Blind tasting beer...

Beers being served blind...

Beers being served blind...

On 7 October, 4 November and 2 December, we’re running a blind tasting series. We’re kicking off with “Big, Bought, Boutique”. It will feature four beer styles, with three beers in each style category presented blind; one from a “big” brewery, one from a brewery that has been “bought” by a big brewery, and one from a “boutique” brewery. We’ll follow this with “How much?”. This tasting will showcase a cheaper beer against one of the most expensive representations of the style we can find! We’ll add in a crisps, cheese and chocolate comparison as well (as snacks are important with your beer and you want the best for your hard-earned dollars). Again, all tastings will be served blind.

Our final blind tasting will be “New Zealand verses The World” – Hope we win that one. We’re a bit biased but we think we’re making some darn good beer in the country right now and we’re keen to see how it stacks up against the original versions of the style.

So, what are these tastings about? Why are we serving all the beers blind?

If you’re interested in beer, and on any form of social media, lately you might have noticed lots of discussion and press about whether New Zealand has reached peak beer. And, a lot about beer quality. We’ve been quite interested in all this discussion. There’s very little informed commentary about whether we’re genuinely close to market saturation by way of contract brewer, beer bar and breweries. There’s also no real way to form a statistically reliable view on quality.

Most of the commentary we’ve seen is opinion-based. We have no problem with this. But, we do find it interesting when one person holds their opinion out as a source of truth about all things beer. Opinion is subjective. The point of our blind tasting series is to take away some of the subjectivity by taking away the labels and letting the beers speak for themselves.

The last time we ran a blind tasting, we called it “faux beer”. It was around the time that Lion Nathan introduced the “Crafty Beggars” range and called it, "a craft beer you can actually drink". The range didn’t last long. Its last Facebook post was some time in 2013. It was also at the time Boundary Road (Independent Breweries) introduced The Resident range. The last mention of this on their Facebook page is 2012 and the website now links to a shoe sale store!

The “faux beer” tasting was controversial. We got accused of setting up the new ranges to fail, and being opinionated and subjective ourselves! Of course we are. But what the critics didn’t necessarily realise at the time was that we gave all the beers in the tasting an equal chance of success by serving them blind. And, the results were enlightening. The “craft beer you can actually drink” proved pretty undrinkable. We served up the “Good as Gold” pilsner which received no votes verses the 17 received by Croucher Pilsner. The Resident Pilsner received one vote. Then there was the “Wheat As”. It didn’t do so badly, with five votes against 11 for the Tuatara Hefe – the winner in that round. Tuatara will fall into our “bought” brewery category in the upcoming tasting.

We also used the Crafty Beggars “Pale and Interesting”…The notes say, “It was not”. None of the “faux craft” – the big breweries’ beer received any votes in the pale ale round. They all went to Epic Pale Ale! The surprise of the tasting was, however, The Resident Red Rye IPA. This was one beer from the big breweries that many of us walked away saying we’d buy again.

Our up-coming blind tasting series will give us a chance to see if anything’s changed, and the chance to challenge our opinions and subjectivity. The “big” breweries have largely stopped their efforts to replicate the success of craft. Let’s see how some of their offerings sit in the market now? We’ll have selections from Lion Nathan, DB and Independent’s standard range. And, selections from some of the breweries they’ve “bought”. People have largely forgotten about the early, modern time, craft brewery sale of Macs many years ago. We’ll be adding them to the tasting, along with Emerson’s, Panhead and Tuatara. This will provide the slither of a chance to see if the nature of their beers, or the quality has dropped since their sale. And, of course, we’ll have some independent or “boutique” breweries in the mix as well.

One outcome of “Big, Bought, Boutique” may be that people find a quaffable, quality beer at price that is good for student weekends or staffies drinks; beer that can be bought by the six pack rather than the bottle. We’ll explore the concept of value and cost a bit further in the “How much?” tasting…does paying more for beer mean you get a better one? Some of the recent commentary about beer quality mentioned the price of a pint. We think beer should be fault-free no matter the price. This tasting will be an opportunity to explore the taste and quality of both a cheap beer and a more expensive one of the same style, to see if you do “get what you pay for” or if sometimes we might be paying too much.

Our final tasting, “New Zealand verses The World” is really a bit of fun leading into the festive season. It will be a fun way to have some festive drinks with friends. And, it will enable us to compare our beer offering here in New Zealand against some of the original versions of the style. Brewing is relatively new in New Zealand; the first beer was purportedly brewed by Captain Cook. The same cannot be said of the beers of Europe. There’s been brewing in the UK since the early 100s (they are still a part of Europe right now)! The tasting will be a little insight into how well we’re going here, and how quickly we’ve come up to speed!

Bookings:

If you’re keen to join us for any or all of the tastings, head over to Eventfinda to purchase a ticket.

We’re offering discounts for multiple bookings. If you book one, leave us an email address and we’ll send you through a discount code. Give us 24 hours to get on to this.

If you joined our lovely Phil Cook on a Beervana Walking Tour you should also have a discount code.

How to beer festival…over a week, not just a session

It's beer festival season. Huzzah.

We went to Good Beer Week in Australia in May. It culminated in the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular (GABS). Auckland Beer Week has not long finished. And, Road to Beervana is soon to hit Wellington.

A key feature of the above mentioned beer festivals is that events run over a week or more. And, they all go out with a bang with the main attraction – GABS and Beervana – happening on the final weekend. This means you have to save time, money and liver functionality all the way through to the end of your festival-ing. It can be hard. But, never fear. We’re here with some tips and tricks. We’ve done the hard yards for you; eating and drinking ourselves into states of semi-exhaustion and liver failure (more than a few time) before learning some semblance of self-control.

How do you do it?

Well, we think it’s best to only book one formal event per day. There’s always such great temptation to book lunch and dinner, or dinner and a specialty tasting. If you don’t, you get FOMO, right? Lunch and dinner degustations? Sure! Dinner and a beer and whiskey matching? I’m in!

In our experience, doing two events per day can leave you feeling too full. And, almost always hurried (trying getting across Auckland in any sort of peak hour). You might not enjoy your evening event if haven’t managed to digest your lunch yet. If you stop drinking in between events you’ll get sleepy; if you don’t you’re likely to be quite social by dinner time. Trying to do anything after dinner is risky. Pretty much every evening event we’ve ever been to runs late (and some of them later, and later as the venue struggles to keep up – more on this below).

Doing two events per day also means you won’t have time to go to the free events and tap takeovers. These are almost always worth it – and you often get something for your zero dollars.

A free 45 minute session at Beer Deluxe put on by the Good Beer Week team this year came with four barrel aged beers from Firestone Walker and Boatrocker. The Firestone Walker’s were rare and imported. They were delicious. And, it is a lazy beer bar that doesn’t put on an amazing tap list or run a tap takeover during festival week.

In Melbourne, during Good Beer Week you have the adventure of the Pint of Origin pubs where you can joyfully talk of going for a PoO. It’s a great way to get to some of the city’s best beer bars and venues. On your Road to Beervana, there’s no doubt places like Hashigo Zake, Goldings Free Dive, Malthouse and Husk will be worth a few hours visit. Everyone will be putting in efforts to showcase their venues and their great beers. You’ll miss this if you’re busy at paid events all the time.

When considering what to book, our advice is don’t fixate on the feature events. They’re often expensive due to imported celebrities and beers. Our experience has us finding are that they generally cost more than they’re worth, and the venues often push the boundaries further than they’re capable of. Two of this year’s feature events at Good Beer Week got poor review for seating (crammed) and food (average). Both went on a very long time. One with the final dish hitting tables around 11:15pm. And, we’ve also been to a feature event where the serving sizes of beer was 60mls. You can barely get a decent sniff out of a glass so small.

While lots of eating should go on during festival weeks – Melbourne, Auckland and Wellington all have some great food – we’d still recommend you eat HUGE and heathy breakfasts! We sound like our mothers but, they really do set you up for the day. A big brekkie means that you can start drinking earlier (11am is OK during festival week, you know) and you can take your time to lunch. You can snack around bars and breweries and save yourself for dinner.

It’s not only a good brekkie that can help your survival over a festival week. We’re all for trying to build good gut bacteria, and keeping them strong. There’s lots of credible, emerging science on the importance of good gut bacteria on overall health and well-being. One piece of science that appealed to us is referenced in the fascinating, The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat by Tim Spector. Professor (Dr) Spector informs us that having healthy and diverse microbiome and bacteria can help reduce the length and severity of a hangover! Yup, you read it correctly…There’s no real way to prevent or cure a hangover, except not to drink. But, good microbiome and bacteria can help you recover by helping burn through all the nasty bits of alcohol that make you feel sick.

There’s a trick to using good gut bacteria to help you out; you need to build it up and build it early. You can’t decide halfway, through a session, to eat a tub of yoghurt. And, the kimchi on your bao bun from a food stand won’t help you if you’ve already started drinking. You need to eat at least a cup of yoghurt a day for a month, regularly eat fermented foods or start drinking kombucha. And, do it before you start drinking.

Whatever choices you make, make sure you’re out there, having fun and drinking good beer.

A beer lover's guide to Wellington

This week Wellington is set to welcome thousands of fans following the British and Irish Lions rugby tour around the country. We’re betting there’ll be lots of drinking going on and we’re hoping some of that will be at the breweries and bars that showcase the best beers (and beertenders) that Wellington has to offer. We’re hosting two walking tours on Thursday and Friday. Come join us.

If you can’t join a tour, here’s just some of our tips for a beer lover’s guide to Wellington. We’ve made the assumption that beer people are also keen on coffee and food. You have to start the day somewhere and one of our favourite places to go is Ti Kouka. In many ways, a hidden gem, up a discreet set of stairs on Willis St. The produce is local and the food made from scratch; it’s hard to do better. They serve Flight Coffee - a local roast – and a range of local beers from Kereru, Panhead and Garage Project. They also own the Leeds St Bakery (surprisingly located in Leeds St) where you can get a to-die-for salted caramel cookie.

Another great breakfast stop, on the waterfront, is Poneke by Mojo. You can’t really avoid a Mojo coffee while you’re in town. They’re everywhere. Some people gripe about that but, they’re reliable for both coffee and food. At Poneke there’s always a tasty treat – sweet or savoury - accompanied by a great view; whatever the weather. The Beanery by Mojo in Lambton Square is also worth stopping by if shopping in town. They roast their own small batch coffee and offer a range of different brews served by some of the loveliest baristas in Wellington.

If you’re heading to Miramar for a dose of Peter Jackson, then you simply have to make the hash browns at Café Polo – on the corner of Rotherham Terrace and Para Street - part of your trip. It’s a suburban treat that makes the trip out of town worthwhile. They’ve got a tight but diverse beer list if you’re after a breakfast beer. Maybe try the Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black. One of the founders of the brand used to live nearby, and is now in the United Kingdom building the brand. We also love The Larder on Darlington Road for food…but, their drinks list doesn’t even mention beer! A nearby haunt doing slightly better on this front is La Boca Loca on Park Rd. The restaurant team’s story and commitment to sustainability makes stopping by worthwhile. As with most all decent Wellington cafes and restaurants, they also have some local beers on offer. Try either the Tuatara or Parrot Dog. Tuatara Pilsner (now called Mot Eureka to confuse most people) is pretty much the minimum standard you should expect anywhere you go. It’s a great gateway beer.

If the Tuatara Pilsner whet your appetite, then you can head to their brew bar – The Third Eye – on Arthur St for a tasting tray. A ploughman’s platter is a great accompaniment, but it might be worth saving yourself for a wander down Cuba St to Grill Meats Beer. They’ve recently installed some more taps and always have some of Wellington’s finest on offer. It’s a haunt for rugby players as some of their burger offerings are HUGE; fit for a hungry player and fan alike! Another place with huge food is The Bresolin on upper Willis St. The beer offering is pretty standard but the “Feasts” are anything but; try a slow roasted lamb shoulder or 1kg Angus rib eye.

If you head to the Bresolin, you need to continue your journey to Aro Valley to visit the Garage Project cellar door and bar at 91 Aro St. The bar has 18 taps, and two handpulls. They’ve all been designed to enable the serving temperatures to be varied, to be right for the beer being served. If they have a dark beer like their delicious Aro Noir on nitro, you have to have it. It puts Guinness to shame! Otherwise take yourself back to Leeds St to Goldings Free Dive and their newly installed nitro tap. It’s a great bar with lots of visual stimulation with tightly curated staff and taps. Try a beer from Hey Day Beer Co if you find one while you’re there – they’re building a brewery on Cuba St, and are contract brewing while they wait. Their head brewer has great pedigree; a former chef and a beertender at Hashigo Zake, he then worked at Panhead to earn his stripes. Their Horizon APA is a fine tipple.

Another set of taps worth stopping in to visit are at Husk on Ghuznee St. A relative new-kid-on-the-block, Husk is home to Choice Bros brewery. Without a doubt, their Reet Petite is one of Craft Beer College’s favourite ales. Depending on the batch, be prepared for a huge ginger bite. This is a trophy winning beer from the New Zealand Brewer’s Guild Beer Awards. While you’re there, also try the cheese burger spring rolls and the fried chicken!

Across the road from Husk is Glover Park, and the relaxed and musical Rogue and Vagabond. The venue is constantly slinging out great beer, and a crowd favourite – some seriously good chips and gravy. There’s usually a North End Brewing option on tap. Well worth the try if you’re not quite up to a trip to visit them on the Kapiti Coast. Their Super Alpha gets a call out in most all of our tastings. And, we really enjoy some of the more experimental beers in the range.

Rogue really comes into its own later a night, some earlier alternatives are Little Beer Quarter (LBQ) on Edward St and (within walking distance) the Fork and Brewer on Bond St. LBQ has the best selection of New Zealand beer on offer in Wellington. And, Fork and Brewer has one of our best brewers. They’ve made a Burton Ale to make Lions’ fans feel welcome but their selection of kettle sours and New Zealand hopped ales are go-to beers for us.

From Fork and Brewer, you might want to wander to their partner bar – The Malthouse on Courtenay Place – it is a Wellington institution and is in-part responsible for our amazing beer scene. They’ve supported New Zealand beer for over 20 years and run an impressive tap line-up along with some of Wellington’s favourite beer events.

One place running events especially for the Lions tour is Hashigo Zake. They’re holding a Downtown Aley - Beer BBQ & Rugby event where they are coming out of the basement at 25 Taranaki St and into the light. This will be a place to drink and eat on the way to Saturday’s game. Otherwise, Hashi is a “sport-friendly” beer bar with some of the most interesting taps in town. It’s a great place to hunker down when the weather is not so great.

Another place to visit before the game is Black Dog Brewery. The “craft” offering of one of our big breweries – DB – pumps out a range of award winning ales. And, along with many of our bars is actually dog-friendly. You might see the local pup in there and have a pat. Their Chomp is perfect if you’re after something straightforward; it’s a slightly sweet NZ pale ale. But, they stretch themselves further than this and will often have something for the more adventurous. They don’t have much on offer by way of food, but that’s easily fixed by a wander around the corner to Basque, or up the road to our favourite Slim Davey’s Neighbourhood Saloon.

Basque do fine tapas, and are supporters of new beer brands such as Double Vision and Juicehead. They’ve got a tap takeover coming up that also includes Bonehead Brewery. Recently opened in Upper Hutt – these beers are pungent with New Zealand hop aromas and tropical fruit. Haven’t had a bottle yet that we haven’t enjoyed. Make sure you try them. They’re physically located in Upper Hutt near Te Aro Brewing which is also making some tasty drops.

Slim Davey’s offers a great venue and our pick on the best cheeseburger in town. Even better is that it is only $10 after 10pm and their kitchen doesn’t close until late. You can stop by after the game. But, don’t pat the yak…Yup, you read it correctly – there’s a massive taxidermy yak in the front doorway who will greet you along with the friendly staff.

We’ve got lots of great hospitality staff and beertenders in Wellington. Every one of them will be able to offer you a suggestion on a great beer, or the next great place to go on your journey. While you’re out and about having fun, treat them well. If you want to get to know them and their breweries and bars a little better, come meet them with us. We’d love to host you. Read more about our tours on our Facebook page. We hope to see you soon.

Fresh Hop-Stock 2017

Fresh Hop Stock 2017

For a few days in April, Wellington’s beer lovers become determined, power-walkers - from brewery to bar - with pamphlets in hand, in search of stamps, untapped badges and, ultimately, fresh-hop beer.  It’s Hopstock, Wellington’s annual celebration of the hop harvest. So, what’s a fresh hop, and what’s Hopstock?

Fresh hops, straight from the bine are sort-of special. Hops are a flowering plant. It’s the female flowers that are used in beer but because the hop harvest only happens once a year those flowers are mostly dried, often compressed into pellets. It’s at harvest time when you can get them fresh…whole…wet. And, you have to get them quickly. The moment hop flowers are picked they start to decompose and turn to compost. They oxidise and go brown. This is why, when you can get them, they are celebrated.

Each year our hop growers in the Tasman region ship fresh hops around the country, sometimes within hours of picking, pretty much always within days. And, into beers they go – like we said – wet and sometimes dank. The beers often have a big wet hop aroma – fruity, minerally, earthy. Sometimes, it has to be said, they also smell a bit vegetal. But, when they’re good, they’re very good. Which is why Wellington has a festival to celebrate them.

For the past three years we’ve partnered with Hopstock’s organisers, Craft Beer Capital, to run tours of the bars and breweries taking part.  Here are a few observations from 2017:

There’s lots of IPAs.  We love India Pale Ales (IPAs), right?  White ones, red ones, yellow ones, brown ones, black ones, cloudy ones.  (OK, those last two are the subject of some debate)! The whole United Nations of IPAs – as long as it says IPA on the tin, bottle or tap handle, we’re in.  If you subscribe to that ethos, and let’s face it, most of you do, then you were in luck with Hopstock in 2017.  Lots of IPAs.  This was good, better than previous years where our brewers and breweries got a bit too funky, and wasted their hops. But, we’d also like to plug a minority group (in the context of this festival) – pilsner.  There were lovely fresh hop pilsners from Emerson’s, Te Aro and Townshend. Get yourself some if you can.

There’s fresh air and exercise.  There’s always a down side!! To properly experience Hopstock you do have to walk in the outdoors.  There’s no propping up the same bar for seven hours having a session. There’s beers to be drunk and stamps to be collected. This year, across 22 breweries and bars. You can put a positive spin on this.  Think of Hopstock as a kind of beer orienteering!  Strangely enough, and we’d hate to jinx it, but the weather always seems good for Hopstock – we know – we’re your orienteering guide! We take you form brewery to bar to get your exercise!

And, actually, there’s also bus.  Since we’re on the subject of our tours, this year the bus legs took punters to the far flung Wellington suburbs of Newtown, Thorndon and even Karori.  We brought people back from Karori as well, because we’re not mean. This is one of the great reasons to join a tour actually, for your dollars you get us, your beers, tasty food and a bus to the suburbs and back. We know people like the bus, so this year we planned some silly stops – Maccas Manners Mall to Husk. Reckon we could have done the exercise thing and walked there quicker, but we did have time for a wee sing-a-long!

Hopstock starts on a Wednesday, with or without you.  Get in early next year so you don’t get FOMO, and so you can make it through all the beers over a couple of days. Talking about next year…We’ve got to say…

…Temperature matters.  We’re all for a cold, refreshing thirst quencher from time to time but if beer is served too cold it makes it difficult to smell or taste anything – even the freshest of hops. We think that a number of Wellington bars serve their beer far too cold – and Hopstock provided ample evidence of that. Fresh hop beers (in fact, all beers) need to be served above the two to three degrees that some venues were serving them this year, to let those intense aromas and flavours shine.  We’re not suggesting that they all need to be served like an English-style cask ale (though credit to Golding’s Free Dive and Hashigo Zake for having handpull versions of their fresh hop beers), but a just a couple more degrees would make a great difference.  It’s just a minor bugbear in what was another great few days of fresh hop tomfoolery.

 

What is “Craft Beer” College?

craft-beer-college-what-is-craft-beer.jpg

Two questions we’re frequently asked are “what is Craft Beer” and “what is Craft Beer College”? One question is easier to answer than the other…

To start with the tricky one…“Craft beer” almost seems redundant now that we’re privileged enough – especially in Wellington and increasingly across the rest of the country – to have access to a reasonably diverse range of delicious and interesting beer, from a variety of brewers and breweries. In many – if not most – of our bars and restaurants in Wellington there is a choice to be had; between beer and wine, and amongst the beer list itself. Happily, we don’t need to go to places that don’t cater to our tastes.  But, this hasn’t always been the case…and that’s probably why the “craft beer” moniker came into being.

For a long time in Wellington, and across New Zealand, there wasn’t much choice in beer. Where there was, it was often called “craft”. It was a way of defining the beer that wasn’t big brewery, that wasn’t premium lager, that wasn’t New Zealand draught. It was also a way of defining the brewer…as a craft person…Most would agree that this is who Richard Emerson, Tracey Banner, Carl Vasta and the likes were…(and still are).

These days “craft beer” is even harder to define than it once was, and seems less relevant as a moniker but, we like our business name…It speaks to why we exist and what we do. It comes from the team at the Great Australasian Beer Festival. They ran Craft Beer College during their festival sessions to teach participants a bit about beer, to talk to the brewers, to do some beer and food matching; it was a great name and a great idea. It was about making sure their festival wasn’t just about drinking – it was about celebrating the diversity of beer, of brewers and breweries and teaching people a little more about what they were drinking.

That’s what Craft Beer College is about. It’s about promoting and educating about beer in a fun way.

When it first opened we used to sit at Hashigo Zake and watch heaps of people come in a get a bit overwhelmed. Beer geeks were fine – they were Malthouse regulars, or veterans of Bar Edward or Bodega. Others were less certain – they’d not had much choice before and now they did, they weren’t entirely sure what to do with it! People didn’t know much about beer, beer styles or their own likes and dislikes. Our early public tasting series, “Introduction to Beer” set about to change that. For a few years we presented tastings on malt, hops and yeast – yeast was always the best – and had an “exam”! All exams should be beer-based, and include beer-based prizes. The Yeastie Boys were always super generous. And, people would walk away with Beer Without Border, Garage Project, Kereru and other prizes…It’s hard to remember to thank all the people that helped out in those early days.

These days, Introduction to Beer is less relevant…(necessary might be a conversation for another blog). Wellingtonians love to be a bit different and have embraced craft beer, beer…Introduction to Beer is too introductory for them! So, we now have a focus on private tastings and tours. Work groups, friend groups, tourist…whomever…book us to run tastings or to take them around town to your breweries and bars. It’s fun. They get socially excited! And, every now and then they realise they are learning some as well. How to taste beer; about the beer they like (and sometimes don’t); about history…Hopefully this is what this blog will be about as well…We look forward to chatting about breweries, beer and beer related things.

Watch this space, and come join us for a tasting or a tour. Later this year – teamed with Beer Without Borders and Hashigo Zake we are going to do beer and chips, beer and chocolate and beer and cheese…yummm.