My 2011

2011 was a great year. After 8 years abroad and living in South Korea and the United Kingdom, it has been great moving back to New Zealand and living again in this little slice of paradise. I thought I better put together a little precis of what I found great about the last year…

NZ Craft Beer TV award for yummiest Kiwi brews

This one is pretty easy. When Luke and I were touring the country and filming for the Craft Beer TV series, we were blown away by the quality of the beers we tried up and down our fair isles. It was Dave Kurth of West Coast Brewing in Westport’s creations that had us seriously impressed. His International Pale Ale is my favourite NZ beer of the year. He also has the coolest sweaters/jerseys of any NZ brewer. Kudos.

He looks all innocent in his rugby shorts and workboots, but his brewing prowess is impressive!

Ted DiBiase award for Sleeper of the Year

Known for his awesome “Million Dollar Dream” followed by ramming a US $100 bill in his opponents mouth, Ted DiBiase was a wrestler of the 80s that would nullify his opponents with his aforementioned sleeper hold. The brewery that I think deserves this is Sprig and Fern in Nelson. Sure, they’re not really a sleeper in the sense that they’re super successful, running some brilliant pubs in Nelson and the surrounding area (with a new one due in Tinakori Road, Wellington in the coming months). Couple that with the fact that they won a truckload of medals at the 2011 BrewNZ awards (10 in total) and you can see why I think these guys may just be the ones to watch in 2012. Brewing legend and owner Tracy Banner heads up the brewing team and constantly delivers precisely brewed, flavourful beers that put a smile on my face every time I try them. Respect.

I reckon Tracy and her team have a lot more than malt hiding in those bags. One to watch for 2012!

The Ben Stiller Character out of that Mystery Men movie who is Angry all the time Award

Ben doing his angry face (and looking forward to some comments below)

I’ve been told in the past that I’m sometimes too positive when it comes to the craft beer industry. So I’m about to shock you all by posting something negative. Close your eyes and scroll down if you don’t want to read it!

The thing that has annoyed me about coming back to New Zealand is the contrariness of regionalism when it comes to brewing and breweries. I know that it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek and that banter between provinces (and especially banter between anywhere else in NZ and Auckland) is part of our culture, but would be great if we started seeing New Zealand as exactly that when it comes to our impressive array of breweries and beers. I’m not fond of the separatism that comes about from hailing one place as being the greatest and others inferior. It smacks of the Tall Poppy syndrome that reigns supreme over here. Sure… stand up and be proud of the great craft beer selection in the pubs and bars of your city, but as you do that, remember that it was not always so. Don’t complain if you can’t find craft beer in your local or your town or your area. Politely ask operators about stocking products you enjoy. That way we can create Craft Beer New Zealand. Country by country… :)

Those smaller ones will catch up eventually!!!

The Kelly Ryan Award for Employer of the Year

You’ve probably figured this one out by now, but I’ve had an incredible year working with Luke from Epic. Tweaking our current recipes to get them exactly where we want them, developing five new beers from brew process through to final packaging, touring the country with NZ Craft Beer TV, launching our new brews at pubs throughout NZ (and a couple in Australia), fiddling around on ePICObrewery - my first foray into homebrewing (I think my first ever brewday as a trainee brewer saw the production of around 100 000 litres of wort, so brewing 30 litres at a time has been lots of fun), supping loads of beers with The Beer Mule, it’s been busy and fantastic. (For the record, my undisclosed award for 2006 was joint win for Fyne Ales and Thornbridge Brewery and from 2007-2010 it was Thornbridge Brewery. I have a feeling that you, the intrepid reader may begin to notice a trend developing…)

Cheers, Luke!!!

The Bruvinity Award

Okay, I mashed together poor spelling of the word “brew” with the word “divinity” as I couldn’t think of a witty title for this award. I know that Søren isn’t actually the reincarnation of a Scandanavian god, but he does seem to be omnipresent at most brewing events, holds down not only his job as Renaissance brewer but also as Head Brewer of NZ’s Champion Brewery, 8 Wired Brewing and presents himself as one of the more passionate brewers I have met. He’s also a bloody nice guy and I imagine that if I was to ever meet a god, he wouldn’t talk with a New Zealand accent (I’ll admit that I keep thinking of Neil Gaiman‘s brilliant book, American Gods as I type this). I wonder if he has special names for his brewing tools… that rubber-headed mallet isn’t called Mjölnir by chance is it??

I'm sure there's an eight-legged horse around the corner (original photo from Jed Soane's wicked http://thebeerproject.com)

Blegendary Blumberjack Blogging Award

Alice Galletly of Beer for a Year has taken on the behemoth task of trying a beer a day for 365 days, keeping us entertained and updated on a (mostly) daily basis about the different brews she tries. She shoots from the hip, tells us exactly what she thinks and through her blog it’s great to see someone’s voyage of discovery. It’s not shrouded in technical jargon (as I know this blog is prone to be!), it’s full of amusing metaphor and more importantly, it makes me want to try some of the brews she describes. Nice!

Is it perspective or is that a large platter... :)

The DeLorean Future Brews

I pull out my Mayan Calendar/Nostradamus Prophecies/Harold Camping Malarkey

There are a couple of these. When they are released, I’m sure you’ll all be shocked and impressed by my amazing predictions and the said brewers will curse me and try and sue me for industrial espionage. Little do they know it’s because of my converted Mazda 6 (with a DeLorean chassis) and the magic speed of 88 kilometres per hour (because 88 miles per hour is naughty and that really stupid ad on tele about Mantrol alludes that it’s not cool to drive your car at 141 km/h). Here they are…

A 2.7% mild hopped at around 17 IBU by Epic

A collaboration Imperial Mexican Lager between Three Boys Brewing and The Four Horsemen named The Seven Rancheros.

A beer made solely with peat by Yeastie Boys. Each bottle comes with a miniature peat spade to aid ingestion.

DB Breweries develop a new craft range beginning with a 9% Double IPA. Joseph Wood from Liberty Brewing acts as consultant.

In fact, I’m sure you’re all pretty adept at coming up with some Delorean Future Brews yourselves… any suggestions??

All the best for 2012! Kelly

Epic Times

It’s pretty awesome to be living back in New Zealand. I’ve been here for a month now. Hanging out with my family and enjoying my first New Zealand summer since I left in 2003. This has mainly involved loads of great food and drink, swimming in rivers and at beaches and basking in the glorious NZ sun.

It’ll always be the tucker and a couple of refreshing beverages that really get me excited though. I’ve been absolutely inundated with great food. From the oceans and rivers there has been Sea urchin (Kina) pâté, fresh Taranaki mussels shucked raw and battered with Nana’s special batter recipe, beautifully tender NZ abalone (Paua) rolled in flour and cooked quickly, NZ rock lobster/crayfish barbecued with herb and garlic butter, smoked kingfish on crackers, Northland scallops with large plump roe intact, even NZ whitebait, guarded like crown jewels in the back of the freezer and made into delightful fritters.

Delicious Paua on the BBQ

Joseph Wood from Liberty Brewing, an awesome homebrewer based in New Plymouth even gave me a couple of massive Albacore Tuna fillets when I went round to visit. They made their way to the smoker and into my belly.

Joseph's awesome 200 litre brewing kit almost completed!

Even people I don’t know provide food. Recently while staying in a campsite in Hawke’s Bay, a young family proudly presented me with a large river eel. It was the first one the young boy had caught and the adrenalin from the catch was apparent on his face as he showed us his catch. It’s great to see how the thrill of hunting and gathering your own food is still enough to excite kids.

My good mate, Callum, only eats meat that has been caught wild… he’s not a massive fan of domestic farming practices and as a trained marine biologist and marine ranger he’s definitely a good guy to know! He pulls out wild goat and wild cattle sausages and chops… even the odd bit of wild pork or venison. I always know I’m in for a treat when I go around to visit!

So all of this food means that it’s pretty important to have a beer or two to quench the thirst after standing over a hot barbecue (or in most cases, watch someone else do the cooking). Lashings of Epic Pale Ale, Armageddon IPA and Epic Thornbridge Stout have been a must and the odd flagon of Mike’s Organic Ale, Tuatara APA and PIlsener and offerings like the Pilsener and Black Duck Porter from Hawkes Bay Independent Brewery have helped replenish important lost liquids when the mercury is rising. That and they all taste pretty awesome!

Transition! From Tui Team 2001 to Epic Team 2011

Even a couple of brews from the Big Boys of NZ Brewing have gone down well. Mac’s have surprised me with their Hop Rocker, Black Mac and Sassy Red. The Red in particular seems a lot more hop-forward that I remember, so kudos to the brewers for making some improvements to mainstream beers.

I can’t forget my brother and his mate’s homebrew either! Keen as to do something tasty for Christmas, Shannon and Liam asked me for a recipe, so I gave them a bit of a Thornbridge Kipling clone to have a go at. Jam-packed with Nelson Sauvin hops, the boys did me proud and brewed two batches. One with SO4 yeast and the other US Pale Ale yeast. Each brew showed distinctly different characteristics, with the SO4 yeast being a hint more bready than its fruity American counterpart. Even my DB and Tui drinking uncles and cousins from down the Taranaki coast gave it a unanimous thumbs up, so that was a bonus!

I can’t forget, however, what I’ve actually come back to New Zealand for. It’s to work!

Usually, induction into a new job involves screeds of paperwork, a course or two, going through loads of health and safety information and waiting for IT folk to set up email accounts. For me, it’s a little different… My new boss, Luke Nicholas from Epic Brewing has insisted we do something for New Zealand Craft Brewing and has organised a film company and a camper van for us to travel the length and breadth of the South Island visiting every craft brewery we can along the way.

Steam brewmaster Shane Morley, Luke and myself brewing Epic Thornbridge Stout in Feb 2010

There’s a reason for this. The craft beer scene over here is going forward in leaps and bounds and it’s full of passionate people that are working ridiculously hard to promote great beer. If we can somehow get their stories out there and let NZ and the rest of the world know what goes into the humble pint, then it has to be a great thing for beer.

So four guys in a van with a camera are planning to hit Christchurch, Oamaru, Dunedin, Invercargill, Queenstown, Arrowtown, Wanaka, Franz Josef, Westport, Nelson and Blenheim and chart the progress of craft beer down south. It’s going to be a pretty awesome reintroduction to the NZ brewing scene for me and even better, we have the North Island to follow!

Check out www.NZCraftBeer.tv for details, follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@NZCraftBeerTV) and support us however you can. We’ll be posting loads of photos and videos and using as much technology as we can to get the word out there… It’s going to be hectic, but it’s going to be amazing!

Epic Thornbridge Stout

After a wee hiatus I’m back again to finish regaling (or boring, the terms are interchangeable) the world about the fantastic New Zealand craft brewing scene. My beer tour of New Zealand near an end, it was time to hit Auckland and jump back into a brewery to take part in New Zealand’s first ever international collaboration brew!

Some of you may recall this time last year, Luke Nicholas from Epic Brewing was over brewing his brilliant Epic Pale Ale at Everards as part of the JD Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival. I’d never met Luke, though heard and read a load online about his positive impact on the NZ craft beer scene, his unwavering devotion to education about beer and his sheer, unrivalled enthusiasm. Coupled with the fact that when I tried his beers I was blown away by how good they were, there was no choice but to ask him if he was keen to do a collaboration, which I wrote about here.

So now it was my turn! After regular email, twitter and phone contact over half a year, we’d managed to come up with a recipe we were both pleased with. Luke had never brewed an Epic Stout before, us Thornbridgers were relatively deft at dark beers (I can say that, it’s my blog…) and Luke was also really keen to have a play with some UK hops.

The decision was made to go with the brilliantly aromatic Target hops that we’d showcased in our Halcyon Green Hop Harvest beers in 2009 and 201o, as well as Bramling Cross, the key hop in our Hopton. Considering Bramling Cross had been tough to get a couple of years back, it’s great to see it back on the market and as brewers, it’s a case of use it or lose it. The world doesn’t need any more of these great hop varieties to disappear into nonexistence. So with the orange marmalade, yellow stone fruit and pineapple characters of Target coupled with the slightly earthy, citrus-dusted and berry-smacked delights of Bramling Cross, we had the makings of a beer!

Epic Thornbridge Stout - the pre-label (Photo: Jed Soane)

Luke weaved his malty magic and a backbone of British Maris Otter was accompanied by copious amounts of Munich malt to add a layer of caramel (and sometimes even strawberry-like) intensity and this was also joined by a good whack of brown malt. Brown malt is something we’ve played around a bit with at Thornbridge, noticeably in Bracia but also in our raspberry infused porter, Katipo. It gives the beer quite a bit of astringency, a tarry, almost charred treacle note and a hint of dryness. It is the maturation of beer with brown malt that is interesting to me. As the beer develops over a period of months, the brown malt character softens. There is less of that burnt acridity but no loss in the fantastic flavours that it provides. It softens and improves and is a great addition to any dark beer that is to undergo extended tank or bottle maturation (the longer the better, I reckon!). The brown malt was joined by the full, rounded flavours that CaraMunich give, the soft, colour-rich CaraFa, Pale Chocolate for a hint of chocolatey goodness, Dark Crystal for that toasted nut and dried fruit character and some Roast Barley for a touch more dryness and burnt coffee edge.

Our final recipe tweaks done a couple of days before, we were ready to rock! I arrived in Auckland the night before, checked in to the hotel and had a sleepless night. I was transported back to childhood, that Christmas Eve feeling when you can’t get to sleep, eyes wide open, ear canals stretched for the jingle of the reindeer’s bell. My alarm was set for before 6 as it was an early start. Why were the digits on the alarm clock changing so slowly? I went through the recipe in my head. The usual doubt and worries that accompany a new brew rang loudly. Was the malt bill okay? Would that much dark malt overwhelm the hop character we were trying to acheive? How much dry hopping did we want to do? Should we have got some other British varieties to include? How many times before had I lay in the dark and thought about these types of things…

Don’t be afraid of the dark…

The day dawned, fresh and sunny, I went outside and waited for Luke to pick me up. “Sorry, dude, running a bit late,” was the text. So I waited. Luke arrived, fully amped. “Dude! Had an EPIC night, hardly any sleep,” he said as I jumped into the car. He didn’t look like he’s only had a couple of hours sleep, Luke always emanates an almost impish exuberance (they don’t call him the Impish Brewer for nothing, I guess) and I was about to find out why! Luke had been at a Faith No More concert the night before, the same band that came to fruition with an amazing song called, funnily enough, Epic. Luke had sussed some Epic brews out for the band, got backstage and been drinking with Faith No More all night! Lucky bugger! I forgave him for being late.

We arrived at Steam Brewery, and I met brewmaster, Shane Morley, a brilliant brewer who manages a vast array of beers and beverages, no mean feat for such a small brewteam. We finalised the recipe, altered the salt profile slightly and began mashing in!  The brewery itself has been cobbled together from a mish mash of old dairy vessels and brewing equipment and like most breweries, is a marvel of engineering. Steel, pipes and steam, pumps and cyberpunk imaginings coupled with that rich, biscuity, malty aroma… William Gibson discovers brewing… now there’s a novel…

Luke and I checking out the mash (Photo: Jed Soane)

Mash in, we turned our minds to the avenue of brand new medium toast American Oak barrels. They had just arrived from Napa Valley in the US and were ripe for filling with Luke’s ridiculously hoppy Epic Armageddon IPA. First up, the Steam Brewing lads drained the fermenter cone of dry hops. Now, I like to think we use quite a liberal amount of hops at Thornbridge, albeit more on the hot side than in dry-hopping, but the hop slurry that erupted from the base of the vessel seemed to go on forever! Luke just grinned… of course he did…

If you could smell the aroma coming from these barrels... was soooo good (Photo: Jed Soane)

Oak casks filled, I showed Luke the correct way to put a bung in (didn’t want him whacking it with a mallet, getting full rebound and smashing himself in the face did I… well, not unless a video camera was ready…) and the beginnings of another beer, Oak aged Armageddon IPA, were complete. The great thing about being there for the inaugural filling was the fact that half of our Epic Thornbridge Stout was also destined for these casks. Can’t wait to try that one!

Discussing the intricacies of crappy wort run-off with Shane (Photo: Jed Soane)

Lautering began, but with a few difficulties as the mash stuck slightly, restricting runoff. Shane did a few tweaks but was worried that the extra calcium carbonate we had added to the mash hadn’t dissolved properly (further research indicates it’s pretty much insoluble in water). Gypsum and baking soda all the way I reckon! The reason we’re keen for some carbonate or bicarbonate ions is that some of the compounds that result from the kilning of darker malts can be quite acidic. Carbonate ions are alkaline and help to mellow this character.

I managed to stay right up until the end of the boil, with the wort tasting fantastically rich. Nutty, sweet and chocolatey with just the right balance of acidity and hop character. I’d had a brilliant day with the Epic and Steam crew, the Epic Thornbridge Stout was bang on target. Already I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a bottle of New Zealand’s first ever international collaboration brew, I was stoked to be part of it!

Shane working hard, Luke and I sampling harder! (Photo: Jed Soane)

A few months later I found myself in Chicago, having been invited to judge in the incredible World Beer Cup. Luke was also there with his judging hat on and he’d even managed to bring a pre-release bottle of our Epic Thornbridge Stout. It finished bang on at 6.8% AbV and a well rounded 54 IBU. I tasted it and was instantly impressed by the smoothness. The hand bottle conditioning was slightly overcarbonated, but the potential was there. Wafts of chocolate malt goodness, great body and drinkability and that charred dry brown malt character. It needed longer though, another month or so maturation, even a couple of months in the bottle and it would be spot on. I’m hoping like hell that Luke has saved me a couple of bottles! Stan Heironymus wrote a post about the tasting here.

The inaugural ETS pouring (Alex Barlow from All Beer is very excited!) (Photo: The lovely Melissa Cole)

Luke wasn’t afraid of the dark… neither should you be! 

The Totally Awesome New Zealand Craft Brewing Scene Part 1

Sleep deprivation + cool beer + hot weather = Happiness

For the last three weeks I’ve been back home in New Zealand doing the Best Man thing for my little brother’s wedding, having a bit of a holiday, drinking loads of awesome craft beer, meeting heaps of cool brewers and beer folk, checking out some great breweries and even brewing New Zealand’s first ever international collaboration beer with Luke Nicholas of Epic Brewing.

The trip began at the end of January in the Coach and Horses in Dronfield. From there it went something like Chesterfield train station, London St. Pancras, Heathrow Terminal 4, Kuala Lumpur, Auckland and finally New Plymouth on the west coast of NZ’s North Island. As we got off the plane at the international terminal in Auckland I joked to Catherine that we hadn’t seen anyone we knew yet. A 10 minute walk to the domestic terminal and I saw my best friend’s brother, a guy I used to play rugby with and the mother of a guy who went to my primary school. Big place is New Zealand…

After 2 days of solid travelling, the first thing to do was have a beer. I’d put in a bit of a pre-order with my Dad and he had a cold Epic Lager waiting for me (see the ghoul-like dude in the picture above). This was my first taste of Epic Lager and it was lush! A crisp, perfumed hop nose with an almost Saaz-like Noble hop character. A touch grassy, citrus, lemon and the tiniest hint of fruity bubblegum. It finished clean and had a well attenuated dryness. If this was what the beer was going to be like the whole trip, I was going to be a happy lad! After a delicious meal of New Zealand fish and chips with not a mushy pea or a piece of Atlantic Cod or Haddock in sight it was lights out though.

The next few days, or beers as I liked to refer to them (as that is how I have recorded this holiday on my iPhone… through beer tasting notes and photos of bottles… geek!) were great. Temperatures in the 20s, some awesome homec00ked food, fresh eggs from the chickens outside, fresh mutton from the sheep in the fields around our house and a beer or three in the name of research.

White Cliffs Organic Brewery just out of New Plymouth have always been well known due to their flagship Mike’s Mild Ale. This dark mild was toasty and nutty with a good roast malt bitterness and some nice roast barley astringency in the finish. It oozed cleanness and still managed to have a nice body, even straight out of the fridge. Mike’s Lager was a little more reserved and had the tiniest hint of dimethyl sulphide (a little cooked vegetable) with a few ale-like ester notes, but other than that was a decent organic lager. The breweries new packaging and logo also looked pretty cool.

Mike hiding in the garden...

Just to prove it wasn’t all beer, I indulged in some awesome NZ delicacies when home. Fresh tender abalone steaks (or Paua as we call them), rich, decadent, sweet whitebait fritters (different to British whitebait which are young herring, in that NZ whitebait are the fry of small native trout and caught in rivers and river mouths at specified times of the year, selling for around £50-60 per kilogram), Greenlip Mussel fritters, my Dad’s speciality, Rock Lobster (or what we call crayfish) and lots of raw (and cooked) freshly caught fish.

Whitebait before...

Whitebait after... egg whites, salt, fry pan, butter, lemon juice, yum!

Crayfish are one of my favourite things to eat (after raw New Zealand Bluff Oysters). The best way to eat them is to steam the whole crayfish, wait for it to cool, then crack open the tail, carapace and legs, get all of the meat out and have it on freshly buttered bread. The key ingredient however, is what is referred to as mustard by crayfish lovers. This is a yellow-brown mustard coloured “sauce” that you find in the carapace. Spread on the bread it is as close to the taste of heaven as a Kiwi seafood lover can get.

Crayfish before...

Crayfish after... well after a couple of bites anyway :)

Having already had an Epic Lager or three, it was definitely time to crack into the Epic Pale Ale, Luke’s flagship beer. I had first tried this when Luke was here in 2009 collaborating with us on our 7.7% hopped to hell Epic Halcyon Imperial IPA. The Pale Ale was ridiculously drinkable and screamed hops, balance and a nice subtle bitterness. This time around it was as great as I’d remembered. It poured a hazy copper with a nice white head. Pineapple, gooseberry and hints of hoppy resin floated around the glass and it was nice and dry with just a hint of grape skin dryness and hop astringency. The bitterness continues into the aftertaste and the 4 pack soon disappeared (drunk responsibly of course) . Epic was already living up to it’s name!

It's just good beer!

From Epic it was on to another NZ craft brewery, Green Man. I brought both their IPA and Celt from the local bottle store and was impressed by their packaging and the blurb on the labels. One thing about craft beer in New Zealand is that it’s not cheap, neither should it be. There is no Progressive Beer Duty in NZ as there is for craft brewers in the UK, which means they still have to pay loads of taxes and there is still seemingly an idiotic neo-prohibitionist bent against beer, even when you’re paying between $4 and $12 NZD per bottle. I do wonder if the wine industry in New Zealand comes up against similar hurdles.

The IPA wasn’t as hoppy as I was hoping it to be. It weighed in at 5.5%, had lots of initial caramel character and an interesting top palate bitterness. The hop aroma wasn’t at the forefront (maybe it was an old bottle) and after about half of the bottle, I did wonder if I got some butterscotch as well as the caramel maltiness. The body however, was great for a sub 6% brew but again the hop finished quite grassy and unbalanced. More late hop addition or dry-hopping and this could be a good beer though.

Love the label!

Green Man’s 6.5% Celt proved a more interesting beer and was just one of the many examples of NZ craft beer experimentation that seems to be cranking down under. Having been aged in barrels, this showed initially with a good punch of oak on the mose, followed by some woody acidity in the mouth and the smallest hint of yeasty cloves. Chocolate malt undertones came through with the slightest hint of a thinnish whiskey character and even the smallest hint of salty brine. More body would have been great, but such is the challenge of wood aging… you never quite know what is going to happen!

Before I knew it, my time at home with the Whanau (that’s family to you none-Kiwi readers) was at an end, but not before we went fishing in my Uncle’s awesome 6 metre SeaLegs amphibious boat. This thing was crazy, it has three large quad-bike style wheels and you simply drive it from your garage onto the beach and into the water. The wheels then come up on a hydraulic system, the 140 hp motor kicks in and you’re good to go! A bit different than having to time the waves like we used to with our little 14 foot dinghy, push like crazy between sets of waves, usually get hammered on the way out and have to bail like crazy and then do the same on the way back home! Was a good day out, my feet remained completely dry and our haul of 7 Gurnard, a Kahawai and 3 Snapper wasn’t too bad.

The best Sashimi you can get!!!

There was still (of course) time to visit the White Cliffs (or Mikes) Organic Brewery and I was eagerly shown around by their new brewer, a Massey University Food Technology graduate, Thomas Sowerby. Having visited there 2 years earlier it was amazing to see the progress they had made, evident by the number of times I saw their beers in various bars, cafes and liqour outlets around the province. The brewery had grown, as had their range and Tom gave me a taste of his fantastic Mike’s Pilsener, definitely the pick of the Mike’s stable with it’s delicate floral and grassy hop characters, brilliantly clean finish and simple, yet defiant bitterness. Fermenting at a lower temperature definitely paid off with this beer. Their brewery shop setup was also fantastic, especially their benchtop keg dispense units that both refrigerated and poured the beer in perfect condition.

Forget benchtop Espresso, benchtop keg dispense is for your kitchen of the future!!!

The little brewhouse that Tom had modified to improve runoff

My brief sojourn in the mighty Taranaki over, I flew down to Wellington to do a bit of a Thornbridge tasting at the fantastic Malthouse, THE bar to head to if you want to be blown away by the variety of wicked beer that NZ has to offer. Fridge after fridge jam-packed with bottled beers (both local and from abroad), an absolute myriad of local brews on keg and even a couple of handpulls, which were brilliant to see. Eagerly met by Scotsman and Malthouse head honcho Colin Mallon and a bunch of keen NZ beer lovers including beer writer Neil Miller, Yeastie Boys Brewmaster Stu McKinlay and beer afficionado and super-keen homebrewer Kieran Haslett-Moore the tasting kicked off well with a great selection of Thornbridge bottled beers, some of them the last of their kind! These included Bracia, Halcyon Green Hop Vintage 2008, Alliance PX Reserve, Alliance Madeira Reserve, Saint Petersburg in all three of it’s Whiskey Barrel Matured guises – Speyside, Highland and Islay, Jaipur, Kipling and a hand-bottled Raven (our Black IPA) courtesy of our brewer, JK. The beers went down a treat and it was great to have a chat to some super-enthusiastic Kiwi beer lovers. In fact, Kieran has done a bit of a write up on it here. Another of NZ’s foremost beer writers, Geoff Griggs, was definitely gutted he couldn’t make it… you can read about that here.

In full swing at the Malthouse tasting

Tasting aftermath with empty bottles and Yeastie Boy Stu

Some seriously fantastic beers were supped at the Malthouse with two hop-monsters in particular standing out and making my tastebuds pirouette with ecstasy and joy that NZ is finally up there with that king of hoppy brews, the USA. It was my first beer upon arrival at the Malthouse that blew me away and that was Epic Armageddon IPA. 6.66%, jam packed with resiny, citrus-filled US hops and proof in a bottle that Luke Nicholas knows his hops. Masses of tropical fruit, lots of citrus and pine and mango and sappy goodness. A good uvula-punch of bitterness and fantastic drinkability, this brew was only rivalled by the exquisite HopWired IPA from 8 Wired. Brewed using all NZ hops and malt, this screamed passionfruit, gooseberry, that Sauvignon Blanc cat pee character, limes, sweet oranges and brilliant drinkability with slightly less bitterness than the Armageddon.

A bunch of other beers were also sampled but I think I’ll save those, my trip to the South Island and adventures back up in the North Island for part two!

Catch you then!

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