29 October 2006

Very stout

After a long wait I finally managed to get my hands on the Porterhouse's 10th anniversary Celebration Stout. This is an extra extra strong (10%), bottle-conditioned porter. It is a very traditional Irish stout in the style of the Porterhouse's Wrassler's: sharp and dry with little by way of a head. Yet its strength adds an extra complexity and there's a faint sweetness to it as well, a little reminiscent of Belgian double-figure-strength ales. Complex, and worth waiting for.

27 October 2006

And so to the pub

The fourth and final part of my observations on the beers of New Zealand: the brewpubs.

The Loaded Hog is a fairly ubiquitous chain and I visited branches in Wellington and Christchurch. Brewing is done centrally, in Levin, where they make four signature beers. Draught is the standard New Zealand amber ale. It's a little lacking in flavour but redeemed with a barely-detectable smoky caramel taste. Wheat comes with a slice of lemon, suggesting that they are going for a Belgian witbier. However, it's rather sharp and carries an offputting aftertaste of chlorine. They also make a dark, roasted, German-style dunkel, imaginatively titled Dark Ale. My chief criticism here is, like just about all New Zealand beers, it is served way too cold. Finally there's Gold, the best of the four. It's a rich, fruity, dry lager with a taste that just goes on and on.

On to Dux de Lux, a smaller chain based in the picturesque Arts Centre in Christchurch and less salubrious quarters in Queenstown. I didn't quite get to the end of the beer menu at the Dux, but there's quality there. Hereford Bitter is the least special in the range -- cold and fizzy with a dry bitterness. Nor'wester is similarly inoffensive, being a rather bland American-style amber ale. Ginger Tom is a whole different matter. It's a real ginger beer made of ginger and beer, making it very dry and excitingly spicy. The gold continues with Black Shag Stout, an incredibly silky sweet creamy stout of the sort brewed by angels. That set me up to expect big things of their seasonal extra-strong stout Sou'wester. I was disappointed, sadly, finding a rather fizzy and slight-tasting stout, despite its 6.8% alcohol.

The last brewpub I visited was the Shakespeare in Auckland. Nine homemade beers on draught led me to an unusual course of action: ordering a sample tray. Naturally they have a Draught, a slightly dull amber pale ale with a hint of smoke, and a couple of token lagers, one called Barraclough which has an interesting touch of lemon to the flavour, and the other called Bohemian which is sweet and malty but a little lacking in taste. The selection leans heavy on the ale side, including Pistol's Old Soldier an intense hoppy copper ale which I found a little overpowering. There's also Macbeth's Red Ale -- dark, toasted and bitter with a pleasant smoked cheese taste, and Falstaff's Real Ale -- floral and light with the tea-like flavour of English bitter. Getting heavier, there's King Lear Old Ale which is utterly black, heavy and very dry. The stout is a fairly easy-drinking affair called Willpower Stout which has gentle coffee and chocolate notes in the background. There's one last ale at the Shakespeare called Puck's Pixil(l)ation a mega-strong, super-sweet ale, much smoother than its Belgian counterparts like Bush, having a candy sugar foretaste and a wonderful toffee aftertaste. Satisfyingly complex.

Right, that's your lot from NZ. Long may its varied beer culture thrive.

21 October 2006

More beer from Aotearoa

Where was I? Oh yes, small New Zealand breweries. "Small" covers a sizeable range, however, so I'll try to do this with some sense of scale.

Moa claim to be the boutiquest of boutique breweries, with every bottle enunciating its rareness. It's certainly quite hard to find. Methode Moa is their wonderful lager - cloudy and strongly flavoured with a very tight frothy head. Moa Noir is a deep dark stout with smooth coffee and chocolate notes. Moa Blanc is a witbier in the dry French style which I'm not terribly fond of, but is nowhere near as severe as most of them. Where I would criticise Moa is the difficulty in opening their crown caps. Those three bottles all took a couple of lumps out of me before they fulfilled their destinies.

The Baroona range I could have covered with Jester's Tasting Rooms, Onetangi Road, Waiheke Islandthe brewpubs as I tried them all on site at Onetangi Road on Waiheke Island. However, they are sold elsewhere, apparently. Original is a strongly flavoured and slightly cloudy golden ale, reminiscent of its Belgian cousins. Weiss is a remarkably clear and rather bland beer which claims to be unfiltered. Dark is the best of the bunch, being thick, flat and caramel-sweet. It was almost closer to a liqueur than a beer. Finally, the seasonal at the time was a dark ale called The Full Malty. Though 7.5% alcohol, it was quite light and easy-going with a gentle fizz and a mild roasted coffee taste.

I've already covered Cardrona Gold from the Wanaka beerworks. It has two stablemates: Brewski, a slightly bland pilsener, and Tall Black, which is a heavy, gently sparkling, dry stout reminiscent of that produced by Ireland's microbreweries.

The Tuatara brewery (named after New Zealand's rare native reptile) makes six beers, of which I tried four. Ardennes is another golden ale, perhaps a little lighter than Duvel but otherwise very similar. The IPA is everything an IPA should be: deep amber and slightly cloudy with lots and lots of hops thrown in. Heffe is a lighter version of German weiss -- fairly fruity but somewhat hollow and watery as well. Very unchallenging. Their Porter is a fizzy effort, yet remains headless. It's quite mild with only a trace of burnt caramel in the aftertaste.

Emerson's is a Dunedin institution, though not anywhere near as ubiquitous as its near neighbour Speight's. I only managed to try three of the many beers they have on offer, but I was very impressed with what I found. Old '95 is a rich and bitter ale, while their 10th Anniversary IPA is another strong and flavoursome IPA. Maris Gold is a strange but pleasant blonde beer with a vibrant citrus kick to it.

Dunedin's other big brewery is Speight's -- "Pride of the South" and a legend in New Zealand beer. Largely because of their TV ads, as far as I can determine. I've already covered their Gold Medal Ale but they have a few others. Their IPA is rather dull, and the red beer they call Distinction Ale wins the prize for Most Unsuitable Name, being quite indistinct and forgettable. Speight's Porter is better, being dry and fizzy with a