Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Last Toast - The Final Capital Times Column

I have reflected several times recently about how beer has changed in New Zealand over the last two or three decades, and for this my final column I’m going to do that again. In 1996 brewers like Pink Elephant , Whitecliff’s, Emerson’s, and Sunshine were just starting to see their beers sell beyond their cellar doors. Wellington was shaping up to be a potential market for these ‘weird and wacky’ beers that had discernible flavours and aromas. However, we were a long way from where the Craft Beer Capital is today. Most of the beer consumed at the time was neither thought about nor, if I am honest, worth thinking about.  The extent to which that has changed and is still changing is staggering. Wine culture was in a state of heady growth with wine columns appearing in newspapers up and down the land, while it was accepted by publishers and editors that there was nothing worth writing about beer and no one wanting to read it. It was into this environment that the Capital Times made the decision to start a beer column.  One simple decision that along with pioneering bars like Bodega, The Malthouse and Tupelo and retailers like Regional Wines laid the foundations for the beer crazy city we live in today.  The Ale and Arty column was the first of its kind in New Zealand and now 17 years later is New Zealand’s oldest. Between Geoff Griggs, Aaron Watson and myself we have played a part in educating about, and advocating for, good beer in this town.  Hopefully we have managed to entertain as well. I’m proud of the part I have played. It has been a fantastic  4 years, and while sometimes it has been hard finding the time in a busy life to write each week, it has never been hard to come up with things to write about. In many ways my part of the last 17 years has been the easiest because the beer world is now so active that there is far too much going on to cover in one weekly column.  The trick has been in deciding what has to be left out rather than struggling to find something to write about. For me the future is exciting. I am increasingly taking a role in producing beers rather than just writing about them and soon I hope to be helping to spread good beer up the coast from Wellington with a new venture in Kapiti. Anyone wanting to continue reading my thoughts on beer can follow me on twitter: @southstarbrew.
Finally I would like to propose a toast, firstly to Alison and John for having the vision to commission this column when no one else would, secondly to the brewers who toil away making beers that are not only worth drinking but also worth thinking and writing about, thirdly to Geoff Griggs and Aaron Watson 17 years is a big achievement,  one we should be proud of, and finally to you the drinker and reader , without the demand you create for flavourful and characterful beer our social and gastronomic culture would be all the poorer! Cheers! Over and Out. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Golden Pints 2012

Best Local draught beer: Galbraith’s Hobson’s IPA, an awesomely drinkable and complex IPA of the old school type that doesn’t favour hop aroma over all else.

Runner up 8 Wired Haywired Wheat Ale. A great example of an emerging style. Hoppy, complex and refreshing.

Best Local packaged beer: Townshend’s Flemish Stout , a beguiling combination tart vinous Flemish sour ale flavours and a big rich satisfying stout. Original and bloody marvellous.

Runner up Yeastie Boys nevaRRaven , a big rich strong beer that defies being pigeon holed. Part black IPA , part Black Barleywine, totally awesome. 

Best Overseas packaged: Dupont Moinette Blond , a complex blend of spicy ferment character, bright hops all backed up by a firm malt backbone, big flavours in perfect balance.

Runner up Fullers Past Master Double Stout , big rich and roasty, another chapter from the history books.

Best Overall Beer: Well as always it’s hard, I think best overall beer should be a one off beer drinking experience that was special. There have been a few this year. My celebratory Duchess de Bourgogne at LBQ with the Emerson’s crew after winning the trophy at the BGNZ Awards was pretty special. Also sharing the gloriously bonkers Thorogoods Billy Bs Dark Malted Apple Beer with Martin Townshend at the picnic table outside his brewery.

Best Pumpclips: Ok , totally self congratulating but I totally love the Southstar Sceptred Warrior pump clip worked up for me by Ryan McArthur. The Winston’s are pure Dr Who.

Best NZ Brewery: It has to be Galbraith’s , they are still producing drinkable, complex, aromatic beers that leave most others for dust.

Runner up Townshend’s , Martin is seriously hitting his strides , his reserve range has offered up some wonderful gems this year with the Stout a high point.

Best New Brewery: This really has to go to Parrotdog, three young relatively inexperienced dudes called Matt suddenly have command of a 24 HL Brewhouse , now my money was on the beers being pretty ropy, in fact they are the best they ever have been!  Good work!

Best Overseas Brewery: Fullers. My desert island brewery. Awesome house yeast, awesome beers, and a great diverse range. They do what many family brewers should, keep things interesting. No change from last year, they still rock my world.

Pub/Bar of the Year: There haven’t been to many pub visits this year, times are tough. But I did make it to Galbraith’s and it was awesome as ever. It would be a toss up between Braith’s and The Hop Garden I reckon.

Beer Festival of the Year: Beervana passed as a blur this year as I worked through all sessions, I’m sure it was awesome. I really enjoyed SOBA Winter Ales Fest I think this year’s festival was a cracker.

Im going to pass on the Retailer Questions , the answers are to loaded for me.

Best Beer Book/Mag: I very much enjoyed Pete Brown’s Three Sheets to the Wind which I read recently. I’m looking forward to Shakespeare’s Local.  Mag wise Pursuit of Hoppyness just keeps getting better and better.

Best Blog: The local Blog scene has changed. Beer for a Year shut up shop when the year was up, Phil is well and truly to busy to contribute very often. Jono Galuszka has started one from a homebrew view point. I haven’t really found time to read it yet. Boak and Baily are definitely my most read blog, probably followed by Tandleman. Its always good to read some sparkler propaganda to keep the blood pumping.

Best tweeter: Martin Townshend, blunt , down to earth and when he is drunk brutal, but refreshing for all that. Ironically I think he may have just given it up.

Best Online Brewery Presence: Garage Project , great promotion and web presence.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Stichelton with Renaissance Tribute. Outstanding.

Best event of the Year: I have missed so many this year. Everything seems to be on a Weds when I’m at work. I enjoyed to Old World IPA Challenge although it was pretty low key.

What I'd like to do in 2013: Southstar has finally become a thing, hopefully by this time next year it will be a little more.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Congratulations Richard

So over the last week some pretty big news has dropped. ‘Our’ iconic and pioneering craft brewery Emerson’s Brewing Co has been sold to Lion Breweries. I have a column out next week so while I don’t want to scoop myself I do want to express my views on the sale. The news has predictably resulted in an out pouring of grief and feelings of betrayal from many corners, an understandable but in my view knee jerk reaction.  For those of us who want to see craft beer in this country grow the sale offers some great potential, and for Emerson’s some great benefits and some great risks.
On the positive this will allow Emerson’s to grow, it will offer the potential for Emerson’s to crack the Auckland market, we will soon possibly be able to walk into Lion bars that previously had a Macs Hoprocker in the fridge as a ‘craft’ option and buy Emerson’s Pilsner or Booky , perhaps even from the tap. At a bigger picture it really shows that craft is now a big enough ‘thing’ that the big boys can’t keep ignoring it, and they can’t just come up with beers on their own to crack the craft segments. The deal is that Emerson’s will be run as an autonomous business and Richard assures me that the company will still be run by himself with creative control residing in his hands. If this pans out then it shows that Lion realise the best way to succeed at craft is to let a craft brewer do it. This brings me to the risk to Emersons. There are many stories of breweries being taken over and ruined.  Just because Lion says this, does not mean it will actually pan out.  But if they do meddle , and dumb down and fill the brand with bullshit then they will have ruined their own investment. For Richard , his mother and the other shareholders who have invested through the years to make Emersons what it is today I say ‘Congratulations’ the return on your investment , whatever that is , is most deserved. When I heard the news I texted Richard and congratulated him, I knew he would be getting flak from many and despite my conflicted reaction wanted to be positive.  More than that I think I am positive.
I have both a personal, professional and emotional connection to the Emerson’s Brewery and the people who work there. If Lion fuck it up I will be heartbroken, but for now I remain cautiously optimistic.  

Picture used courtesy of Jed Soane and www.TheBeerProject.com all rights remain with him.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

CT Column 11/04/2012 : Fusion (unedited)

Last week I had occasion to visit Taranaki St cult beer bar Hashigo Zake. After a couple of beers I ordered myself one of the bar’s fantastic Beef Rendang Pies.  One of the party I was drinking with commented that the pie smelt amazing. When I told her what it was she replied that she didn’t believe in fusion cooking, pies should be mince and cheese and Rendang should come with rice. At the time I retorted that I thought it was admirable that Hashigo had taken the limitations of a small kitchen and had innovated using slow cookers and pie maker machines to craft tasty and appropriate bar snacks that work wonderfully with the beers they sell. But afterwards I began to mull over the implications of what she had said. Her opinion is one that you hear quite often, the argument goes that fusing different traditions results in the dumbing down of both.  It’s a position that gets argued in the world of beer as well as in the world of food and in my opinion is utter rubbish. For a start the foods we eat and the beers we drink didn’t just appear fully formed and ready to be defended as traditional and proper, rather they developed as a result of different traditions meeting and sharing ingredients and processes. Today that would be called fusion. For instance without the influence of South America via the Spanish, Italian cuisine wouldn’t feature tomatoes at all just as without the influence of the British maltsters who first created pale malt, European lagers would all still be brown. Neither is it the case that this fusing of ideas necessarily results in a dumb product. A skilled brewer , just like a skilled chef, can master different traditions and styles and then blend them in a way that creates something new, exciting and complex. At the moment the craft beer world is ripe with new styles of beer being created. American wheat beers are meeting American Pale Ales (8 Wired Haywired), Porters are meeting American Pale Ales (Croucher Patriot) Saison’s are meeting English Strong Ales (Yeastie Boys Red Rackham) and of course golden ale meets single malt whiskey (Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude). These beers are made by brewers who understand what the styles of beer they are fusing are about and use that knowledge to create something new. Incidentally the pies at Hashigo Zake are also skilfully crafted with a range of revolving fillings like pork and chorizo, venison vindaloo, Goat Panang, Moroccan Vegetable, and Thai Pork. There’s nothing dumb about them.   

CT Column 07/03/12: Destruction, Vitality and Rebirth (unedited)

Last week I travelled to Christchurch for the first time since the devastating earth quakes that have drastically changed the city. I visited the garden city to run a series of tastings and to work at the Great Kiwi Beer Festival that was held at Hagley Park. Like most recent visitors to Christchurch human nature led me to explore the edges of the devastated CBD. The suburban streets on the outskirts of the CBD resembled a city fallen on hard-times like Detroit, with every fifth property an overgrown empty section and every third or fourth holding wounded red stickered houses that are still awaiting their fate. Further in towards the Red Zone the scene becomes more like those from London during the Blitz. Piles of brick lie where buildings once were, office floors lay ripped open displaying desks, PC’s and filing cabinets to the elements, landmarks I once knew are now holes in the ground, tributes to the dead line the red zone barriers and makeshift outdoor congregations have been gathered together from picnic furniture and tents on the foundations that once were churches resembling scenes from 19th century missionary work. There are very few people around making the city eerily quiet however there is the constant sound of bulldozers and jackhammers as the demolition crews go about their work. The brewing community has not gone untouched with the Dux de Lux damaged and closed behind the Red Zone, the Twisted Hop sits stranded, visible from the barrier now an almost lone edifice amongst a bulldozed block, Harrington’s have lost one brewery and are going to have to relocate from their existing one. Three Boys also have a relocation on the cards as their building requires repair work that is worth more than the building itself.
All is not doom and gloom however, there is a lot of rebirth going on. The Cassel family has set up a thriving brewpub across the road from the Three Boys Brewery. The Brewery as it’s called is a hub of activity with a pizza oven constructed from an old brewing vessel , a wood fired kettle, fermentors and bar all crammed into one long thin space. I visited on a Friday night and the place was absolutely pumping. Cassels brew a range of English style cask ales and German style lagers, my picks would be the smooth Milk Stout and the Alchemist Golden Ale, a hoppy mid gold bitter that accompanied my salmon pizza perfectly.
Across the road Three Boys are contemplating their move which in the long run will allow them to expand their plant. A number of oak barrels are currently sitting in the brewhouse waiting to be filled by something tasty. Three Boys Brewer Ralph Bungard also gave me a taste of an amber ale that combined tangy Fuggels hops with complex dark malts resulting in a wonderfully tasty session ale that might be brewed for keg release soon.
Pomeroy’s Old Brewery Inn is located on Kilmore Street at the edge of the CBD. Pomeroy’s has the feel of an old English pub and combines the traditional services of serving good beer, good food and good accommodation. I stayed at the thriving Family run business while I was in Christchurch and trade was brisk all weekend. Pomeroy’s is located on the site of the historic Wards brewery. The earth quakes have destroyed the old brew house and maltings but the pub at the front stands firm. In a quirk of fate now that the old brewery has crumbled the Pomeroy family are reintroducing brewing to the property with the Four Avenues Brewing Company going into a shed at the rear of the pub. The brewery will primarily produce beers for contract brewers but will also produce beers under the Beer Baroness brand the creation of manager and owner Ava Brown.
While the original Twisted Hop sits stranded within the Red Zone, owners Martin Bennett and Stephen Hardman have managed to extract their plant and install it in an industrial unit in Wigram. The brewery is light and sunny and positively roomy compared to the cramped confines of the old Twisted Hop. New bars are planned for Woolston and Lincoln with both going into new purpose built buildings. A larger new brew plant is on its way and when it arrives the old Twisted Hop plant will go into the Lincoln pub which will brew some of its own beer.
One thing I noted everywhere I went was that people were friendly, enthusiastic and optimistic, Christchurch has taken one hell of a knock but the population seems to be all the stronger for it. The old Christchurch is gone but there is a bright new one coming.

CT Column 28/03/2012 : Suburban industry

Last week I wrote about my trip to the Taranaki as a guest of mikes brewery. While I was there I managed to pop in on the Naki’s other craft brewer Liberty Brewing Co. Liberty Brewing began as a Wellington based home brew supply company owned and operated by Yeastie Boy Stu McKinlay and Revolution Brewing Co founder Brendon Mackenzie. They sold the company to New Plymouth based Joseph and Christina Wood who built it up until they were able to enter the brewing industry.

The Liberty Brewery is located in the garage of the family home in a suburban street in New Plymouth.  Joseph’s 300L brewery is shoe horned into the family garage which conveniently had a vehicle inspection pit that was converted into a drain. When we visited, Joseph was away brewing a collaboration brew at Galbraith’s Ale House in Auckland so we were shown around by Cristina ably assisted by toddlers Jackson and Poppy. This was a brewery tour that perfectly summed up the cottage industry nature of the business.

Liberty has carved out a name for itself brewing strong flavourful beers that are either sold on tap or in large 750ml bottles with zorg stoppers. While there we tasted the dazzlingly hoppy double IPA C!TRA that masterfully matches a huge hop driven aroma of citrus, and tropical fruit with a palate that offers buckets of hop flavour without much obvious bitterness.

We also tasted a trial batch of a sour red ale that is perhaps one of the most exciting Kiwi beers I have had in a long time, sour, tangy and bursting with refreshing salty passionfruit acidity. I hope Joseph finds a way to produce it commercially.

Another Liberty beer that has me excited is the wonderfully named High Carb Ale. Combining rich raisiny malt, zesty tangy hop flavours and a long rich finish, High Carb Ale is the sort of beer that makes our early plunge into wintry weather worth it.  

At 300L the Liberty brewery is only just bigger than a home brewery and has already grown since launching last year. I suspect the real challenge will be when Joseph has to make the decision to either grow and give up his day job or cap production, something that will be hard to do at a time when demand for his beers is constantly growing. I hope he find a way to grow.


CT Column 22/03/2012: South of Cuba, north of Wakefield

I have always lived south of Cuba Street and north of Wakefield Park. I’m a Wellingtonian born and bred. However there are other places that tempt me. Nelson with its misty autumns and characterful brewers has a claim on my heart, Dunedin with its frosty winters and warm cosy ale houses could suit me to a tee, and Taranaki with its rolling west coast, stunning scenery and diverse brewers could easily feel like home.

It was in this last location that I found myself a fortnight ago. I was the guest of the White Cliffs Brewery which is more widely known as mikes. White Cliffs is one of the country’s oldest craft brewers having been brewing for well over 20 years. The brewery is set in an idyllic piece of country above a series of white cliffs just outside of Urenui, north of New Plymouth.

Brewery, function centre and organic avocado orchard are all owned and operated by the Trigg family who originally hail from South Africa. The relentless force behind the company is Ron Trigg, a South African who was built for either the rugby field or the savannah and has a seemingly inexhaustible passion and enthusiasm for his beers. In fact Ron’s dedication now extends to actually living at the brewery.

When Ron took over the brewery there were two beers, mike’s Mild Ale the company’s flagship and Mountain Lager. Ron has since rebranded the beers to the much simpler Ale and Lager and has set about adding a host of other permanent and seasonal beers to the portfolio including a range of collaboration brews with fellow Taranaki brewery Liberty. My picks are the flagship mike’s Ale, a smooth chocolate tinged mild ale that’s both highly drinkable and flavoursome at a modest 4%abv, and the rich smooth Imperial Porter that takes a similar flavour profile but turns the volume up clocking in at 8%abv.

Taranaki Pale Ale is a collaboration between Liberty Breweries Jo Wood and Ron and presents a huge blast of grassy exotic fruity hop character with a caramel accented malt backbone. While I was there I was lucky enough to taste very special vintage porter that Ron has been working on. The beer started out as a chocolaty espresso tinged porter before being aged in barrels containing the wild yeast Brettanomyces. The resulting beer is a delicate balance of sweet malt, soft soothing mocha and earthy tangy wild notes, in my opinion it’s a triumph, look out for it on tap in the near future!