After a brief hiatus from NZ Craft Beer TV where Luke and I got a wee bit busy with running Epic and the 5 beer releases we did last year, we’re back into it and finishing up the breweries we didn’t quite get to. First up is Waiheke Island Brewery and we got up at the crack of dawn, headed to the Auckland Ferry Terminal and jumped on the ferry. A cracking day, we cruised through the Hauraki Gulf amongst big boil-ups of kahawai and sea-birds diving for bait-fish, dodging the keen early morning fishing boats filled with locals pulling up snapper.We got in to the Matiatia terminal and were met by the owner of Wild on Waiheke, Rob Webb. Wild on Waiheke is a fantastic multi-activity venue nestled right in the middle of Waiheke’s wine growing area. Rob and his wife, Karen run a cafe/restaurant, brewery, vineyard and corporate activity/workshops all from the picturesque premises and after a day there, can say they do a brilliant job! Used often as a function centre for stag and hen parties, it’s combination of great food and beverages and a host of activities make it a veritable one stop shop! We headed past the vineyard and into the converted barn that houses a bar, shop, kitchen and showcases some of the great produce that is made on the island. From locally distilled rum (which I can say is pretty damn tasty) to local Pohutakawa honey and their own range of preserves and sauces, they have a great selection and something for everyone! There’s also a cool little playground in front of the spacious deck, making it a brilliant place for a family day out. A few beers and wines for Mum and Dad, an amazing burger or pizza from their extensive and well-priced menu and all whilst watching the kids enjoy an ice-cream or mucking about on the swings? Sounds pretty damn ideal to me!
We met up with New Zealand brewing stalwart, Alan Knight, head brewer of Waiheke Island Brewery. Alan has been in the industry coming up 25 years! An ex-pat Brit, originally he trained as an actor, but while living in Canada, he got sick of drinking the insipid lagers that used to be common place, took up homebrewing and then knocked on the door of a local brewery to see if they had work. Once they found out he had been doing all grain brewing (as opposed to brewing with malt extract), they pretty much hired him there and then and the rest is history! Alan eventually became a brewing consultant and is one of the more widely travelled New Zealand brewers, having clocked up 41 breweries in his 25 years, with 11 of them being in NZ!
We were super-keen for a nice early-morning beer taster, so Alan started us off with his Wharf Rd Wheat Beer. Based on a German Hefeweizen, this poured light and hazy. Alan finished it off with a small of lemon, not something I’d usually do myself, but the fresh citrus worked to lift the subtle banana and clove characters of this nice, dry wheat beer. It was brilliant. Next up we tried the Onetangi Dark Ale, which was close in style to a Porter. Alan told us that when the oyster season was in full swing (and their is a local farm which apparently does oysters to die for), they serve this beer with an oyster in the bottom of the glass. That sounds pretty close to heaven for me! The beer itself was rich with loads of milk chocolate and dark cacao nib on the nose. It’s body was sublime, rich and smooth with the lightest tickle of bitterness from the NZ Styrian Goldings he used. Was this the best dark beer we’d tried on our trip around NZ so far? Luke and I definitely think it may just have been. Alan went on to tell us how the slight brininess of the oyster worked perfectly with this beer. Who wouldn’t want a beer-pickled fresh oyster after a glass of something is superb as this?!?!
Next up, we had a taste of the Baroona Original Pale Ale. This was a Kolsch style brew, hopped to perfection with Motueka hops from the Nelson region. Again, Alan had nailed it. Massively quenching, beautiful hints of passionfruit and stonefruit and one of the cleanest, crispest finishes I’ve experienced for sometime. It was awesome. Alan is the master of taking fine ingredients, keeping recipes simple and nailing the beers. We finished off with the big 7.2% Matiatia Malt Beer and were pleasantly surprised yet again! With Pacifica and NZ Cascade as hops and a blend of 6 malts, this drank like a 4% session brew, going down like silk. Alan recommended this with a good, strong cheese, but I reckon I could have slowly sipped away on a few of them in the blazing Waiheke sun with ease!
After a few samples we had a look around the 1200 litre brewkit. Originally from Tauranga where it was set up as a Mac’s brewery, this simple 2 vessel brewhouse has definitely done it’s time for NZ brewing and I’d say that with Alan at the helm, it will do many more years! The cooling on his fermenters is all manual, so it’s lucky he only lives a few minutes away, meaning he often stops by at night to ensure his babies are fermenting away at the right temperature.
The beers are served from their own cooling tanks through a 47 metre beer line that runs direct to the bar! Not only do they do the 4 core beers, they also do an incredible non-alcoholic Ginger Beer called Hauraki Gulf Ginger, which was devised by Alan in his kitchen and uses around 30 kilograms of freshly juiced root ginger in every 600 litres! Alan also had his very first batch of cider on, which completed a fantastic range. The cider is awesome.
We then headed out into the vineyard and had a bit of a go at archery. Needless to say, the NZ Olympics team better look elsewhere for talent, though Leon from our production company, Augusto, nailed a few close to the bullseye. We then all took our turns at some laser clay bird shooting before heading in for an amazing burger and beer. I can’t recommend this place more highly and if you really want to try some great Kiwi beer, then jump on the ferry in Auckland and get out there as soon as you can. You won’t regret it!
The office beckoned however, so we headed back to the mainland to do some of that proper work stuff. It always seems to get in the way! We’re going to hit Hallertau Brewery tomorrow in Riverhead, west of Auckland and check out Steam Brewery and even ourselves at Epic. Another busy day beckons!!