#357 Wigram – Spruce

Wigram SpruceName: Captain Cook Spruce Beer
Brewery: Wigram Brewing Company (Chch, NZ)
Style: English Pale Ale
ABV: 5%
Source: Vic Park New World

Historical brews are just about my favourite thing ever right now, and are tipped (by me) to become trendy after the upcoming sour explosion (also tipped by me) simmers down. I’m very much looking forward to this period – just as I look forward to a time when balaclavas are acceptable winter accessories and bacon-based desserts are a thing.

Like the slightly more famous Captain Cooker, Spruce Beer is based on Captain Cook’s original 1770 beer recipe and is flavored with rimu (spruce) and manuka. I reckon this must taste a lot better than the OG version, or else New Zealanders would have been far too advanced to ever drink anything like Tui.

At the risk of seeming exceedingly lazy, I think the best way for me to describe this beer is to simply show you my notes:

“It’s so fuckin weird I feel like I’m eating ferns” was Olivia’s contribution, and in some ways that sums it up quite nicely. What perhaps doesn’t come across in this list though, was how totally and weirdly nice it was. All those complex “bushy” flavours were carried by lovely sweet malt, balanced by a little bitterness at the end, and it was actually totally quaffable. Perhaps a touch more bitterness might have improved it for me, but then it wouldn’t have been so historically accurate now, would it?

Today’s thank you goes to Olivia (my sister, in case you missed that), who has been my number 1 sidekick since day one of the blog. She’s embraced beer with the same level of enthusiasm that I have, and will be  the person I geek-out about beer with long after the blog has finished. Thank you Livy!

PS – If you want to get ahead of the historical trend, might I suggest brewing a Harry Potter themed buttered beere based on this 1588 recipe and then instagramming the shit out of it. Also send me some, because I’ve been fantasising about drinking that since I was 12.

Published in: on August 1, 2012 at 10:36 am  Comments (7)  

#356 Dr Hops – World Pale Ale

Dr Hops World Pale ALe Name: World Pale Ale
Brewery: Dr Hops (brewed at Invercargill Breweries)
Style: Pale Ale
ABV: 5.5%
Source: Dr Hops

I was nervous that things might be getting a little stagnant by this stage – that I’d be scraping the barrel with Export Gold or those obscure Russian beers you find for $2 each on K Rd – but looky here: a brand new pale ale from a brand new New Zealand brewery!

I didn’t know who Dr Hops was until she Tweeted at me a few days ago, enthusiastically replying “drink me!” when I asked for beer recommendations. Obligatory Alice in Wonderland jokes were exchanged, and a few days later a bottle of her World Pale Ale arrived in the post.

Part of me wonders if I’m not meant to celebrate the fact the brewer behind Dr Hops, Nicky Claridge, is a woman – because I’m so PC that it’s not even a thing – but really that would be silly. The brewing world is still very much dominated by males and I do get excited when I see women at the helm of craft beer, especially when the beer is as good as this.

I was punched in the nose by passionfruit, with plenty of zesty citrus and sweet caramel in the background. In the mouth I got toffeeish, almost roasty malt, countered by a bitter citrus finish that lingered for ages on the tongue. It was refreshing, clean, and seriously tasty.

Hooray for “women in beer” and, more importantly, for a cool new presence on the NZ beer scene. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Doc, and await plenty more good things to come. No presh.

Today’s thank you goes to another woman in beer – Kate Jordan – who is the editor of the Soba newsletter, Pursuit of Hoppiness, and author of the sporadically updated but always interesting blog “Beer“. Kate has been generally cool and supportive, and welcomed me  into the Auckland beer geek circle when I first came knocking on its door, unannounced, last August. Kate has three hours left until she ends her Dry July campaign, and I look forward to buying her a beer (and then watching her inject it into her veins) when I see her next.

Published in: on July 31, 2012 at 9:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sunday Star Times “Top 10” list

Last week, Michael Donaldson – who is the Dep Ed of the SST and author of the brand new NZ beer bible “Beer Nation” – asked me to submit a Top 10 list for his beer column.

This sent me into a bit of a frenzy, because how on earth could I even define ‘top’ let alone choose 10 beers to fill each precious slot? Did I pick the most delicious, the most interesting, or the beers I would drink the most often? Probably I was overthinking it, but this is the kind of stuff that keeps me awake at night.

In the end, I decided to narrow things down by choosing only New Zealand beers that would be commercially available at the time of print. I tried to pick my favourite example of 10 different styles – although I couldn’t choose between Bookie and Bob’s so ended up with two bitters.

After I submitted the copy to Michael, I would constantly fret about breweries that should have been on there (8 Wired for example, Croucher, Liberty… take your pick), but obviously I couldn’t include everything. Besides – I have no regrets about the 10 fantastic beers that did make it on the list, which I present without further adu…

(Actually one more bit of adu to point out these are in alphabetical order. To have actually tried to rank them would have given me a hernia.)

Emerson’s Bookbinder (Bitter)
Easily my favourite “session” beer, Bookie’s gentle citrus hops and soft pillowy malts hit the spot every time. If I had to choose one beer to spend the rest of my life with, Bookbinder would be it.

Epic Hop Zombie (IIPA)
With its huge tropical fruit aromas and juicy malt sweetness, Hop Zombie’s recent disappearance from the shelves was much worse than Marmageddon. Like any good Zombie it’s back, however, and is still one of the most delicious beers in town.

Galbraith’s ‘Bob Hudson’s Bitter’ 
An ideal winter’s day would be spent at Galbraith’s Alehouse, drinking Bob’s on handpull and playing Scrabble. It tastes like an English Orchard as is only 4% – so you can drink a few pints and still spell the long words.

Hallertau ‘Funkonnay’ (Sour Ale)
When I started this project I’d never heard of sour beer, but now I’m completely hooked. Hallertau make New Zealand’s only current version, and it’s the most weird and wonderful beer on the shelves right now.

Harrington’s ‘Anvil (Pilsner)
Like the forever-struggling metal band it was named after, this is a beer that deserves more fame. Luscious fruit aromas and mouth-filling caramel malt make the Anvil my favourite New Zealand pilsner.

Invercargill Brewery ‘Smokin’ Bishop’ (Smoked Bock)
All smoked beers make me weak at the knees, but none so much as the Smokin’ Bishop. With firm sweet malt and meaty campfire flavours, I’d get my bacon fix here if I ever turned vegetarian.

The Mussel Inn ‘Golden Goose’ (Lager)
I thought all golden lagers were variations on Heineken, and then I tried the Golden Goose. Zesty citrus hops, mouth-filling honey malt and a crisp finish that keeps you thirsty for more –  New Zealand’s best lager by a mile.

Twisted Hop – Red Zone Enigma (Barley Wine) 

Still in the tank when the February earthquake hit, Enigma was trapped in Christchurch’s cordoned-off red zone for six months. It spent that time secretly developing layers of toffee malt, cherries and dried fruit, and had become an outstanding beer by the time it was rescued.

Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black (Black IPA) 

This is simply my favourite black beer. This is partly for sentimental reasons (PKB set me on my path of craft beer writing), and partly because it tastes like jaffa cake in a glass.

Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta(Tea-leafed IPA)
Gorgeous, exotic and incredibly clever – if Gunnamatta was a woman I would probably hate her. Earl Grey tea gives this beer an intense floral and citrus perfume, while NZ hops lend fruit and gentle bitterness. It may only be July, but I’m calling this is my beer of 2012.

Thanks very much to Michael for letting me hijack his column. Everybody should come along to O’Carrolls tomorrow night for the launch of his new book, complete with a matching beer by Epic!

Published in: on July 31, 2012 at 11:57 am  Comments (6)  

#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)  

#354 Cavalier Beer – Cavalier Pale

Name: Cavalier Pale
Brewery: Cavalier Beer (Brunswick, Australia)
Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 5%
Source: The Den (Fitzroy, VIC)

Though I’m not a religious woman, I believe very strongly that Sundays should be a day of rest. I personally like to observe this by keeping my dressing gown on for the entirety of the day, refusing to leave the house after 5pm, and only ever eating slow-food that requires minimal effort to chew.

Which is why it was quite bizarre that I found myself in Australia yesterday, drinking a pot of Cavalier Pale at a pub called “The Den”. I was in Melbourne for 24hrs only, thanks to a last-minute decision by some friends to put me in their short film. I’d agreed to do this crazy thing on two conditions: that I could have a dressing gown between scenes, and that I could have one hour free in which to find a beer.

In truth I had been highly suspicious of the Cavalier – I thought it might just be some crappy Lion beer that The Den had rebranded as their own (you know how some pubs do that? Why oh why?) – but it turned out to be one of the best Australian beers I’ve tried.

It really reminded me of the Emerson’s Pilsner, even though I think the hops are different. It had a similar intense fruitiness, with those sauvignon blanc-like grassy notes as well. It was lovely in the mouth – smooth and well-balanced, with plenty of hoppy fruit flavour and a lengthy, but not aggressively bitter finish. If I hadn’t been tied to an utterly grueling schedule, I certainly would have had one more.

This post’s thank you goes to the one and only Kieran Haslett-Moore, who has commented a whopping 99 times and been a far more reliable fact-checker than Google. In fact, Kieran, maybe you can tell me why some pubs rebrand crap beer with their own in-house label, and how they’re even allowed to do that? That would bring you up to a far more satisfying 100 comments!

Published in: on July 30, 2012 at 9:19 pm  Comments (3)  

#353 Anheuser-Busch InBev – Budweiser

Name: Budweiser
Brewery: Anheuser-Busch InBev ( Missouri, USA)
Style: Pale Lager
ABV: 5%
Source: Emirates AKL>MLB

How ironic that I would hit rock bottom at an altitude of 37,947ft.

I’m writing this on an Emirates flight bound for Melbourne, and while everything about the service – the lemon-scented moist towelettes, fake stars on the roof – has been lovely, the beer selection is little short of dire.

The three choices were Heineken (blogged), Amstel Light (should’ve got that) and Budweiser – which I ended up ordering in the most mumbled embarrassed voice imaginable.

And you know what? I think it might actually be the worst beer so far.

Other terrible beers – like Pirate, Gordon Finest Gold and the insufferable lemon lime Sol – were at least so bad they were interesting (or so strong that I was too drunk to care), but Budweiser apparently has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

It poured the colour of – excuse my brashness – urine after you’ve been drinking beer all night, with a loose fluffy head that quickly died. (Suicide, I expect.)

On the nose I got notes of hay, sugar, and quite honestly sick. In the mouth it was sweet and watery, with a remarkable lack of flavor and no hop bite at the finish. Incredible to think this the best selling beer in the world, because it. is. rubbish. 

Today’s thank you has nothing to do with this beer, mercifully, but is going out to Stu Mckinlay of the Yeastie Boys. He is a) the blog’s second most prolific commenter (one to put on your CV, eh Stu?), and b) one of the people that got me properly interested in this NZ craft beer scene thing in the first place. Cheers and Slainte Mhath to you Stu.

Published in: on July 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm  Comments (3)  

#352 Galbraith’s – Bob Hudson’s Bitter

Name: Bob Hudson’s Bitter
Brewery: Galbraith’s (Auckland, NZ)
Style: Bitter
ABV: 4%
Source: Galbraith’s Alehouse

A pint of Bob’s is like my old pair of jeans, English Breakfast with milk or a night at home watching cartoons. It’s not the most extreme, the most exciting or the most unusual thing on the menu – but it might just be the best.

I didn’t realised how much I loved Bob’s until just recently, actually. It sort of snuck up on me, like affection for a pet you never really asked for. The main reason I’d order Bob’s was because it was only 4%, and if I was in a particularly wussy mood I’d make it a half. I’d often have it before drinking something a little more outrageous, or at the end of the night when I’d already had a bit too much.

But remember at the end of Clueless when Cher has that sudden (and frankly a little creepy) realization that she’s been in love with her dorky ex-stepbrother all along? (You know – “Oh my gosh, I love Josh!”). Probably I’m talking to the wrong audience here – but the point is I had the same epiphany with Bob’s recently. Thankfully, I did refrain from going full-Cher and crying “I am majorly, totally, butt-crazy in love with Bob!” at Galbraith’s.

Enough of these awful analogies though – let me tell you why Bob’s is special.

The aroma is gentle but exciting – a little zingy citrus, floral notes and caramel malt. In the mouth it is deliciously fruity (more citrus, I think), and slightly sweet, perfectly balanced with only the gentlest bite at the finish. The mouthfeel is perfect – so smooth and creamy yet light and refreshing. I would say this is the most “guzzle-able” beer I’ve ever tasted.

And so for today’s thank you (that’s a thing that I’m doing now, see last post) I’d like to thank Ian Ramsay of Galbraith’s. Firstly for brewing this wonderful beer (along with Keith presumably, if he really does exist), but mostly for being incredibly encouraging of this project and always chastising me whenever I got behind on posts. Knowing Ian was playing close attention was about as good a motivator as I could have had.

Finally, it’s a happy coincidence that this Monday Galbraith are launching the latest in their Great Brewer Cask Series, and this time the guest brewer is Bob Hudson. How did they get around the fact Bob died five years ago? I don’t know, but I’m hoping there’s going to be a hologram.

Published in: on July 28, 2012 at 1:34 pm  Comments (3)  

#351 Schipper’s Beer – Bohemian Rhapsody

Name: Bohemian Rhapsody
Brewery: Schipper’s Beer
Style: Vienna Golden Ale
ABV: 5.5%
Source: Niels Schipper

I was outside my work during a fire drill on Monday, when Niels showed up on his motorbike and handed me an unlabeled brown bottle. I’ve no doubt this looked exceedingly dodgy to my colleagues who were gathering outside the building, and I hastily stuffed into my bag.

He asked me to keep the beer upright, but as a modern day Woman-On-The-Go who carts beer around in her handbag and occasionally runs for buses, the instruction might not have been 100% adhered to.

It gushed at first (my fault, obviously) then poured a cloudy orangey gold, with a finger of white head. On the nose it smelled great – I got sweet bread dough, caramel and banana – a bit like a Belgian pale ale.

In the mouth it was medium-bodied and slightly creamy, malty and with not much hop flavour but a bitter finish. The only slight problem for me came at the very end, when there was an astringent note a bit like raw alcohol. It wasn’t anything major, but because the other flavours were quite delicate it was noticeable. (Sorry to pick holes, but that’s why people give me beer, right?)

Dad has often made suggestions for the blog over the year – some of which were horrible (“why not review my cider?”) – others which were not. One of the better ideas was that I start rolling out thank yous now, one per post, rather than doing them all at the end.

So, at the risk of trying to inflate this blog to Oscar-level importance, I’d like to dedicate this post to all the talented homebrewers who have been kind enough to give me beer over the year –  Niels Schipper, Douglas Horrell, David Ball, Stu Harwood, Dunc Blair, Martin Bridges, Zane Ralph, Richard Jack, Raffe Smith, and Dan Wilson. They’ve been the most fun beers to drink and in some ways the trickiest posts to write, but I have been seriously impressed by all of them. Thank you.

*Cue orchestra to play me off *

Published in: on July 28, 2012 at 11:37 am  Comments (1)  

#350 United Dutch Breweries – Pirate 8.5

Pirate 8.5Name: Pirate 8.5
Brewery: United Dutch Breweries (Breda, Netherlands)
Style: Strong Pale Lager
ABV: 8.5%
Source: Countdown

Well why the hell not, right?

I know I’ve only got 15 beers left and every one is sacred, but for some reason I can’t fully explain I’ve been gagging to try this beer for ages. At the end of the day, I think it’s just because pirates are cool.

I’m about to drink it at work, with the can hidden from sight behind some dictionaries. This is partly a metaphor for me hiding my insecurities behind big words, mostly it’s just I’m embarrassed to be seen drinking 8.5% tramp juice out of a big boy can.

OK so I’ve poured it, and we’ve got no head – I repeat, no head. It does look quite nice though; clear and golden like the cheap kinds of apple juice.

I’m smelling it, and we’ve got no aroma either. Well, that’s not quite true. There is the faintest hint of… I don’t know, barley sugars perhaps? Yes, orange barley sugars, with underlying notes of beer.

Going in for a sip now…

Clean and sweet at first, then rising alcohol and a vaguely Belgian banana lolly flavour. Basically no carbonation, slightly prickly finish and a metallic aftertaste.

Well, this isn’t quite the Cinderella story I was hoping for, but it’s not as bad as I had feared, either. I mean it’s shit, no doubt about that, but it’s a European shit, which is a kind I can tolerate.

Also, it’s instantly lifted my mood and made everything seem sort of soft-focus – like I’m looking through a Bold & the Beautiful camera lens. I don’t know why that is, but I think I’m going to drink the whole can and see what happens. Happy Friday!

Published in: on July 27, 2012 at 6:03 pm  Comments (3)  

#349 Garage Project – Double Day of the Dead

I tried to put some Mexican stuff around the beer. I did a bad job.

Name: Double Day of the Dead
Brewery: Garage Project
Style: Dunkler Bock
ABV: 8%
Source: garage Project

My greatest regret from GABS – aside from drinking a large IIPA which tipped me promptly from about a 3 to a 7 on the drunkometer – was not blogging about the Double Day of the Dead.

Thankfully, a recent request for final beer suggestions prompted Phil Cook (who now works for GP) to send me a bottle, along with a super bad-ass matching t-shirt. Fittingly, it is the first promotional t-shirt I’ve received that I would actually be seen dead in. (On that note, any X-L men out there with a penchant for polo shirts, get in touch.)

I love the joyful morbidity of Day of the Dead stuff, and bought truckloads of it back from Mexico when I visited in summer. We had a Mexican party a couple of months go, and our lounge is still decorated with some of the paper flowers, flags – even a homemade piñata which swings precariously above our heads while we eat.

I’m also a bit of a chilli fiend (though not quite at the level of Liberty’s Jo Wood), and like any self-respecting human I love chocolate. Suffice to say, this beer is right up my alley.

If you’ve ever had that Lindt chilli chocolate before, you have a fair idea of what drinking this is like. When it first hits your tongue there’s no heat, just chocolate (like real freshly-grated chocolate), a little roasted coffee and I reckon a subtle flavour of chillies – the dried ones that have been sitting in my pantry for ages and turn to powder if I crush them. It feels smooth and velvety, sweet and gently bitter. And then it’s there – that prickly rising heat at the back of my throat when I swallow, lingering long after it’s gone and making the time between sips almost as enjoyable as the sips themselves.

On second thoughts, it really blows that Lindt chocolate out of the water.

Published in: on July 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm  Comments (2)