NZ Craft Beer TV – Hawkes Bay to Wellington

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!!!

 

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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