Friday, 12 September 2008

Automatic road trip

Last month I had occasion to drive from Hastings to Gisborne. The journey was wonderful – I love a good road trip – but I have a problem with the car. It was a rental and an automatic, although I had specifically asked for a manual. Why do rental companies insist on doing this?

I find automatics take all of the fun out of driving – without gears to change, the journey can get really boring. I also think you don’t have the same control if you’re not in charge of the speed and power, which can be really dangerous, especially if you’re on unfamiliar roads, which are more often than not steep and twisty.

Add to that the fact that it creeps relentlessly forward unless you have your foot pressed firmly on the break (an unpleasant surprise for manual drivers), and you’ve got an accident waiting to happen. Surely it is nothing but irresponsible for rental companies to hire automatics out to people who specifically request manuals?

Anyway, it was a beautiful day and the scenery was lovely which, combined with the coffee stop at Wairoa, helped prevent me from nodding off. The photos are from the trip. I kept pulling over (safely I might add) to the side of the road to hop out of the car and try and capture the scenery – as I said, I thought it was stunning.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Beervana: Tasting notes (Part 2)

One of my favourite beers of the night was the Yeastie Boys’ Pot Kettle Black. This is an American style porter and very dark. With a bit of an interactive theme, punters were asked to state whether they preferred the handpull or the pressurised tap version.

Not just to be awkward, I preferred the smoother texture of the hand-pull, but I felt the chocolate and hop flavours came through better from the pressurised tap. Him outdoors stuck his nose in the tasting glass, took a swig, smacked his lips and muttered something about ‘orange and pine’.

I confused the boys at Croucher Brewing Company by waffling on about Peter Crouch. As you do. They were very kind and they also serve a damn fine drop of pale ale. This beer looks good, smells good and tastes good. It is good, and it has a hoppy, fruity, grassy feel that lingers – I would definitely try this again. It comes from a boutique brewery in Rotorua and is available in several outlets in Wellington (the website above has a full list of locations). I shall be looking out for it!

To my mind, Monteith’s is one of the best mass-produced beers in the country. I recently had a heated debate about whether or not it was a boutique beer. I said not. If you are owned by DB Breweries you are not, by definition, a boutique. They do, however, have a
great advertising campaign which is neither sexist, ageist, or insulting to the intelligence, so that’s a refreshing change. They won the packaging award – I’m not sure whether this has anything to do with the adverts, but it’s all part of the same marketing department.

We tried a beer which I think (and I’m struggling to read my handwriting at this stage) was called 140W. It is a West Coast Pale Ale Reproduction and I’m pretty sure I liked it, but I would have to try it again to be sure.

I would also like another pop at the
Emerson’s Old 95 . This was billed as an old English ale – how could I go wrong? The combination of hops and fruit is very well balanced and the nuance of toffee is not too sweet. Him outdoors sampled the Piny Stout (aged in pinot barrels, 5% stout), new for the festival apparently, and was again heard to mutter something about oranges – I think this may be his new obsession. On the other hand, it did win a silver medal in the ‘fruit, spiced and herb flavoured beers’ category, so perhaps he knew what he was talking about after all.

We paid a visit to the
Dux de Lux brewery which again brought back memories of our time in Christchurch, although we never really took to the one in Queenstown. The lady at the stall said people had been coming up to her all night saying they had fond memories of the beer from when they were at Canterbury University . Weren’t they supposed to be studying, dear me, these students, tsk, tsk.

I tried the Sou’wester because I don’t remember having it before. I’m afraid I still don’t remember having it. I’m not sure whether this says more about the state of the ale or the state of me at this stage. Maybe I should have had the Ginger Tom, which always wakes me up!

Green Man Strong is exactly what it says on the tin (6.5%). When it was first released it sold out in 11 days, and it picked up a bronze medal here. It’s a Doppelbock aged in whisky barrels for 3 months, and then blended with best bitter. It’s quite sweet, as you would expect from this combination, but dangerously drinkable. It cost double beer tokens and I’m glad I only discovered it at the end of the night, or things could have got quite messy!

Incidentally, the Green Man brewery also won the accolade of Best in Class for their Enrico’s Cure. At 14.5%, this is a barley wine beer brewed without sugar by a German brewmaster. Scarred by memories of Carlsberg Elephant and other nasties in golden tins drunk by people in supermarket car parks, I avoided this particular brew, although I heard others say it was very nice. I think it’s odd that the class it won, is titled, ‘Experimental and non or low alcoholic beers’. Isn’t that a massive difference?

I finished up with a beer from the Twisted Hop, and although I don’t know which one, this seems in keeping with my usual experiences there. The whole thing has a sort of magical mystical quality to me. I know the bar is
tucked down a side street in Christchurch, and I have had a couple of very good nights there. But I can never remember how to get there when I’m sober. It’s like Diagon Alley. Anyway, I know from previous experience that the Challenger is exceptional – well, I’m always up for it! Oo-er missus.

So, to sum up, I drank lots of beer, I like hops and I had a great night. My top three, entirely unscientifically based upon the way I was feeling at the time are Epic Pale Ale, Yeastie Boys' Pot Kettle Black, and Croucher Brewing Company Pale Ale. Anyone else?

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Beervana: Tasting notes (Part 1)

Well, my head has almost recovered after a night of hedonistic beery pleasure, and this morning’s run along the Eastern walkway with occasional glimpses of the inland Kaikouras (they were just there!) has cleared the mental decks so that I can write up some rather illegible tasting notes from this weekend’s Beervana.

Him outdoors was like a boy in a sweetshop, or indeed, a bloke in a beer shop, and was barely restrained from leaping about trying everything at once. Methodically enough, we began at the beginning, handing over our first beer tokens in exchange for some Mike’s Mild from White Cliffs Organic Brewery
. You don’t often get a good (or actually, any at all) mild in New Zealand, but this is excellent. I’ve had it before and enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it again tonight – a great start to the evening.

We moved on down, or up depending on your viewpoint, to the Renaissance stand where I sampled the Perfection Pale Ale, which is a great name for a beer. Again, I have had this before and liked it – most notably after the Grape Ride where I collapsed after cycling 101km around the Queen Charlotte Sound and the vineyards of Marlborough. Re-hydrating with plenty of water and some very tasty wine from Forrest Estate , I also refreshed myself with some of the local ale and I have been a convert ever since.

I really like the balance of the bitter hops and the creamy toffee notes. At the risk of sounding incredibly girly, I also really like the label. I think the design and the shape of the bottle makes this one of the best looking beers on the market.

Next stop was Peak Brewery from Taratahi, and I tried their Monkey Point India Pale Ale. Apparently Monkey Point is the name of the first brewery in India. The chocolate notes rang out loud and clear but it was slightly too sweet for my taste. I am always impressed with breweries in the middle of wine regions and I wish Mr. Morgan well with his range of German and British style ales from his relatively new (three years old) brewery. He sells them at the Farmers’ Market in Masterton and also has a hectare of sauvignon and pinot noir vines planted on his property. I think that might just be greedy!

We couldn’t pass the Epic stall without having a taste of their Pale Ale – just to check it is as good as we remember – it is. This is my tipple of choice at The Malthouse . I believe it won gold and best in class at the awards. The trophies depicting a mash tun are very cool and those who had won them were proudly displaying them on their stalls.

We first had Epic Pale Ale two years ago when there was a beer festival beneath the Old Bank on a Saturday afternoon. We emerged blinking into the pale sunlight with a feeling we had just tasted the best beer we’d had in New Zealand since we arrived ten years previously. I loved the Armageddon Ale that Epic released recently, but sadly that wasn’t on offer, or not that I could see anyway. Does this mean it’s all gone? Bring it back please – I love it! I love hops, which may explain it. In the meantime, I will happily drink the Pale Ale.

And now for something completely different – Waituna Brewing Company from Rewa are promoting their TaaKawa Ale as New Zealand’s first indigenous beverage. Apparently it incorporates the Kawakawa herb and spring water into a beer, which sounds very clever. The marketing people have just sold a line into Tesco’s in the UK and are hoping to ‘place TaaKawa competitively at the top of the National and the International market’. It’s clean and crisp, refreshing the palate.

For old time’s sake we sampled some of the ales from Brew Moon . We used to live in Christchurch and a trip home was always completed with a stop off at the brewery in Amberley. We were asked if we wanted the hoppy or the very hoppy and subsequently I tried the Hophead IPA while Him Outdoors had the Amberley Pale Ale. A delicious drop!

One of the great things about beer festivals is the opportunity to talk to the artisans who make the stuff, and Mr Bennett himself was manning his stall of Bennett’s Fine Beer and Ale . He is a man of boundless enthusiasm, and when he is not brewing beer or running supermarkets, he makes artwork out of toast – yep, that’s right, toast, but they’re actually really good!

We tried his Belgium Strong, which was interesting and different. As the name suggests, it is made to taste like a Belgian golden ale (Leffe Blonde springs to mind) with a taste that is slightly sweet and fruity. It is also strong (7%), but you don’t really notice the kick until later. Mr Bennett claims that he wanted to make this style of beer because ‘this is what the beer gods favour.’ He could well be onto something…

To be continued...