Another early morning start saw us weaving our way westwards of Auckland out to the historic township of Riverhead, home to one of New Zealand’s most awesome brewbar/restaurants… Hallertau. We met up with owner and head brewer, Stephen Plowman, who has been imagining and creating fantastic beer there since 2005. Together with his wife, Hayley, they run a great venue and the food is seriously top-knotch!
Hallertau itself is only 15 minutes drive from downtown Auckland, so if you have a nice, friendly sober driver available, it would be pretty much sacrilege if you didn’t go and check it out. Nestled off the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway, hop bines curl up the frontage of the building and with the giant palm trees outside (and the blazing hot sun like there was yesterday), you’d almost mistake yourself for being somewhere a lot more tropical! The team have done a brilliant job with their branding, from the Hallertau insignia, through to the simplicity of the beer numbering system at the bar and the intricacy of their speciality beer bottles. It’s the complete package and after a brief chat with Steve, we propped ourselves up at the bar and went through his range.
Hallertau Luxe or “1” was first up and this Kolsch was exactly as one would wish for. Lovely New Zealand hop notes of passionfruit and gooseberry weaved their way through this pale offering and with a little biscuity malt at the back of the palate, you could see that this would be a popular introductory beer to craft newcomers. We followed this with Statesman or “2”, Steve’s delectable Pale Ale. Some crystal malts, NZ hops and NZ malt had been transformed into this delicious brew, the biggest selling at Hallertau and a fantastic creation that balanced solid fruity hop character with a good malt backbone. Copper Tart, number “3” followed, a solid American Red/Amber Ale style beer but produced using mostly Kiwi ingredients. Wisps of toffee, some subtle malt sweetness and the hop notes that seem to be Steve’s trademark were spot on. Last but not least was Deception, “4” a Schwarzbier that was full of light coffee and deep chocolate notes, but with a subtlety and balance that worked wonders.
Steve rattled off accompanying dishes and styles of food as we tasted each beer, highlighting the epicurean approach that Hallertau embodies. The quality of their food is superb (as we were to find out later) and the ability to match their beers with the food from their kitchen is an important one!
Next up we tried a couple of other beers that Steve had on tap – the seriously impressive Minimus, a 3.8% hop bomb that Steve designed as a breakfast beer. Light in alcohol but with a humungous hop nose, this has to be one of the tastiest sub 4% beers in the New Zealand marketplace. We also had a taste of his Beastwars IPA which Steve thought up whilst listening to Wellington band Beastwars on the radio whilst brewing one day. He contacted the band and they were super-keen on the idea. It’s a big, hop-forward IPA and definitely worth a taste!
We then moved on to Hallertau’s more esoteric bottled beers. Presented in champagne-style bottles, we cracked open his Porter Noir. This beer is incredible. A combination of chocolate mousse and tart cherry pie on the nose, this beer is balanced to perfection. Rich and soft in the mouthfeel, but with just enough sourness from Brettanomyces and other wild bacteria, it’s amazing to see a Kiwi brewer taking on the sour-style beers and acheiving something as refined and tasty as this. The beer is aged in local Pinot Noir barrels that contain a stain of Brett native to the area. It’s definitely worth a taste.
We then cracked his big Barley Wine, weighing in at over 9%. Steve has aged it in the bottle for 12 months and based it on an English-style barley wine, underplaying a big aromatic hop nose that would be more apparent in the US versions of this beer type. Using all Nelson Sauvin as the hop variety, but keeping it well away from aroma additions, a long boil to intensify the caramelisation and an extended bottle ageing before release, this is fantastic. It reminded me a lot of some of John Keeling’s Vintage Ales (of Fullers in London), but with a more intense mouth-coating bitterness. High praise indeed!
Finally we cracked open Stuntman, Hallertau’s Double IPA. Made with all Kiwi hops, this smelt and tasted like it was done with the cream of the US hop crop. Big, piney and resinous, with undercurrents of tangerine, this was a fantastic finish to the range. As well as their own beer, they also have taps for other Kiwi craft beer and usually have at least one US craft beer on draught (Green Flash Le Freak was on when we were there). They also do their own fruit wines under the Pukeko Grove label and Steve makes a damn good cider as well!
If there’s one thing for me that was to come out of trying all of Hallertau’s beers, it was one word… Balance. Even though the hop notes rocketed from light, to huge and the bitterness went from slight to big and zesty, Steve always managed to get the balance in the mouth right. Whether it was ensuring the dryness of something like Luxe matched it’s lighter bitterness or ensuring the big, rich fruitcake and marzipan notes of the Barley Wine were balanced out by the big, mouthcoating Sauvin bitterness, he hit the nail on the head every time!
We went in and checked out the brewery, brewer Simon and their new assistant were hard at work brewing Luxe and the hops were smelling great. Luckily it’s been a damp summer, so they had enough water for brewing! All of their water comes from the skies, so a little rain is definitely important for these guys. We checked out the barrel-ageing room and our stomachs rumbling went back to the bar for some tucker.
A mountain of food appeared. Local sausages, some made with Hallertau beer, incredibly sweet and rich barbecued ribs, made for fingers to be licked. Salt and pepper squid, locally cured meats, sticky chicken wings, fries with smoked garlic aioli made in the kitchen. Get out there and go enjoy yourselves. I think we all deserve it!
From here we went to Steam Brewery out in Otahuhu. I’ll save that one for next week though…