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August 2011

Auckland: NZ’s Home of Great Brew Bars

As soon as I post this, some Nelsonsion is going to jump up and down, proclaiming that their region is New Zealand’s Home of Great Brew Bars, the Beer Capital, the Sunshine City and whatever else Nelson is claiming this week. Well, Auckland doesn’t have many craft breweries and it does rain an awful lot, but we’ve now got one thing going for us: three great brew bars. That’s right – three. Three great brew bars, each producing excellent beer, all within the limits of the Super City, each with their own character and each most certainly worth a visit.

First up is the institution of Glabraiths Ale House in Eden Terrace. Galbraiths is the older gentleman of Auckland brew bars, the well-dressed, vaguely English man at the bar who’ll politely buy you a drink, but you can trust not to get you into trouble. They’re one of the few cask breweries in New Zealand and their range contains some absolute stars: Bob Hudson’s Bitter is a regular favourite, sessionable and balanced with citrus notes; Bitter & Twisted is earthly and interesting, while the Grafton Porter is a personal favourite of mine, dark, coffee-ish and so drinkable. Galbraiths also have five guest taps that feature the stars of the New Zealand craft brewing scene. Whether it’s outside on the deck on a sunny afternoon, or inside on a cool night, Galbraiths is the place for awesome craft beer in the inner-city.

A little further a field is Hallertau Brewbar and Restaurant in Riverhead. You’d think being in deepest, darkest West Auckland, Hallertau would be the bogan cousin of the Auckland craft beer scene. Instead, it’s more like a surfie uncle: while generally chilled out about life, when it comes to his passion – boards, waves and beaches – the surfie is super-serious. Hallertau is the same; it has a lovely, relaxed atmosphere, but the team there take producing good quality beer and food very seriously. The food is simply stunning and the beer is even better. The Statesman Pale Ale is a fruity delight, Maximus Humulus Lupulus IPA is hop-tastic and the Deception Schwarzbier is probably in my top five favourite beers, deliciously dark and bitter. The only downside to Hallertau is that some poor bastard is going to have to drive; luckily, Hallertau have Minimus, which has a surprising amount of taste for a 3.8% and is my go-to beer if I’m the unfortunate sober driver.

And then on the North Shore, we have a new player – Deep Creek Brews and Eats. Open only a month, Deep Creek is much like the northern suburbs (young and raw) but is shaping up to be a great brewbar. The first thing it has going for it is location – the bar has frontages on both the main street of Browns Bay and opening up to the beach front playground, perfect for popping into after a stroll along the beach or a hectic play session (Deep Creek appears family-friendly). The space is open and airy, with brew tanks and fermenters adding interest along one side. You can order a tasting tray, with four of the Deep Creek beers and two guest brews for $22 and explore the new beers alongside some old favourites.  My pick of the bunch was the Dusty Gringo, a malty masterpiece and I wish I’d had more than just a tasting glass of it. I also wish I could comment on the food – I’ve heard such good things, I think I’ll head back and sneakily update this page later!

So there you have it – three great characters offering brilliant beer and fantastic food – what more could a Super City ask for? If you’re a local, grab your mates and head out. If you’re visiting, put some time aside for a visit – it’ll make having to come to Auckland worth it!

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Beer Points

Last night I asked a friend via text if he was going to an event on Saturday and he replied that he wouldn’t, as he was saving his ‘beer points’ for another occasion. As it was late at night and I was half-asleep, the concept of beer points developed a life of their own inside my head. I decided that every craft beer drinker has an inarticulate version of beer points in their head and started imagine a fictional world where beer points are allocated by a higher authority – most likely a government.

I first decided how beer points would be allocated, much like rations. Not everyone would get the same number of beer points – my imaginary, beer-rationing government was quite paternalistic. People with spouses and young children would receive less, as they had more responsibilities. The fit and young would receive more beer points, as their bodies could better handle the ravages of alcohol. In this rather socialist version, the only factor deciding how many beer points a pint would cost was the ABV, as a caring government would think about the impact of alcohol on our bodies and society.

My mind then moved on to different society, where there was no government, or at the very least, it chose not to involve itself in our lives. We got to decide for ourselves, mainly from past experience, how many beer points we were allowed. I imagined the deciding factors for many people would be the effects on physical health, relationships and their wallet. Again the cost of beer in points would be related to alcohol as this affects physical health and relations, but more emphasis would be placed on enjoyment, as you’d be willing to make sacrifices for great taste.

But then I moved on to an even odder society – I decided to take money out of the system and replace it with pure barter. This put more much emphasis on enjoyment of a beer and the quality of goods and craftsmanship – if you had to grow or make whatever it was you were swapping for beer, then you would have to really value that beer. You would want the brewer to have put as much effort into what he was making as you were putting into your barter – and vice versa. On balance, I quite liked this system – I can grow food and cook well and we all know brewers love to eat. I wondered what my habanero and lime cheesecake would have fetched on the beer barter market.

Then, thankfully, I went to sleep, because this whole thing started to get very weird.

But in the morning, when I was a bit more sensible, it raised some interesting, real world questions. Do most people decide on their beers because of cost? How much to people think alcohol affects their health? Is it possible to put a price on how much you enjoy an amazing beer? And does our government place too much emphasis on alcohol content and not enough on recognising craftmanship?

In Defense of Lager

I’ve never been much of a lager fan. This distaste is probably a result of too many bad beers at university, rather than an brain-washing abduction by CAMRA, but it has the same effect. Lagers are not what I readily reach for at the bar or supermarket. I have, however, been rethinking this policy lately, as I am slowly realising that lagers can be much more than the dreaded NZ Draught. Pilsners like those from Tuatara and Croucher have amazing (though subtle) flavours, while dopplebocks, like the one produced by Sprig and Fern, can pack as much flavour punch as a porter or stout.

But the taste-resources of lager only became fully apparent when I started testing recipes for the cookbook. Here, I didn’t have a choice but to drink lagers: brewers had sent me their recipes with a beer recommendation and I had to try it (it’s a hard job, but someone’s gotta do it). The first hit was Epic Lager with vegetarian tacos which had lashing of lime juice and tabasco sauce. The lime juice picked up the citrus notes that the lager has, really bringing the beer to life.* The second hit recipe, tested only a couple of days ago, was Mata Artesian Lager with char-grilled chicken and vegetables. Again, the citrus flavours (this time lemon from the dressing) worked really well with the lager, and the beer was subtle enough not to overpower the chicken.

Ah-ha! I hear you exclaim. But Mata Artesian Lager, despite its name, is brewed with a Kolsch yeast that, in the words of Mata’s brewer Tammy Viitakangas, ‘is an ale, although the flavour profile is like a lager’. And, in addition, according to the World Beer Cup guidelines, Kolsch can be brewed with an ale yeast and then bottle or cold conditioned with lager yeast. Which perfectly illustrates the point of this post – that choosing beer by ale or lager is a little silly. Unfortunately this does mean I have even more beer to try – I can’t automatically rule out a group of beers, limiting the almost overwhelming choices we have available now.

But that’s hardly a hardship now, is it?

*Yes, that sounds corny. I’m working on it.

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