Absent

So you will have noticed I’ve been absent for a looooong time. I have plenty of excuses – a broken laptop, working too much, laziness. But I think what it really comes down to is that it’s really difficult to pick up the blogging again after such a long break. And so the break gets even longer¹.

But here I am, I’m back. I’ve had some amazing beer-y experiences while I’ve been gone. There have been numerous beer festivals right across the country, and even in Melbourne, new bars popping up, fancy beer dinners, and I even got to be a trainee judge at last year’s SOBA National Homebrew Competition. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some thoughts about some of the above, though knowing my track record, I wouldn’t be holding my breath if I were you.

One thing I do want to write about though, is my newly-found interest in gin. I know gin is not beer, but this is a beer-related story, so bear with me. Right, so until a few months ago, April in fact, I did not like gin².

In March, the boyf and I made our annual pilgrimage to Marchfest in Nelson. Fabulous festival, amazing people, good beer and this year there was the most amazing weather. I even made my way to the music tent for the first time in my Marchfest-going history to hear some tunes by this talented dude. But I digress.

The day before the Marchfest festivities began, the boyf and I dropped in on our friends Fritz and Maria at their new distillery, Liquid Alchemy. Fritz and Maria have been involved in the Nelson beer scene for quite some time, and write the beer column for the Nelson Mail. Maria showed us around their wee set-up, where we got to admire their copper distiller, ask about, and smell, what was in their rum-filled barrels, and taste test some of their wares³.

We also got to check out their distiller in action, which was in the process of making a gint with fresh Motueka hops, picked off the vines that morning. It smelled amazing. The fresh hop gin was an interesting concept to us, and a completely unique idea according to Fritz and Maria – with so few areas in the world that actually grow hops, you need to be able to pick the hops, take them to a distillery, and make the hop-infused spirit all on the same day. That leaves very few companies right across the world in a position to be able to pull that off.

A month later, the boyf, some friends and I headed to the very remote Penzance Bay in the Marlborough Sounds for the long easter weekend. With no internet access or phone coverage, there is little to do but read, write, draw and play board games – all while enjoying a few beverages. Liquid Alchemy’s 1st Cut Fresh Hop Gin – Motueka was justready for sale, and so we bought a bottle to take with us.

After smelling the Motueka while it was distilling, I was interested in trying it, despite it being gin. The boyf prepared everybody a glass, paired with tonic and lime, and everyone, including myself, expected me to take a sip and then hand my glass to someone else to finish.

Friends Dylan, Steven (background) and I enjoying First Cut Gin at the Marlborough Sounds

Friends Dylan, Steven (background) and I enjoying First Cut Gin at the Marlborough Sounds

 

But boy, was I shocked. Fresh hops are known for giving beers sweeter and sweatier characters than dried whole cone hops or hop pellets do  And the Fresh Hop Gin was no exception. The Motueka hops infused the gin with sweet earthy notes, like pine, which complimented the floral and spicy notes in the gin, yet gave it a whole new character – one that reminded me of my beloved beer.

The bottle lasted the five of us just one night, but I was hooked. When we switched to the regular First Cut Gin, I realised I was able to taste beyond the alcohol to the floral and spicy flavours, and it was a rather tasty beverage⁴.

Liquid Alchemy also produced Nelson Sauvin and Wai-iti fresh hop gins . I’m yet to taste the Wai-iti, but the Nelson Sauvin version tastes of lovely lemon and sweet tropical fruits, with an earthy hop character base.

Something different and delicious change for beer and gin lovers alike!

*****

¹ Though I just checked the date of my last post and it was September. SEPTEMBER! Fuck, I didn’t realise it’d been that long. At least there’s been some fabulous online beer reading on NZ sites like The Bottleneck, Beer Diary, and From Drinker to Brewer, among others.

 

² Okay I don’t actually like any spirits, really. Unless I can’t taste them. And then there’s no point in drinking them, so I might as well just have a beer. So I do.

 

³ The boyf LOVES his gin, and enjoys many other spirits, including rum and whisky, so the tasting was mainly for him. I did taste the gin and the rum – with tonic and ginger beer to help me through. They were nice, but a bit hot and spirit-y tasting for my liking. Funny that.

 

As long as the boyf isn’t making it with his favoured half gin/half tonic ratio – that’s just too much gin for me.

 

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The Session #79: What the hell has America done to beer?

It’s the first Friday of September, meaning it is time for The Session – when a whole heap of beer bloggers from all across the world write about one particular beer-y topic.

This month it is hosted by the very opinionated and passionate Englishman Ding, who has somehow found himself living in Atlanta, Georgia. Openly trying to stir up some trouble, he chose the topic ‘What the hell has America done to beer?’ to have people argue their point on the seemingly never-ending USA versus Old World Beer Culture issue.

I fear I may disappoint Ding with my views…

Here in little ol’ New Zealand, we’ve really only come into our own when it comes to beer in the past decade¹. Before then, we pretty much had the choice of Speight’s Gold Medal Ale (a watery lager), Tui East India Pale Ale (a watery lager), a draught² of some sort either on tap, in a can or a crate bottle (DB Draught, Waikato Draught, Canterbury Draught and so on) or Steinlager (a light-struck lager – pretty much our version of a Heineken).

Of course there was the odd exception, and those exceptions were generally malt-driven ales, inspired by traditional English brews. And it was from there that the craft beer movement in New Zealand really began. Beautiful beers, such as the strong, sweet, caramel goodness of Roger Pink’s Pink Elephant Mammoth, blew my mind in my early drinking years.

But the New Zealand craft beer scene has grown dramatically in recent years, and I believe it’s the influence of American beer that has really inspired our brewers. The American Pale Ale was a bit of a revelation to craft beer drinkers. Sweet, fruity hops with a piney, bitter kick – we’d never really had beers with flavours like those before.  And there were just so many hops in the American IPAs.

Breweries like Epic started importing American hops and pushing the boundaries – for a time there was nothing else like the US Cascade-hopped Epic Pale Ale on the New Zealand market, and when Epic Armageddon IPA was first released, its bitterness shocked and amazed us – introducing many a home-brewer to the wonder that is the Simcoe hop.

American-hopped beers started popping up everywhere. And then New Zealand brewers were faced with the problems of rising US hop prices and a shortage of many of our favourite varieties. But hey, they thought, New Zealand hops aren’t all that different from the US hops.

The grapefruit character of Riwaka, the lemon notes in Motueka and the earthiness of NZ Cascade all have similarities to the fruity and piney US hops. And with a heavy hand, the brewers added our local hops to their pale ales and IPAs. Only, New Zealand hops are generally more bitter than US hops, which tend to be sweeter.  The malt balance of American Pale Ales and IPAs was somewhat lost behind the intense hop character from the New Zealand varieties.

But the American-inspired New Zealand-hopped pale ales and IPAs have won a place in the hearts and minds of the beer-drinking public in this part of the world. We’re now a nation of hop-hungry drinkers, trying to challenge our palates with the driest, bitterest beer we can find.

I’m proud to say New Zealand Pale Ales and IPAs are now a unique beer style, unlike any other Pale Ales or IPAs across the world³. And that is thanks to the American craft beer influence. Sure, the English ales started New Zealand in the right direction, but our craft beer scene would not be where it is today without the US.

I would personally prefer an American pale ale⁴, a balanced IPA⁵ or hand-pulled stout to a New Zealand IPA 6 out of 7 days of the week. But what New Zealand has to offer on the world’s craft beer stage is all thanks to America. Apart from our pilsner. Which is a whole other story…

*****

¹ Though I must point out, I haven’t even been of legal drinking age for a decade yet.

² Here in New Zealand draught has a different meaning than in other countries. While often found on tap, it actually refers to some kind of 4%, bland, watery beer coloured with caramel.

³ This is a huge exaggeration on my part – I have only ever travelled to Australia (and Rarotonga, where Steinlager’s pretty much the most exciting beer on offer), so all of my foreign beer drinking has been from imported goodies. But I hear from visitors to our wee country that this statement might, in fact, be quite accurate.

⁴ I find the fruitiness and sweetness of an American pale ale lifts the malt behind the hops, rather than masking it.

I have fond memories of Meantime IPA on tap which had just the right balance of pale malt and earthy hops – working in harmony rather than trying to outdo one another.

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Beer of the Month – August

August was a HUGE month for beer, with Choice Beer Week and Beervana giving me plenty of good excuses to try many delicious brews. It was an exhausting nine days, and while I wouldn’t even like to guess how many beers I tried during that time, there was definitely one stand out for me.

Each year, Beervana challenges brewers to come up with a brand new beer that fits a particular theme. This year, it was a bit of a tough one – “Let’s go… 3 Outta 4”. In other words, the brewers had to create a “beer” using only three of the four ingredients needed to make it – hops, malt, yeast and water.

Most of the beers replaced the hops with herbs or fruit. Hopmonger used coffee and oranges which was a very tasty combination. Liberty Brewing used apple juice instead of water and used rotten apples rather than brewing yeast to ferment it. But my favourite of the beers, and my beer of the month, was Brew Moon’s True Gruit?

A gruit is a beer that uses herbs for flavouring and bittering rather than hops¹. It’s not a very common style anymore, with hops available in pretty much any flavour – fruity, earthy, bitter, sweet.

Brew Moon’s version not only used a concoction of herbs instead of hops, but they used pinot grape skins instead of yeast to ferment the beer. It was a gorgeous hazy, purple-pink colour and it smelled like a sour beer, with a tartness to the aroma. It also tasted tart, and there was a juice-like character to it, with a fruity, almost citrus flavour, and a dry finish.

While there were many interesting beers on offer at Beervana, Brew Moon’s True Gruit? was both interesting and flavourful , and its easy, sour bite made it the highlight not only of the festival, but of the month.

I was highly disappointed to find out that it had all sold out at Beervana, not leaving any for the beer bars in Wellington to put on tap immediately after the festival. But according to Untappd, I’m not the only one who enjoyed it, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Brew Moon finds the time to make some more.

*****

¹ Wikipediahas a more detailed explanation.

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The Session #78: My Elevator Pitch for Beer

This is my first time participating in The Session.

On the first Friday of every month, a whole bunch of beer bloggers from around the world blog about one particular topic relating to beer, picked by that month’s host. August 2013 belongs to James Davidson of Beer Bar Band fame and he flicked me an email ages ago asking if I wanted to participate this time around. With two hours of my Friday to go, I decided I might have something to say.

The topic? Your Elevator Pitch for Beer:

You walk into an elevator and hit the button for your destination level. Already in the elevator is someone holding a beer…and it’s a beer that annoys you because, in your view, it represents all that is bad with the current state of beer.

You can’t help but say something, so you confront your lift passenger with the reason why their beer choice is bad.

30 seconds (or 250 words) is all you have to sell your pitch for better beer, before the lift reaches the destination floor. There’s no time, space or words to waste. You must capture and persuade the person’s attention as quickly as possible. When that person walks out of the elevator, you want them to be convinced that you have the right angle on how to make a better beer world.

Walking into an elevator and finding someone holding a beer – any beer – represents hope to me. If someone likes beer, no matter how boring, eccentric, pretentious, offensive – they like beer. And if someone likes beer, they have the capability to enjoy good beer and the community that surrounds it.

After a smile and a quick question or two about what they’re drinking and why, I would provide this simple advice: experiment.

There is an unimaginable range of beers available on the market these days. There are countless different styles, different flavours, different textures. There are beers that are made using vegetables, coffee, oysters. I’ve had a beer that tasted exactly like marshmallow banana lollies. Another like manuka-smoked bacon. And yet another like a slightly sweaty forehead with a hint of lemon. I’ve liked them all. Fizzy, flat, syrupy. Sour, bitter, sweet. There is no limit when it comes to beer. So why limit yourself?

And why not tell people about it? Talking about beer is a passion of mine – I like talking about beer about as much as I like drinking it, actually. And wherever there is a range of beer available, there are people who like to discuss beer, brewing, and their experiences.

There’s a whole world of beer out there – why not open yourself up to it? Experiment.

*****

Check out all the other elevator pitches here:  http://beerbarband.com/2013/07/09/the-session-no-78-announcement-your-elevator-pitch-for-beer/

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Beer of the month – July

July was a pretty hectic month for me.  Between work, moving house, being sick (yay for shift work), and helping the Society of Beer Advocates get out the Winter Issue of The Pursuit of Hoppiness, I actually had very little time to enjoy all that many beers.

But through some twist of fate¹, I did manage to make the SOBA Winter Ale Festival. It was held at a new location this year – Victoria University’s newly renovated Hunter Lounge², and was bigger than ever before. There was a huge selection of beer on offer, making it difficult to know just what to try in the short space of time. I stuck to the dark beers – it being a winter ale festival after all, and tried some wonderful gems.

Yeastie Boys’ Pot Kettle Black was on cask and tasting like it’s wonderful roasty, bitter self; Mike Neilson’s new Panhead Brewery made its debut with an Oat Stout – a full-bodied and well-balanced roasty, chocolate delight; while Liberty Brewing’s Never Go Back provided both a toffee sweetness and coffee kick that ended the evening perfectly.

But it was Kereru’s For Great Justice Porter that was the stand-out beer for me. At 4.5%, it was the lowest alcohol beer on offer that day – a fact I only became aware of at the end of the event while searching back through the programme during my own personal festival debrief³. For Great Justice went down like a beer of close to 6%, with a full body and smooth finish. It tasted of a chocolate brownie, with a rich, dark chocolate flavour and roast malt notes. While the description of the beer in the programme mentioned it has coconut in it, it’s not a character I picked up on – potentially due to my cold. But its flavour was not lacking without it, and For Great Justice made quite the impression on me with its sweet, chocolate notes.

While the weather forecasters are predicting an early spring, I’m determined to continue to drink the high quality of rich, dark beers on offer at this time of year, for as long as I can.

Kereru have a stall at Beervana next weekend – and For Great Justice comes with my highest recommendation.

*****

¹ On the day before the festival, my netball game was shifted to a 4pm start, which meant I would only be able to arrive at the festival at about 5.30pm. But by the time I woke up from my morning nap on the Saturday (I was napping because I felt like shit, thanks to the combined effects of a cold and tummy bug), my netball game had been cancelled because of a double-booked court. I decided to head to the festival despite my illness, and one beer happened to settle my stomach and lift my spirits – so I stayed.

² The last time I set foot in the Hunter Lounge I was at the front of a mosh pit at a Shihad concert in first year. A very different atmosphere this time around.

³ I’m a nerd, I know.

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Beer of the month – June

While the majority of the beer drinkers I know drink pints of craft beer when given the option, I have always been a half-pint kind of girl¹. I do enjoy drinking a full pint² of beer from time to time, but generally, I order half-pints because it means I can try more beers in an evening than if I was drinking a full 400-568mls at a time. It also means I can keep up with my larger, male, beer-drinking buddies – I can finish a half pint in about the same time as the boyf can polish off a pint.

Last month, my home away from home, Hashigo Zake, made a change to their glassware. They have done away with their stemmed, 300ml half-pint glasses and replaced them with what they’re calling “the fancy” – a stemmed, wide-mouthed glass produced by the German company Spiegelau. It can hold more than their standard half-pint serve, and so they’ve marked all of the new glasses with a 300ml line.

I adore these new glasses. You have the option of holding the glass by the stem, or by cupping your hand around its bottom. It has a wide, round bottom, like that of a red wine glass, making it perfect for swirling – something I enjoy doing with pretty much any beverage³. There’s also a decent gap between the 300ml mark and the lip of the fancy, making it easy to enjoy the aromas of the beer without accidentally dipping the tip of your nose into the head of the beer. Basically, drinking out of a fancy is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The "fancy" - AKA the Stemmed Pilsner Glass from Spiegelau.

The “fancy” – AKA the Stemmed Pilsner Glass from Spiegelau.

My beer of the month was consumed out of a fancy. Nøgne Ø Sunturnbrew is a beer that I’ve enjoyed very much several times before. But I have no doubt that the new glass enhanced the drinking experience of the 11% brew.

Nøgne Ø Sunturnbrew is a smoked barley wine brewed every winter solstice by the Norwegian brewery. It’s got sweet, dark fruit aromas, with raisin and cherry coming through the caramel malt, and a peak smoke hit. The flavour is sweet and sticky, with brown sugar, caramel, raisin and a touch of roast. Then, just as you think the mouthful of flavour is coming to an end, a lovely, peaty flavour jumps out and cuts through the stickiness. As the beer warms in the fancy, which I had cupped in my hands, the flavours become more powerful, and they meld together oh-so well.

A bottle of Sunturnbrew - I have this one stashed away in my beer cellar.

A bottle of Nogne’s Sunturnbrew – I have this one stashed away in my beer cellar.

I enjoyed 300mls of the Sunturnbrew for a good half-hour before my glass was empty, and the only thing that stopped me from ordering another was knowing I had a netball game the next day. While the beer is difficult to find on tap here in New Zealand, it is available in bottles from Hashigo’s online bottle store, and it may have found its way to a few off-licences as well. The beer is one that ages well, and if you drink it at home you can choose whatever vessel you want to enjoy it out of.

I know I’ll be having another few before the year is out.

*****

¹ On second thought, perhaps the name of my blog is a little misleading… though “A Girl and Her Half-Pint” is not quite so catchy.

² Which, here in New Zealand, means a vessel holding somewhere between 400-568mls of beer.

³ Admittedly, I treat most beverages like beer – swirling my coffee, tilting my water glass when I pour it, sniffing my tea…

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Beer of the month – May

This month was an especially exciting one for me – it included a trip to Melbourne to enjoy Good Beer Week and the Great Australasian Beer Specatpular. It was a rather exhausting week actually, and it’s taken me another week to recover from the busy beery days and a particularly nasty cold I managed to pick up at the end of the holiday.

Not surprisingly, I enjoyed my beer of the month across the ditch during Good Beer Week. Perhaps what is surprising about it though, is that the stand out beer of May was just a plain old pale ale from an Australian brewery.

A week in Melbourne really did make me appreciate how lucky we beer lovers are here in New Zealand. While there were a lot of delicious beers in Australia, there were a decent number of duds too, and many of the more exciting beers, excluding the GABS offerings, were styles that have been around in NZ for quite a while¹.

So when I tried the Wig & Pen Pale Ale, on cask at The Courthouse Hotel, it really made an impression.  It was a simple pale ale, made exceptionally well. Brewed with American hops, it had an earthy, fruity aroma, and tasted of earth and citrus, with an easy bitterness on the finish. The malt was just as impressive, with a bit of roast, a bit of biscuit and a bit of caramel – something that could stand up to the hops and filled out the body nicely, but was very easy to drink. It was smooth, well-balanced and just plain tasty.

In a week where I tried a beetroot saison, a lemon myrtle ale, a white chocolate raspberry pilsner, a pale ale brewed with Dai Dai fruit, three different types of Christmas pudding ales, and countless imperial, smoked, coffee, chocolate, barrel-aged concoctions, there were very few good, simple beers with no tricks². So it’s actually the simple, but oh-so tasty, Wig & Pen Pale Ale on cask that made the biggest impression on me in such a busy, beery week. With this beer completely unavailable in New Zealand, for once, I’m jealous of all you Aussie craft beer drinkers.

There will be more to come about my Australian beer adventures in the coming days!

*****

¹ Black IPAs ,Red IPAs, drinkable sours…

² Though many of the beers in that list were very delicious. In fact, my favourite festival beer was one of those tricky concoctions – a barrel-aged, imperial stout from Prickly Moses in Victoira.

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