From Dunedin to Invercargill – We Head South!

Green Man Brewery in Dunedin takes a sustainable approach to brewing and actively encourages used bottle and cardboard box returns.  Not only that, they are fully organic and produce all of their beers under the German Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot). This is helped by the fact that their brewer, Enrico is a trained German brewmaster, so each of the beers we tasted had a definite German character to them. The Krystal Weiss, their filtered wheat beer and the only example of this style in the country, had a good blend of light caramel malt and banana ester character and was ridiculously thirst quenching.

The Pils and lager showed great hop bitterness, again highlighting the style of beer that Enrico enjoyed brewing. The star of the show, however, was the 14.5% AbV Enrico’c Cure from 2008. This beer had been produced with a Champagne yeast and had no sugar at all added to it. Enrico explained that he preferred the character that malt sugars give, compared to any artificial sugars that are sometimes added to produce beers of this strength and I can honestly say that this approach paid off. The rich fruit and chocolate nose of the beer amalgamated perfectly in the mouth, where more chocolate and vanilla and luscious sweetness melded to soften the warming alcohol finish.

We were also lucky enough to try a relatively fresh sample of the Stout, which although young, tasted absolutely perfect to us! We chatted with General Manager Jeremy Seaman and he mentioned that Green Man were affiliated with a bar, Metro, just off the Octagon. We headed off to drop the campervan back at the site so that we could all enjoy a tasty beverage or two.

The Octagon impressed with a couple of craft beer bars in the vicinity. We had visited Tonic the night before and been stoked with the wide selection of craft beers in their fridges as well as a good bunch of great NZ draught beers. The banter from barman, James was awesome. It was great to see a keen as dude working the bar so well.

We visited Albar on Stuart Street for a quick pint of cask ale. We all went for the Albar Ale which is brewed by Invercargill Brewing. It had a nice citrus hop character and it was great to see a couple of handpullss in a bar so close to the Octagon.

We then hooked up with Green Man’s Jeremy at Metro and went through their range of beers, including a tequila and lime juice infused lager. It was the Strong that was my favourite beer of theirs though. This is a blend between a Whiskey Bock that they produce in the winter months. This is made by cold conditioning the beer with oak staves that have been previously soaked in whiskey. This beer is then blended with Green Man’s Best Bitter. The resultant beer has hints of oak and vanilla and this batch also had a slight tartness, almost similar to a Flemish sour beer. Whether this note was intentional or not, it didn’t matter to me, as I’m a big fan of sourness in the right type of beer and this worked really well.

Also of interest was the Man Chips that they had on the menu. This was a massive plate of chips covered in various pieces of chopped up meat – bacon, ham, pepperoni and beef and then doused in gravy. This was serious food for our hungry bellies!

We headed back to Eureka for a couple of beers with owner, Dave, bumped in to a few local Twitter followers and headed back for some much needed sleep.

Dunedin done, the next day was going to involve a bit of driving and Luke was amped to get down to Invercargill to catch up with Steve Nally of Invercargill Brewing. We cruised down and stopped in quickly to see Tom from Crafty Beers and Vicki from Beltane… their purple house is impossible to miss! It was then on to the Presidential Highway from Clinton to Gore (see what they did there!) We got into Invercargill and were amazed at the changes that had occurred in the place since we had last been down there over 10 years ago. Maybe Mayor, Tim Shadbolt’s magic was working!

We met up with Steve and Murray from Invercargill Brewing, both passionate, energetic guys who are pumping out some incredible beers. We checked out the brewery, which Steve told us was about to be upgraded to allow double the amount of beer to be brewed. Invercargill do a lot of contract brewing and bottling for other NZ craft breweries including Yeastie Boys, Valley, Golden Ticket, Pink Elephant and Mussel Inn. Their own range of beers includes a delicious Honey Pilsner, Wasp which had a hint of honey on the nose, some sweetness on the tongue and a nice dry, crisp finish. B.Man was another top drop, a great take on the NZ Pilsner style. Sister Gina was a Belgian style brew that Steve had brewed with a Witbier yeast and was a great example of an Abbey-style Dubbel with wisps of clove and fruity esters.

The Boysenbeery however, was the pick of the bunch for me. This beer is brewed and 15% Boysenberry juice is added near the end of fermentation. The resulting brew smells like boysenberry icecream, with a pleasant vanilla and berry nose. The vibrant red colour makes you think that this beer is going to be sweet and potentially syrupy, but this is anything but! The berry fruit makes itself known, but the beer finishes crisp and dry and your mouth stays filled with fragrant boysenberry notes without any cloying characters. Steve told us he was a massive fan of ciders and fruit and this is evident in the beer. His Nally’s Cider is another example of a greatly crafted product, aged for 18 months prior to release.

The one thing I think Steve gives to his beers that is paramount is balance and drinkability. They finish dry and crisp and are testament to his brewing skill.

We left Invercargill where Luke had his first encounter with a Jimmy’s Pie, and iconic taste of the southern region of New Zealand. I had to have two, just to make sure they were tasting okay. They were and we were all pretty happy with the experience. Our arteries however, may not be so happy…

The Totally Awesome New Zealand Craft Brewing Scene Part 1

Sleep deprivation + cool beer + hot weather = Happiness

For the last three weeks I’ve been back home in New Zealand doing the Best Man thing for my little brother’s wedding, having a bit of a holiday, drinking loads of awesome craft beer, meeting heaps of cool brewers and beer folk, checking out some great breweries and even brewing New Zealand’s first ever international collaboration beer with Luke Nicholas of Epic Brewing.

The trip began at the end of January in the Coach and Horses in Dronfield. From there it went something like Chesterfield train station, London St. Pancras, Heathrow Terminal 4, Kuala Lumpur, Auckland and finally New Plymouth on the west coast of NZ’s North Island. As we got off the plane at the international terminal in Auckland I joked to Catherine that we hadn’t seen anyone we knew yet. A 10 minute walk to the domestic terminal and I saw my best friend’s brother, a guy I used to play rugby with and the mother of a guy who went to my primary school. Big place is New Zealand…

After 2 days of solid travelling, the first thing to do was have a beer. I’d put in a bit of a pre-order with my Dad and he had a cold Epic Lager waiting for me (see the ghoul-like dude in the picture above). This was my first taste of Epic Lager and it was lush! A crisp, perfumed hop nose with an almost Saaz-like Noble hop character. A touch grassy, citrus, lemon and the tiniest hint of fruity bubblegum. It finished clean and had a well attenuated dryness. If this was what the beer was going to be like the whole trip, I was going to be a happy lad! After a delicious meal of New Zealand fish and chips with not a mushy pea or a piece of Atlantic Cod or Haddock in sight it was lights out though.

The next few days, or beers as I liked to refer to them (as that is how I have recorded this holiday on my iPhone… through beer tasting notes and photos of bottles… geek!) were great. Temperatures in the 20s, some awesome homec00ked food, fresh eggs from the chickens outside, fresh mutton from the sheep in the fields around our house and a beer or three in the name of research.

White Cliffs Organic Brewery just out of New Plymouth have always been well known due to their flagship Mike’s Mild Ale. This dark mild was toasty and nutty with a good roast malt bitterness and some nice roast barley astringency in the finish. It oozed cleanness and still managed to have a nice body, even straight out of the fridge. Mike’s Lager was a little more reserved and had the tiniest hint of dimethyl sulphide (a little cooked vegetable) with a few ale-like ester notes, but other than that was a decent organic lager. The breweries new packaging and logo also looked pretty cool.

Mike hiding in the garden...

Just to prove it wasn’t all beer, I indulged in some awesome NZ delicacies when home. Fresh tender abalone steaks (or Paua as we call them), rich, decadent, sweet whitebait fritters (different to British whitebait which are young herring, in that NZ whitebait are the fry of small native trout and caught in rivers and river mouths at specified times of the year, selling for around £50-60 per kilogram), Greenlip Mussel fritters, my Dad’s speciality, Rock Lobster (or what we call crayfish) and lots of raw (and cooked) freshly caught fish.

Whitebait before...

Whitebait after... egg whites, salt, fry pan, butter, lemon juice, yum!

Crayfish are one of my favourite things to eat (after raw New Zealand Bluff Oysters). The best way to eat them is to steam the whole crayfish, wait for it to cool, then crack open the tail, carapace and legs, get all of the meat out and have it on freshly buttered bread. The key ingredient however, is what is referred to as mustard by crayfish lovers. This is a yellow-brown mustard coloured “sauce” that you find in the carapace. Spread on the bread it is as close to the taste of heaven as a Kiwi seafood lover can get.

Crayfish before...

Crayfish after... well after a couple of bites anyway 🙂

Having already had an Epic Lager or three, it was definitely time to crack into the Epic Pale Ale, Luke’s flagship beer. I had first tried this when Luke was here in 2009 collaborating with us on our 7.7% hopped to hell Epic Halcyon Imperial IPA. The Pale Ale was ridiculously drinkable and screamed hops, balance and a nice subtle bitterness. This time around it was as great as I’d remembered. It poured a hazy copper with a nice white head. Pineapple, gooseberry and hints of hoppy resin floated around the glass and it was nice and dry with just a hint of grape skin dryness and hop astringency. The bitterness continues into the aftertaste and the 4 pack soon disappeared (drunk responsibly of course) . Epic was already living up to it’s name!

It's just good beer!

From Epic it was on to another NZ craft brewery, Green Man. I brought both their IPA and Celt from the local bottle store and was impressed by their packaging and the blurb on the labels. One thing about craft beer in New Zealand is that it’s not cheap, neither should it be. There is no Progressive Beer Duty in NZ as there is for craft brewers in the UK, which means they still have to pay loads of taxes and there is still seemingly an idiotic neo-prohibitionist bent against beer, even when you’re paying between $4 and $12 NZD per bottle. I do wonder if the wine industry in New Zealand comes up against similar hurdles.

The IPA wasn’t as hoppy as I was hoping it to be. It weighed in at 5.5%, had lots of initial caramel character and an interesting top palate bitterness. The hop aroma wasn’t at the forefront (maybe it was an old bottle) and after about half of the bottle, I did wonder if I got some butterscotch as well as the caramel maltiness. The body however, was great for a sub 6% brew but again the hop finished quite grassy and unbalanced. More late hop addition or dry-hopping and this could be a good beer though.

Love the label!

Green Man’s 6.5% Celt proved a more interesting beer and was just one of the many examples of NZ craft beer experimentation that seems to be cranking down under. Having been aged in barrels, this showed initially with a good punch of oak on the mose, followed by some woody acidity in the mouth and the smallest hint of yeasty cloves. Chocolate malt undertones came through with the slightest hint of a thinnish whiskey character and even the smallest hint of salty brine. More body would have been great, but such is the challenge of wood aging… you never quite know what is going to happen!

Before I knew it, my time at home with the Whanau (that’s family to you none-Kiwi readers) was at an end, but not before we went fishing in my Uncle’s awesome 6 metre SeaLegs amphibious boat. This thing was crazy, it has three large quad-bike style wheels and you simply drive it from your garage onto the beach and into the water. The wheels then come up on a hydraulic system, the 140 hp motor kicks in and you’re good to go! A bit different than having to time the waves like we used to with our little 14 foot dinghy, push like crazy between sets of waves, usually get hammered on the way out and have to bail like crazy and then do the same on the way back home! Was a good day out, my feet remained completely dry and our haul of 7 Gurnard, a Kahawai and 3 Snapper wasn’t too bad.

The best Sashimi you can get!!!

There was still (of course) time to visit the White Cliffs (or Mikes) Organic Brewery and I was eagerly shown around by their new brewer, a Massey University Food Technology graduate, Thomas Sowerby. Having visited there 2 years earlier it was amazing to see the progress they had made, evident by the number of times I saw their beers in various bars, cafes and liqour outlets around the province. The brewery had grown, as had their range and Tom gave me a taste of his fantastic Mike’s Pilsener, definitely the pick of the Mike’s stable with it’s delicate floral and grassy hop characters, brilliantly clean finish and simple, yet defiant bitterness. Fermenting at a lower temperature definitely paid off with this beer. Their brewery shop setup was also fantastic, especially their benchtop keg dispense units that both refrigerated and poured the beer in perfect condition.

Forget benchtop Espresso, benchtop keg dispense is for your kitchen of the future!!!

The little brewhouse that Tom had modified to improve runoff

My brief sojourn in the mighty Taranaki over, I flew down to Wellington to do a bit of a Thornbridge tasting at the fantastic Malthouse, THE bar to head to if you want to be blown away by the variety of wicked beer that NZ has to offer. Fridge after fridge jam-packed with bottled beers (both local and from abroad), an absolute myriad of local brews on keg and even a couple of handpulls, which were brilliant to see. Eagerly met by Scotsman and Malthouse head honcho Colin Mallon and a bunch of keen NZ beer lovers including beer writer Neil Miller, Yeastie Boys Brewmaster Stu McKinlay and beer afficionado and super-keen homebrewer Kieran Haslett-Moore the tasting kicked off well with a great selection of Thornbridge bottled beers, some of them the last of their kind! These included Bracia, Halcyon Green Hop Vintage 2008, Alliance PX Reserve, Alliance Madeira Reserve, Saint Petersburg in all three of it’s Whiskey Barrel Matured guises – Speyside, Highland and Islay, Jaipur, Kipling and a hand-bottled Raven (our Black IPA) courtesy of our brewer, JK. The beers went down a treat and it was great to have a chat to some super-enthusiastic Kiwi beer lovers. In fact, Kieran has done a bit of a write up on it here. Another of NZ’s foremost beer writers, Geoff Griggs, was definitely gutted he couldn’t make it… you can read about that here.

In full swing at the Malthouse tasting

Tasting aftermath with empty bottles and Yeastie Boy Stu

Some seriously fantastic beers were supped at the Malthouse with two hop-monsters in particular standing out and making my tastebuds pirouette with ecstasy and joy that NZ is finally up there with that king of hoppy brews, the USA. It was my first beer upon arrival at the Malthouse that blew me away and that was Epic Armageddon IPA. 6.66%, jam packed with resiny, citrus-filled US hops and proof in a bottle that Luke Nicholas knows his hops. Masses of tropical fruit, lots of citrus and pine and mango and sappy goodness. A good uvula-punch of bitterness and fantastic drinkability, this brew was only rivalled by the exquisite HopWired IPA from 8 Wired. Brewed using all NZ hops and malt, this screamed passionfruit, gooseberry, that Sauvignon Blanc cat pee character, limes, sweet oranges and brilliant drinkability with slightly less bitterness than the Armageddon.

A bunch of other beers were also sampled but I think I’ll save those, my trip to the South Island and adventures back up in the North Island for part two!

Catch you then!

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