The long and winding road head southwards to more wine country. This time it was the Hawkes Bay that beckoned, with its Art Deco and golden sands and fields resembling fruit bowls, bulging with cherries, nectarines and apples ready to pick. It’s not just wine that ‘The Bay’ is known for though, we were here to check out a couple of iconic breweries.
We woke to a crisp morning and headed to our first port of call, Hawkes Bay Independent Brewery (HBIB). We were met by General Manager, Greg Forest and he enthusiastically talked us through the history of the brewery. It had begun with a bunch of mates getting together. Disillusioned with the stranglehold the brewing duopoly had on the country, they decided to build their own brewery, which originally focused solely on draught (keg and tanker) beer. The brewery continued to grow and they had an opportunity to move sites. The close-by Ballydooley cidery, which took advantage of the glut of great local apples and produced (and still does) top quality ciders had potential to be extended. HBIB approached them, eventually got incorporated into the site and has just recently acquired the cidery.
The great thing about HBIB is that it has a great bar/tasting room (The Filter Room) right next to it that is also used for functions. They have the full range of their beers on tap, along with ciders, a ginger beer and sparkling apple juice. You can order a tasting tray, sit back in the Hawkes Bay sunshine and know that what you’re drinking is made a stone’s throw away. With that in mind, we popped in to the brewery itself to meet brewer, Howie Parkinson. Howie has been in the industry for 21 years, with the last six spent toiling away making great beers at HBIB. It’s obvious he loves what he does. Nothing is too much trouble and he talks passionately about the brews and the recipes and the process. He jumps away to check the sparge and the first runnings of the wort, then bounces back full of enthusiasm. It’s great to see.
We taste a few of the beers with Howie. The Pilsner is crisp and bitter and again shows why the NZ Pilsner style is so popular. It has hints of floral and citrus and the characteristic NZ Saaz nose that we are becoming accustomed to. It’s well balanced with a little biscuity malt and if it hadn’t been 8.30 in the morning, I would have easily finished the glass. We then tried the Amber Ale. This was more malt-led. It wasn’t in your face, but a subtle push of light toffee and dried fruit. It was also generously hopped with more floral and berry hop notes floating around the top of the glass. The finish was dry and slightly roasty. Another quality beer.
Howie gave us a taste of the ginger and honey infused Summer Ale, a popular beer in the warmer months with a little sweetness and big, perfumed notes. It was the Black Duck Porter though that stole the show for me. I have had this beer before and was really impressed with it. It was still brilliant. A hint of smoke and chocolate on the nose, a lovely, rich full body and smooth aftertaste. Fantastic. Howie explained that they also do a series of beers called ‘From The Wood’ that they only showcase at The Filter Room next door in small quantities. A few weeks earlier I had tried an impressive wheat beer there and this time they had a big, strong, heavily hopped IPA on tap. This was something fun for the brewers to play around with and get customer feedback on. A great innovation!
We headed towards Hastings and Rooster’s Brewery. We were met by owner, Chris Harrison and head brewer, Darryl Tong. Chris set up Rooster’s after a career in winemaking. He wanted a country English-style pub for the workers in the area and went about building the large, barn-like building and putting the brewery in. As time has gone on, Rooster’s has almost doubled the number of taps they have, including the classic British handfuls on their bar. They also do a small lunch trade and the rustic feel to the place is very charming and welcoming. The enclosed courtyard outside is sheltered and perfect for wasting the hours away with conversation and great beer.
The beer is exactly that! Head brewer, Darryl has an impressive brewing pedigree, having worked for Kea Breweries Limburg Brewing Co. prior to Rooster’s. He’s really energetic, friendly, enthusiastic and as keen as hell when it comes to making and talking beer and this is reflected in his brews. We talk about the NZ malt he uses, which he raves about and have a look around the brew-kit. We head back towards the bar to taste a couple of beers. The Draught had a good hop presence and great drinkability and the German-style Lager showed some great NZ hop characteristics coupled with a rich, malty character. The Pale Ale delivered yet again on the hoppy front and the hand-pulled Irish Red Ale was as good as any I had tried in the UK – big, caramel character, a tight, creamy head and a lovely orange sherbet hop character.
We finished up with the Haymaker. This was an amazingly balanced strong lager. At 7%, this is one they only sell in flagons to be consumed in the (car-free) safety of your own home. After a sip, I can see why! This drinks like a 5% beer. It’s clean, crisp, the alcohol is completely masked and the finish oozes drinkability. Darryl can definitely brew! We chat more to Chris and learn that he also runs a full time winery, Beach House. Chris is as passionate about wine as he is about beer and we chat about flavors and the effect of different types of oak on wine and beer characteristics. These are two guys that are great fun to chat to about what we love and we could have spent hours there! Darryl had filtering to do and we urgently needed to head south, so we reluctantly hit the road to continue the adventure.
The next stop was to see Rhys Morgan, who runs Peak Brewery just outside of Carterton. Rhys spent a considerable time living in both Scotland and Germany and it was in these places that he absorbed the beer and brewing culture. As someone who loves homebrewing, wine and mead making, it is obvious why he took the leap and went into commercial production. As well as the brewery, he also plays around with fruit wines and is growing his own grapes. He keeps himself busy! His beer range is named after a series of mountain ranges and peaks in the countries where his beer style originates. We began with the Alb Weisse, a clovey, banana-ester filled hefeweizen with a hint of wheat sourness and moved on to the Drachenfels Lager, a solid interpretation of the German style on which it was based. Cornhill Porter, named after the highest hill in London was next with a tingly carbonation pushing out lots of smooth, roasty notes.
We moved on to the Monkey Point IPA which Rhys had aged in an ex-Pinot Noir barrel. He served this through a hand-pull and the result was a complex mixture of slightly tart, oaky character, hoppy bitterness and solid malt. We chatted about the success of his bottle beers at the local beer market, with locals giving him a lot of support. It’s great to hear stories like this and I’ll always applaud communities who get behind local producers. We all need to do a lot more of this!
We were running behind schedule and needed to get over the Rimutaka Ranges to interview the guys at Malthouse as well as leading beer writer, Neil Miller and the man behind nzbeerblog.com, Martin Craig. We said our farewells and were on the road, yet again!
For those who don’t know, The Malthouse is a craft beer institution in Wellington. Originally on Willis Street, Sean Murrie realized there was a lack of craft beer in the capital and went about supplying locals with something different. He became a big outlet for Gisborne Gold, Mike’s Mild Ale and the Pink Elephant range of beers back in day and from there the craft range just kept growing. Sean had a plan to open up a little brewpub with one of the large NZ breweries, but when this fell through and he became increasingly frustrated with the quality of some of the beers he was receiving, another idea was born. As well as The Malthouse, he was a founder of Tuatara Brewery.
The Malthouse moved to Courtenay Place a few years back and has gone from success to success (under the watchful, passionate eye of manager, Colin “The Handsome Scotsman” Mallon, bringing great craft beer, not just from New Zealand but from across the globe to keen and interested beer drinkers. It’s something Wellington should be proud of! We met up with Neil Miller, freelance journalist, beer writer and beer educator and talked about the state of the craft beer industry, Neil’s beer epiphany (when he moved away from being a staunch mainstream beer brand supporter to finally understanding great beer) and the Wellington beer tours and beer events that Neil organizes. He lives and breathes beer and is self-deprecating in his knowledge. He tells us that he just wants to let people know what’s out there and explains what a lot of us already know… give someone a taste of great beer and they will be a convert. The toughest part is getting people to give it a go!
We finally have a chat to the animated and enthusiastic Martin Craig of nzbeerblog.com. A retail analyst and writer by day, he has been captivated by his love of beer and with an experts eye, follows what is going on in the NZ beer scene, giving a thoughtful insight into what is happening. We chat craft beer, have a few laughs and finally call it a night. Well, I say we call it a night… there was Epic Armageddon IPA and Tuatara APA on tap and we were all pretty thirsty! Hops beckoned!!!