Thursday, March 6, 2008

Auckland Trip Part 1: Galbraith’s Ale House

When I stay in Auckland I stay in a backpacker called Bamber House in Mt Eden a large central city suburb which is known for housing one of Auckland’s major sporting venues, a large almost medieval looking prison, a mix of working class tenements and large expensive 1900’s villas and the best pub in the country. Yes the Twisted Hop in Christchurch comes close and the Inch Bar in Dunedin is certainly a fantastic local but for my money ‘The Braith’ still takes the top slot.

I walked into Galbraith’s on Thursday shortly after touching down in Auckland. I was counting on a pint or two and a meal, with perhaps a word to Ian the Brewer before retiring to my backpacker to return that evening to meet with Martin Bridges. Instead I walked straight in to see Luke Nicholas, brewer of Epic Pale Ale, and Keith Galbraith the landlord. I then proceeded to enjoy an afternoon session which stretched out to meet the evening, with me finally stumbling home an hour of two before closing to inflict my drunken snoring on a dorm room of young Irish girls. Inevitably I returned for dinner the next day and lunch and dinner the day after soaking up as much Galbraith’s as I possibly could in my short time in Auckland. By the last day the staff were commenting on my recurring presence.

The Beer

It was at Galbraith’s that I tasted my first ever pint of real ale. Back then the sudden rush of complex flavour presented in such an utterly drinkable format changed my ideas about beer and irreversibly changed the direction my life has taken. Back then the Galbraith’s beers were the best beer I had ever tasted, I had nothing to compare them to and I certainly had not started brewing and conditioning my own real ale.

So how did the beers fare with the benefit of a little knowledge?

Bob Hudson’s the pale ordinary bitter that I would nominate for my desert island beer was good on the first day although had a very grassy aroma when served through the sparkler, when served ‘au natural’ or ‘without bling’ as a certain Nelson bar woman puts it, the complex stone and citrus fruit shone through over a gentle morish pale malt background.

Bellringers is the staple best bitter which is Galbraith’s flagship product. Fittingly it is always the most consistent. It’s a beer which manages to sit in the balance between rich complex crystal malt flavour and assertive earthy hop character, the casks are dry hopped and accordingly you get varying levels of ‘raw’ hop character depending on how long the dry hop has been in contact. It’s a complex and satisfying pint but one which I seldom can session on as the dry hop certainly builds in the palate.

Bitter and Twisted is Galbraith’s take on an E.S.B. Bitter and Twisted is an exceptionally hoppy and bitter yet also richly malty interpretation of the style. A revelation when it’s fresh, I suspect the summer months mark a significant down turn in the sales of this warming beer and the pints I had while certainly of saleable quality were marked by a dulling of the hop profile and a bit of autolysis on the palate.

Finally the Grafton Porter fills the dark beer slot in the Galbraith’s range. Grafton Porter is full of intense roast malt flavour, almost like chewing roast grain before you have mashed it. The full on roast character mark this beer out as one which appeals to some such as Stu and not to others such as Greig, I’m probably in the middle somewhere but you definitely need to be in the mood for roast character.

All the beers varied in condition across the 3 days as you would expect with cask conditioned beer. However I would agree with those who feel that in general a touch higher level of carbonation would be good. On the third day my first pint of Bob Hudson’s Bitter was I suspect from a new cask. The barwoman was having trouble pouring it even with the sparkler removed and I ended up with a spectacular pint full of condition and with its hop profile intact.

The Pub

Despite the fact that Galbraith’s is obviously a destination pub, drawing beer fanatics from all across the country, it is also a local. The best bitter Bellringer is named after a bunch of Bellringers who used to frequent the bar. There is often a community feel with friendly after work drinks occurring over pint and the odd family having a meal. I always feel comfortable pulling up a chair and having a pint with a book on my own, just as I love being there with group tying one on. On the Saturday we arrived before the doors had opened and were left waiting on the door step where I saw a fantastic sight, one which others may think terrible. Slowly assembling were a group of middle aged gentlemen in anoraks and walk shorts, one even sported a pirates eye patch, all of them had glass flagons ready to be filled from the cask. Eccentricity in all its glory.



14 comments:

Greig McGill said...

Great write-up Kieran. I must agree, it sure did look like a CAMRA members convention on Saturday morning. I'm on your side there though, great to see!

Paul Garrard said...

Looks and sounds a great place. You can have too much carbonation you know, think I'd prefer to err on the side of flat.

You can't beat a good eccentric - they need to be encouraged, despite my oft mocking of them.

Luke Nicholas said...

Kieran it was good to catch up. Just a quickie for future reference surname spelled "Nicholas". Well done with working your way through each beer and the photos are good too.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Apologies Luke. I'm a habitual mis speller.

Paul, I agree to a point, however cask beer should have some condition in it, 1.1 volumes. With a small amount of carbonation the beer feels better in the mouth, and will form a small head without need of as dreaded sparkler.

Jason Dittle said...
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Sam Possenniskie said...

It's definitely #1 place for a drink in Auckland for me - and 2,3,4,5 and 6 as well! Interestingly, I have also noticed an increased variability in the ales since I returned from the UK, but maybe that is because of a more finely atuned palate. The Bitter & Twisted has the greatest variability I find, though the conditioning of a pair of pints Stu & I had a few weeks ago were about as good as cask ale gets. In perfect nick or not, they beat anything else around....

Sam