As seems to be the case when you make a decision to drive 2000 kilometers (1242 miles) in 5 days, we found ourselves up bright and early for an interview with journalist Hadyn Green who was interested in the technology angle of NZ Craft Beer TV, our use of social media and the format that we were looking at for the show. We chatted and sipped juice and enjoyed our bacon and avocado rolls before heading off to Hashigo Zake to do a couple of interviews.
Wellington, the unofficial Craft Beer capital of New Zealand seems to have more and more bars that have a craft beer range popping up here and there. With less than two years under its belt, the Japanese themed Cult Beer Bar was launched by Dominic Kelly in response to his passion for craft beer. Having lived in Japan and enjoyed all that the vibrant East Asian craft beer scene has to offer, he saw an opening in Wellington with regard to the obvious love the capital city dwellers have for their great beer. He set up Hashigo Zake, which means “liquor ladder” and is a colloquial term for bar-hopping and the rest, as they say, is history.
The bar itself is impressive, set underground with Japanese prints, imagery and styling and the beer range is fantastic with a bunch from Japan’s Baird’s Brewing, a great range of New Zealand craft keg beers and a couple of hand-pumps for the pulling of traditional-style ales. The fridges also contain an impressive collection of foreign craft beer. From Mikeller through to Flying Dog, Rogue, Green Flash and Beer Republic, they know their bar and have even helped put a bunch of other bars by importing a refrigerated container of craft kegs from abroad and spreading the beery love.
We chatted a bit about the state of the industry and shared the common dream where every New Zealand city would develop a culture such as this. Nelson, Christchurch and Hamilton were following suit… here’s hoping other cities would to!
Stu McKinlay, one half of the impressive Yeastie Boys, rocked up with his turquoise trousers and t-shirt combo. Labelled New Zealand’s first ultra cool, post-modern brewers of leftfield ales. Stu and the other half of the creative partnership, Sam Possenniskie formed the brewery after years of home brewing and beer tasting. They wanted to brew without style guidelines holding them back and Stu passionately tells us of his inspirations. Being a big
muss muso, he tells how music inspires him to brew. When he listens to certain songs, they remind him of flavors and aromas and he goes about creating the beer on the back of this in his 50 litre setup at home. Once pleased with the recipe, it is then brewed down at Invercargill Brewing and the kegs, casks and bottles of the brew make it nationwide.
It’s evident how much Stu loves beer. He talks animatedly about the beers as we taste them and we discuss the flavors and aromas and brewing techniques like old friends. Something I notice and have noticed throughout our travels is the advantage that home brewers often have over those that have trained in-house at a large brewery. The home brewers have had years of practice with different yeasts and malts and hops. They have been able to experiment on a small scale and taste the subtle differences that a slight change makes to their beers. They have the ability to coax characters from ingredients and processes through familiarity. Stu shows these skills in the beer we taste.
We crack into Europa and Rapture. The first a Kolsch-style ale and the second the exact same recipe but brewed with a Belgian yeast. Served on handpull, the temperature is perfect and it pushes the hops out of Europa. But the different yeast in Rapture has held the hops back and the estery, spicy nature of the yeast has come to the forefront. Refreshing and animated, a fascinating insight into the nature of yeast and the effect they can have on beer. We then try the beautifully bottled His Majesty 2010 and Her Majesty 2010. Stu changes these beers for each vintage based on his inspiration of the moment. The 2010 His Majesty touts Belgian complexity on the nose with hints of fruit cake, then comes through with hints of light caramel and luscious hop character, integrated into a smooth, lightly carbonated character. This beer drips with complexity. Stu mentions that the Majesty range seem to be best drunk within 6 months. I would still love to lay one of these babies down for a couple of years though.
Her Majesty 2010 moves away from the hops and heads into the land of yeast and malt. A waft of Belgian yeast character, all spicy and alluring balances in with a banana-caramel note. Spice, velvety fruitcake and sweet malt, it hints at a rich, creamy porter and a Belgian Dubbel at the same time. A mishmash of flavours and styles, this is a perfect example as to why this should be done more often!
Wellington complete, we headed north towards Waikanae to check out Tuatara Brewery in Reikorangi. Tuatara are an impressive setup. Head Brewer Carl Vasta and wife Simone set up a 1200 litre brewery on their farm after Carl had stints as brewer for the Parrot & Jigger and Polar Brewing as well as acting as a brewery consultant. Ten years later, Tuatara is growing at an amazing rate. 2007 saw the installation of a German designed brewhouse and 2010 will see their capacity increased, enabling them to brew up to 10 000 litters per day.
Carl came into brewing as a trained electrician and built the first brewery by hand. A massive help to a working brewery, his practical skills have obviously been put to use, with tanks squeezed in to every available space in the buildings and a bottling line tucked into the old coolstore. Tuatara’s new brewer, Mike Neilson is also as passionate as his boss. Mike came into brewing an extremely talented home brewer. He won 5 medals in the first NZ Homebrew Championships he entered and he has that gleam in his eye that brewers seem to have. It’s evident that he is helping Tuatara push the boundaries with regard to the quality of their beer and production potential.
We sat in front of Carl’s house in the brilliant sunshine with Mike, Carl and Tuatara director, Sean Murrie and cracked their Pilsener. This is one hell of a beer. A beautiful balance of malt and hop, a bold, assertive, persistent mouth bitterness that jolted the tastebuds from their peaceful slumber. A drinkability that wowed me. This beer was superbly crafted, the malt used added body and richness and the NZ hops came through with hints of grass and flowers. This was perfectly executed and the ultimate beer to sup in the heat. We then had their new APA. Originally a seasonal release but due to popularity, likely to be seen a bit more often, this 5.8% Pale Ale is a hop bomb! An ode to the American-style Pale Ales, this makes the most of the resinous, citrus intensity of US hops. They literally jump out of the bottle and into your nose. The mouth fills with grapefruit, pine and tropical fruit character, the malty body balances out the big bitterness and to put it bluntly, this beer rocks! It’s great that Tuatara have such awesome market penetration as this allows beers like this to get out there to customers that might not have tasted them before. I really look forward to seeing more Tuatara beers out there in the future!
We headed up the West coast towards perhaps the mightiest province of them all, Taranaki (a little writer parochial bias there, perhaps?). Time wasn’t on our side and we arrived close to 8pm to catch up with home brewer extraordinaire, Joseph Wood. Jo and his wife, Christina run Liberty Brewing, an online homebrew supply service that has seen great success through providing high quality raw materials to avid brewers around the country. Jo is as passionate as hell, even if he can be a little self deprecating about his beers. To put it bluntly, the series of Belgian-style Tripels, Imperial Stouts, barrel-aged Flemish sour beers, Double IPAs, Witbiers and his latest Summer Ale were all either world class or bordering on world class. This guy can brew and every new bottle he pulled out wowed us more.
The good thing is that Jo has just built and installed his own 200 litre system in his garage, and is selling his beers through Hashigo Zake in Wellington and Hallertau Brewbar in Riverhead in Auckland. I urge you to go and try them, they’re amazing.
Jo cooked up a feed of fresh Paua (abalone) he had gone snorkeling for and we chatted away until late in the night. It was then off to park the camper at my Mum and Dad’s and another day was over!
*Hurricanes makes reference to the Wellington Hurricanes, a Super Rugby team made up of players from (amongst other provinces) Wellington, Horowhenua-Kapiti and Taranaki