Beervana 2014 took place in Wellington over the weekend. My son and brewing buddy, Jimmy, and I went along to represent NZ Life & Leisure in the Media Brew competition. After letting his stomach settle, he wrote up the following guest blog.
My usual experience of the Westpac Stadium concourse is the traditional half-time queue for hot chips and Tui, served in paper punnets and plastic bottles. It goes well with a game of rugby – and the concourse can be a welcome break from the swirling stadium wind – but it’s hardly a taste sensation.
So it was a welcome surprise to walk in through the ticket gates on Friday and be confronted with a fairground of elaborate and colourful stalls set up the country’s craft brewers (and a few from overseas).
Beervana has been going on for a little while now – 13 years in fact – but this year was my first one. Getting the chance to help out Mike Neilson of Panhead in the Media Brew competition was the perfect opportunity. By opening day, we’d brainstormed our spring-themed entry, brewed the beer, done the photo shoot for Life & Leisure, and even come up with a suitably automotive name for our ewes milk wheat beer: Lamb Chopper. I just hadn’t tried it yet.
But before sampling our creation, there was a festival to check out.
A Taste of Portland
Down one end of the concourse, behind some tall black drapes, was the Taste of Portland seminar. This year, Beervana brought over three brewers and a chef from Portland, Oregon to run a bar and a beer and food seminar, hosted by John Holl, author of the American Craft Beer Cookbook and journalist for the seminal publication, All About Beer. (When John saw my Life & Leisure media pass he said, “That’s a nice name for a magazine. Mine’s better though.”)
Ben Love, from the Gigantic Brewing Company, explained that the city of Portland is actually known as “Beervana”. There are 57 breweries in Portland and 77 in its wider metropolitan area – all that for a city about the same size as Auckland. Ben explained that in Portland turning up at a party with craft beer is the norm and that Portlanders know and frequent their neighbourhood breweries.
Each brewer presented a beer, along with a matching dish prepared on-stage by the chef. My pick of the three was the Nova Pacifica, brewed in collaboration between Commons Brewery and Tuatara. The two ends of the Pacific came together in the mix of Nelson Sauvin hops and Oregon Meridian. It was a fresh, fruity and strong ale – Commons are known for their Farmhouse Saisons – and went down well as the first drink of the day, accompanied by a Kingfish salad.
The craft beer market in the States is booming, but fierce competition for taps keeps the brewers innovating. So, what’s next in the world of craft beer? Joe Casey, of Widmer Brothers, predicts the rise of lagers. Hopped-up pale ales have ruled the craft beer world for long enough: “Sometimes people want a beer that’s not going to rip their tongue off when they drink it.” The goal is to convince people that lager is more than just a mild, crisp beverage that comes in a green bottle.
On the Concourse
The concourse was really starting to hum by the time the Portland seminar had wrapped up. Many of the breweries had decided to launch new beers or create special releases for Beervana so there was a lot to try. The focus of the festival meant that brewers (and the beer-enlightened drinkers) were eager to push the boundaries further than the supermarket chiller allows. Some of the highlights for me were:
- Garage Project’s Two Pot Flat White, a double-poured beer made up of a bottom layer of rich coffee-flavoured stout and a separately-poured, heavily-frothed head, topped off with chocolate sprinkles
- The sour beers on offer (a new flavour for me), including 8 Wired’s potent Wild Feijoa nine-and-a-half-percenter and, perhaps more sessionable, Hallertau’s NZ Wild Ale media brew entry
- The effort that went into the stands: a Tuatara smashing its way out of the gable of a weatherboard shed, the Aro Street garage projected in grey-scale on concourse walls and, this year’s undisputed best stand, the Panhead “beer and tattoo” parlour with its dentist’s chair and resident tatooist, Simon Morse
- And when you needed something to line the gut, the food on offer was a step above the stadium’s usual pie+chips combo – I’ve heard the pulled pork from Grill Meats Beer was a highlight for many, but I can’t imagine a much better match for craft beer than the pork buns, hot off the spit, from Big Bad Wolf.
The Media Brew
The most adventure to be had was down in the Harbour Zone at the Media Brew bar. There were some truly weird creations. ParrotDog added lamb bones to the boil to create their Dogbone and topped it off with add-your-own fresh thyme. The beer’s bark was probably worse than its bite: it had the deep brown colour of gravy but its taste was more subtle than I expected. Monteiths chose sweet over savoury. Their creation was labelled Raspberry Lamington Wheat Beer and tasted like someone had been particularly generous with the raspberry milkshake syrup.
But the beer I’d been itching to try was our Lamb Chopper. Poured in the glass, it had the pale cloudiness of a wheat beer and the citrusy hop aroma matched the spring theme. On the palate, the spicy, clove flavours kept the beer interesting. But what about the secret ingredient, the ewes milk? The beer, fortunately, didn’t taste milky beyond a slight sweetness and a lingering coating on the inside of my mouth after I finished my first mouthful – just like you get when you drink a glass of cold milk.
Lamb Chopper didn’t win a prize (robbed!) but the judges enjoyed its colour, cloudiness and farmyard nose. The bottled special edition is currently being rolled out, finished with a drawing of a ram on a motorbike by Simon Morse (the tatooist). Thankfully, it’ll be in bars soon – I haven’t been weaned off it yet.