#363 Cock & Bull – Monk’s Habit

Name: Monk’s Habit
Brewery: Steam Brewing
Style: IPA
ABV: 7%
Source: Cock & Bull Ellerslie

Of all the beers I’ve had so far, this one was definitely the saddest.

You see, this was not only my first taste of Monk’s Habit – the Cock & Bull’s multi-award winning flagship beer – it was almost certainly my last.

*Cue violins*

The chain of pubs, which has been around for nearly 20 years and sells its own range of iconic beers (produced by its brewery arm, Steam Brewing), has recently been bought by Nourish Group. You’d think this could be a good thing; Nourish Group owns a few swanky restaurants about the place and is partly owned by celebrity chef Simon Gault, so a bit of a spruce up and better food could be expected. Sadly, and completely bizarrely if you ask me, Nourish have signed an agreement with Lion and will be discontinuing the Cock and Bull beers.

I didn’t fully register how tragic this all was until I visited the Ellerslie branch last night. It was busy, verging on rowdy, and it had that cosy English pub feel that patterned carpet and wooden joinery provides. The music was crap and there were too many TV screens for my liking, and yet I felt a sharp pang of regret for not coming here earlier. The fact that I could get good beer here, beer that I couldn’t get anywhere else, made all the difference.

The Fuggles, which I loved and wrote about here, is already gone. The Monk’s Habit, which seems to be the one the beer community will miss the most, is nearly all gone. Newmarket have definitely sold out, and I’m pretty sure Ellerslie were on their last keg.

And that’s a goddamn shame, because it really is a delicious drop.

With a name like Monk’s Habit you’d expect something Belgian, but in actual fact it’s a bright, gorgeous IPA.

On the nose it was bursting with American hops – grapefruit marmalade and pine resin, with a underlying toffee sweetness. In the mouth it was super crisp, with fresh green hoppy bitterness balanced by rich caramel malt.

If this has been around since 2005, and Google suggests it has been, then it must have been one of the first really hoppy beers ever produced in New Zealand.

Nourish Group – you are crazy (and frankly, a little cruel.) It’s true these beers will be more expensive to serve than Mac’s Gold, but they are what makes the Cock & Bull great. The thought of another chain of gastropubs (how I loathe the word) serving boring beers with overpriced Salt n Pepper squid: it’s enough to make a grown woman weep.

I guess the best thing we can hope for is that Steam Brewing (who brew beers for Epic and Croucher, among others) can keep making the Cock and Bull beers to sell through some other outlet. To simply let these beers dissapear just seems like a terrible waste.

On a happier note (*cease violins*) today’s thanks goes to very important person – my Mum. Mum has been cheering me on from the get-go; buying me beers, texting invaluable feedback (like “stop saying you’re drunk and can’t remember the beer”), and naturally becoming a total craft beer convert herself. Thanks for everything Mum, see you at Galbraith’s!

Published in: on August 6, 2012 at 3:11 pm  Comments (6)  

#359 Epic – Message In a Bottle

Michael, the book, the beer and I.

Name: Message In a Bottle
Brewery: Epic (Akl, NZ)
Style: IPA
ABV: 7.5%
Source: O’Carrolls Freehouse

On Wednesday night I attended the loveliest, rowdiest book launch I’ve ever been to – the unveiling of Michael Donaldson’s “Beer Nation” at O’Carrolls.

Telling the story of beer in New Zealand, and that’s what this book does, is a heroic task if you ask me.  I get nervous of getting some fact wrong and upsetting somebody every time I hit Publish, so to put out an entire book which covers so much and will be scrutinized by plenty of beer geeks – that takes balls.

And while I’ve only had time to read passages, it seems Michael nailed it.  It gives in-depth (yet easy to read) coverage of both the history and the current state of beer in NZ, and is loaded with lovely old photographs of brewing legends (with bonus comedy moustaches!), breweries, newspaper articles and advertisements. Beer geeks will love it, but so will anyone with an interest in New Zealand history.

(And because this blog happened to coincide with Michael’s research period, I even made it into the Women in Beer chapter! It seems I said some strange things when he interviewed me last year, like “women drink beer differently to men” and “I try not to eat too much junk food”, but I was glad to see a great quote from my Mum made it in, immortalized in NZ beer history forever.)

In my experience, most book launches serve sauvignon blanc or Heineken with brie, but clearly that wasn’t going to fly with beer people. For this one Epic brewed a special beer – to Michael’s brief – which is based on the beer Kiwis brewed “before industrialisation, prohibition-pleasing law reform and rationalisation turned beer into a one-dimensional mass-produced commodity”.  Apparently that was based on the IPAs being shipped over from the UK, and so we have a slightly meta situation of a beer based on beer based on beer.

I  think Luke did a great job. I didn’t actually take notes because I was too busy yakking, but I remember it had a subtle hop aroma, an almost burnt caramel, roasty malt flavour with quite a lot of hop bitterness at the finish. It came across as really well-balanced, super drinkable and totally secretive of its high ABV.  I don’t expect it will be as popular as Epic’s massive hop-forward IPAs, but those who prefer English style IPAs might like it best of all.

Today’s thanks goes to Epic’s Luke Nicholas. Luke not only increased my initial pageviews by about a million times by putting this blog on the Realbeer site, he’s had me at the HQ for some incredible tastings, agreed to be my Beervana Media Brew partner… Even arranged my one-time awkward stint on TV. Thanks Luke!

Buy Beer Nation here. 

Published in: on August 3, 2012 at 11:52 am  Leave a Comment  

#355 Three Boys – Aftershock

Name: Aftershock
Three Boys (Chch, NZ)

It’s the final countdown!

There are just 10 days and 10 beers left until I complete Beer For a Year, and I promise to make each one count. No more of this Budweiser, Pirate BS – we’re looking at pure gold from here on in. *looks at empty beer cupboard nervously.*

Like the Twisted Hop’s ‘Red Zone Enigma’, Aftershock is a one-off by-product, if you will, of the Christchurch earthquakes. In this case, the Boys were at some crucial stage of brewing their Golden Ale when a violent aftershock cut the power off. Rather than freak out and cry-eat like I would, they quickly improvised and turned the brew into a different beer entirely.

Each bottle of this limited release beer was sealed in wax and adorned with a little piece of brick from a fallen building. Unfortunately my brick fell off and got lost, but the upshot was that it wasn’t so much of a collector’s item anymore and I didn’t have to feel bad about drinking the beer.

It’s been almost two years since this was bottled, which seems like a long time in the life of an IPA. I was half-expecting it to have lost its mojo, but actually, I reckon it just might have been hitting its prime.

It was interesting to look on Ratebeer.com and see other people describing grassy (and in one case, oniony) hop aromas in 2011, when I got masses of grapefruit and toffee (essentially marmalade) with a touch of pine. Did the flavours change over the extra year, is my nose just rubbish – or is it a little of both?

In the mouth it was really elegant, with firm sweet malt, citrus pith bitterness and just the right amout of bite. The balance was perfect – it was refreshing despite it’s reasonable ABV, smooth yet fizzy, and neither too bitter nor too sweet . It was incredibly well made I think, and remarkably so when you consider the circumstances in which it was conceived.

Today’s little thank you note is going out to Finn (can I get an “awwww”) who hasn’t had a whole lot to do with the blog itself, but has tolerated the hundreds of hours over evenings and weekends that it has taken up without complaint. He’s also given me countless rides home from Galbraith’s, and happily finished every single bottle of beer that I couldn’t. Now that’s love.

Published in: on July 30, 2012 at 9:20 pm  Comments (1)  

#340 Haandbryggeriet – Fyr og Flamme

Name: Fyr of Flamme
Brewery: Haandbryggeriet
Style: Smoked IPA
Source: SOBA Winter Ale Fest

You know, sometimes I suspect Norway is just taking the piss. First the unpronounceable Nøgne ø, and now they deal us Haandbryggeriet. Do they create words over there simply by letting cats walk across keyboards?*

Me and Dad got a glass of this from the Hashigo Zake stand at the SOBA Winter Ale Festival last weekend, and we both were enchanted by it. The aroma was incredible – I got lychee, marmalade and lemon sago with treacle, and in the mouth tropical fruit with a piney bitter finish. It was creamy and well-balanced, punchy and fresh. I wouldn’t call it perfect – the finish was a little thin and short – but the flavours really made it stand out.

The reason I’m writing about it instead of one of the other great beers I tried is not because it was the best, but because it taught me an important lesson: I don’t think I want to be a beer expert.

In my excitement over the Fyr og Flamme I made Luke from Epic have sip, and he immediately screwed up is face in disgust. “It’s ridden with faults” he said (I can’t remember which), “you go ahead and enjoy it but I can’t.”

This is something I’ve encountered a few times. I think something has a nice butterscotch taste, a beer expert is horrified at the diacetyl. I like those green apple notes… all the expert can taste is acetaldehyde. I used to want to do a fault tasting session so that I could learn to pick up these things – but actually I’m not so sure. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, or in Norway –  uvitenhet er lykke.

*And those are just the brewery names – what about gems like kjærlighetsaffære (affair), or the incredible menneskerettighetsorganisasjonene (the human rights organization)? Imagine the spit that must fly during arguments! 

Published in: on July 22, 2012 at 4:51 pm  Comments (1)  

#336-339 Mikkeller Single Hop Series

Mikkeller Single Hop Series (various)
Brewery: Mikkeller (Denmark, Copenhangen)
Style: American IPA
ABV: 6.9%
Source: The Beer Cellar

First up, apologies if this blog post looks completely bizarro to you. I spent a lot of time placing the photos just so, meanwhile creating an HTML nightmare and a post that probably looks like it was published by Picasso in any other browser. 

All up there are about 19 beers in the Mikkeller single hop series, each showcasing – as you might have guessed – a different hop variety on its own. The recipe is exactly the same across each of the beers, which means that any differences any flavour, aroma and bitterness are all down to the ol’ humulus lupulus.

Don’t fret, I’m not going to write about all 19 beers because a) I didn’t have
them and b) how tedious would that be, but I will smoosh the four I did try into this one, easy-to-swallow post:

1. Chinook (USA)
Fantastic aroma with loads of grapefruit marmalade and burnt toffee. In the mouth my instant association was with a sherry – dry, alcoholic and perfumey, with a little sweet caramel malt that balanced a herbaceous bitter finish.

2. East Kent Goldings (England)
Citrus, caramel and flowers on the nose, smooth and well-rounded in the mouth. Not quite as sharp or exciting flavour-wise as yesterday’s Chinook, but I like that it’s less bitter. I could drink a lot of this.

3. Centennial (USA)
Flowery, herbal aroma – almost medicinal – as well as a little grapefruit sweet caramel. In the mouth it was quite malty and sweet, with more grapefruit and flowery notes, leading to a dry bitter finish. Interesting hop I reckon, and not just another version of cascade, which I was expecting.

4. Simcoe (USA)
This one had a lovely aroma – lots of citrus (orange and lemon), passionfruit, and something a bit exotic/perfumey. Lots of juicy ripe fruit in the mouth, well-balanced with a soft caramel malt underlay. The finish was piney, bitter and long.

It’s a bit hard to pick  favorite as I didn’t drink them side by side, but I reckon the EKG is probably the one I’d most like to go back to. I loved those gentle, flowery English hops, and I like that the finish didn’t wring out my tongue to dry.

Does this prevalence for softness mean I’m getting old and boring?  Will I be harping on about the label font being too small next? I am writing this in bed with a hot water and a cup of tea, so the answer is undoubtedly yes.

Published in: on July 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm  Comments (1)  

#320 Harrington’s – Hop Tremor

Harrington's Hop Tremor Name: Brewer’s Selection Hop Tremor
Brewery: Harrington’s (Chch, NZ)
Style: IPA
ABV: 7.4%
Source:  Vic Park NW

Do not adjust your screens. That is a room draped in metres and metres of gold sequined fabric you see, and that pair of turntables to the left is just about to start spinning some sweet 90s jams.  Welcome to an average Tuesday morning in the life of Beer for a Year.*

Awkwardly empty disco-themed office party backdrop aside,  this beer probably fell into the “nice enough but nothing to write home about” category. It could have been that the sequins and TLC were overwhelming my senses, but I didn’t get the heavy-handed dose of hop aroma that I was expecting. All the right elements were there (grapefruit and pine resin and caramel), but they didn’t leap out of the glass and say “HEY, LET’S DANCE!”

In the mouth there was a big hit of juicy malt, and then a really lengthy and resinous bitter finish. That’s all well and good and probably what they were aiming for, but I’m a little funny with aftertastes. I don’t like bitterness to hang around to long, because it feels like I’ve swallowed a panadol too slowly. I get this feeling all the time with IPAs and I guess I pick on some beers more than others for it, but I think I’m more forgiving if there is heaps of fruit flavours upfront to balance it out. In this case there wasn’t.

Still, not a bad drop and probably well-liked by hop-heads. I might give it another shot one day when I’m not surrounded by distracting shiny stuff.

*I wish this was my Tuesday morning, in actual fact it was Saturday night two weeks ago. And in case you’re wondering what happened to the gold fabric – don’t worry. It has since been turned into a Turkish tent  in my friends’ lounge.

Published in: on July 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

#305 Croucher – Galaxy IPA

Name: Galaxy IPA
Brewery: Croucher
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.3%
BREW (Rotorua, NZ)

No time!  Auckland’s first ever (little) craft beer festival – City of Ales – starts in an hour,  and I’m not yet showered/dressed/filled with the Pork Pie I plan to line my stomach with.

So just quickly – I had this Croucher IPA at BREW in Rotorua last week, and it was stupendously delicious. At first it smelled to me like Fanta, but then as I drank it the flavours turned to sticky pineapple and mango.  It was dry and quenching, with a herbaceous bitter finish that didn’t linger too long.

It was great. Go drink some. I gotta go!

[note – I actually ran out of time to publish this and am now doing so a day later, in case you’re wondering why I’m going to a beer festival at 10:30pm on a Sunday night. But for the record, if there was one on now I’d be there.]

Published in: on June 24, 2012 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

#304 Croucher – LOWRIDER IPA

Brewery: Croucher (Rotorua, NZ)
Style: IPA
ABV: 2.7%
Source: BREW (Rotorua, NZ)

I know what you’re thinking. “You’ve changed, man,” just because I visited Croucher’s brewpub on a Friday night and drank only a half pint of low-alcohol beer. But I’m telling you it isn’t so!

For the record, I was already a bit drunk by the time I arrived at BREW (having consumed a few margaritas at the wonderful South American restaurant down the road), but it’s also the case that I love the Lowrider and would have chosen it either way.

Like the Hallertau minimus, this is what I would call a chihuahua beer. I don’t mean it’s annoying and yappy and popular with Paris Hilton – I mean it’s a little beer that thinks it’s big. It will go out there and fight with the great danes, and… actually this is where the metaphor ends because a chihuahua would get crushed by a great dane, whereas this little beer could kick the ass of some full-strength IPAs.

It has all the sharp, fruity hop character you’d expect from an IPA, enough of a malt presence to balance, and a dry bitter finish which leaves you thirsty for more. And you can drink more, because at 2.7% you’d probably pop before you managed to get drunk off the stuff. It’s not one of those beers which is ‘good if you have to drive’ either, it’s good all the time, any time, even on a Friday night when there are loads of other beers on offer. And that’s why I chose it. Not because I’m not hardcore anymore (let’s be honest, I never was), but because it’s a great beer.

Published in: on June 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

#298 Dogfish Head – 60 Minute IPA

Name: 60 Minute IPA
Brewery: Dogfish Head (Delaware, USA)
Style: IPA
ABV: 6%
Source: O’Carrolls Freehouse

Ahoy and apologies for the short posting hiatus – I spent the weekend in Rotorua submerged in hot water/cool Croucher beer, and neither were terribly conducive to writing.

I had this the other night at O’Carrolls, which seems to have more and more American beer (and less old men drinking Guinness?) every time I go in. It was tasty, although probably not the best choice for a first drink of the night. When will I learn that an IPA never is?

It poured a bright orangey-gold, and the aroma was of sharp citrus (grapefruit and lemon?), pine needles and sweet caramel. In the mouth there was a pretty dominant malt presence, which softened the resinous hops out with a honey sweetness. It was crisp and refreshing, but the finish was just a tad too bitter for my liking.

After the IPA and a Rennaissance Pilsner (which was yum, I should have written about that really) I switched to red wine for the rest of the night. Beerpiphany number #122: keep your hops and grapes apart – especially if you have to go ball dress shopping with your sister in the morning. Yeuch. 

Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm  Comments (1)  

#295 ePICO – Zythogeddon

Name: Zygthogeddon
Brewery: ePICO
Style: IPA
Source: Epic Brewery

OK this is cool – it’s an ePICO beer which I can only assume was some very early trial version of Zythos, which of course we can all go out and buy. I feel like I just found the original recipe for Coke!

Sorry to keep repeating myself but in case anyone is new round here…  ePICO beers are Epic’s homebrews: mini batches that they make at the headquarters to trial out hops and stuff. Zythos is an American hop blend, and it’s also the name of Epic’s latest beer. Beer is the reason we’re all here.

It’s been a while since I had one of Epic’s Zythos beer so I’m not sure how close this was to that – but this was delicious either way. It had a massive aroma of tropical fruit – ripe pineapple and mango – as well as some citrus, and a sturdy backbone of juicy caramel malt.

I had this with Olivia who goes spazzy for IPAs and is a huge fan of Zythos, and she loved it. In fact, between her guzzling it and the heartbreaking amount that gushed down the sink, I didn’t get to drink much of this 750ml bottle at all. 

Published in: on June 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment