Friday, 23 March 2012

Friday Five: The Best of the Great Kiwi Beer Festival

Here are some totally unstructured notes from the Great Kiwi Beer Festival which we attended on 25th February in Christchurch (to accompany the random photos on My Week in Pictures).

Out of a sense of beer-loyalty, our first beverage of the day is from the Yeastie Boys. We are rewarded with great flavours. I have a Hud-a-wa’ while Him Outdoors goes for a former favourite: Pot Kettle Black. Mine is malty, biscuity, nutty, fruity, with a hint of camembert – surprisingly refreshing for a strong beer (6.8%) and a great way to start the day!

Next we visit the Wigram Brewing Co where Him Outdoors has a Mustang Pale Ale, which he declares features subtle hops with herbaceous overtones. I have a Ginger Jerry, which is cold with a sharp bite; it pours a lovely pale yellow colour with lazy bubbles and with hints of honey and lemon you might expect from a wheat beer. It is, however, predominantly ginger in flavour (as the name would lead you to suspect) with a spicy finish, and turns out to be one of my favourite beers of the day.

At Mike’s Organic Brewery, Him Outdoors has another old favourite, Mike’s Ale. This is the beer previously known as Mike’s Mild (brewed in the English style) but it has recently undergone a name change as some punters think ‘mild’ means low alcohol and low flavour, which is certainly not the case. We chat to Mr Mike himself, who proudly explains that the family-owned brewery is the oldest one here, having been going for 23 years.

I sample a Strawberry Blonde, which tastes a bit like a spritzer – probably due to the carbonation levels. It’s very fruity and beery, tasting like a Pilsner with lots of strawberries thrown at it. It’s pretty and pink and most likely aimed at girls – although not in the throwing bottles of beer at people sense. I don’t think I’m ‘that sort of girl’.

Him Outdoors has an intermediate Mendip Bitter from Peak Brewery. He says it tastes great but the texture is not so flash – perhaps it didn’t travel well? At Brew Moon I have a Hophead Organic IPA which tastes quite full of tannins beneath the sharp hops. Him Outdoors asked for stout but gets Amberley Pale Ale instead. It’s smoother than the IPA and has a better mouthfeel.

We can’t pass the Twisted Hop hand-pull pump and are rewarded with a fantastic IPA – a refreshing, crisp, citrusy, strong ale, a perfect mixture of hoppy and nutty flavours and a great texture; ideal for drinking on a sunny summer day, and I love it! Him Outdoors has another intermediate – a Ballast Point Schooner Wet Hop Pale Ale, which smells and tastes like blood oranges.

The Townshend ESB is alright but not as special as I remembered, and no, I can’t pinpoint why. Usually this is excellent, so I shall just put this down as a bad pint and revisit another day. Him Outdoors plumps for a Bavarian wheat beer, which he merely describes as ‘very disappointing’ and then pops over for a chat with Dale Holland of Dale’s Brewery. Dale won the supreme award at New Zealand’s largest home brew competition in 2010. Since then he has been brewing small batches of his beers at the West Coast Brewery in Westport. Him Outdoors has one of his Belgian style beers made with Belgian yeast and Maris hops, which is (apparently) very smooth and pleasing.

At the Sprig and Fern, we both opt for the Scotch Ale which has a terrific distinctive flavour; lots of malt and chocolate flavours with a subtle hop. Honey-cured bacon and avocado butties from Black Betty’s perk us up and enable us to continue with the tastings. After 2pm it really fills up with massive queues for everything: food; beer; toilets...

Him Outdoors has the porter from Tuatara – this well-balanced porter is his favourite, although nothing beats drinking it from a hand-pull pump in The Malthouse in Wellington; now that really was special. I enjoy the Helles with its tasty bubble-gum characteristics. Wide Boy Steve tries Moa for the first time and loves it. I’m used to it (I drink it at Jack’s Point after every race I do out there) but he is suitably impressed.
I move on to The Big Smoke from 8 Wired – my notes say ‘lovely!’ underlined many times. It is a smoky, hoppy, dark porter and eminently drinkable. Another hit is the West Coast Brewery Draught, which is ‘nutty and nice’ (my tasting notes are getting increasingly banal) and tastes like beer should.
Some lads are refused beer – they have no glasses or wristbands, and the ambience is beginning to change. It is still a beautiful sunny afternoon, however, with innocuous background music from the not-hugely-dynamic bands. I confess I find the Black Seeds almost insufferably dull without sufficient levels of intoxication.

The Captain Cooker Manuka Beer from Mussel Inn is nicely beery and flavoursome, with a hint of sweetness. The young lad we have with us (the son of friends) pronounces the Ballast Point Coronado Idiot to be ‘unenjoyably alcoholic’ – an interesting comment from a drinker who chooses his beer for its abv. I have heard much about Ballast Point – an American brewery from San Diego – who are all for experimenting and crafting excellent ales in traditional styles. I tried their Blue Eye IPA which is both hoppy and yeasty and very appealing – I will look out for more of their brews in the future.
I finish up the day with a Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black – it is still the best in the business; so smooth and subtly blended. I really do love this stuff! And so, it makes it into my top five beers of the day which are, in no particular order:

5 Favourite Beers of the Festival
  1. Pot Kettle Black - Yeastie Boys
  2. Ginger Jerry - Wigram Brewing Co
  3. IPA - Twisted Hop
  4. The Big Smoke - 8 Wired
  5. Draught - West Coast Brewery

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