Marvin Gaye than Barry White, and Aran has it as coffee made with slightly-too-hot water, slightly sweet-smoky, which suits the BBQ-esque pizza. Cheap licorice, says Aran. The taste v flavouring problem. Licorice kiss ice cream, he says. Ah, distracted notes. Never do justice.

1: That is an accurate sequence for the moment preceding sitting down to write this evening. A full accounting of the process would also include breaks / interruptions along the lines of: read news, clean kitchen, play Bastion, go grocery shopping, watch Futurama, and then remember about the tea (again) and brew another pot. If there was a procrastination event at the Olympics, I’d have a collection of shiny medals by now — if I ever got around to signing up.

Originally / eventually posted: 5 November 2011

I/IPA Workshop

I/IPA Seminar lineup
I/IPA Seminar lineup

As the U.S. Hop Crisis — 2nd Edition, after the 2007 price rice / demand spike / availability crunch — starts to make itself felt, with stories of hop-fueled local beers being backburnered and put on hiatus for maybe-years, a tasting session like this seems absurdly decadent; the sort of wanton profligacy that makes a proudly-middle-class boy like me feel slightly squiffy and embarrassed. Thinking back upon it now and writing it up feels weirdly like reminiscing about days spent swimming in champagne, using high-denomination bills to light cigars, and paying the wastrel children of the lower classes a pittance to cart me hither and yon in a goddamn sedan chair. But, like a beer-powered meat-based version of Hedonism Bot, I apologise for nothing. We had a great time, and I’d do it again — though I probably should do so soon, while I still can.

If this new hop shortage really is the big deal that some people suggest — i.e., if it’s not all just tulips in Holland, all over again — it’ll be utterly fascinating to see what distorting effect it has on the beer drinker’s palate. The New New Thing in a subculture like that of the Beer Fanatics is always changing, but it’s especially interesting when change is imposed from ‘outside’ by something like an ingredient shortage rather than just by whatever-the-fuck it is that usually drives the ebbs and flows of these things (in fashion, or pop culture, or any number of other fields). It’s possible that malt-forward beers will have an accidental renaissance, but if I have to put my Predicting Hat on, I’d have to guess that in the (relative) absence of hopness, we’ll see a marked uptick in weirdness. Hopheads seem to correlate rather strikingly with extremophiles, in general — them being peatfreaks with their whisky and ultra-spicy food afficionados, and whatnot — so we might see a surge in the funky and the sour and the generally-rather-freaky. I’d be entirely unsurprised if idiosyncratic yeastiness (with a side order of wood-aged peculiarity, perhaps) was the Next Big Thing — but ultimately, who knows?

Anyway. Simon & Jessie — them who I met way back at a Birthday Dinner for Robyn, and who were there for the ‘Beer 121’ tasting session — had just-recently gotten back from California, and brought with them some swag to share. They all tilted toward the kind of hop-stupid things for which the Americans are (deservedly) famous for, so we decided to do a three-and-three face-off — which, given our shared experience of spending way too long at university (with an average of more-than-one degree-per-person and two out of our five still studying, in our thirties), it quickly became known as a Postgrad Seminar in IPA, or the Double IPA Workshop.

— Epic ‘Armageddon’ (Auckland, NZ, 6.66%)

Epic 'Armageddon'
Epic 'Armageddon'

It’s fair to say that if you find yourself having a beer called ‘Armageddon’ to calibrate and zero-in your palate, you’re in for a pretty big night. This is something I’ve had umpteen times — though usually on tap, since it makes semi-regular appearances at work — and have really grown to enjoy. It’s probably a “little bit of column A; little bit of column B” scenario whether that’s because it’s improved or whether my tastes have just drifted in its direction, but I do remember finding it rather obnoxious when it made its début in the original ‘IPA Challenge’ at Malthouse, way back when. It definitely changed a lot through its Challenge Season Iterations, and has settled into being a suitably big IPA, with an enjoyably multi-note aroma and a solid malty body. Its pieces are well put together, and it does make for an interesting contrast against the Hop Zombie I’d been drinking a lot of, around the same time — Zombie is officially ‘stronger’, but has a lighter body, and/but has more-lush hop flavours that match it very well; the two are both big, they’re just differently big.

— Sierra Nevada ‘Hoptimum’ (Chico, California, 10.4%)

Sierra Nevada 'Hoptimum'
Sierra Nevada 'Hoptimum'

I’d seen ads for this in a few beer-related magazines that made their way into our Rack of Reading Material (thanks to generous / littering foreigners and wanderers) and utterly adored its label art. When Simon & Jessie told me that this was one of the IPAs they’d muled over, I was very excited to try it — but it just didn’t quite do it for me, tragically. The colour was stunning (with its warmly rosy tint), and the aroma (which took a little while to waft out, surprisingly given its strength) was pleasant (if unusually understated). But, for me, it was just too fat, too hot and too bitter — so bitter, on the palate. That’s no Gentleman Lupulus, on the label, that’s the Headless Hopsman — a scary motherfucker out for a revenge that he seems to assume can only be had by laying waste to your tastebuds. But, like I say in my notes, it still does exactly what it says it will. My dislike of it — much like my (apparent) dislike of 8 Wired ‘Superconductor’, which came later at Malthouse’s IPA Challenge (and I say “apparent” because I was off-and-on inflicted by nasty, flu-y, sense-impairing grossness at the time) — mirrors George’s dislike of ‘Rex Attitude’; I can honestly say (to the beer, I mean) that “It’s not you, it’s me”.

— Hallertau ‘Maximus Humulus Lupulus’ (Riverhead, NZ, 6.8%)

Hallertau 'Maximus'
Hallertau 'Maximus'
Hallertau 'Maximus', label
Hallertau 'Maximus', label

And so then back to something more familiar, to re-calibrate — and this must be the only real way to make the great-big Maximus flavours come across as light and refreshing. Originally brewed for the original Malthouse-hosted IPA head-to-head (against Epic’s ‘Armageddon’, no less), Maximus has also changed around a bit and is now steadily available as a member of Hallertau’s gorgeously-branded (and aptly-named) ‘Heroic Range’. Just like ‘Armageddon’, it was once the top rung of its brewery’s ladder in flavour-and-fiestiness terms but has since acquired a few more-full-on stablemates — and, of particular interest for me and my peculiarities, it spawned a midstrength sibling in the shape of the oh-so-lovely ‘Minimus’ (if only Epic’s family expanded in the downward direction, now that would be interesting…). It took us right back to ‘my kind’ of big-hoppy loveliness, after the assault of the ‘Hoptimum’, and that nose — my gawd it smells delicious. As we all noted at the time, it practically made Sierra Nevada’s Headless Hopsman smell like an empty glass that had held beer hours ago.

— Russian River ‘Pliny the Elder’ (Santa Rosa, California, 8%)

Russian River 'Pliny the Elder'
Russian River 'Pliny the Elder'
Russian River 'Pliny the Elder', label
Russian River 'Pliny the Elder', label

And then Pliny. About as famous a token of the type as you can get. I do very much like the way they relentlessly hammer home the plea / demand that you have your bottle in its best-possible condition (“Not for saving! Consume fresh or not at all!”, and all that, on and on and over again). It’s utterly-legendary status and the drink-it-fresh commandment make it difficult to ‘judge’ when you have it here at the bottom end of the world — a problem I struck once before — but this was in about as good a condition as you could’ve hoped for: Jessie and Simon were awesomely particular about it. When I check it’s “bottled on” date, I was momentarily taken aback by just how absurdly fresh it was — it appeared to have been bottled on the day before, until I remembered the inexcusably daft middle-endian nature of U.S. calendar notation. But still, the 6th of April is pretty-damn-recent, when you’re drinking on the 5th of June. And it is great. I’m still not convinced that it’s absolutely the best damn pale ale ever to have graced our humble universe, as so many people attest, but it’s astonishingly lovely stuff and remarkably well-balanced and put-together. George speculated that its reputation might, in addition to a bit of the Emperor’s New Pale Ale effect, be bolstered by a sort of Watchmen-esque place in people’s minds, earning extra credit for being gate-crashingly ahead of the curve in its day.

— Mike’s Organic Double India Pale Ale (Urenui, NZ, 9%)

Mike's IIPA
Mike's IIPA

Last of the locals in the lineup was Mike’s IIPA. Bookending a legend like Pliny with a couple of small-brewery offerings seems like an intimidating or unfair thing to do with the little guys, but it was genuinely awesome to see how well they stand up — they Americans really don’t leave us in the dirt on this score, if anyone was worrying. My original plan was to have 8 Wired ‘Hopwired’ in this slot, but the Mike’s makes an admirable substitute (as it’s done in a tasting or two that I’ve hosted, when stocks of 8 Wired were scarce). It throws a bit of that characteristically-American pineyness into the mix, and stands as a big, solid, somewhat-sweet monolith of a thing. There’s a fair amount of truth to the rule-of-thumb that 330ml offerings from Mike’s will be well-made, if slightly mainstreamy (out of commercial necessity), but the big-ass 750ml bottles may well blow your mind. Batch #2 of the IPA certainly held its own in a difficult crowd, and while I continue to not remotely give a damn about the certified-organic nature of the enterprise, it is impressive that they can do what they do with that extra constraint.

— Dogfish Head ‘90 Minute’ IPA (Milton, Delaware, 9%)

Dogfish Head ‘90 Minute'
Dogfish Head ‘90 Minute'

And then finally — and it was an enjoyable ordeal, heavy-laden with booze and hops as it was — we had a Dogfish Head ‘90 Minute’ to finish. It presented in the same heavy-orange tone as the Mike’s before it, but was shiningly clear. I’ve had this several times before and count it (and plenty of its siblings from the same brewery) among my favourites. Something about it fits nicely with the experimentalist spirit, too — its last appearance on here was as part of a side-by-side with its 60-minute brother. It’s big and glorious and suitably night-cappy, although you may be able to see (if you scroll way up to the original ‘Lineup’ photo) that we actually finished things off with a different-but-slightly-similar Croucher ‘Patriot’, just to reset from all these hoppy pale ales and have something dark with our dessert. We all got a distinct ‘vanilla’ note out of the 90 Minute, although at that late stage, our palates had taken a pounding and we may have been in the thrall of a mass hallucination. This is why you end a great-big tasting with something you already know, I suppose.

But it was a bloody-marvellous evening, all round. Two definite take-home lessons stand out, to my mind: 1) that local brewers really are very good indeed, there really is no need for any kind of Small Country Shyness (not that we often exhibit it, but it’s nice to be reassured), and that 2) beer is a many-splendoured thing; even when you pick a pretty-narrow corner of its spectrum of styles like IIPA, there’s a lot of variety to be had. Beer can be, you could say, fractally lovely stuff — the loveliness needn’t degrade, just because you zoom in closer.

Verbatim: Postgrad Workshop: I/IPA 5/6/11 @ George & Robyn’s 1) Epic Armageddon To calibrate, and ZOMBIE wasn’t around. Toffee-ish. Less one-note than PALE ALE. Massively contentious label text. 2) Sierra Nevada ‘Hoptimum’ Less aromatic, way more bitter in the face. Gorgeous glowing rosier colour. The label is misleading, until you see him as the Headless Hopsman. 10.4% Jeebus. Fat. More aromatic as it warms. But still maybe not the sure thing it should’ve been? Though it does do what it says on the tin. 3) Hallertau ‘Maximus Humulus Lupulus’ The first time it’ll seem light + refreshing. Biggest nose so far. Paler, hazier, peachier. HOPTIMUM now smells like an empty glass. 4) Russian River ‘Pliny the Elder’ Again, with a much better travel provenance. Fresh, too. Bottled on the 6th of April, or yesterday, if the Americans used sensible dates. Fruitier, definitely well-balanced. Geroge is right that it’s Watchmen-y, in that it’d be mind-blowing a generation ago, but it’s still absolutely great, in context. 5) Mike’s IPA Batch #2. Piney + fruity + a bit sweet — though we’ve now got spicy pizza competing. 6) Dogfish Head ’90 Minute’ IPA. Same colour, but clear. Definite vanilla streak in there, now. Weird. Bloody marvellous finisher.

Postgrad Workshop: I/IPA
Diary II entry #110.1, Postgrad Workshop: I/IPA
Postgrad Workshop: I/IPA
Diary II entry #110.2, Postgrad Workshop: I/IPA

Green Flash Stout

Green Flash Stout
Green Flash Stout

I’m fairly sure that the last half of my notes for this were back-filled the next day. In terms of its appearance in the book, this was a classic Distracted Beer, and a convenient reminder that the actual Beer Diary is still a personal thing, even though it’s (obviously) now (also) a public thing. My presumably-only-barely-legible (if that) scratchings1 still aren’t really written with public consumption in mind — this thing is. They’re different, the Beer Diary and the Beer Diary, and a scan of the one appears on the other as Proof of Authenticity as much as anything else, I suppose. And just like my photography gets a little loose if I’m having too much fun, so too go the notes.

The tasting at Weta Digital replaced my regular Friday night bar shift, and so my “working day” was over seven or eight hours earlier than it ordinarily would be — you know, an entire normal-person day earlier. I dropped off my rented tasting glasses at Regional, grabbed this off the shelf pretty-much on a whim (having liked stuff from Green Flash, before), and wandered to the pub — by which (in this instance) I mean the Hop Garden, a very-short downhill amble from my house, bless it.

If I recall correctly — it became a long night, so I quite-probably don’t — I plonked this in the fridge and was waiting for Scott to finish, figuring we’d split it. That probably means there was a Renaissance ‘Elemental’ or Three Boys Oyster Stout or two before this, whichever was the current nice-on-a-rainy-day Dark Thing On Tap. And when we did get around to it, it was paired with some mispoured Aberlour whisky. Utterly marvellous as a combination,2 but I was clearly well into the territory of the Rule Against Plural Big Beers. Ordinarily that means I wouldn’t have something ‘new’ and ordinarily that means I wouldn’t make a Diary entry — but there are always exceptions: some occasions warrant celebratory beers, and some beer-related moments are worth recording, new-beer or no.

I’ll just have to get another bottle. I remember really enjoying it, and my notes certainly sound like me recommending something very-much “my thing” to myself.3 I just can’t quite squint well enough through the twin hazes of the Overexcitable Day and the Overindulgent Night to get much of a grab on the specifics. I recall expecting it to be bigger-and-scarier — one of those huge, powerful beers that prove a Worthy Fight, maybe — but being delighted by the easy-going, smooth massiveness of it. You could say it was a little bit Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, perhaps; superficially imposing but actually a big, charming softie.

Green Flash Stout
Diary II entry #97, Green Flash Stout

Verbatim: Green Flash Stout 29/4/11 $14 @ Reg, after dropping off glassware. 650ml 8.8% imported by HZ ÷ 2 w/ Scotty @ HG. A void of dark, classic espresso bubbles. Massive flavour, big ’splosion of black dynamite in the face. Delish. Really smooth, not relentlessly coffee. And we’ve got mispoured Aberlours to go with. Probably a violation of the Rule Against, but who cares? So nice to catch up — and Gen joined in halfway. Best I can say: it was surprisingly accessible, given heritage + strength.

1: Weirdly, I get people not-infrequently remarking the I have neat handwriting. I think this is mostly because my scrawl is tiny, more than anything. And so effectively-from-afar, maybe it has the superficial appearance of tidiness. I’m not quite sure what caused my microscopic handwriting, but it’s led some people to assume that the Diary is quite a bit bigger than it actually is and so be surprised by the appearance, somewhere, of the little notebook itself. To give a sense of scale: in a one-hour lecture at law school, I’d use a single side of A4 for notes, at roughly 18-20 words per line. Yeesh.
2: Speaking of which: not too long after, the crowd I had my Trappist Dance Card tasting with were at Hop Garden for a beer-and-whisky tasting. A timetable snafu prevented me from joining in, but it sounded fantastic. Stu from Yeastie Boys joined in and helped out, given the obvious beer-and-whisky resonance of the just-released ‘Rex Attitude’. I was musing about beer-and-x not long ago, and have since stumbled upon my own plan for a little beer-and-coffee tasting, and am due to join in a beer-and-cocktails evening fairly soon. Details and nerdy photos to follow, naturally. Beer’s been around since the dawn of Civilisation, but still keeps you guessing.
3: Honestly, my memory is terrible. Much of my mental life is like this, as it pertains to reading things I’ve written or just when it comes to finding things around the house. It’s not at all uncommon to be sitting here at my desk and to get the idea that a cup of tea might be nice — only to wander downstairs to the kitchen to find one already there, sitting forgotten-about from a few paragraphs (or a few scenes of a TV show, or a level or obvious checkpoint of a videogame) ago. It’s a good thing I like over-brewed tea.

Maui ‘Big Swell’ IPA

Maui 'Big Swell' IPA
Maui 'Big Swell' IPA

And then, a few days later, something rather similar — which makes a certain amount of sense in that my Monday was spent dealing with the same nonsense that lead to the unexpected Saturday night off. But it all worked out alright, and was fun in its own peculiar way, and so I cracked open one of these to celebrate.

Plus, here we are with another canned beer. I gave some of my thoughts on them — and on the spelling of Aluminum (no second i) — in my recent Diary entry on the same brewery’s Coconut Porter. That rant (the canned-beer one, not the Aluminum one so much) was prompted by comments made by local beer writer Neil Miller, and this was his Birthday. Perfect.

So soon after the Ballast Point ‘Big Eye’, it was nice to have another big-but-balanced American pale ale. The tagline on the can uses the word “hoppy” for thirty percent of its text, but the beer serves as a nice reminder that hoppiness isn’t exactly the same as bitterness, closely related though they are. It manifests here with all those wonderful classic American pale ale flavours of citrus fruit and fresh, resiny pine — but they’re all just a little more relaxed than they often are. Not tired, like a bad import or anything lacking in freshness, just relaxed. Imagine something already-delicious like Hallertau’s ‘Maximus’ finally escaping the clamour of Auckland,1 getting itself a beach holiday and just chilling right the fuck out. Rather fitting, really, given its Hawaiian origins.

And damn, they aren’t kidding when they say smooth, either; it’s peachy, hazy golden colour, pillowy soft, excitable bubbles and luxuriously lush feel all put me in mind of Golden Bear’s ‘Bear Trappe’ though the two beers otherwise come from quite different backgrounds and styles. As I said on the Twitterthing when I bought this and the porter, anyone who wants to say there’s no such thing as good canned beer should have to do so to the Maui Brewing Company’s face — and to 21st Amendment, and to BrewDog, and… You get the idea.

Addendum: And then, the day after I posted this, Neil presented a somewhat-more-nuanced position on Twitter:

My definite preference is for beer in bottles but cans have their place. What is in the vessel is ultimately the most important. Some cheap cans can taste a bit metallic but a good can is fine – Big Swell IPA being the perfect example.

Though there’s still an under-current of anti-can sentiment in there — why else the definite preference? — I totally agree with the idea that it’s the beer that counts most. On that, given the inner (non-metal) lining of the sorts of cans usually used, metallic tastes are much more likely to be a brewing fault than attributable to the cans (a point covered, ironically, in the recent New Zealand TV programme for which Neil was a Talking Head). Still, it’s nice to know the fairly-strident lines he delivered in his ‘Beer 101’ tasting session — overhearing bits of which while clearing glasses was what initially freaked me out — don’t quite match up with his considered views on the matter.

Verbatim: Maul Brewing Co. ‘Big Swell’ IPA 18/4/11 355ml can $10 @ NWT 6.2% Reward for a weirdly enjoyable return to lawyering today. Really pretty hazy peachy gold, big fluffy white head. Soft nose of fruit + piney oily sides. Not big and bitter and punchy, still soft and smooth. Lush. The bubbles are totally reminiscent of Bear Trappe’s. And hey, it’s Neil Miller’s birthday, so a good canned beer is apt. It’s like Maximus went on a beach holiday + chilled out.

Maui 'Big Swell' IPA, tagline
Maui 'Big Swell' IPA, tagline
Maui Brewing Co. 'Big Swell' IPA
Diary II entry #93, Maui Brewing Co. 'Big Swell' IPA

1: Well, not that Hallertau live in the clamourous part of Auckland. Or really Auckland at all, as such. They’re clever enough to be a twenty-minute blat up the motorway out of town. But you know what I mean.