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Golden Pints

It’s been a big year of beers, beer events, and beer news. We’re all looking back at the year that was and making plans for the year that will be. For us beer writers, it’s time for the Golden Pints, an entirely unscientific process that involves reaching back into so fairly foggy memories and trying to decide what our favourites of the year were. It’s bound to put more emphasis on more recent beers and inevitably some great beers will be forgotten. Continue reading “Golden Pints”

In Favour Of: Mid-Strength

I think I’m sensing a change in the winds. A longing for sessionable quaffers, for afternoon ales, for mild pints. For going home with a smile on your face, but still the ability to navigate public transport. For a couple of beers with dinner and then legally driving home. I’m talking about the rise of mid-strength beers.

There is various evidence to support the new-found popularity of mid-strength beers, those somewhere between 3 and 4% ABV. The first is the popularity of the Limbo Home Brew Comp here in Auckland, which had more than a dozen entries. Possibly the most informal home brew competition in New Zealand, the only rule is that the beers entered have to be under four percent – a challenge for many home brewers where high gravity is often used to deliver taste and body. Everyone who turns up judges and the only judging criteria is ‘would you like to drink some more of this?’ Admittedly, not all the beers are amazing – some are terrible – but everyone gets to learn from everyone else’s successes and mistakes. The improvement from the first to the second Limbo was astounding, and I’m throughly looking forward to the next competition.

Another voice in support of mid-strength beers is the Beer Diary podcast. Phil and George did an entire episode on Mid-Strength Beers and have a regular mid-strength news section. This to me is very important – the monster IPAs and decadent Imperial Stouts get a lot of coverage in the media, both mainstream and social. The workhorses though, the Best Bitters and light Golden or Pale Ales, get less attention. It’s hard to know where these beers are available, until you get to the pub or bottle store.

So, as I’m in flavour of promoting workhorses, here’s my top five mid-strengths beers – feel free to tell me I’m wrong and what your Top Five are.

5) The Brewery Britomart: Black Rose
One of the Brewery Britomart’s aims is to have a core range of beers that appeal to non-beer geeks – the bankers and journos and other workers bees who surround their pub. In my opinion, Black Rose fulfils that aim, as it is a lovely introduction to stouts. Despite the low ABV, there is still plenty of body in Black Rose and roasty malt flavours.

4) Home brewer Damian Peterson: Doris Plum Stout – 3.5%
No one else seemed to really take a fancy to Damian’s Stout at the last Limbo Comp, but it was my firm favourite of the Winter Limbo Competition. I can say that because not only did I want to drink more than one, I did. Damian added a tin of Black Doris plums late in the fermentation, giving his beer a tangy sweetness.

3) Galbraith’s Ale House: Bob Hudson’s Bitter – 4.0%
This is a must-have beer if you’re ever in Galbraith’s Ale House. It’s delicious, with lovely malt flavours and, as it’s a cask ale, it can change over time, meaning it’s always interesting to order. I’m not a huge fan of having a regular beer, but Bob’s would comes close if I had one.

2) Hallertau: Minimus – 3.8%
Like many lower alcohol beers, Minimus is best of tap, either at Golden Dawn in Ponsonby or  at the brew pub in Riverhead (I think you can also get in at the Malthouse in Wellington). Because it’s a creation of Steve Plowman, brewer of such beers as Maximus and Stuntman, it’s not short on hops, but it won’t put you on your arse like his bigger beers.

1) Emerson’s: Bookbinder – 3.7%
You knew this was to be number one. I’m not going to describe it, because everyone knows it and if you don’t, you should should go out and buy one. Now.

Awesome Beer Month (Part Two)

As I said in my previous post, I’m in the middle of an Awesome Beer Month. After the bar crawl, Western Brewers Conference and the launch of Crouchers Reserve Ale at Galbraiths, more beery goodness arrived.

Nøgne Ø Tasting
A few days after the Crouchers’ cask ale launch, I was extremely lucky to be back at Galbraiths for a tasting of Nøgne Ø beers and to hear from Nøgne Ø’s head brewer, Kjetil Jikiun. There was so many awesome things about this event that it deserves its own post, but I’ll keep it brief and save most of the details for the next issue of Pursuit of Hoppiness.

The event in and of itself was awesome. Kjetil took us told us a bit about Nøgne Ø’s history and principles, namely quality of materials and product; maintaining a diverse range of beers; and adherence to style, without watering down flavours for market consumption. They’d recently added another principle, which was not being extreme for the sake of it – they’d like people to finish a bottle of Nøgne Ø and be hankering after another. After the introduction, the beer sampling began with a farmyard Saison, followed by a delightfully fruity Pale Ale and a chocolatey Porter (that received a silver at the WBC). Then the big guns, in both flavour and alcohol, came out. Both the Imperial Brown Ale and IPA were very well balanced, with a coating bitterness and rich malt flavours. Then the really big guns (canons even) were loaded. #100 was Nøgne Ø’s hundredth brew and, if it did have a style, it would probably be an Dark Imperial IPA. It was beautiful, very dark red, with gorgeous highlights when you held it up to the light, and complex – my taste buds kept finding different notes to be happy about. Then there was the Imperial Stout, very toasty and very, very dark – a lot like a Twisted Hop Nokabollokov. If you can get your hands on either of these beers, I’d highly recommend trying them – the #100 is currently on tap at Galbriaths and Dave-the-bar-manager has a keg of Imperial Stout hidden away out the back, so keep your ears open.

That such an event should take place in New Zealand (let alone Auckland) is amazing. Big credit to Dominic from Hashigo Zake, who organised for Kjetil to come out and be involved in several tastings and two collaborative brews. Dominic imports Nøgne Ø beers (as well as many others) and he does a great job of balancing an appreciation for local brews, as well as ones from overseas, seeing the two as complementary, rather than competing. And even bigger credit to Kjetil! Anyone who’s attempted the NZ to Europe jaunt knows it is an incredible long haul, particularly for only five days in NZ. I’m really glad he made the trip though and I hope he enjoyed his time here. New Zealand must be a pretty cool place to have such an attraction to people.
Beer of the Event: tie between #100 and the Imperial Stout

My Birthday
Yes, it’s self-centred to include my birthday, but is truly was chock full of beer-awesome-ness. I got three beer books, two bottles of my favourite brews (Bookbinder and Mike’s Imperial Porter) and had one of those nights were every beer you have is excellent. I started out at Galbraiths with a Croucher Reserve Ale (still good, but quickly running out), a Norge O #100 (also still good and wonderfully boozy) and a Old Burton IPA, which is very English, soft and lovely. Then, across the road at The Corner Store, was the Twisted Hop IPA, which had a lovely fruity flavour I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Not tropical or citrusy, maybe more stonefruit? Whatever it was, it was moreish. Then, I had a Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude.

Now, I’ve never managed more than one sip of Rex before, but as I was drinking with the Yeastie Boys themselves, the politeness my mother beat into me as a child kicked in and I started drinking the offered glass. And it was wonderful! I’ve always said it smells like building boats, a mix of wood with something more processed or chemical (to me, this isn’t a bad thing). I can now maintain it takes like a forest. I’m not sure how to elaborate on that. It tastes like how it feels to stand in the New Zealand bush.
One of the best birthdays I’ve ever had and thanks to everyone who was lovely to me.
Beer of the Event: too many to choose.

The Future
And the Awesome Beer Month isn’t over for me yet! On Friday, the Brewery Britomart are launching their in-house beers; Monday, there’s a launch of Dale Holland’s beers at Galbraiths; Thursday, Epic are combining a launch of their new Larger beer with their sixth birthday party at O’Carrolls; and on  Saturday, there’s a Guild event.

If, I survive all of that, there’s Christmas and the Dad and mine’s Great Christmas Beer Tasting. It really is a good time to be a beer geek in New Zealand.

I Love Stout: Past, Present and Future

Yes, it’s a day late for International Stout Day. I got halfway through writing this last night and my flatmate asked me to ice a cake for her. It was a very complicated cake. 

I love Stout. I don’t know why and I’m not about to guess; I’ve given up working out why I like things (why is blue nicer than orange?). To celebrate International Stout Day, I’m going to take a look at Stouts of New Zealand past, present and future.

Past
One of the best and worst parts of loving craft beer is its ephemeral nature. Some beers are one-off brews, the result of a collaboration, some experimentation with weird ingredients or made to make a special event. These beers often have a lot of extra thought and effort put into them and it shows through in excellent brews. Vasta’s Velvet was one such fleeting moment of goodness. It was one of the Galbraiths’ ‘Cask Ale Series’, where brewers from around the country team up with the brew team at Galbraiths (Keith and Ian) to re-do one of their beers in the cask ale style. For Vasta’s Velvet, Carl Vasta of Tuatara Brewing came up and they brewed a version of his Polar Beer Stout. And it was beautiful. Off the hand-pump, it was smooth and roasty and delicate and chocolately and awesome. Paired with Galbraiths’ Stout Beef Burger, it was even better. But alas, it was a one-off brew and we shall never sup it again. I’m glad I got to try it while it lasted.

Present
For my present beer, I wanted to have a Twisted Hop Nokabollokov and talk about how I hope this remains a present beer. I hope one day the Twisted Hop crew are allowed back into their quake-ravaged brew bar and, if they’re not, that they can continued to find other places to brew like they do currently. But Liquorland Newmarket had run out. The Newmarket manager thought there might be one bottle at the Parnell store, but he was fairly sure that the Parnell manager was going to drink it himself  (can’t blame him really).  I’m happy to report that despite the manager’s slightly apologetic ‘We don’t stock many Stouts’, they had many others to chose from and I ‘settled’ for an 8wired iStout.

As part of my International Stout Day celebrations, I was generously sharing this bottle with my flatmate who has never had a Stout before. I cracked it open when she arrived home from the gym and poured it into a tulip glass. ‘It’s very dark,’ she commented, not suspiciously, more curiously. ‘Why is that?’ I explained about the malt being roasted for longer and therefore having a darker colour. She said that made sense and took a sip. ‘Oh wow.’ Another sip. ‘That’s really nice.’ Another sip. ‘Seriously, what’s this called, I think I’ll buy some.’ Before I could take three sips of my half, she’d finished hers and asked if there was any more. I think I’ve converted at least one person to Stout. I declare my International Stout Day a success.

Future
So what’s in store for Stout in the future? More of the same delicious and a bit of experimentation.  Hopefully, we’ll still be able to buy great Stouts like Nokabollokov, iStout, Three Boys Oyster Stout, Emerson’s Clam Stout, Epic Thornbridge Stout and whoever else I’ve temporarily forgotten.* Hopefully, we can convert more people to these tasty drops and the liquor store managers can proudly announce they have a full range of Stouts. Maybe, I’ll even be able to got to a restaurant and have a stout with my dessert, an absolute decadent luxury.

And, just like with any of our beer styles, there is and will be a fair amount of experimentation with Stouts. For International Stout Day, Epic brewed a coffee-fig stout, a version of which took away the Media Head-to-Head Brew competition at Beervana earlier this year. With caramelised figs in the wort and dried hopped with coffee beans, this stout is sticky, sweet and moreish.

So that’s my International Stout Day. Great memories, great beer in hand and looking like great things in the future.

*Forgotten is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s nothing better than re-discovering a beer.

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