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 great real stout flavour. Old Dark, however, is their champion: a super-sweet red-black ale which reminded me of the Netherlands' lip-smacking Oud Bruin beers. For a limited period, Speight's was also making a Chocolate Ale which is based on a fairly light ale, allowing the full chocolate flavour to come through. The end result is somewhere between Young's and Floris in the chocolate stakes, and quite delicious.

Mac's brewery runs a number of brewpubs, including one at its headquarters on the quays in Wellington. They also sell their beers through off-licenses and other pubs as well. Mac's Black is very popular with the locals, but I found it somewhat lacking in oomph, being nearly closer to a dunkel than a stout. Wicked Blonde is a decent grainy microbrewed lager while Sassy Red is an aromatic red ale, supposedly like English bitter but more like quality Irish red to me. Copperhead is a toned-down version of the Sassy, like a better class of Smithwick's. Mac's Blonde is a spiced wheat beer, clear with a slight citrus edge. They also do a German-style crystal weiss called Verboten Vice, light and fruity like Franziskaner, and a sharper Erdinger/banana tasting weiss called Great White. I think someone at Mac's likes wheat beer. Lastly there's Mac's Mojo, an extremely tasty, heavy, smoky dunkel.

The last brewery for this post brings us to the west coast of South Island and Montieth's of Greymouth. Their Original is covered below, but they also do a dry smooth Pilsener and a Munich-style lager called Golden (lighter than the likes of Spaten or Hofbrau, however). Their Radler isn't a true radler (shandy) at all, but a full-strength lager flavoured with generous amounts of lemon and lime, resulting in something much tastier than the likes of Hoegaarden Citron or Superbock Green. On the ale side, Montieth's Winter Ale claims flavouring with cinnamon but I found it quite disappointing with only the fainest trace of spice in the taste. There's also Celtic Red which is blander than most Irish reds, having only slight caramel notes, and Black, which is apparently not a true stout but tastes very much like one: strong and sweet, yet fairly smooth and easy-drinking. On tap at the brewery in Greymouth they had one further beer for me to try which they had not yet announced the name of. It's a super-hopped green-tasting ale, almost like a hemp beer, but not overpoweringly vegetal. It's due to be launched, with a name, in a week or two. I'll try and recognise it in order to report back.

Phew. So that just leaves the brewpubs...

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