Friday, 4 September 2009

Beervana 2009: Tasting Notes (Part Two)

I am able to try an IPA from Nøgne Ø, of which we have never heard before. I find it has notes of varnish and isn’t overly drinkable – I can just taste alcohol rather than beer. Him Outdoors claims it’s ‘flowery’ – maybe jonquils then, as their fragrance gives me a violent headache. He has got an Imperial Stout so we swap – this is very, very nice; black with dark brown froth.

The boys turn up with a none-too-fresh-looking chilli in a beer glass. It’s a gimmick lager which bites your tongue from Mussel Inn. Why would you do that to a beer? It’s just silly. To be fair, when the Weevil arrives (two hours late) and wants to catch up, she aims immediately for something she knows she likes, the Monkey Puzzle Extra Strong Ale from the same place, which she announces is ‘a good starter’.

There are talks throughout the evening on such topics as ‘beer and cheese matching’, ‘brewing organically’, ‘the right glass for your beer’ and ‘women and beer mythbusters’. An announcement over the public address system keeps reminding us that these talks are on, but although I would like to listen to Neil Miller and Martin Bosley talk about food and beer, I don’t feel that now is the right time to do so when I am too busy sampling the delights myself – I’ll get a curry later; that will do for food and beer matching tonight.

I am bought a random beer which turns out to be an IPA from the Twisted Hop. My notes at this point read ‘Lovely. I like it. More of this sort of thing’. I am finding it increasingly difficult to balance my pen, programme and camera, and also to write coherent notes evidently.

As Him Outdoors talks to strangers he finds a long-haired ale-lover from Stockport. He actually lives in Auckland and has come down this weekend especially for the beer festival. He is in raptures over the Great End ESB at the Peak Brewery. We try it and I can see why. It is cask conditioned and served via a hand-pull it tastes like something I would expect to find in Coniston. It claims to be ‘extra strong and extra bitter’; my notes read ‘very strong, very fruity and a little bit extra.’ The Weevil reckons it tastes like a Scottish Cal 80, Bellhaven; she’s all for her comparisons.

When we try the Old House ESB from the Townshend Brewery, she decides it is like a Tetley's Mild from Haddon Hall. Just in case I don’t realise how high praise this is, she adds, ‘This is the best beer I’ve had in New Zealand’. The brewing chaps are a little concerned when she asks for ‘more of your finest flattest beer please’ until she bats her big brown eyes and tells them she loves it. I’m impressed too (by the beer rather than the eyes – I’ve seen them all my life) and although it smells slightly of cabbage, it is flat and fulsome and English-tasting.

We head back up to the Arrow Brewing Company for Some Wee Heavy Scotch Ale which is pleasant and sweet and, well...heavy. The chaps provide tasting notes which claim it contains flavours of toffee and orange brandy’. At this stage I think we should probably take their word for it. The Weevil notes, ‘Another flat one – but more fruity Kiwi style’. Him Outdoors has finished noting things. In fact, I think he has misplaced his programme but he has appointed himself chief photographer, hence lots of blurred shots of drinkers’ feet.

We save the best until (nearly) last and savour a drop of Pot Kettle Black from Yeastie Boys. It is still the best beer in show, and they have pretty smart t-shirts too. It’s like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange with hops and alcohol: very tasty indeed!

The adjacent stall is the Green Man Brewery apparently trying to save the world one beer at a time. We join them by starting with an IPA, which is reminiscent of bananas and cloves in a totally nice and tasty, and finishing shortly afterwards with the Strong, which is strong and tasty. I must admit to trying this last time round and not remembering a whole lot afterwards. After a couple of sips of this blend of Dopplebock matured on whisky barrel wood and blended with Best Bitter, a similar thing seems to happen. Is this déjà bu?

So in summation, my top 5 in no particular order are:
Tobin’s Cask Ale – Arrow Brewing Company; Tricerahops Double IPA – Ninkasi; Old House ESB – Townshend Brewery; Great End ESB – Peak Brewery; Yeastie Boys – Pot Kettle Black

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Beervana 2009: Tasting Notes (Part One)

Beervana has grown. This year it is almost a victim of its own success. The doors open at 5pm – there has been a previous session from 12-4pm – and the queue snakes back across Civic Square to get into the Town Hall. It is mainly comprised of people who have come straight from work and are looking forward to kicking off their weekend with some decent ales.

Through the doors we are presented with a wrist band a glass – we make sure we get the straight-sided rather than the one with a lip that looks like a vase. It just tastes better drinking out of this one, plus it’s bigger – only one place will charge us more for choosing wisely (Hashigo Zake Limited, since you ask).

The last time I was in this building I was receiving citizenship from the mayor. I suspect this will be a somewhat different evening, although once again I am accompanied by Him Outdoors and the Weevil – both of them are present at most of the major events in my life.

Out of a sense of loyalty, and the fact that they make damn fine beer, we head straight to Yeastie Boys. They are at Beernz Limited/ Bar Edward and have a couple of new beers to sample. I try Plan K (Belgian style; lots of flavor; a bit nutty) and Him Outdoors indulges in a spot of His Majesty (supreme IPA; nice as a first one to try). They are proudly displaying their trophy, and why not? They have won best porter for their Pot Kettle Black, and deservedly so. We determine to return later in the evening when we are ready to come over to the dark side.

We find the boys supping a variety of offerings from Twisted Hop (IPA ‘very bitter, but slightly lacking’) and Tasman Brewing Company (Porter ‘like coffee in a beer glass’; Pale Ale ‘weak tasting with a cheesy aftertaste’), and we take them to find the Arrow Brewing Company. The map is so tiny that Him Outdoors says he can’t read it even with his glasses on, and it is left to me to navigate the corridors of power, and beer.

I discussed the layout with a few of the brewers and they said they generally preferred last year’s more cramped but intimate setting of the Overseas Passengers’ Terminal. There it was all about the brewers and everyone was happy chatting to each other. Here the stalls were more spread out and on the edges of the venue, like blushing wallflowers waiting to be asked for a dance.

The Arrow Brewing Company are tucked away upstairs in a corner with their casks of beer born with altitude. It’s a little early in the evening for the Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, so we opt instead for the Tobins Cask Ale which pours a gorgeous orange/gold colour with a delightful frothy head. It looks like an English drop, tastes like one too and has a long refreshing taste.

We mention that we are heading down there very soon and the friendly chaps invite us to come and visit. I envisage a few sessions on this stuff, not least because the Weevil writes in her tasting notes, ‘sippy session beer – not too fizzy and really nice.’ This makes it into my top five of the night despite the sexist advertising more in line with Tui than the actual decent beer that this is - I suppose most beer advertising is still aimed at men - sigh!

The name Tricerahops from the Ninkasi Brewing Company in Oregon seems to leap out of the page at me, so we make a slightly boozy beeline down to the Regional Wines & Spirits stall where some of the tipple is poured into our glasses. The blokes here are full of patter, ‘We’re the best beer shop in town!’ Him Outdoors has enough of sales talk for a while (he just finished working for a corporate company today) – he barks ‘I know’ and then feels sorry at the crestfallen faces and drinks up appreciatively. I like the hop content very much and find this to be a complex but subtle mix of hops and malt. Only later do I realise it is 8.8%.

We make a point of not visiting the breweries that we know we like because we have drunk their beer before and will do again. Maybe this is a bit unfair (and it means we miss out on Emerson’s Bewitched, a special festive brew apparently) but we simply can’t do justice to them all.

We hear that Epic have sold out of their Armageddon IPA anyway. When we mention this to another brewer, however, he just laughs that is exactly the sort of rumour Luke would put about to create more demand. There’s still some on at The Malthouse anyway and we have a couple of pints later, although we swore we would go straight home after the festival this time.