NZ Craft Beer TV – Through the Land of the Hurricanes*

As seems to be the case when you make a decision to drive 2000 kilometers (1242 miles) in 5 days, we found ourselves up bright and early for an interview with journalist Hadyn Green who was interested in the technology angle of NZ Craft Beer TV, our use of social media and the format that we were looking at for the show. We chatted and sipped juice and enjoyed our bacon and avocado rolls before heading off to Hashigo Zake to do a couple of interviews.

Wellington, the unofficial Craft Beer capital of New Zealand seems to have more and more bars that have a craft beer range popping up here and there. With less than two years under its belt, the Japanese themed Cult Beer Bar was launched by Dominic Kelly in response to his passion for craft beer. Having lived in Japan and enjoyed all that the vibrant East Asian craft beer scene has to offer, he saw an opening in Wellington with regard to the obvious love the capital city dwellers have for their great beer. He set up Hashigo Zake, which means “liquor ladder” and is a colloquial term for bar-hopping and the rest, as they say, is history.

The bar itself is impressive, set underground with Japanese prints, imagery and styling and the beer range is fantastic with a bunch from Japan’s Baird’s Brewing, a great range of New Zealand craft keg beers and a couple of hand-pumps for the pulling of traditional-style ales. The fridges also contain an impressive collection of foreign craft beer. From Mikeller through to Flying Dog, Rogue, Green Flash and Beer Republic, they know their bar and have even helped put a bunch of other bars by importing a refrigerated container of craft kegs from abroad and spreading the beery love.

We chatted a bit about the state of the industry and shared the common dream where every New Zealand city would develop a culture such as this. Nelson, Christchurch and Hamilton were following suit… here’s hoping other cities would to!

Stu McKinlay, one half of the impressive Yeastie Boys, rocked up with his turquoise trousers and t-shirt combo. Labelled New Zealand’s first ultra cool, post-modern brewers of leftfield ales. Stu and the other half of the creative partnership, Sam Possenniskie formed the brewery after years of home brewing and beer tasting. They wanted to brew without style guidelines holding them back and Stu passionately tells us of his inspirations. Being a big muss muso, he tells how music inspires him to brew. When he listens to certain songs, they remind him of flavors and aromas and he goes about creating the beer on the back of this in his 50 litre setup at home. Once pleased with the recipe, it is then brewed down at Invercargill Brewing and the kegs, casks and bottles of the brew make it nationwide.

It’s evident how much Stu loves beer. He talks animatedly about the beers as we taste them and we discuss the flavors and aromas and brewing techniques like old friends. Something I notice and have noticed throughout our travels is the advantage that home brewers often have over those that have trained in-house at a large brewery. The home brewers have had years of practice with different yeasts and malts and hops. They have been able to experiment on a small scale and taste the subtle differences that a slight change makes to their beers. They have the ability to coax characters from ingredients and processes through familiarity. Stu shows these skills in the beer we taste.

We crack into Europa and Rapture. The first a Kolsch-style ale and the second the exact same recipe but brewed with a Belgian yeast. Served on handpull, the temperature is perfect and it pushes the hops out of Europa. But the different yeast in Rapture has held the hops back and the estery, spicy nature of the yeast has come to the forefront. Refreshing and animated, a fascinating insight into the nature of yeast and the effect they can have on beer. We then try the beautifully bottled His Majesty 2010 and Her Majesty 2010. Stu changes these beers for each vintage based on his inspiration of the moment. The 2010 His Majesty touts Belgian complexity on the nose with hints of fruit cake, then comes through with hints of light caramel and luscious hop character, integrated into a smooth, lightly carbonated character. This beer drips with complexity. Stu mentions that the Majesty range seem to be best drunk within 6 months. I would still love to lay one of these babies down for a couple of years though.

Her Majesty 2010 moves away from the hops and heads into the land of yeast and malt. A waft of Belgian yeast character, all spicy and alluring balances in with a banana-caramel note. Spice, velvety fruitcake and sweet malt, it hints at a rich, creamy porter and a Belgian Dubbel at the same time. A mishmash of flavours and styles, this is a perfect example as to why this should be done more often!

Wellington complete, we headed north towards Waikanae to check out Tuatara Brewery in Reikorangi. Tuatara are an impressive setup. Head Brewer Carl Vasta and wife Simone set up a 1200 litre brewery on their farm after Carl had stints as brewer for the Parrot & Jigger and Polar Brewing as well as acting as a brewery consultant. Ten years later, Tuatara is growing at an amazing rate. 2007 saw the installation of a German designed brewhouse and 2010 will see their capacity increased, enabling them to brew up to 10 000 litters per day.

Carl came into brewing as a trained electrician and built the first brewery by hand. A massive help to a working brewery, his practical skills have obviously been put to use, with tanks squeezed in to every available space in the buildings and a bottling line tucked into the old coolstore. Tuatara’s new brewer, Mike Neilson is also as passionate as his boss. Mike came into brewing an extremely talented home brewer. He won 5 medals in the first NZ Homebrew Championships he entered and he has that gleam in his eye that brewers seem to have. It’s evident that he is helping Tuatara push the boundaries with regard to the quality of their beer and production potential.

We sat in front of Carl’s house in the brilliant sunshine with Mike, Carl and Tuatara director, Sean Murrie and cracked their Pilsener. This is one hell of a beer. A beautiful balance of malt and hop, a bold, assertive, persistent mouth bitterness that jolted the tastebuds from their peaceful slumber. A drinkability that wowed me. This beer was superbly crafted, the malt used added body and richness and the NZ hops came through with hints of grass and flowers. This was perfectly executed and the ultimate beer to sup in the heat. We then had their new APA. Originally a seasonal release but due to popularity, likely to be seen a bit more often, this 5.8% Pale Ale is a hop bomb! An ode to the American-style Pale Ales, this makes the most of the resinous, citrus intensity of US hops. They literally jump out of the bottle and into your nose. The mouth fills with grapefruit, pine and tropical fruit character, the malty body balances out the big bitterness and to put it bluntly, this beer rocks! It’s great that Tuatara have such awesome market penetration as this allows beers like this to get out there to customers that might not have tasted them before. I really look forward to seeing more Tuatara beers out there in the future!

We headed up the West coast towards perhaps the mightiest province of them all, Taranaki (a little writer parochial bias there, perhaps?). Time wasn’t on our side and we arrived close to 8pm to catch up with home brewer extraordinaire, Joseph Wood. Jo and his wife, Christina run Liberty Brewing, an online homebrew supply service that has seen great success through providing high quality raw materials to avid brewers around the country. Jo is as passionate as hell, even if he can be a little self deprecating about his beers. To put it bluntly, the series of Belgian-style Tripels, Imperial Stouts, barrel-aged Flemish sour beers, Double IPAs, Witbiers and his latest Summer Ale were all either world class or bordering on world class. This guy can brew and every new bottle he pulled out wowed us more.

The good thing is that Jo has just built and installed his own 200 litre system in his garage, and is selling his beers through Hashigo Zake in Wellington and Hallertau Brewbar in Riverhead in Auckland. I urge you to go and try them, they’re amazing.

Jo cooked up a feed of fresh Paua (abalone) he had gone snorkeling for and we chatted away until late in the night. It was then off to park the camper at my Mum and Dad’s and another day was over!

*Hurricanes makes reference to the Wellington Hurricanes, a Super Rugby team made up of players from (amongst other provinces) Wellington, Horowhenua-Kapiti and Taranaki

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!!!

 

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