Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Brew Zealand Crawl: A Slice of (brewing) Heaven

So, the plan was to go to New Zealand and celebrate the 12th annual Beervana in Wellington. Just happens we took 2 weeks, and the scenic route from Auckland to get there.

Arriving in Auckland and meeting up with friends, I was able to experiment with my potato bake recipe by using 3 types of kumara (native sweet potato). While the yellow and orange was quite nice, the red has a certain type of texture or density that stood above the others, and so was searching for that from then on. While I was making it, Andrew and Fi had a bottle of Stoke's Oatmeal Stout for us, and with it my beer journey of New Zealand began.

The next day while exploring the city, I found the two pubs beside each other I remembered visiting the first time I visited Auckland to see Fi and Andrew. With a Flemish Stew available at the Occidental, I was able to relive my last overseas trip with it and a Leffe Bruin, as I had done 3 years ago in Brugge.

Having picked up our camper van that would (eventually) get us to Wellington, we stocked it up at the supermarket and was happy to see like in Europe, you could just pick up your alcohol while doing a shop, and pay decent prices for it. Was even happier to see that on one shelf, all the mainstream beers were just mixed up on it, looking like rejects all on their lonesome. Was good to see craft beers given the respect they deserve. 'Accidently' dropping one of the beers while we were filling the camper van, it just meant I had to drink the first of the 6 pack of Boundary Road Chocolate Moose.

The next beer experience came from the heart of Northland region, in the Bay of Islands visiting Russell, and the Duke of Marlborough. At this historical hotel, I encountered my first organic beer in New Zealand, and from then was searching for them for the rest of the trip. Founders Long Black is quite a nicely smooth black lager which had a good balance of coffee and chocolate notes, both that seemed to be boosted but evened with the organic nature of the beer.
That night, another organic beer was on the menu with the Fullers Honey Dew. However, this one was a bit more disappointing as was getting too much of the artificial sweetness I was hoping not to get from it being organic.
With Hannah enjoying hefeweizens, we found a german hefe at the supermarket and had it as we settled down after having had the camper van stuck in the sand at the beach. Luckily some surfers were able to help us out, so gave them a bottle of the Chocolate Moose and the Goat/Brooklyn Hopfenweizenbock as a thank you. Heading to dinner at the Funky Fish, the Monteith's Doppelbock stood out on the beer menu, and with some kumara wedges and kumara pie on the food menu, the sweet caramel malt of this beer really matched the flavour of the food.

Making it to Thames in the Coromandel, and a holiday park that looked straight out of the 1950's, after our usual cheese platter made up by Hannah, I roasted kumara and cooked some snags on the park bbq. Of course, I had to do it with beer in hand, and so my trusty Chocolate Moose had it best hit out of the whole 6-pack that night. There was more of a creamy texture to work well with the chocolate character, which itself did not seem as bitter, and the slight metallic back was diminished. I did burn the snags, but the kumara was awesome to make up for it.
Doing a few walks in this region, we were looking forward to moving onto the Bay of Plently, where we started seeing natural hot pools becoming more available in the holiday parks we were looking to stay at. With a bottle shop across the road from where we were stayed at one night, a tasting of Mac's Great White cloudy wheat beer against Blue Moon's Belgian Witbier was had over our cheese platter before relaxing in the thermal pools. I think I actually preferred the Mac over Blue Moon, as the latter seemed a bit lack lustre (maybe something lost in the transition from America to New Zealand) over the wheat and banana yeast characters in the Mac.

Getting to Rotorua the next night, a mini pub crawl of town was had starting at the Pig and Whistle. Trying out the Swine Lager was not optimum for the wintery conditions, but was remedied by a beef and Guinness pie (of course with a side of Guinness) before another stop at a local bottlo (we did get good touristy advice from the bottle shops we visited) before hitting Brew, Croucher Brewery's brewpub. The place was going off with a younger crowd in here for a Friday night, and quite a different atmosphere to most brewpubs I have been to. Actually it turned me off a bit, but with what looked like a decent range of beers on offer, the ability to get tasting paddles, and a quiet corner found at the back of the pub, we went through the entire range of beers on tap. Apart from a few of the beers, all seemed to be quite high in hop bitterness, and so finally I had the experience I was expecting to have in NZ, where every beer tasted like an IPA of some description, even if they weren't labeled as IPAs.

Halfway through the trip and with the Brumbies making it into the Super 15 Grand Final against the Chiefs, we made our way to Hamilton, for a night of beers, pies and footy!!!! An Erdinger and dark lager at Helm bar with the 10 other Brumbies supporters in Hamilton, we made our way to the ground, and I lost the first 10 mins of the game in line at the bar to get some Waikato Draught, which for a mainstream beer is not that bad actually. One of the better beers I've had at a sporting event. So in New Zealand, even the macro beers are good. Damn you NZ, you beat us in the rugby and with your beer!!!!

We made it to Taupo the next day, with the Merchant of Taupo our next bottlo to visit, where I found a good selection of beers in bottle, and even some taps of a local Lake Man Brewery, which was nicely even and clean in flavour, and subtle in hop as a nice change after Rotorua, with the salesman happy to give us tastings of that plus wines and ports. Needless to say, we left with articles of each, and some more cheese.

Next stop was the snow, so thought conditions were perfect for another bock to keep warm after a day of skiing. The Flensburger Winterbock, was actually not as full in flavour and texture as the Monteith's bock I'd had earlier in the trip, so was a little bit disappointed with that one. Another beer that came off a little watery was the Red Duck Porter that I had on the last night in the camper van.

Still, better beers awaited once we arrived at Wellington the next day, starting with a stop at Mac's to see their cloudy wheat beer was just as good on tap as in the bottle. Then, to the enigma venue of craft beer in Wellington, the Malthouse. So many beers on tap in a place so small, it seemed unfathomable that they would be able to get through that much beer on tap in such a venue. Mind you, every time we went past the place, it was filled to bursting with patrons looking for their fix of craft beer. Along with the great tap selection, the bottle menu was also astounding, with brews like Samuel Adams Utopias and the Thomas Hardy Ale in the line up. However, containing myself to trying local beers, the Tatura Hefe and the Three Boys Coconut Milk Stout were happily experienced instead. The Tatura was not as cloudy as I would expect for the style, but the yeasty banana flavour was. The Three Boys was really intriguing, as the coconut seemed to somehow lift the sweetness of the milk stout, but also even it out nicely. I suppose you could say it tasted a bit like a Bounty in a beer.
Just down the road was the Tasting Room, which while not having an awesome array of beers (well, compared to the Malthouse...), did use the selection they had well with the food they had on offer. We both went with beer and food pairing specials, Hannah the schnitty with Erdinger, me a venison Wellington with Monteith's Barrel Aged Porter. It was one of the best meals from the trip, especially with the Whitaker's chocolate between the venison and pastry. It was like putting melt-in-your-mouth meat in a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate croissant. Actually, the beer was not big enough the compete against the meal, but the chocolate character of both meant they complemented well enough.

Spending most of the next day at Te Papa museum, and somehow restraining myself from purchasing a box of beer chocolates, we headed to the Fork and Brewer brewpub for a late lunch with a beer (the Stormchaser Dunkel was quite good), before realising as part of Choice Beer Week in Wellington, there was a beer launch that afternoon, so hung around the try the Dark Vader (Imperial Dark Ale). Spending the evening window shopping along Cuba Street, we splurged with dinner at Logan Brown (well, actually quite reasonable at the pre-theatre rate), that along with some great food, also had a decent selection of beer, much better than the established restaurants in Melbourne. After having had a few beers through the day, and seeing we were off to a play after dinner, I had the Wigram Czar Imperial Russian Stout.
Unfortunately after this meal I wasn't feeling great for the rest of the night, so was a little worried that I may not be is good shape for Beervana the next day. Still, with sheer stubbornness driving me on (along with a taxi driver), Hannah and I suited up in our respective 'got cheese?' and 'got beer?' shirts, and heading in to do a quick reccie and see what beers I should be looking to try.

To start on an interesting note, we went straight for the media brew bar where I had the Oddfellow Peppermint Stout and Hannah the Just Desserts. Mine was a bit subdued for what I had hoped for but still had a bit of choc mint character, but the pavlova flavours in the Just Desserts was awesome, and a great way to start the festival. Seeing the Mountain Goat team at this festival we pulled up for a taste of Mike's 3rd Nut (which we were happy as it ran out really quick). The sweet of peanut with a slight bittering of tahini nut really balanced each other out well over the good malt backbone of the brown ale style. A quick splash of Sam Adams Lager and and a Boundary Road Einstein Munich Lager and we were ready for the beer and cheese experience we had booked into when we bought the tickets for the festival.

While Keiran Haslett-Moore did have some troubles with his Kapiti Fondue to delay the start of the class, there was a great diversity of cheeses and beer to pair off. With difficulties in the fondue, we started on the pairing of the Sprig and Fern Doppelbock and a Meyer Vintage Gouda. Apart from a bit of a metallic in the caramel malt aroma, there was quite a bit of hop for what I would expect in this style of beer. Of course, the gouda was very sweet but also quite crumbly which is something I have not seen much with cheese (not that I know much about cheese), but the sweetness of the cheese really raised the caramel flavours of the Doppelbock, so overcame the hoppiness in the beer quite well.
Next was the Northend ESB (of which Kieran is affiliated with) with a Barry's Bay Wainui Special Vintage Cheddar. The ESB had a lovely rich caramel malt aroma but had a really resinous hop bitterness at the back to dominate the beer. The creamy front on the cheese (even though it was a bit dry on the edges) again went well with the malt character of the beer, but there was also a stinky or earthy character and a sort of saltiness that offset the resinous hop.
Now, for my favorite pairing of the event, the 8 Wired Grand Cru/Sultan with the Kapiti Ramara, a sour beer with a cheese the uses bacteria, not mould for it's flavour. The beer was very bretty in it's sourness, but helped with the cherry/raspberry fruitiness. The cheese was so creamy it coated your mouth perfectly for the beer. The cheese was not too stinky or sweaty, but really offset the sourness of the beer. This was definitely one of those beautiful matches where either by itself did not particularly appeal to me, but brought out something special from each when combined.
What was to be the last matching was the Emerson's JP 2013 Belgian Dark Ale and of course, a blue cheese in Barry's Bay Peninsula Blue. Of course this was Hannah's favourite, whereas I found the cheese just way too mouldy for my inexperienced cheese palate. While the stout is fermented with belgian yeast to really boost the flavour, even after rinsing out the cheese with the beer, the mould taste is still quite strong.
I was probably happy to have the fondue last to get over the blue cheese, so when it came out with an 8 Wired - Saeson, I was a little relieved. The Saeson had an interesting woody, almost white wine character that I found quite acidic, but did match well with the gooey sweetness of the fondue. Holding onto some of the Grand Cru and vintage cheddar to finish on my fav from the experience, I found the cheese also went well with the Saeson.

Anyway, after that session I could go back to just tasting beer, and as always, enjoyed myself immensely. However, grabbing my last beer for the festival, I must have accidently left my booklet with all my notes of the beers I tried behind, and now finding it hard to even remember which beers I tried. So will at least note which beers I think I had through the rest of the day...
Black Dog Brewery Pango Kuri
Emerson's Collaboration Milk Stout
Epic Epicurean Coffee & Fig Stout
Garage Project Ca Phe oa (on Nitro)
Harrington's Belgium Abbey Tripel
Kereru Moonless Stout
Liberty Darkest Days (Oatmeal Stout)
McCashin's/Stoke Arm Twister Imperial Stout
Mountain Goat Hopfenweizen and RIPA
Panhead Black Top Oat Stout
ParrotDog Otis
Tuatara Stout
Cashel and Sons Milk Stout (one of my favs. So creamy and full flavoured!!!)
Brew Moon Ole Mole
Invercargill Pitch Black Stout
Two Fingers Battering Ram-Doppel Alt
Feral Boris
Nail Clout Stout

Luckily there was a great selection of food also on offer so had a great pie at the Wakelin House and finished off our festival similar to how we started, with beer dessert. This time though, it was in the form of a beer brulee...perfect.

Getting back to our side of town after the festival, we visited Black Dog Brewery for a beer and then for our last meal of the trip, it was back to the Tasting Room, that had an amazing Turducken burger that helped fill the gap after all the beer. It was so good, Hannah has had a go at making her own turducken burgers when we got home (they were really good too).

So, a big thanks to Hannah, for allowing me to bring beer into our trip and for coming along to Beervana with me (even though it helped that she could eat cheese while I drank beer). It is really good to see that after our first trip away we are still talking and wanting to hang out more, so I hope it continues. Actually, I am sure it will, as she will be in Melbourne this weekend for my yearly Imperial Stout tasting. So look out for notes on that soon and the cheeses Hannah will be choosing.

Cheers NZ, you have some good beer, and some great scenic spot to drink beer by. I look forward to heading back to do the South Island next time


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