Archive for the ‘Beer’ Category

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.


Jimmy and Anna outside the Panhead stand

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 Garage Project stand was one of the most popular

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

    Two Pot Flat White

  • 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.


Milk on tap

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.

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Only two sleeps until Beervana and the launch of what I’ve been excitedly calling ‘my beer’. It is in fact a collaboration between Panhead Custom Ales and NZ Life & Leisure magazine, one of twenty-five entries in Beervana’s hotly contested Media Brew competition. I’ve been itching to take part – “pick me, pick me!” – since the event started some three years’ ago. This year, I was not only one of the chosen but I was able to pick my brewer. I entered the event with my son Jimmy (my homebrew partner) and I opted for MIke Neilson at Panhead because his Upper Hutt brewery is a driveable distance and because Jimmy and I really like his beer. I’ve written Mike up in the next issue of NZ Life & Leisure (Sept/Oct) in an article about my – I mean our – beer.

Jimmy at Panhead

Jimmy at Panhead

The ground rules of the competition are reasonably open to creative interpretation. The theme changes each year – this year’s it’s Spring – and the brew must include an “intrinsic New Zealand ingredient”. Last year’s winning beer contained red, white and green jet planes; this year I’ve heard rumours of karengo, sea water and horopito. Our own brew is now kegged up and ready to go, so – having managed to keep it a secret so far – I’m ready to spill the beans.

The process began several weeks ago with a brainstorming session that culminated in the idea of Spring lamb. Mike immediately got carried away with the idea of making molecular spheres that, when dropped into the beer, would release the essence of slow roasted lamb. Well, that was never going to happen – it was far too outlandish and hideously complicated – so we abandoned the idea of making a beer that would taste like lamb and decided instead to make a beer that a lamb might drink. (more…)

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It seems disloyal to rave about Aussie craft beers from my home in the beer capital of New Zealand but full credit to the brewers from across the ditch who swept in to Wellington last week with a swag of top brews from the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA).

They were here to take part in the Brewers Guild of New Zealand International Beer Awards and the Beervana festival, and they matched Logan Brown restaurant course-for-course at a wonderful lunch and tasting session co-hosted by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and Cryer Malt. I’m not sure how I slipped into this event since I’ve only ever made two batches of beer in my life (and these were hop-doctored IPA’s based on off-the-shelf brew kits). I put it down to my enthusiasm for craft beer and the people who make it.  I really like spending time with brewers – they’re smart, good fun and they don’t take themselves too seriously.

A Generous Tasting of Aussie Craft Beers

A Generous Tasting of Aussie Craft Beers

Brewers are also very collegial. It was a lively event with lots of mutual admiration and none of the tiresome trans-Tasman rivalry that accompanies so many other Aus/NZ events. Still, I was interested to know how the two countries compared. The objective view, from NZ malt king David Cryer, is that while craft brewing took off much earlier in New Zealand, Australia has more than caught up.

My own experience last year in Melbourne was that whenever I asked for a craft beer in a café or bar I was presented with a standard brew from Little Creatures, which was rather like finding nothing more interesting than Monteiths. The  Australian brewers I met at the Logan Brown lunch told me that situation, which was largely due to trade arrangements with the big breweries, is changing rapidly. They say boutique brewers are now well represented in bars and on ‘wine lists’, particularly in cities like Melbourne. And so they should be. Like wine, a well considered beer match adds an extra dimension to a dining experience.

And that brings me to lunch. Shaun Clouston and Steve Logan have been matching beer with their menus for some time now, and it shows. I won’t taunt you with a blow by blow description of the Logan Brown lunch  – just two of my favourite courses:

entreephotoFirst up, Logan Brown’s buttery paua ravioli (left of photo) was matched with this year’s Champion Australian Beer, Alpha Pale Ale from the Matilda Bay Brewing Company. Its full malt flavour was perfect with the rich beurre blanc sauce and the citrusy hops perfectly aligned with the lime and coriander flavourings. The paua got a little lost but the rest was so good that I can’t say I missed it.

The  tuatua fritter (right of photo) was partnered with  Bridge Road Brewers  India Saison  (a collaboration with Norway’s Nøngne Ø brewery and an AIBA gold award winner) Shellfish loves hops and this is a bright hoppy beer, with the same hint of citrus that sits so well with orange and fennel. pie photo

Mid-menu, I fell upon Shaun’s wild boar and muttonbird pie. It was the best thing I’ve eaten in ages and was made even better with a double match – a dark barley wine from Bootleg Brewery and a malty red ale from Holgate Brewhouse. Interestingly, the latter was one of three beers on this menu brewed in collaboration with the previously mentioned brewery in Norway. Australia and Norway? Intriguing. I should have asked.

RISphotoSome of these beers were available for tasting at Beervana, one that wasn’t was an off-menu bottle I was lucky to try at the end of the Logan Brown lunch. It was one of only 250 bottles produced and it was brought to our table by the man who brewed it: Simon Walkenhorst of Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company, in the Yarra Valley. The original brewery was burnt to the ground in Victoria’s 2009 bush fires; a new, better brewery was built six months later and it has continued to produce some of Australia’s best handcrafted beers.  The big black bottle we opened was the Russian Imperial Stout, 2012. It won a gold at the AIBA that year and my lunch notes describe it as deeply delicious. It was all chocolate and coffee, roasted malt, smooth as velvet and made to be aged, just like a wine from the Yarra.

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I’m not sure which was more exciting – cutting the seaweed ‘ribbon’ on our newly built boatshed…


…or pouring the beer we brewed for the occasion.


At any rate it was a great party, a perfect night in early January, and the culmination of many months of hard work – the building I mean, not the brewing. We invited about forty guests – anyone we knew within sailing distance of our bay in the Marlborough Sounds – and we welcomed them with ice cold beer and punchy margaritas.


The evening rocked on with an opening ceremony, speeches, a Mexican feast and a concert from the hastily assembled Marlborough Sounds Ukelele Orchestra.


James, Jimmy and Dan Tait-Jamieson

The food was a labour of love. Four of us had spent the previous day hand-pressing 125 tortillas which we presented with bowls of spicy pork, chicken, beef, chilli, avocado, coriander, tomatillos and anything else we could rustle up. I’m now sold on tortillas as a way of feeding the troops. (The proper maize flour and the requisite cast iron tortilla press can be bought from Ontrays in Wellington).


Tortillas toasting on the barbecue

I’m also sold on our Boatshed Brew as the perfect drinking partner for a chilli-based meal.

ImageMy son Jimmy and I brewed it back in October (see previous posts), an IPA with an extra dose of cascade hops. I think it was the hops that gave it such a fabulous nose – refreshingly citrus with a touch of blackberry. To be honest, it under-delivered on the taste. I found it a bit lean and short but Jimmy reckons it’s a great ‘session beer’ so we’ve tweaked the recipe and made another batch for late summer drinking.

The label, by the way, was designed and drawn by daughter Maddie. The black blob at the end of the jetty is a fair rendition of Jeb, the dog.

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Bottling the Brew

Ten days on and our brew is in the bottle. I was planning to take a note of how much it has cost so far but I’ve already blown the budget on a heat pad to keep the brew fermenting at a constant temperature and a new hydrometer to replace the one I dropped. This first batch was always going to be expensive.

The Boatshed Brew was supposed to be a collaborative effort but my son Jimmy has departed for a fortnight, leaving me to check the ferment, record the hydrometer readings, add the finings and clean and fill the bottles. Also, daughter Maddie hasn’t even started to design the label so I’m thinking of re-naming my brew after the Little Red Hen in the children’s fable. (‘Who will help me bake the bread?’ said the little red hen. ‘Not I’, said the dog/cat/pig etc.) Like the lazy farmyard animals in the story, I expect my family will suddenly reappear when it’s time to drink the beer. And like the little red hen I might just drink it ‘all by myself’.

I have tasted it already and although it has a fabulous aroma I think it’s a bit too hoppy. It’s also quite cloudy, despite the fining powder that was supposed to clarify it. I’m hoping it will develop in the bottle. My instructions say it will be ready to drink in three weeks.


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The Boatshed Brew

It’s a measure of how much my family has grown up that I find myself in the kitchen not baking brownies or making playdough but brewing a batch of beer with my son Jimmy.


We’ve been talking about doing this for some time. Jimmy has developed a taste for craft beer while apparently studying at Otago University and I’ve been interested ever since I made a radio feature with Paul Croucher in the summer of 2004. Paul had just won a prize for the home brew he made in his garage and as he took me through the process I was thoroughly seduced by his enthusiasm. Unsurprisingly he went professional soon after and his beer regularly takes out top awards in the annual beer awards.

More recently I’ve been writing a feature about Wellington’s micro brewery, the Garage Project (to be published in the Nov/Dec issue of NZ Life & Leisure). Brewer Pete Gillespie re-inspired me to give it a go. He makes beers with interesting combinations of malts and hops, playing about with the various processes and producing some fantastic beers. He has years of experience to draw on and quite wisely advises me to keep it simple. Start with a kit, get some experience and then when you’re ready, pull out all the stops.

So Jimmy and I have been down at the Brew House supply store in Newtown, Wellington. Having decided we wanted to make an IPA with a flavour reminiscent of our favourite Epic Pale Ale, we’ve  bought a kit with a fermenter barrel and various bits and pieces, together with a pouch of ready-to-go malt (Mangrove Jack’s IPA) and some Cascade hops to give it a bit of a boost.

It was very easy to make. Like cheese making, most of the work is in the cleaning and sterilising of the equipment. We made a guess with the hops and threw in a handful, otherwise it’s dependent upon the quality of the malt kit and the yeast that came with it.

Boat Shed under construction

Our brew is currently fizzing away in the garage. We’ve timed it be ready for the launch of our boatshed in the Marlborough Sounds. This project, several years in the making, has almost come to fruition. The boatshed and jetty have been built by father Dan, with the help of extended family and sons Jimmy and William. We hope the last nail will be hammered into place at about the same time our brew reaches perfection in the bottle.

We’re calling it the Boatshed Brew. Daughter Maddie is currently designing the label and we plan to pop the caps early in the New Year. I’ll keep you posted on the progress. And If anyone else is interested in home brewing from a kit, I can recommend Mangrove Jack’s short YouTube videos Part One and Part Two.

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