Next stop – Seattle and beyond

So I know it’s been a while since our first blog, but it turns out David and I have kept our days super-packed full of fun times

We’re currently travelling around the fine state of California, but we need to go back and talk about our final days in Vancouver and our amazing time in Washington State.

Our final evening in Vancouver was the best yet. After my complaints about people not being very polite nor friendly, we were proved wrong when we headed along to Craft Beer Market to enjoy our last night in the city. With 100+ beers on tap we were a little skeptical about how much they actually cared about the beer, but it turns out they do – a lot.

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Denise Gymnast at CRAFT

We were lucky enough to get seated at the bar where a chap named Alex served us for the night. He was the first beer geek we had encountered during the trip so far and it was incredibly refreshing to chat to someone who loved beer as much as we do. We got to try a heap of different beers, Alex gave us tasters before we committed to a full glass, and suggested we share a plate of Poutine – which was more than enough for the both of us and was also AMAZING. We also got to watch a US Open tennis quarter-final while everyone else in the bar was watching the first NFL game of the season. There were many confused sports fans in that room that night thanks to the boyf and I cheering on Roger Federer.

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That’s just a quarter of the taps in the background there

Alex gave us some tips about where to go for off-license sales and showed us his bottle of Phillips Brewing Co anniversary ale – 13 Knots in a Hangman’s Noose – it came with a wee bottle of hop liquor which takes the beer up to 13%. The boyf and I bought a bottle shortly after leaving Craft and drank it when we got home. It was super sweaty and earthy with big sweet citrus notes – and was just as good without the hop liquor as with it, which just gave it a sweeter, fruitier punch.

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The next day we travelled across the border to the US – by bus. It was far less stressful and time-consuming than we were lead to believe – our entire bus was through customs within about 20-30 minutes. The boyf and I were accused of being alcoholics by the border control officer (“I’m sorry, but if you’re coming all the way from New Zealand to drink beer, you’re alcoholics”), and we also had to endure proper bio-security checks (in Canada it was nothing more than handing someone our slip of paper without them even glancing at it).

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Welcome to ‘murica

The whole trip only took about 4 hours, and we arrived in a very hot and sunny Seattle late afternoon. We easily made our way to my cousin’s house, where we stayed for the Seattle leg of the trip. My cousin, Ellen, and her husband, Matt, live in Seattle’s Capitol Hill, which is not only the city’s gay district, but also the centre of all the best cafes, restaurants and bars.

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We began our Seattle experience with a couple of beers at The Pine Box, which used to be a funeral home. While David and I have been trying to drink local in each state we visit, the 30 degree temperature had me screaming for a easy-drinking IPA, and The Pine Box didn’t have any Washington IPAs on tap. So I tried a 6.5% IPA from Oregon’s Hop Valley called Proxima and it hit the mark with its sweaty hop aroma, sweet orange flavour and earthy bitterness.

After a couple of beers we all headed to Ellen and Matt’s favourite Mexican restaurant, Poquitos. It had a couple of good beers on tap – Elysian’s Immortal IPA and Manny’s brewed by Georgetown – and the food was amazing. Matt, the boyf and I even shared a wee bowl of grasshoppers which actually tasted really good – all spicy and crunchy – and I’d happily eat them again. They’d make a really good bar snack!

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The restaurant was quite dark, making it hard to see what we were eating, which probably made it easier to eat.

The next day was our first full day in Seattle. We started with brunch at Serious Biscuits for our very first biscuits and gravy experience. While our dishes were delicious (particularly my cheese and ham and biscuits dish, which didn’t have “gravy”), we decided these scone-like biscuits would taste better with NZ’s version of gravy, rather than the bland white sauce that Americans put on them.

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Traditional US breakfast dish.

But despite that the tasty food was a great base for a day of cider drinking – which we then went and did. Ellen, Matt, David and I all headed along to the fifth annual Cider Summit. I’ll admit I’m not a big cider drinker nor fan, but I had a great day hanging in the sun (well, shade actually because it was so freakin’ hot at 30+ degrees), drinking dry-hopped and dry ciders. even if they all did begin tasting a bit same-y by the end.

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We even got to do a wee cider and cheese matching thanks to my cousin buying the tickets from Whole Foods rather than the festival itself, during which we experienced a fabulous washed rind cheese exclusive to Whole Foods. After the festival we promptly walked down the road to the store, apparently known as Whole Paycheck by the locals, and purchased a round of the said cheese – as well as some Chimay cheese and a “tall-boy” (aka BIG can) of PBR. Did I mention the 30+ degree heat??

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Later that evening, the boyf and I headed up two hills to Chuck’s Hop Shop, where our friend, and former Hashigo Zake staff member, Josh, was hanging out. It was a fab night of great beers and great stories and getting home far too late. Of particular note was the Two Beers Fresh Hop IPA which was piney and lemony with a sweet, tropical fruit finish and utter deliciousness in the heat. In this part of the world, the day is generally at its hottest between 4pm-6pm, so a day in the sun at the cider festival was nothing compared with the heat walking up those hills to meet Josh!

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Beardy beery bromance

The next day, we were lucky enough to be chauffeured around the city by Ellen and Matt, so we could try and reach some of the bars and breweries we might otherwise miss. It was Sunday though, which annoyingly in Seattle, at least, means half of the places are closed (they seriously need to take a leaf out of Hashigo’s book). We did make it to Schooner Exact Brewery, and then to several places in Freemont – Reuben’s Brews, Maritime and Stoup – and while the beers were of a great standard, by the end we were soooooo over IPAs and Pale Ales, which were the only styles anyone seemed to have available!

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Stoup brewery was shiny

That night we went to dinner at the Elysian Brewery in Capitol Hill, again meeting up with Josh, and we were so relieved to find things other than IPAs and Pale Ales on tap. The Huckleberry Berlinner Weisse weighing in at 2.8% was pink and tasted tart and floral with a touch of wheat, but was deliciously sour and is still one of my stand out beers of the trip. I could drink a lot of this beer. All the time.

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The huckleberry beer matches the top

The next day we eased up on the beer somewhat and did some touristy things. On the way downtown we stopped off at a wee coffee cart where the barista actually knew what a flat white was! I was uber excited and the coffee was one of the best I’ve had in the States. We then headed to Pike Place Market where we had delicious German-style sausages, the world’s best clam chowder (according to the annual chowder awards or something), and, of course, checked out the brewery. The whole market was ridiculously busy for a Monday, we felt. We also did the underground tour of Seattle, where you actually get to walk the streets of the original city – underground of course. That was great fun.

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Pike Place brewery is so colourful!

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But my favourite part of the day was the baseball! We headed along to Safeco field to watch the Seattle Mariners take on the Houston Astros (who, I’m told, no one is a fan of). There was a whole host of us, which was great, – Americans like Josh and his sister and her boyfriend who could teach us the rules, and also Ellen and Matt, who we could turn to to make jokes with about certain aspects of the game, or point out how ridiculous the snack food guys were. They also had an amazing range of beer on tap at the stadium, even if the food was a little (maybe a lot?) lacking. We had great seats, and always, I got into the game, very vocally. It was a great win for the Mariners and I’m now pleased to say I’m a Mariners fan, and even a fan of baseball! I had a blast.

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Mariners win!

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…Appetising…

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A short moment when Denise wasn’t yelling

The next day we travelled to the home of American hops – the Yakima Valley. And because I’ve talked for far too long, I’m going to let the boyf take over here and tell y’all about that part of our trip.

Bye for now!

*****

THE BOYF’S BLOG

We picked up our rental car bright and early and set off for Yakima. Not only was this my first time driving through massive, spaghetti junction, ten lane highways but also my first time driving on the right (wrong) hand side of the road.

The GPS attempted to guide us to the i-5 highway, we made it with minimal yelling while I kept trying to indicate lane changes with the windscreen wipers. Everything is backwards in US cars.

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Serious driving face

Driving was very easy once we were on the right highway, and I figured out that the left lane is the fast lane in the states, not the slow lane (after many angry honks). I set the cruise control to 70mph and before I knew it we were in Yakima.

Yakima had an odd ‘wild west’ town vibe to it. While walking in the 30 degree heat to our first stop (The Beer Shoppe), we felt very out of place. You could almost feel the locals wondering what brought us there. Probably because we stuck out like sore thumbs, but it was a jarring difference in vibe coming from Seattle.

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Yakima, Murica

We arrived at the Beer Shoppe hot and thirsty, worked our way past the amazing array of off license shelves to the bar and ordered something refreshing.

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The lineup was impressive, I settled on an amazing apricot sour from 10 Barrel while Denise had a Mosaic single hop IPA from Ninkasi. They were both excellent beers, but didn’t last long. So we had another each before heading down the road to Yakima Brewing’s new taproom.

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Newfangled tap screenamajig

The decor was sparse, mainly because they’d been open for three weeks and anyway, we were there to try their beers.

We took a seat at the bar next to some locals and ordered the tasting flight.

Their homebrew-esq branding promised little, but we were pleasantly surprised with one of the most well balanced and excellently brewed lineups of the trip so far.

Their pale ales were well balanced and clean, and unlike most West Coast breweries they actually had beers other than pale ales! The heather was interesting, the 1982 a solid amber and the good monk a bang on Belgian strong golden.

We got chatting to the others at the bar, one owned an apple orchard while the other was in town for an emergency services vehicle mechanics convention.

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Denise with her apples out

The orchard owner left, but came back moments later offering us a massive apple each from his own orchard as a welcome gift to Yakima. We also got on well with Caleb the mechanic, who was just discovering Yakima’s great beer scene after coming to decades of conferences there.

After solving the problems of NZ’s and USA’s beer industries we decided to share a cab with Caleb out to Bale Breaker brewing, a brewery right in the middle of a hop farm!

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Being hop harvest season Bale Breaker was particularly idyllic as we arrived in the setting sun. The large, modern brewery was surrounded by rows and rows of hop vines thriving with hops ready for harvest. We frolicked in the hops while the light lasted then sampled the end product inside.

Bale Breaker’s beers were excellently made, but the lineup suffered from West Coast-itis. We could choose from four different pale ales, of varying strengths and hoppiness. They were great, but my palate was bored.

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Needs less hops

We got a taxi back to town, and Caleb invited us to the after party of the mechanics conference. We were told there was going to be free beer from a brewery he had a small investment in, so why not?

It was a surreal experience, hanging out in a room full of friendly mustachioed mechanics, drinking a great pale ale (can’t remember what it was) and talking about who knows what. I even drew upon my bar experience to help with a keg coupler issue.

We realised it was getting late, we had to drive the next day so should probably have some dinner. We headed back to the hotel (via Dairy Queen – gross) and wondered how the hell we ended up at a mechanics conference after party.

Slightly south of Yakima is the town of Toppenish, home to the American Hop museum. So the next day we hopped down to this tiny town, with our fingers crossed that the museum still existed.

We arrived to a lit up ‘open’ sign, so headed in. The jovial woman in charge welcomed us, we paid the $3 fee and were treated to a short but interesting video on hop cultivation, shot in the early 90’s.

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After the video we were unleashed on the exhibits, where we saw some of the more ancient equipment. It was mostly focussed on the development of the US hop industry, and was fascinating to see how things were done back in the 1800’s. Most of the tools have been mechanised since, but it was cool to see some of the more simple equipment is still in use today.

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Touch it

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Big old hop stuff

We excited through the gift shop. I wanted ALL THE HOP THINGS but most of them were too heavy or delicate to bring back to NZ, so we settled on a prism with hops encased inside. The big wooden hop carvings will have to wait for next time.

We took the scenic route back to Seattle past Mt Rainer, which reminded me a lot of NZ roads. We had to navigate the spaghetti of Seattle’s highways to get back to the CBD, but luckily our GPS had a wonderful lane guide and we only got stuck in gridlock once.

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We returned the car (without a scratch on it), hung out with Denise’s cousins for one last night then we were off to Portland!

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First Stop – Vancouver

So the boyf and I made it to Vancouver in one piece with a minimum of fuss… the only downside to our flight across the globe was one single bottle of Mussel Inn Captain Cooker breaking in my very empty luggage. It doused literally everything I brought in beer. Thankfully there’s a laundry in the hotel and I managed to find a single brand of sensitive clothing detergent, so I had clean, non-itchy clothes the next day, even if I didn’t have that luxury for the first day in the big city. We will carry the bottles in David’s bag from here on out – it’s smaller AND he’s brought more clothes with him than I have, meaning more padding.

We’re enjoying Vancouver so far, even though the city is FAR smaller people-wise and traffic-wise than we expected. Admittedly, we arrived on a Sunday and then Monday was a public holiday, but it does seem pretty empty for a big city – very roomy footpaths, enough space on the roads to do some j-walking without the fear of being run over.

There are a few things that have REALLY got on my nerves so far though…

  1. The light switches. To turn them on, you have to flick them upwards, the complete opposite way to what I have done for my entire 27 years of life. I have no idea how flicking a switch up  is logically normal in any way, shape, or form, and I get it wrong EVERY time.
  2. The toilets. They are all filled to about a third with water while empty. A THIRD. They then fill almost to the brim while they’re flushing, as if its blocked and about to overflow. I could totally forgive this, if it weren’t for all the blimmin’ environmental messages in EVERY bathroom: “Help us help the environment by using only one sheet of hand towel to dry your hands”… “this toilet paper is made from recycled paper. Please use conservatively”…. how about you don’t fill your toilets with so much water???? How’s that for being environmentally friendly?
  3. People just aren’t that polite here. I think it’ll take a while to get used to this. Most people don’t use the words please, thank-you or excuse me, The boyf says I just need to demand things and expect it to be done, but it’s just not in my nature. You’re ignored by every worker in the restaurants and bars except for your “server”, and even then you’re made to feel like everything you ask or say to the server is a nuisance. We’ve begun to hear “excuse me” a wee bit, but generally only once the person has already barged passed us and knocked us in the process. I have a feeling it might be because we’re foreign, so it’s assumed we don’t understand tips, therefore they treat us badly. I feel very sad if that’s how they treat everyone, I get better service EVERY DAY in NZ, even if all they’re doing is giving me a takeaway coffee.

Phew! Now I’ve got that off my chest, I can talk about all the fun we’ve been having!

I know this sounds ridiculous, but probably the most exciting thing I think we’ve done in Canada is vote. Yesterday morning was the first day we could vote in Vancouver, and David and I navigated our way to the Consulate-General’s office this morning to do our democratic duty. It’s the only place that has an actual voting booth where we’re visiting (according to the electoral office website), so  we decided to get it done early.

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Of course once I’d posed outside the consulate-General’s office I realised I had no idea who I was planning to give my party vote to – as usual – so I let the boyf go first, and then there was an uncomfortably long time while I stood behind the voting booth and contemplated which box to tick… but now I’ve voted and I feel great! Even if I’m not so sure I ticked the right box.

We’ve also done a few non-beer-y things (which is a self-imposed rule on our holiday) including the H.R MacMillan Space Centre and planetarium (David’s choice, but uber fun anyway) and the Capilano Swing Bridge attraction in North Vancouver, where we encountered some wildlife and got weak knees from the heights

Canada's Banana Slug. It's pretty huge

Canada’s Banana Slug. It’s pretty huge

But of course, we’re here for the beer! Unfortunately, or perhaps comfortingly, the beer in Vancouver does not appear to be all that exciting compared with New Zealand beer. There’s a lot of good beer, a lot of familiar-tasting beer, and the odd great, even brilliant, beer.

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, and by the time we’d got through customs, made it to our hotel, showered, and discovered my beer-soaked clothing, we got to our first bar at about 5pm local time. We are staying in Yaletown, so it was just a short, tired walk to Yaletown Brewing Company, which has a brewery attached. A couple of the beers we really wanted to try were not available, but we had a range of wheat and pale ales that were all good and well-brewed, but a bit ordinary, in that we could get something very similar – probably better – at any beer bar in Wellington.

We then walked down to Prohibition Tasting Room, where there were five beers on tap – we shared a tasting paddle and then had a glass each, but everything was very amateur – full of crystal and specialty malts, way too sweet and sugary and a touch worty. It was a bit of a disappointing first experience with beer in Vancouver (don’t get me wrong, we only had one or two poor beers, but we have better beers every day back home), but thankfully we’ve had some real standouts over the past couple of days.

Tuesday was raining in Vancouver, but still we decided we’d do a lot of walking. This, in hindsight, was perhaps a bad idea (lots of blisters today), but we finally made it to Granville Island where we had an amazing lunch, though not beers, at the Dockside Brewery restaurant. We then made our way to the Granville Island Brewery, which appears to be available EVERYWHERE in Vancouver. We were a little concerned that they might be a bit like Monteith’s or Mac’s – everywhere but not good examples of style – but we were pleasantly surprised to find almost all of the beers were very good, if not amazing.

Their IPA is still the best IPA I’ve tried while here – great example of a fruity, hop-forward American IPA. In fact, the only thing that’s come close is a Southern IPA from Steamworks which they say is completely hopped with NZ hops, primarily Wai-iti. It was a glass of sweaty, lemony deliciousness (a bit too sweaty for ONLY NZ hops if you ask me).

Yesterday we made it back to Gastown, and tried the beer at Postmark Brewery, which is the city’s newest brewery at two-and-a-half-months old. They had six beers available, all very good, and the Saisonella at 4.2% ABV was the standout. A dry, lemony, herby saison-style beer, only fresher, crisper and lighter. The perfect sunny day beer.

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The boyf at Postmark Brewry

The boyf at Postmark Brewery

We had a quick word to the brewer on our way out – while the 1800-litre brewery is only a couple of months old, the brewer’s been brewing test batches since November last year. It’s taken 34 test batches, in fact, to create the six great beers on tap. Definitely one of our fave places.

We also headed on to the much-acclaimed Alibi Room, which, after twice finding it closed (seriously, there seems to be little beer-bar choice before 5pm in this part of town), we were excited to find was open and pretty quiet for 5.30pm on a weekday. It didn’t take long before it got busy and our server seemed to lose interest in us, but we managed nine 10-ounce glasses between us over a two-hour-period. The beer selection was pretty great – similar to that of the Lamplighter – which was amazing and one of only two Gastown beer bars open on Canada’s Labour Day  – and it had my favourite beer of the trip so far, even if the experience fell a little short.

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The boyf ordered a 13.5%ABV Storm Imperial SSSOUURRRR Flanders Red on tap (which was only $4.50CAD for about 300mls!!!) and it was sooooooo good. It didn’t smell or taste like 13.5%. It had caramel, subtle chocolate and brettanomyces aromas, and tasted of malt vinegar, tart lemon, dark berries, roast malt, with brett characters that do not overpower. There was a wonderful roast and brett bitter finish. It was not as sour as the name suggested, but boy was it good!

Hopefully there’ll be more where those beers came from while we’re on this side of the world!

*****

THE BOYF’S BLOG

 My first long haul flying experience wasn’t all that horrible. We had some great beer at the Auckland international departure lounge book store ($4 Mata IPA anyone??), I had way more leg room than anticipated and the in flight entertainment was good although presented on outdated hardware/software (no touch screen, & they had to reset every screen on the entire plane to get my frozen screen working again).

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I managed a few hours  sleep, and we arrived in Vancouver at 2pm feeling far perkier than I’m told I should.

After becoming accustomed to the draconian border/bio security of NZ & Aussie customs, I was a little taken aback with how easy it was to get in to Canada.
The entry declaration was maybe 6 questions and one applied to both Denise and I. We breezed through customs, got our passport stamps and grabbed our luggage. The bio security part consisted of handing our form to a guy on the way out, who didn’t even glance at it. That was easy.

Getting into the Vancouver CBD was a breeze, with automated driver-less trains departing a short walk from arrivals every 15 minutes.
Fourteen dollars and 35 minutes later we were at our hotel. That was easy.

Soon after that we were at our first brewery of the trip, and I’d come by my first few culture clashes:

  • As Denise mentioned, the toilets are weirdly full of water. In their defense, they do do that swirly thing when flushed (hehe, do do). But every visit to the loo I get that ‘uh-oh the toilets backed up’ instinct when I see how full the bowl already is.
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  • The T.V. wants me to sue EVERYONE
  • I nearly walked out in front of cars a couple of times crossing streets due to looking the wrong way. Right hand side driving is dangerous for us southern hemispherians.
  • Canada needs to make its damn mind up whether its using imperial or metric units. Metres, and Km/hr on road signs but fluid ounces and gallons on all the menus! What the hell is a fluid ounce anyway? Sort it out Canadians.
  • North American hospitality is incredibly different to kiwi hospo.

Our first stop was Yaletown Brewery in Yaletown (duh). As kiwis, our first instinct when we want a beer is to head to the bar, we did so.
We surveyed the taps, but were told the currently displayed lineup was not what was actually on tap (how hard is it to change a tap badge?), and we were handed a list of beers that were actually on tap.
Denise ordered an IPA, I ordered a cherry wheat beer (take THAT gender sterotypes!), but the IPA wasn’t actually on tap… Third time lucky, Denise got an Altbier.
We offered to set up a tab but because we wanted to sit on the patio, we had to pay for that round as the patio server would look after us on the patio. That… Wasn’t easy.

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Once seated our server did a great job of keeping us fed and watered, and was tipped accordingly. I started to get an idea of how hospo works over here. The Yaletown beers were all decidedly average, but they had the most shallow mash tun I’ve ever seen.

Just down the road was Prohibition Brewery’s tasting room, where we sat at the bar. We weren’t sure whether that was okay, as it seemed to annoy the busy bartender. Eventually we were ordered a flight of their beers, followed by a pint of our favourite (the IPA was the best of a very ‘meh’ lineup).

I soon came to realise that the key to North American hospo is to expect everything.
Everything will be done for you. Don’t look for a seat, walk in and stand around – someone will seat you. Don’t look at the taps, someone will show you a list. Don’t bother the busy bartenders, order your beers when your server is ready. Don’t do anything for yourself.
With this knowledge in hand our subsequent visits to drinking establishments went far more smoothly. I actually started to like this more ‘guided’ approach to hospitality. And as Denise said above, thankfully the beer quality improved too.

My best experience was at Steamworks, where were seated at the bar as we just wanted drinks. The bartenders there were friendly and chatty, though still quite busy. They were happy to answer our geeky beer questions and even managed a conversation or two.
The Steamworks beers were all expertly brewed, with an NZ IPA standing out from the pack.

The Lamplighter was fun, I experienced my first ‘french dip’ sandwich and tasted my way through a few flights from their 50 taps.

Alibi Room easily had the best selection we’ve seen, though finding them open was a challenge. The staff knew what they were doing, and I kind of enjoyed the surly yet honest attitude of our server.

It was great to see some sours on tap, and as Denise mentioned, Storm’s 13.5% sour ale was genius. Their cask beers were well looked after and reminded me a lot of Townshend’s. I can see why Alibi Room is so popular with locals, I’d be there religiously if I was one.

 

 

 

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Off to America!

The boyf and I are today heading to Vancouver and then the west coast of the US for a well-earned holiday!

We’ll both be posting updates on here while we’re away about our beer-y adventures, because beer is literally the entire purpose of our trip, so keep checking back!

We’ll also be boasting about all the fun we’re having on twitter, so make sure you follow us – @demiseg and @davethebeerguy

Cheers!

 

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My Road to Beervana

The Road to Beervana is well underway, with the Brewers Guild of New Zealand awards to be announced tomorrow, and the big event, Beervana, being held at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on Friday and Saturday.

This year, my road to Beervana doesn’t properly begin until tomorrow – I drew the overnights roster at work for the week, so haven’t been able to make the most of the wealth of events on offer. While most sensible beer lovers will have taken the week off work, the boyf and I are heading on our dream beer trip to the United States in just 11 days time, so I felt it was more sensible to take it all a bit easier this year¹.

On Monday I managed to make it to a couple of the many beer events happening across Wellington. I began my night at the boyf’s work, Hashigo Zake, where they held the New Zealand launch of the Rogue Stout Glass. Oregon-based Rogue and Colorado-based Left Hand Brewery both worked with the premium glass manufacturer, Spiegelau, to create the perfect glass to drink stout from.

Hashigo had Rogue’s Nitro Shakespeare Stout on tap so customers could test how successfully the glass complimented the style of beer it was made for. I generally don’t drink before overnight shifts because I find even one beer makes me want to fall asleep at my computer come 3am. But not wanting to miss out, I insisted the boys behind the bar served my diet cola with lemon in the Rogue glass.

Diet Coca Cola with lemon in the Rogue Stout Glass

Diet Coca Cola with lemon in the Rogue Stout Glass – just because I’m not drinking doesn’t mean I have to miss out on the fun!

It’s a beautiful vessel – it’s light, the beer flows into the large ‘stem’ which makes it easier to warm the beer in the hand², and it has a wide base which is comforting, because it’s pretty sturdy when placed on the table. I don’t think it actually made any difference to my diet cola drinking experience, but as fellow blogger Phil Cook pointed out later in the evening – the Stout Glass is very similar to the Coca-Cola glass, it just has a more exaggerated shape.

Next stop was Golding’s Free Dive for the official launch of The Road to Beervana. A collaboration between 8 Wired and Portland’s Gigantic Brewing Company, PDXNZESB, was on tap, and so was cold water, which I sipped away at as everyone raved about the collaboration around me. The brewer at Gigantic was in attendance, and while I didn’t manage to have a chat to him, I did have a great conversation with the editor of the All About Beer magazine, John Holl, who’d only been in the country for a matter of hours.

Unfortunately it won’t be until tomorrow that I’ll be able to fully immerse myself in the beer events, and it then becomes a matter of what I’ll actually have time for! Before the awards dinner tomorrow, I plan to make it to either His Majesty’s Colonial Brewing Corps Officer’s Mess Hall at Garage Project, or The Pie and Beer Spectacular at the Sprig & Fern… perhaps if I only sleep a few hours after my shift ends tomorrow morning I’ll be able to make it to both!

Beervana this weekend is also promising to be better than ever – the festival is taking over a bigger chunk of the Westpac Stadium concourse than before, and according to the website, more than 200 beers will be available from right across the country and beyond.

After years of attending Beervana, I’ve finally settled on the fact that the Friday Day Session – Session One – is the best session to go to as a punter. It’s the only session that guarantees all beers will be available – some of the media brews, festival brews and beers available on brewery bars are incredibly limited, and last year some beers sold out partway through the first session, leaving the punters at all three other sessions wanting. It’s also the session with the least number attendees, so there are very few lines – if any – at the stands, and there are no crowds, making it easy to move around and find somewhere to sit.

On Saturday morning I’m excited to be joining in the judging of the Beervana Home Brew Competition, and then I’ll be back at the evening session to be my bit for the festival and volunteer.

Phew! Just as well I’ll have a full week to recover before the boyf and I get on a plane to Vancouver for our five-and-a-bit week holiday down the West Coast of the US.

*****

¹ Last year I had the whole week off to enjoy the beer festivities, and by the final session of Beervana, I was so exhausted and had such a bad cold I was in bed by 9pm on the Saturday night.

² In my case, if I had drunk the cola at a slower rate I’m assuming it would have just made the ice melt more quickly than usual.

 

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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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