Just Another Beer Blog


January 2011

I {heart} Regional Wines

On Friday I headed to Wellington for a hen’s night. Hen’s night? you ask. Won’t that be all RTDs, bubbles and giggling? No, yes and yes. Fortunately the bride is a good friend of mine and wasn’t offended when I said I preferred not to partake in the cartoon of lovely wine she had brought along. She’s such a good friend in fact, she took me to Regional Wines to stock up for our weekend away in Castlepoint.

I haven’t been to Regional Wines before and I was throughly impressed. Not only is the selection absolutely huge, they have pour-your-owns with fresh NZ craft beer, they give SOBA members a discount and the lovely man on the front desk informed me that I could have a box of beers couriered to Auckland for less than ten dollars! I grabbed some Epic Thornbridge Stout, Dux Ginger Tom and a pet bottle of Moa Pale Ale, all of which I enjoyed immensely. The Epic Stout was delicious, malty without a lot of bitterness – seriously, is there anything Epic doesn’t do well? The Ginger Tom is an alcoholic ginger beer with enough spice to leave your tongue tingling. And the Moa Pale Ale was a delight, light and hoppy, but easy to drink (in fact I drank my pet bottle in one – long – sitting).

My only regret? I didn’t buy enough beer for two nights and made the mighty mistake of switching to gin when I ran out. The Rimutakas are not fun with a hangover. To cheer me up the bride took me back to Regional Wines to refill my pet bottle before putting my on the plane to Auckland – I told you she was a good friend, didn’t I?

The Economics and Politics of Beer and Friends

We’ve recently had a bit of a reshuffle of friends amongst several flats for various reasons and with the moves the issue of craft beers has arisen a couple of times.

Bob moved in with Fred, a another beer aficionado. After only a week Bob had discovered some problems – Fred is rather generous with his beers which makes Bob feel uncomfortable; while he admits Fred’s beer tastes alright, he feels bad accepting a seven dollar bottle of beer when all he has to offer is a twenty-dollar-a-box  Ranfurly. He doesn’t feel bad enough to change his drinking habits – to Bob one beer’s as good as the next and the cheaper the better. But he’d still rather not drink Fred’s ‘expensive’ beer.

Despite his qualms about accepting Fred’s beer however, Bob had no problems turning up at my new flat after the last box had been moved and drinking my ‘thanks-for-helping-me-move’ beers. After a moment’s hesitation, I went mainstream for these brews – I wasn’t about to waste perfectly good beers on my voluntary movers, but I also wasn’t going to drink different beers in front of them. As a compromise I bought a dozen Monteiths Summer Ale, which has a slight fruitiness to it which I quite like, and a box of Steinlager Pure, because it doesn’t taste like anything and it’s cheap. This seemed to go down quite well, the beers movers were happy.

The next day I went to the supermarket and bought myself some proper beers. One of the amazing things about my new flat is its proximity to basically everything, including Victoria Park New World which has an amazing selection of beers. I bought a Yeastie Boys PKB (very nice) and Emerson’s London Porter (an old favourite). I have no intention of sharing these, which very well make me a selfish person (and slightly anti-social). But generosity and helping your friends to see the light in craft beers and then there’s picking your battles and defending your bank account.

SOBA @ Golden Dawn

There’s nothing quite like a meeting of Auckland SOBA members to reinforce just how little I know about beer.

A large group of Auckland SOBAites gathered at Golden Dawn last night for our first mid-week meeting. Golden Dawn is a very trendy bar on the corner of Ponsonby and Richmond Roads –  so trendy, in fact, it doesn’t need signage. There’s a small door about twenty metres from the corner that looks like the entrance to a flat. It’s a bar, however, and what’s more they serve good beer, with four Hallertau beers on tap and a range of bottled beer. The Hallertau beers are great – the Statesman is summery and floral, the Minimalist is hoppy, fresh and low-alcohol and the Copper Tart has a nice mellow-ness to it.

But back to my ignorance. I’m in the minority at Auckland SOBA meetings. Not only am I female, I’m not a home brewer. I’m not sure how it stands in other SOBA localities but it seems that all Auckland SOBA members are home brewers. (I have my own theory that this is because it’s so far in Auckland between one decent bar and the next, but I don’t have the data to back this up).  I don’t home brew and I’ve sworn not to – while I’m a DIY girl at heart, I have far too many hobbies already. I will quite happily swap baking, seedlings or knitting for home brew beer, but I’m not about to set up a home brewery.*

This doesn’t mean I dislike going to SOBA meetings – quite the opposite. Home brewers are much more intimately acquainted with the creation of beer and the SOBAites will willingly and patiently explain many of the mysteries to me. Last night I learnt the difference between wet and dry yeast, what sort of hops go into a NZ Ale and that new stainless kegs need a batch of beer you don’t care about much for the first brew. There’s still concepts I haven’t quite grasped yet – like the use of bittering agents – but that’s why I’ll keep going back. If I knew everything about beer, I’d probably just stay home and drink and that’s not a healthy lifestyle choice.

So if you like to drink, brew or talk about beer, I’d suggest joining SOBA. For your health if nothing else.

*At one point last night I think I may have offered home-made salami in exchange for home brew. For the record I’m not sure how to make salami or why I was offering to make it.

How Times Have Changed

Back in 2007,  I visited Mike’s Brewery while showing a couple of mates around my home province of Taranaki. I hadn’t yet converted to beer, but my English friend was keen to try the local fare.

It was very Kiwi-casual. The brewery itself is located in a converted cowshed and back then they hadn’t bothered to convert it much. The drive was still a tanker track, there wasn’t a lot signage and the brewer simply took you into the old milking shed and poured to a beer straight out of the vat. The larger was very good, or so my British friend informed me.

Three years later,  I called in to Mike’s to pick up some of their pale ale on the way to my mum’s. I barely recognised the place! The drive was smoother and wider and signage showing you where to go and what to do, all in the same font and everything. Off the gravel car park, the house had had a large deck added with a nice lawn and garden established around it. Inside there were more surprises! There was a shop with not just beer, but fancy wooden boxes and tool boxes to carry it in. And the lovely lady who served me insisted on putting my big bottle of pale ale into a brown paper bag.

I neither approve or disprove if the changes – both nostalgic memories and degradation of the past annoy me intensely. But the changes at Mike’s show just how quickly the New Zealand craft beer scene is changing, with craft beers becoming more popular and accessible – to see the speed illustrated quite so quickly was amazing.

I wish there were more places like it, Auckland certainly needs more beer gardens. But then again if the beer’s good, I’d also be happy drinking it out of a vat in a barely-converted milking shed.


The Temperature Problem

I love dark beers, but I’d love them more if I could consistently get them at the right temperature. Most dark beers should be served at cellar or room temperature, maybe 12 to 15 degrees, a rather hard thing to achieve in a New Zealand summer. If served too cold, they lose a lot of their flavour.

Which is why I was slightly surprised when I went to the launch of Epic’s Port Amarillo last year at the Pohutukawa bar. A smoked porter with the slight tang of tamarillos, the Porter Amarillo was a flavoursome brew – once it had warmed up. Pohutukawa was filled with men standing with their hands wrapped around their beers, trying to warm them up. It was a logistical problem – the Porter Amarillo was served on tap and therefore had to be stored in the same chiller as the other beers, which, in New Zealand, is quite cold. (Someone had suggested that they should have used a handpump, until someone else pointed out the only place that probably had a handpump in Auckland was Galbraiths and they would be unlikely to lend it to us).

I have the same logistical problem at home. I can’t quite afford to run an extra fridge at roughly the right temperature (or stock it), so I’m constantly playing with ways of getting the temperature right. In winter it’s fine – my uninsulated flat means that anywhere in my bedroom is about the right temperature. In summer though, it’s best to keep it in the fridge until desired, remove and then wait ’till it warms up to the right temperature. However, this a feat of timing and patience that I’m yet to master.

At Dad’s bach for our porter tasting evening we decided to attempt to chill it to the right temperature by placing the beers in a pot with cold water and a ice pack. It didn’t work. At one point Dad even placed one of the open bottles back in the fridge to cool it down. That didn’t work either.

I think I’ll stick to drinking porters during winter, from the perfectly chilled comfort of my bedroom.

Porter Night

Boxing Day bought a new set of beers – the porters. I was thoroughly looking forward to porter night – I love porters and the line-up was three of my favourites – Harrington’s Wobbly Boot, Moa Noir, and 8 Wired’s The Big Smoke. We decided for the sake of symmetry we should have a forth player and luckily Dad found a bottle of Invercargill Brewery’s Pitch in a cupboard (a stout, rather than a porter, but it was a rather casual tasting.)

Despite my big hopes, the night started out badly. I was an idiot and had brushed my teeth while Dad was setting up, as I forgotten to do so that morning. Really bad idea – the first few sips were not nice. Then Dad somehow managed to choke on his first sip. Then there was the problem of temperature (see following blog). After our false start though, we settled down to our tastings.

Harrington Wobbly Boot (Christchurch)
The head disappeared rather quickly, causing Dad to remark that it looked like a glass of coke. Although it didn’t have a lot of initial flavour, I found it had a lovely after taste. Dad disagreed, finding it bland and thinking it should have been colder.

Moa Noir (Blenheim)
The Noir, like many other Moa beers, is difficult to pour as it froths rather a lot (my sister in hospo verifies is not just my incompetence at pouring a beer, but the Moa). I’ll forgive it though, because it is lovely to drink, a bit hoppier and bitter than the Woobly Boot, while still maintaining a lovely malty after taste.

8 Wired The Big Smoke (Blenheim)
The Big Smoke is just that – big and smoky. Dad claimed it smelt better than it tasted, which I strongly disagreed with. I loved the taste, the smoke and the hops and the complexities. Dad said if I liked it all that much I could have the rest of the bottle and should go to Bamburg, home of smoked beers. I accepted said bottle and put Bamburg on the to-do list.

Invercargill Brewery Pitch Black (Invercargill)
Pitch Black had a strong Marmite smell (yeasty?) which, to me, is not a bad thing. I was disappointed with the speed at which the after taste disappeared though.

So what did we learn from our porter night? First and foremost, it wasn’t really a porter night – Wobbly Boot is a porter ale, Noir is a dark larger, and Pitch Black is a stout. This wasn’t a flaw though – it simply taught us more about darker beers. Second, summer is not a good time to hold a porter night – it’s simply too hot. Again not a bad thing – we’ve decided we’ll have to organise a mid-winter porter tasting!

Pale Ale Evening

Dad held with his promise of a couple of beer tasting nights over Christmas. His boot contained equal parts luggage, presents and beer for the trip to the batch and on Christmas night, the Pale Ales came out.

In addition to the essential liquid ingredient of the tasting night, Dad (the geek) had also printed off a ‘How to Host a Tasting at Home’ guide and tasting notes for several of the beers he had selected. As suggested, we had our four samples, a glass for each of us for each bottle, water, dry crackers and (for me) pen and paper. That, however, is about as scientific as we got for our first tasting night. We opened the first bottle, starting tasting and Dad decided he wanted to be able to switch back and forth between beers, which was good in theory, but it meant we had four open bottles of beer getting warmer and flatter. I also have this rough idea that beer seems to taste different at different parts of the glass and halfway through I switched back to drinking them one-by-one.

Despite (or perhaps because of) our rather haphazard methods, we both feel we learnt a lot about pale ales and organising a tasting night. But enough about us – let’s talk about the beers.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (USA)
Dad: right amount of hops, nice long after taste
Me: Lacking in fragrance, but a lovely hoppy taste.

Little Creatures Pale Ale (Australia)
Dad: an old favourite, likes the longer after taste than the Sierra Nevada
Me: instantly liked it better than the Sierra Nevada, fresher and possibly slightly sweeter.

Founders Fair Maiden NZ Pale Ale (Nelson)
Dad: a musty smell, much more bitter
Me: earthy smell, unpleasant after taste

Mountain Goat Hightail Ale (Australia)
Dad: no bite, with a smell a bit like an ashtray – smoky, but stale.
Me: didn’t taste like a pale ale, because – as it turns out – its not. Mountain Goat describe it as ‘English inspired amber ale’.”Why did we include this in a pale ale evening?”
Dad: “The bottle looked cool, so I ordered it.”
Me: Riiight. I liked it though, drinkable with interesting flavours.

The main thing we learnt from our tasting night was not which Pale Ale we liked best, but furthered our knowledge of what a pale ale is. Through Dad’s slightly dodgy selection process (seriously, the label looked cool?), we had the benefit of reinforcing what we thought of as a ‘true’ pale ale – meaning the Sierra Nevada and Little Creatures. The Fair Maiden and Hightale were different ‘types’ of pale ale – the Fairmaiden is a New Zealand-take on an American Pale and the Hightale is an amber ale.

After all our tastings, Dad remembered he had a bottle of Epic Pale Ale in the fridge and pulled that. Epic Pale Ale is an old favourite – fresh and clean, with a lovely after taste. I liked the other pale ales, but Epic is still my favourite – and I can now say I’ve tested that to a small degree.

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