Thursday, November 29, 2007


Not only did we win Beer Options tonight, but we did it by a very healthy margin, The destiny of our passionate squad has been forfulled, raise the pewter pint!! come sunday we will be drinking from the cup...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Pint of Lager

Recently on John’s Blog I took part in a discussion on his attempts to brew a lager. I have never had the desire to brew lager, and I have little in the way of desire to drink them. When the boys and myself go away on road trips, the beers are always counted and categorised into either ales or lagers and at the end he who has drunk the most lager is proclaimed lager boy and presented with some derogatory trophy, the rights and rituals of the modern man eh?

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not one of these chaps who only thinks of lager as a pint of (insert what’s relevant to you Fosters-Export Gold-Budweiser-VB).

While I haven’t been to Franconia or the Czech Republic I have tried a wide range of styles, I have judged lagers at two international beer competitions and I have been to many tastings dedicated to bottom fermentors.

So why don’t I like Lager? My biggest issue with lager fermentation is that is sets out to avoid the rounding fruity esters that ale fermentation ideally produces. For the same reason I am often less than wild over the use of American ale yeasts which also strive to be neutral and clean of esters allowing the assertive American hops to reign. I like fruity esters, I like the complexity that ale fermentations create.

The other night while thinking of this post I decided to taste 2 lagers and one rather odd English beer that I suppose would fall into something of hybrid class.

Wanaka Beer Works Brewski 4.8% ABV New World Pilsner

Brewski is my lager, it’s the one bottom fermented beer that I would regularly part with cash for. I bought a bottle for this tasting and while it was good it wasn’t great or nearly as fantastic as it usually is. Instead of using the medioca tasting notes I have decided to use the ones I wrote when I tasted it at the brewery.

Tasted at the Brewery feb 06 - Pours a bright golden with a healthy white head. Definite but also subtle spicy fruity hop aromas that beguile the nose, hinting at berry fruit and grass but never giving it all away. Fresh malt also makes an aromatic flash. On the palate there is an outstanding balance between fresh sweet malt, fruity hop notes and a satisfying moderate bitterness. Top stuff. To leave such an impression on a non lager drinker it must be good.

Daleside Blond Lagered Ale 4.3%ABV Blond Hybrid

This beer took my interest in large part due to the curious things that were mentioned on its label. The beer was advertised as a lagered ale which seemed to explain pretty well how it had been produced. However then the blurb went on to say “Both beer and lager drinkers will enjoy the complexity of a traditional beer with the mellowness of a premium lager.” As much as I dislike lager even I have to admit that it is in fact beer, oh well on with tasting.

Pours a light brilliant gold with a fluffy white head. The aroma features a tangy light struck note, sweet candi esters, and a touch of resiny slightly oxidised hop. On the palate there is sweet grainy malt, a slight touch of corn, confected fruit, fading to a gentile bitterness. Not the greatest English blond I have ever had but perhaps it would be better fresh and not bottled clear.

Emerson’s Organic Pilsner 4.9% ABV New World Pilsner

This beer could probably be considered the star of NZ craft brewing scene. Its Richard Emerson’s biggest selling beer and a good entry level beer to those who are used to more mainstream lagers. I have never been fond of this one but I must admit it was tasting pretty good the other night.

Pours a light gold with a fluffy white head. Aroma features grainy pale malt, a touch of sweet fruit, but is dominated by a bready character. On the palate there is sweet malt, a grassy character similar to sauvignon Blanc or my granddads garden shed. Ends on a lingering grassy bitterness. Certainly not Richards best beer, but his biggest seller and I can see why that is so.

Right now for a pint of bitter…

Will victory be ours?

This Thursday Beer Options, the final event of the Regional Wines and Spirits beer tasting calendar, rolls out. Beer Options is a huge beer quiz where beers are served blind and multiple choice questions are asked about the beer in your glass. Teams are formed and rivalry is rife!

Last year my team had two training sessions and went in with high expectations, our goal was to beat local drinking personality Tosh’s team. We achieved that but not much else.

This year we have a slightly altered team, in part due to substitutions, in part due to players being overseas. Wednesday we have a training session where I’m sure the strength of the squad will become clear, wish us luck.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Pint and a Book , marriage made in heaven.

“The yeasty fruitiness, suggestion of sweetness in the Pale Ale malt and the hoppy acidity attain a height of complexity”

That’s how the late Michael Jackson described a cask conditioned English bitter when the cask is at its peak. Well that’s exactly how I would describe the pints of O.S.B. I drank tonight while reading the new book from Mr Jackson, the “Eyewitness Companions Beer”.

This corny-cask of O.S.B. is just coming to the end and its tasting brilliant. The hops are just starting mellow, there is the faintest touch of sour acidity, the malt sweetness is just peaking through on the palate, before a firm bitterness begs another sip, and then another pint. The changes from when the corny was first tapped are staggering, this is the magic that turns perfectly normal people into real ale obsessives.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bar Edward- My Lost Local

Every now and then the topic of the local arises on beer blogs. When ever this happens I feel a tinge of sadness that the best I can do is the bar in my lounge, now this of course isn’t all bad, friends come round on Thursday nights, and the bar is used by flatmates for drinking and eating the rest of the time, the beer is pretty good and if its not there’s only myself to blame and at the end of a session I have a treacherous 5 metre journey to my bed. It is however not the same as a real local where you have the potential to meet new people and rub shoulders with those you wouldn’t normally.

I did used to have a local, one of the best in the country. Before buying my house in the hills I used to live in Newtown, a formally working class suburb of Wellington that over the years has experienced some gentrification and now boasts an ethnically diverse melting pot of students, council tenement residents, young professionals and mental patients. In the middle of all this fusion sits Bar Edward, a free house pouring a wide range of beer from New Zealand’s top independent breweries. I returned to Bar Ed last night for the monthly Society Of Beer Advocates pub meet, it felt good to be back.

When I first moved to Newtown Bar Ed was just finding its feet, but already Emerson’s Bookbinder was on tap along side the characterless national Montieths brands from DB. Soon the number of taps was increased and the DB beers disappeared. Today you can walk in on any given day and find beers from Emerson’s, Tuatara, Founders, and Invercargill Brewing Company on tap. The bottled selection includes several vintages of Thomas Hardy’s Ale, a range of Belgians and many bottled New Zealand beers.

Beer alone of course doesn’t make a local. Bar Edward has a chilled out atmosphere most the time where people come for a drink and a chat, or just to watch a big game in the company of ones neighbours rather than in the solitude of the lounge.

After walking up to the Rice Bowl Chinese Takeaway last night for my post session sweet and sour, the sky erupted in monsoon like rain and thunder and lightning, I couldn’t help but think had I still lived around the corner I would have been dry in bed by now.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Cheese of the Month November, Te Mata Irongate

This month I have decided to cover one of my favourite New Zealand cheeses, Irongate the washed rind cheese from Te Mata in the Hawesbay. One of the exciting things about Irongate is that it has grown to be my biggest selling line from Te Mata outstripping the sales of even their brie. This is despite the fact that the washed rind style is a pretty full on acquired taste. Much like I find the fact that the Invercargill Brewing Co sells more stout than lager I find this development to be an extremely encouraging sign about how the New Zealand food market is maturing.

Anyway enough with the ideology, on with the cheese.

Irongate is roughly in the style of a Normandy soft washed rind cheese such as Pont-lEveque, or Livarot. Washed rind means that the surface of the cheese has been wiped or washed with a brine, beer or brandy solution which then creates an environment conducive to the growth of Brevibacterium linens an orange mould which creates an incredibly complex array of fruity, funky yeasty, sometimes vegetal, flavours and aromas.

Irongate is washed with brine and leaves the cheese plant with a firm texture and just the faintest hint of brick coloured mould starting to develop on its rind. Once I receive the cheese I store it for one to two weeks in the climate controlled Fromagerie where the rind turns a deep brick red and the body ripens till it starts to run. The cheese is then cut, wrapped and sold, some customers (like myself) will then store the cheese for another fortnight or so till it’s at its rather intense peak.

When Irongate is young it has a delicate fruity yeasty aroma and rich savoury flavour, as it ages the aroma becomes more cabbage-like, palate more creamy and the flavour sharper. I often serve Irongate at the bar on Thursdays (that’s when the boys come round) with crackers and sweet mango chutney. Strong funky Belgian Ales match it well, although an English Barley Wine or Old Ale makes a good match as well.

I once carried a ½ square of Irongate around in the back of the car on a beer hunting road trip, it took no prisoners, insured there would be no fraternisation with the opposite sex and tasted absolutely amazing when we devoured the last bit.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Special Bedford Ale

For along time now I have been hanging out for a bottle of Special London Ale with the words ‘Brewed by Wells and Young’s Brewing Co Bedford” it hasn’t come. When Stonch posted a story covering the one year anniversary of the closure of the Wandsworth Brewery I discovered that all fresh Special London Ale in the UK is still claiming to have been brewed in London. So I went out and picked up a couple of bottles of what was in my opinion the most character full of the Young’s bottled beers. Sure enough the beer still bore the ‘Brewed in Wandsworth’ label. According to the CAMRA Good Bottled Beer Guide Special London Ale has a 12 month best before date. My bottles had best before dates of 29/02/08 putting the production date well after Wandsworth had closed. Clearly while it is fine to truthfully label Double Chocolate Stout as brewed in Bedford, the irony of Bedford brewed Special London Ale is to much to openly publicise.

Thankfully the beer tasted fantastic, not the bitter beast it used to be some years ago (did it used to be more bitter ? or has my taste for hops simply developed?) but certainly on a par with the last examples to roll out of the Ram Brewery.

SOBA National Homebrew Championship

At the end of this month entries close for the Society Of Beer Advocates National Homebrew Championship, the winning beer will be brewed professionally at the Hallertau Brewbar I will be entering several beers, earlier this week I bottled the two beers I will be entering bottle conditioned, Brooklyn ESB and Chilka IPA. I also have 2 beers in fermentors right now which will be entered in riggers straight from the corny in a near to cask conditioned form. Tonight I enjoyed a pint of draught Brooklyn ESB (that which wasn’t bottled for competition went into a corny) with my meal. Brooklyn ESB is a 5.2 % abv ale brewed with Marris Otter, 2 types of crystal and a mixture of Fuggels and Goldings hops. At the moment it tastes malty with a tangy English hop edge. There is a slightly grainy aroma reminiscent of the smell of freshly ground malt, hopefully it will subside as the ale conditions. Chilka IPA is also on the bar, its a 5.6% abv ale brewed from pearl pale malt and very generously hopped with NZ Cascade, Goldings and Fuggels with a dose of Styrian Goldings at the end of the boil. It tastes incredibly bitter with a nice rich malt character just balancing the hops.

After the competition has been judged by a panel lead by pro beer judge and beer journo Geoff Griggs there will be an awards party held that will be open to the public, a mixture of homebrewed and micro brewed beer will be on offer and its sure to be the largest range of handpulled beer on offer in NZ this year.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Session Beer and Music – Craic at the Fiddler

At the start of 2006 myself and 2 of my best friends embarked on a 14 day dream trip around the South Island of New Zealand. The trip was fantastic and featured all the usual eccentric elements of a ‘lads’ road trip (you know, not washing, not shaving, not eating, counting pints, the first night we surpassed 52!!) it also brought me into contact with the best Irish pub in the country and confirmed my love for Irish folk music.

On the first day of the trip we drove from Picton where the ferry dropped us to Nelson the hop growing region of NZ, here we stumbled upon an interesting looking Irish pub called the Maen Fiddler. Inside the bar there was an area set up for a band to play, the bar was adorned in hop bines and while the tap selection was the standard lion range in the cabinet sat a wide and tempting range of south island micro brewed beer. Out the back was an extensive garden bar perfect for the hot Nelson summers. Above the bar was a blackboard with two columns one stating what the Maen Fiddler did do (good beer, good food, good music, good service), and one stating what they didn’t(Pokies, TV, pool ). This pub had attitude and it was a good one. We settled in and drank our way through some fantastic beers from Pink Elephant of Marlborough and Nelson’s Lighthouse brewery, with the odd Founders beer thrown in for good measure.

As afternoon turned to evening we retired to the deck immediately behind the bar and sat next to a bunch of gentlemen who all spoke with Irish accents and who made us most welcome. By this point we knew there was definitely something special about this pub, not only were these regulars making us feel welcome but every time we visited the bar the landlord fell over her self to be friendly and accommodating, not something that always happens in south island pubs.

It soon became clear that these regulars were in fact, resident band, ”The Busman’s Handbag” (the name being Dublin slang for female genitalia stemming from the belt bag that bus conductors held their change in). After conversations with them about just how special this pub was, the recent Hamas election victory in Palestine and related issues in between, it was time for them to go on and we followed them in. The night continued as a constant banter between us and the band fuelled by pints of Guinness with the entire bar toasting us on our trip more than once. The music was fantastic, there is simply no better sound track to a session than a talented Irish band in full swing.

The night has left an enduring influence not only on my musical tastes but in what I think makes a pub great, if you ever get the chance to visit the Maen Fiddler DO SO!, and stay for ‘The Handbag” you’ll love it. You can check out The Handbag’s music here or the Maen Fiddler here. Cheers.

For the record in fourteen days we drove 2820 kilometres, drank 348 pints, visited 24 breweries, and pushed our luck a little far 3 times.