New Zealand Brewing Dream Team – The Thirst XV – The Outside Backs

Well, the Thirst XV is near an end, the All Blacks are World Champions for only the second ever time, making for a most happy of nations and without further hesitation, it’s time to name my selections for those speedy, jinky, try-scoring machines that hang out at the back of the field and on the sidelines, chatting up the crowd and sipping at pints hidden behind those weird little barrier things that players always have to jump over.

Number 11 – Left Wing

As someone who played in the outside backs for 21 years, there’s a huge amount of players that I tried to emulate and as a youngster, it was the Terry ‘Greyhound” Wrights and John Kirwans that took pride of place i my minds eye for their remarkable turns of pace and their ability to make their way over the try line when the odds were against them. Wright showed that you didn’t need to be of Lomu-esque stature to score tries and the Kiwi brewer who would be certain to emulate his try-scoring prowess is none other than Steam Brewing Company‘s Shane Morley. One of the few Institute of Brewing and Distilling Brewmasters in NZ’s craft brewing arena, Morley has pace to burn, a goose-step that would outgander David Campese and an unerring ability to dot the ball down over the line. It’s Morley’s slinkiness that makes him the ultimate left wing. Coming in from the blind-side, it would seem entirely unlikely that he would be able to make it through a defensive line up of a scrum-half, fly-half and openside flanker, but it is exactly this point where Morley’s nickname, “Weasel” becomes apparent. Duck, slipping, turning his body. It’s another try to the Thirst XV. Morley. Outstanding.

The Slinky Dinkster himself. Thought of by rugby journos and international beer judges alike as one of the best...

Number 14 – Right Wing

You can never have too much pace out wide and having a good noggin on a player is always a bonus. With a Brewmaster on one wing, it seems a good idea to put a former Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Science university lecturer on the other. Balance is important, both on a rugby field and in a good brew. Dr. Paul Croucher of Croucher Brewing fits the bill perfectly. A savvy brewer, a brain for bubbles (similar shape to a rugby ball) and a turn of pace akin to winger Morley, Croucher would be the ideal man to have out wide. Whilst The Weasel has the ability to find gaps that don’t even exist, The Doc is more about turning his low centre of gravity into a huge advantage. Not the largest of wingers, he has one of the highest power to weight ratios on the pitch, hours of lifting kegs has paid off and if you ever see him, ask to see his guns. He’ll show them to you. In fact, it’s impossible not to notice them. It’s The Doc’s guns that transform him into the tackling powerhouse that he is. He once tackled a player so hard, that both of his legs were instantly amputated. Luckily The Doc put those hours of lecturing medical students to good use, the man’s legs were saved.

Watch out for the Guns...

Number 15 – Fullback

A position very close to the Thirst XV selector’s heart, the Fullback is a key position in both powerful counter attack (John Gallagher springs to mind) and huge, field-covering defense. The ability to field the high ball, to shrug of defenders with intense determination, to tackle low and hard and to run through contenders at will puts only one NZ brewer in the mix for this sought after position. Now, I know you all think that Kelly Ryan would be the ideal candidate, but it is Stu “Scottish” McKinlay that gets the nod. With a playing style akin to Scottish rugby legend, Gavin Hastings, a penchant for peat and a love of kilts, it’s difficult to see where his nickname comes from. I’m sure one day, someone will figure it out though.

McKinlay’s main attacking attribute is his powerful, tree-trunk legs. He also has his very own trademark, in that he is the only player to not wear shorts on the field. Known for his beer and trouser colour matching prowess, Scottish McKinlay always plays in brightly coloured trousers, often dyed yellow or orange with the flowers of Heather (in true Scottish tradition). Some rugby journos worry that the bright colours act like flames to moths, attracting opposing players and increasing the likelihood of Scottish being tackled, but the intense musculature of his legs make it ridiculously difficult for this to happen. The Scottish Bomb is known worldwide for it’s ability to put fear into the hearts of the opposition. This midfield kick gains such altitude and comes down with such speed, that opposing players grimace when trying to catch it.

How many dudes that you know can hold a rugby ball with the power of their beard? I told you he was good...(Photo courtesy of the awesome http://www.thebeerproject.com by Jed Soane)

Coming soon… The Thirst XV reserves…

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The Totally Awesome New Zealand Craft Brewing Scene Part 2

So I left off in one of the better bars I’ve been to for ages, The Malthouse in Wellington, talking about the joys of the hop-bomb IPAs, Epic Armageddon and 8 Wired HopWired. Brewers Luke Nicholas and Soren Eriksen had proven that they were Hop Magicians but I was ready for something else to tantalise my already tingling tastebuds.

A couple of Moa beers appeared on the table (don’t you love how that happens!) and we cracked them open. Earlier in my trip I’d tried one of Moa’s brews called Weka Lager.

Kind of like the NZ bird of the same name, but wetter and maltier

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t massively impressed by this beer, even though it was well-made. It poured a hazy yellow-brown and had the tiniest hint of vanilla on the nose with a bit of toffee and caramel in the mouth. The bitterness was light, but persistent and there was quite a bit of top-palate dryness, something I recall from the Moa Original that I tried on my last trip home. The Weka was a decent malt-led lager but I just wanted a little more hop, there was the smallest hint of orange there, but it wasn’t the greatest lager I tasted on my trip home.

Saying that though, Moa seem like a pretty cool brewery and are doing some fascinating stuff. The Moa range uses quite a unique process for their bottle refermentation. Usually bottle conditioning results from residual yeast in the bottle fermenting out residual (or added) sugars in the beer, providing natural carbonation. Josh Scott, Moa’s Head Brewer (and a winemaker to boot) does a standard refermentation, but then utilises the technology that is used in Champagne production, freezes the yeast plug (that accumulates in the neck of the bottle when upside down), pops it out, re-caps it then it’s good to go. This means you get all the sensory pleasure that the subtle, smooth natural carbonation gives without the yeast in the bottom of the bottle. How cool is that!

I’d heard that Moa beers were getting better and better, so was super excited that the two beers that had appeared on my table at the Malthouse were Harvest Moa and 5 Hop Barrel Reserve Moa. The Harvest is described as a wheat beer based lager and a natural cherry extract is added to give it a hint of fruit. The brew gave off a lovely perfumed, almost shampoo like aroma followed by a massive intensely floral hit. This was followed by a little mixed berry character and the tiniest hint of sulphur, which was nice. It was extremely clean in the mouth with a touch of mineral and little discernible malt (not necessarily a bad thing, as this was a great drinking beer). It finished really clean with the slightest hint of astringency. I was happy!

I was even happier after trying the 5 Hop Barrel Reserve! This poured a light copper colour and had a lovely tight, white foam head. The nose showed some similar mineral character that I had picked up in the Harvest but this was overpowered by some lovely dry fruit and rich coconut when in the mouth. It finished with some well integrated light vanilla subtleties and a touch of white chocolate. At 6% it showed little alcohol in the finish and just the smallest amount of acidity. It was a well balanced acidity nonetheless and something I sometimes notice in barrel aged brews.

My vision was beginning to blur slightly by now, so my camera sympathised...

Yeastie Boys’ Stu McKinlay then appeared with a glass of Invercargill Brewery‘s Smokin’ Bishop. Holy guacamole, was this a good beer! Gentle smokiness wafted from the glass and I was amazed at the sheer smoothness of the beer. Bourbon notes, all rich and caramel were followed by a slightly biscuity finish and just like that, I was in love. A 7% Bamberg style smoked bock from NZ’s southern-most brewery had won me over… I always have been a sucker for a dark malty brew though.  The Malthouse’s Colin Mallon then appeared with a couple of bottles of Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black, a beer I’d heard loads about and was eager to try. It was brilliant! A slight yet smooth citrus hop character, decadent caramel undertones and more smoothness, all mellow and gentle and luscious in the swallow. Stu brews this porter at then Invercargill Brewery and it did make me wonder if there’s something in the water down south, as both beers I’d tasted from the brewery were wicked!

My night of beer over, it was off for a late night kebab (something I’d never done in NZ before!!) with my mates and home for a kip in preparation for my flight south to Nelson in the morning.

To me Nelson means one thing and that is hops. So following that reasoning, I hoped that with hops would be beer and I wasn’t to be disappointed! Upon arriving and being picked up by Catherine’s brother we cruised to one of the Sprig and Fern taverns. Brewed just out of Nelson in Richmond, the Sprig and Fern do a great range of beers, from Pilseners to strong lagers to pale ales to bitters to stouts and porters, even Doppelbocks and ciders! The Milton Street pub was fantastic, it’s interior akin to a light, sun-filled, airy house, a super-relaxed yet buzzing Friday afternoon atmosphere and a great line-up of draught Sprig and Fern beer on the bar. I cracked into a 6.5% Tasman Lager and was instantly impressed. Hints of fruity, almost Nelson Sauvin-like hop, impressively clean and crisp with just the tiniest touch of that fresh sweat/gooseberry goodness that you can also find on the regions Sauvignon Blancs. The mild finish tantalised with a lick of bitterness and suddenly all was good in the world. I had a sip of Cat’s Ginger Lager, all buckets of earthy ginger root with ginger everywhere… in the swallow, in the burp, the works! It helped by not being too sweet and the flavour kept developing long after the swallow which was cool. Their Pilsener was nice and clean, not too much hop on the nose though with some nice biscuity and dry malty notes and a hint of caramel that worked well. A hint more bitterness wouldn’t have gone astray but another well built brew. Next I had a quick sip of Cat’s brother, Craig’s Three Berries Cider. It was delicious with buckets of boysenberry character on the sniff and a lovely apple cider mouth. They’re talking about 2010 being the Year of Cider in NZ and with brews like this one, I think they might be right!

With a surname like Mueller of course they're gonna love those European style beers!

Last up Craig and I went for an 8% Doppelbock and it was divine. Deep brown with a light tan head. Rich malt, chocolate and caramel perfume, smooth, and nutty in the mouth, lashings of molasses and the tiniest touch of liquorice. This was delectable and velvety and finished slightly sweet with a little hazelnut and a touch of grassy hop. Definitely one of the best I’ve tried. It sure put a grin on my face!

Doppelbockalicious

We decided to bust a move over the hills from Nelson to Takaka to head to the beach, check out a couple of brewpubs and somewhere inbetween catch a salmon at a little salmon-catchy place where the kind folk then fillet and smoke it for you while you wait . Yeah, I know… it’s not the challenge of river fishing, but it was bloody tasty!

Before twisting our way up the Takaka hill, we passed fields and fields of my favourite plant in the world… hops!

Hundreds of flowers waiting to martyr themselves in the name of their god.. the Pint

We headed to the famous Mussel Inn as I was keen to try their well-known Captain Cooker, a beer brewed using the leaves of a small native New Zealand tree called Manuka as part of the process. It was a beautiful day and this hazy copper brew went down a treat with it’s herbal Manuka and lavender character dominating the nose and refreshing the mouth, followed closely by a distinct all-mouth bitternes. The Manuka slightly number my tongue and their was a bit of lemon and propolis lozenge character in the finish. It was a unique and interesting beer. Their Golden Goose was a nice lager with a touch of kiwifruit and gooseberry with little flecks of caramel and honey. It was a tad on the dry side and it’s lack of bitterness made for great drinkability. More gooseberry came through in the finish and then a touch of residual sweetness appeared out of nowhere which was nice.

We also checked out the sacred Te Waikoropupu springs where some of the clearest water in the world erupts from underground springs. It was a fantastic place with tourists everywhere and some big happy brown trout lazing around in the pools. The water itself is tapu (sacred) and reputed to have healing properties. I reckon it would make a fantastic beer!!!

I reckon that watercress would go well with some pork bones in a good ol' Kiwi boil-up!!

Things had almost begun to get a little un-beery until Craig surprised me on the way home with a little side trip to Mapua in Golden Bay (just out of Nelson) where we visited the Golden Bear Brewery and had a lovely American-inspired pint of a 5.85% Patriots Pale. Run by Californian expat Jim Matranga, I was expecting big things with this beer and it didn’t disappoint. He used Sticklebract and Nelson Sauvin as well as hop extract in the brew. It poured a deep red-brown colour with a thick, creamy white head. Hints of passionfruit came through with a little lemon, some sherbert and a finishing nuttiness. The bitterness was long and lasting. I’ve written in my tasting notes that it was lush… and it was! I love brewpubs!

How's that for a cool looking brew kit!!!

Our trip South almost over, we prepared ourselves for our flight back to the North Island and our drive up to the Hawkes Bay. But that, and my trip to Auckland, an Epic brew day and some great fishing up North can wait for another day!

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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