Archive for the ‘NZ Life & Leisure’ 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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I’ve just finished writing a travel feature on Shanghai. As usual, the hardest part is deciding what goes in and what stays out of the story; there’s too much good material and you can’t write about everything.

So, I didn’t write about knock-off handbags, I went light on the restaurants and I left out the bit where I come home with dysentery. It seemed unfair to leave readers with the bad taste of that one over-priced greasy dumpling which I’d foolishly bought from a tourist trap restaurant.

And I left out the gory bits. I didn’t want to put readers off with stuff that’s really offensive so I hinted a bit here and there and I saved the ghastly stuff for my blog.

Vegetarians, read no further.

The wet market on Taikang Rd was an off-the-itinerary discovery made while souvenir shopping in the former French Concession. I’d got lost in the maze of allleyways that is the Tai Kang Art Centre and, when I finally got back on the main street, I found myself right outside a really wonderful produce market. It wasn’t a big market but it had a great selection of shiny looking vegetables, all sorts of tofu, stinky hundred year old eggs, fresh noodles and lots of seafood, including tanks of live shellfish and turtles.

Taikang Rd Wet Market, Shanghai

Right at the back I saw a big poster showing free range hens dotted around an emerald green field. I hadn’t expected to find free-range hens in China so I fought my way to the back for a closer look. Directly underneath the happy hen picture was a double row of cages stuffed full of them.

Poultry Section, Taikang Rd Market

I had to laugh but the irony was lost on the man behind the counter. He was attending to a fussy female customer who insisted on feeling the birds’ breasts to assess their worth. The vendor was kept busy for some time, pulling hens out of cages until she was satisfied she had the most buxom bird of the lot.

Purchasing Poultry, Taikang Rd Market

The chosen one was weighed on the scales. A price was calculated and then the vendor stretched out the hen’s neck and slit its throat. Blood started spurting and he immediately threw it into a large plastic drum and closed the lid. The bird, still half alive, went ballistic. It thumped around, rocking the drum and presumably making a hell of a mess inside while the vendor and customer talked about this and that until the fuss died down. At that stage, the poor creature was pulled out and thrust into another drum of hot water to loosen its feathers. Finally it was gutted, plucked, packed into a plastic bag and handed to the woman in exchange for some money.

Why was it so shocking? I think it was the noise, the casual way in which it was done, and the fact the other hens were watching and listening from behind the bars of their cages. I’d seen animals killed for food before but something about this made me feel a bit sick so I turned my back on it and wandered over to look at the fish section, where someone else was buying a turtle.

Seafood at Taikang Rd Wet Market

Turtles are farmed in China, which I figure makes it alright to eat them. I got in a bit closer as one was lifted out of the tank and then I saw what I can hardly believe I saw – the fishmonger, with a pair of scissors, calmly snipping off the turtle’s shell while it was still alive, its short little legs waving helplessly in the most horrible way.

I’d photographed the hens in their cages but I couldn’t take pictures of this. I left the market feeling slightly stunned. There was no way this was going in my story. To be honest, it didn’t even make it into my notebook. I censored myself, because of all the things I saw in Shanghai the one thing I wish I hadn’t seen was this.

My Shanghai story will appear in the Sept/Oct issue of NZ Life & Leisure.

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Why is it that when you give a group of men a job to do, it turns into a competition? It’s a universal truth and it’s well-documented in this photo of three New Zealand journalists intent on making the best dim sum dumpling at a Peninsula Hotel cooking class in Shanghai.

Journalists Simon Wilson, Duncan Gillies and Glen Scanlon hard at work.

I warned my three travelling companions that I would ‘out’ them on my blog. Their colleagues at Metro, NZ Herald and Stuff News will be pleased to see how seriously they took every part of this week long all-expenses paid, 5-star-luxury media trip to Shanghai.

Note the concentration with which they are willing their dumplings into shape. It really was that intense and I was happy to count myself out of the race. (Having been taught how to do this on a previous trip to China, I could afford to be smug about my own attempt.)

Stuffing dumplings under the watchful eye of chef Lai Wing

The winning dumpling was made by the high achieving editor of Metro, Simon Wilson. It was a group vote; he would have been impossible to travel with had he lost. Besides, Duncan didn’t need anyone else to tell him that his dumpling was the best one really and Glen had already won his race (and a tidy sum) on the horses in Hong Kong.

Not-so-perfect-looking dumplings

As a woman and a mother, I’m bound to say their messy looking dumplings were all ‘very special’. They did taste pretty good, largely due to Peninsula Chef Lai Wing who had prepared all the components beforehand. His recipe is published below.

I’ll be writing more about dumplings and other things Shanghai in the September issue of NZ Life & Leisure.


Shrimp Dumplings

The crucial ingredient here is the dough. Chef Lai Wing used a 50/50 blend of two types of flour. He didn’t speak English so I’m not absolutely sure about this but we worked out he was using rice flour and cornflour. I haven’t tested this recipe; try it at your own risk and let me know how it works.


500g shrimp meat

75g bamboo shoots, shredded

1 tsp salt

½ tsp chicken stock powder

20g sugar

90g vegetable oil


75g rice flour

75g cornflour

1 tablespoon oil

boiling water

Mix all filling ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. Mix flours together then add oil and enough boiling water to make a smooth dough. Use 10g pieces of dough (about 1 teaspoon) and form them into very thin discs. This was done with the flat side of a large cleaver – press down hard with the heel of your hand and turn a circle, first clockwise and then anti-clockwise. Put a little filling in each and seal at top to make a half moon. Pinch and pleat the sealed edge together to make a classic purse shape. Place dumplings in steam baskets and steam for 5 minutes until cooked.

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