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Just Another Beer Blog

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May 2011

Girls and Beer

Yesterday I had three girlfriends over for a bit of a beer tasting.

The Attendees:
Sophie – not a beer drinker, but interested in new tastes
Rebecca – generally a spirits girl, but has recently started dating a craft-beer lover
Morgan – has some knowledge of craft beer, thanks to a Dad who frequents Galbraiths

The Beers (served in this order):
Emerson’s Bookbinder
Croucher Pilsner
Epic Pale Ale
Renaissance APA
Tuatara Hefe
8Wired Hop-wired IPA
Epic Armageddon
Townshend No. 9
Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black
Timmermans Lambic Geuze

The Verdict:
(NB – the opinions are more a reflection of style than the brewery.)
All of the girls loved the Bookbinder and voted it their favourite. They loved is so much I wish I hadn’t served it and I certainly wish I hadn’t served it first because it set a very high benchmark. Every beer that came after it was compared to it and you can’t blame them really, it’s an awesome beer. The second place favourite was a surprise –  Tuatara Hefe, a wheat beer. Rebecca said she loved the fruity, honey notes, while all three liked the smokey nature (ensuring a smoked beer is a must-have for the next tasting). The most debated beer was the Croucher Pilsner – Morgan’s recently been trying a lot of pilsners and adored it, while Sophie labelled it her least favourite on the charge of being to strong. The Epic Pale Ale was also debated, as Rebecca loved its full mouth ‘starchy’ feel, while Morgan found it uninteresting.
I don’t really want to name a least favourite, but nobody was keen on the Renaissance APA – we even didn’t finish the bottle. Rebecca summed it up as ‘awesome at first, but towards the end was just underwhelmed’. Renaissance did however, win the vote for the prettiest bottle. Now all you lads can laugh and say ‘typical girls, always into looks’, but I can name several guys who weren’t keen on drinking Green Man, simply because the labels are, well, off-putting. A good, recognisable label is important to people who are new to craft beer and need something to differentiate between dozens of choices at the supermarket.
I’d bought the lambic on a whim and to show how what a wide range of taste beer can have. I would recommend this for other tastings, both for that reason and for pure entertainment factor. We all smelled our samples at the same time, tried to name the flavours – ketchup, vegemite, yeast, vinegar – then took turns to drink so we could watch facial expressions. Rebecca’s face was confused, then pleased; Morgan’s thoughtful, then very happy; and Sophie’s was…just perplexed. I really wished I’d had a camera. They all decided they rather liked it and would be best serviced with hot, salty chips.

What I Do Different Next Time:
This was the first time I’d organised a tasting of any sort and it was nice to do it for friends, where I could make mistakes (which of course I did).
– Be more organised – due to an eventful week, I woke up on Saturday with the prospect of researching and selecting beers (1). Next time (and there will be one, as several girls missed out and the guys are now keen), I will be much more organised and thoughtful.
– Different glasses – my flatmate has these wonderful stemless tulip glasses, which are create for aroma, but they’re huge – they can hold a 500ml bottle of beer. It was hard to gauge how much I was giving each girl.
– Have it at night, rather than in the afternoon, making it an event in itself, rather than the pre-Saturday night event.

Things that Worked:
– Food – I’d debated having food, wondering if it would take away from the beer. But  it worked as a nice break between beers and showed how well beers can go with food. it also prevented drunkenness – we all like getting a little drunk, but unfortunately it can mess with your taste buds. At the end, we were a bit buzzed, but still fairly sensible.
– Being fairly relaxed and not overwhelming the girls with information – let the beer speak for itself.

Did It Make A Difference?
I think so. Sophie, probably won’t change much – she loves her wine and cocktails, for taste, not for image. Rebecca, dating a beer geek, was already on a slippery slope. I think in future, they’ll definitely be having beer on their dinner table. And Morgan – well, Morgan and I continued on with the beers for the rest of the night – nuff said!

(1) Big thanks to Greig and his email of advice!

Tron Envy

I had the structure of this post all worked out in my head. It was going to be so easy to write, along the lines of ‘I went to Hamilton and found an amazing craft beer bar. Seriously, in Hamilton.’ Then I found out someone had already written it. And he had nice photos. It’s good, you should read it.

The amazing craft beer bar I speak of is House on Hood. It’s a place that raises some interesting questions. It’s obviously been successful – when I visited last Thursday the place was comfortably busy and I heard rumours that with the help of the craft beer on tap, House managed to get into the black a lot sooner that many bars do.

But why? And can the reasons for its success be applied in other provincial centres? Would a similar bar work in New Plymouth or Napier? Or in larger centres like Auckland?

I’ll readily admit I don’t know the answers to these questions. But here are some points to consider:
– House doesn’t sell itself as a craft beer bar. Looking at their website there’s no mention of craft beer.
– House is the official home of the Chiefs rugby team, a regular income source. I didn’t talk to a wide enough range of people, but this doesn’t seem to put off the craft beer punters.
– It had all the things that a bar (craft beer or not) needs – lovely, friendly, competent staff who know their product, nice central location and a great building. Maybe they just got the basics rights?

Whatever the reasons, I hope House on Hood continues to prosper and that other New Zealand towns develop their own version of a local craft beer bar.  And maybe, one day, someone might eventually develop something similar that works here in Auckland. Until then, I’m in a position I’ve never been before – I’m envious of Hamilton.

Lion Nathan and Socks

Last Thursday I visited the Lion Nathan brewery in Otara with a dozen other SOBAites. It was amazing, a true monument to efficiency, technology and the sheer amount of beer you can bottle in an hour (150,00 bottles p/h).

The Packaging Room. Photo: Barry Hannah

First stop was the packaging room, a ridiculously large room where bottled and canned beer whizzed around on conveyor belts. A very cool area with two robotic arms arranged boxes of cans into the perfect formation so it would fall into place on a pallet. I don’t even want to know how long it took to set up that particular machine. The whole system was just so efficient, things moving to the correct place at the correct time, looking so effortless.

Bottom of the auter. Photo: Barry Hannah

The brewing area was mind-blowing because of it’s sheer size. The lauter wouldn’t fit in my bedroom. The mush tun, kettle and whirlpool were only slightly smaller, still large enough for me and half a dozen friends to have a beery spa in. We nearly lost half of the SOBAites in the chiller where the hops are kept and our tour guide had to pop back and get them. He was trusting enough not to pat any of them down.

Outside with the fermenters, I started to have second thoughts about the wondrousness of it all. Out here it was cold, dark and kind of a creepy, with large fermenters hanging above a multitude of pipes and lots of small green lights. I could very easily imagine the climax of a horror movie being based here, bad guys popping up from behind pipes while the green lights reflected off the face of the heroine. It pulled me out of the ‘oh wow it’s all big and shiny’ stupor and I started to think.

Fermenters. Photo: Barry Hannah

The best analogy I can come up with is socks. Hand-knitted socks are the most comfortable and warm socks you can possess. I also have a stock of mass-produced, store-bought ones, but they’re boring, and they don’t work as well. That said, there is something positive about being able to create thousands of socks or beer that are identical. You know when you buy a bottle of Mac’s Gold exactly what you are going to get, which is something you can’t guarantee with the smaller batched craft beer. Similarly, sometimes my left sock turns out different from may right sock.

Both mainstream beer and mass-produced socks have their place in the world and I’d go as far as saying both are necessary for life as many people know it. But I’d rather be a smug weirdo and sit here in my handmade socks, drinking craft beer.

Big thanks to Barry Hannah for the photos. 

Bad Beer Weekend

I had a rather unlucky beer weekend, which raised some beer etiquette questions.

It started out well, with a couple of beers at Andrew Andrew, then off to a dinner party. As the host was serving Thai curry and is fond of good beer, I picked up some Emerson’s Bookbinder and Epic Pale Ale to take with me. Upon arrival though, one of the other guests gave me some of his dad’s homebrew, while my beers were stashed in the fridge. The homebrew raised my first question: should I give an honest opinion of someone’s dad’s homebrew? In this circumstance, definitely not. At a share-and-share-alike homebrew evening, where constructive criticism is encouraged, then yes, but at a dinner party, it much more polite to accept and listen to the stories of his dad’s homebrew adventures (that were much more interesting than the beer). The next question was brought up by my needing to leave early-ish given that I was about to fall asleep mid-sentence. I’d only had one of my beers, did etiquette require I leave the rest in the fridge? In this circumstance, yes. They had been a gift for throwing the dinner, and while I was sad to leave them behind, I knew the host would appreciate them.

Saturday saw me in The Mulberry Bar & Restaurant in Mt Eden Village. As I was sober driver, I was allowed one beer and I wanted it to be a good one. The tap selection was dire, but I spotted a ray of light in the fridge – Little Creatures Pale Ale. After paying $11 though, I was disappointed. I’ve had Little Creatures Pale Ale before and thoroughly enjoyed it, but this bottle had no aroma at all and very little taste. It may have been old, I doubt the turn-over was high. Which raises my third question – should I complain? In this circumstance, I think not. To complain about their sole craft beer would be counter-productive. In this case too, it’s not best to complain to the lady serving the beer – she probably doesn’t care. Their website does have an email address though and I have emailed them to ask if they could stock more craft beer.

Sunday night provided the biggest beer disappointment and two hardest questions. With a beer buddy coming over for dinner, I went to New World Victoria Park for a couple of different styles from one of my favourite brewers. The first bottle didn’t seem quite right; not bad necessarily, but not up to their usual standard. The second beer  definitely not right – it gushed upon opening. Actually, fountained may be a better word – the spray covered me, the counter top and bits of the floor (apparently it was hilarious). Once I’d poured the remaining beer into the glass, it smelt and tasted sour and we decided it was probably infected in some way. Now this dilemma asked two questions – should I complain about the quality of the beer? And if so, who to? I rather not complain about the beer, which is why I haven’t named it here. I’ve had beers from this brewery many times before and haven’t had a problem with them, so i think these two were anomalies. If I was to complain, who would it be to – the supermarket or the brewery? If I had brought a mouldy loaf of bread, I would complain to the supermarket. Should beer be any different? I think so. If the beer had been altered at the supermarket, the cap damaged or similar, I would complain to them. But I think it would be more productive to let the brewer know, because I’m not after compensation, I’m more interested in letting them know so they can sort out any future problems and I can continue to purchase good quality beer in the future.

So that was my weekend – various unfortunate beers and ponderous questions. Here’s hoping next weekend the beer is better and the questions simpler.

This post was bought to you today by Dux Brewing Co. Sou’Wester.

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