According to Maori legend, the South Island of New Zealand (Te Wai Pounamu or Te Waka a Maui) was the canoe that the god, Maui stood upon while he caught the giant fish that was to become the North Island (Te Ika a Maui). So it was from canoe to fish I went and we found ourselves heading towards Catherine’s hometown in the province of Hawkes Bay. Famous for its fantastic wines and the Gimblett Gravels that a lot of the vines grow in, this is also the North’s fruit bowl and jam-packed (see what I did there) with fruits of all kinds. But what about breweries? It just so happened that Catherine’s father, Graeme, had been recently to a bar that served it’s own cider and beer, so I was interested to go and check it out.
The Filter Room is in Meeanee just out of Napier and I was thoroughly impressed by the selection of beers and ciders they had on draught and in bottle. The tasting room for the Hawkes Bay Independent Brewery is joined to a cafe and does a great selection of snacks with the fish and chips being on top form when we were there! A cool little six glass tasting tray allowed me to work through a selection of their brews. I went for their Pure Lager, Force Premium, Special Reserve, Amber, Black Duck Porter, and English Bitter and was impressed by them all. Their lagers were clean and crisp and had hop in the right places, the Amber had a few hints of crystal malt, the Special Reserve (infused with honey and cinnamon) was spicey and moreish…
But it was the Black Duck Porter and the English Bitter that really impressed me. The porter was a lovely stoutish brew with roasted hazelnut and a touch of mocha with a refreshing twist of roasty astringency. It’s drinkability, even at a cool temperature, was fantastic. The English Bitter, one of their seasonal beers, showed a gentle fruit hop on the nose. It was very pale… you almost expected it to have little flavour… but then you would get a lovely hit of berry and tropical hop in the mouth. It had a little bitterness but again, the drinkability was phenomenal. So clean with undercurrents of delicate passionfruit. It wasn’t too overpowering and showed the type of balance that speaks volumes about the skill of the brewer who crafted it.
I decided to stick my head into the brewery next to the Filter Room and was instantly made welcome by brewer Howard Parkinson and Head Brewer, Leon Mickelson. They showed me around their brewery, abound with enthusiasm. It was evident that these guys love their job… not only in the quality of their beers but in the way they looked around their plant, the way they described the processes. I love meeting brewers like that!
As an aside, Head Brewer Leon had spent a bit of time over here in the UK working for Westons and learning the art and science of producing fantastic cider. And his stuff is pretty damn tasty as well! He gave me a couple of six packs to take away and try at Steam Brewery up in Auckland while brewing there. One of the bottles was the Pilsener and it was awesome! Full of that lovely grassy hop, a touch of fruitiness and a nice clean, yet thankfully present, bitterness. Make sure you check them out!
Probably the highlight of my time in the East of New Zealand was going out with Cat and her parents to an awesome restaurant in Naper called Pacifica. For a start, it refers to itself as a Kai Moana restaurant… Kai Moana is my favourite thing in the world (apart from my girlfriend, family and beer of course…) as Kai Moana is the Maori term for seafood. Secondly, the owners understand the importance of quality produce and actually have a selection of fantstic NZ craft beers on their drink menu. Mata Manuka, Emersons Pilsener, Moa Blanc, even Harrington’s Harry’s Light, the range shows diversity but is simple and actually offers customers a choice of something other than Steinlager, Becks or Stella… Hooray for Pacifica!
The menu was phenomenal, in fact have a look through it and tell me what beers you would match with which course! There are probably a few strange words on it… Kina is NZ sea urchin, Paua is NZ abalone, Toroi is a cold fermented delicacy made from mussels and watercress or puha (sow thistle) and Kamo Kamo is a lovely small, sweet squash.
After a wicked time in the Hawkes Bay, it was time to move on yet again. This time was to the north… Auckland, then beyond to the beautiful golden bays of Northland. In between there was also time for a bit of brewing with Luke from Epic Brewing and Shane from Steam Brewing. But thats for another day!