12 January 2018

New zeal

Reuben brought a collection of Kiwi beers back from the Lions tour last year. We gathered in Brian's to film us drinking them for The ICB Show, because apparently some people like watching that sort of thing. Breweries featured include national stalwarts like Moa and Garage Project, but also a few that were entirely new to me, beginning with...

Bootleg Brewery, in Hamilton. Blind Mule is the beer, a 5.9% ABV American-style pale ale. And it hits all the style points pretty much head on, as well as being a nice beer to drink. There's a layer of soft toffee in the background, and this is fronted with a mix of spritzy citrus and more serious marmalade. A pleasant spark of lime zest finishes it off. Nothing madly complex, and certainly no gimmicks, but a great benchmark to begin the session.

Garage Project pulled one better next, with a saison called Persephone. Yes, there are pomegranates in it, before you ask. In fact, it's a very real tang of juicy-yet-peppery pomegranate seeds, as well as a tart complexity which turns out to be from the inclusion of a balsamic reduction. At 6.2% ABV, it's one of the bigger saisons, yet avoids any harshness or overpowering esters, integrating its medley of flavours extremely well. I feel the place of pomegranate in beer is under-explored.

It was an IPA next from Garage: Party & Bullshit, which is a dreadful name. They say this is an east-coast style job, promising haze, juice and tropical flavours. The haze turned out to be actual lumps, while the fruit was all onions and garlic. It was still very decent drinking: those big, dank aromas would let it get away with a lot, while the texture is lovely and chewy, bigger than 6.2% ABV might suggest.

The modern stylings of P&B certainly stood up well against the more old-fashioned Los Lobos. This is an 8% ABV IPA, channelling California. However, its Simcoe, Amarillo and Citra provide nothing but bitterness, with none of the nuance one might expect, just harsh thick-shred marmalade. This is set on a too-heavy malt base which I found made for quite difficult drinking. It may well be exactly what the brewer intended but it didn't suit me.

A Garage Project stout to finish on, called Aro Noir. This is a big hitter at 7% ABV, with lots of roasted grain dryness. The surprise comes a second or two after sipping when a huge hop flavour unfolds, sending lemon and grapefruit flavours straight to your pleasure centres. The hop component is bright, fresh and dominant enough for this beer to be classified as a black IPA. At the same time, it's rich and satisfying, as a stout should be. One to just drink, enjoy, and not worry about, I think.

Another new brewer for me next: Funk Estate, a client brewery with some very striking retro can designs. First out was Doozy, an NZ-hopped IPA at 6.6% ABV. And I'm pretty sure it was infected. All through it was that sweaty, funky smack of Brettanomyces, rough and harsh. Where it interacted with the hops there was an optimistic touch of Orval to it, but mostly it was just too off-kilter to be enjoyable.

Beaut was next, and frankly even worse. This pale ale promises "juicy, fruity tasty flavours and aromas" but delivers your mate's worst homebrew effort: oxidised and underattenuated; smelling of wet cardboard and tasting of that plus sugary wort. Bad beer is problem enough; bad beer that promises you a hand-crafted good time is just cruel.

There was one more Funk Estate beer to come: Pearler, another IPA but this time with Australian hops. And yet again it goes big on Brett, or possibly vice versa. This time, however, it's not as much of a chore to drink. There's a pleasant oiliness and discernible flavours of herb, orange and clove. If they owned up to the infection, this might actually pass muster for fans of that kind of beer.

Just to be clear, I did check that Funk Estate wasn't so-named for a fondness for chucking Brettanomyces and the like into its beers, but there is no mention of such a strategy anywhere on its site. These three beers were supposed to be bright and, above all, clean pale ales. And they are definitely not that. The name turns out to be nothing more than tragic irony.

Two quickie stouts next. Sawmill Chocolate Stout uses oats and cocoa, and comes in at a reasonable 5.5% ABV. The chocolate character is a little understated, and I got more of a wheaty breakfast cereal vibe from it. It's not the first chocolate beer with which I've had that experience. Still, I was underwhelmed.

That was followed by an Imperial Stout by Martinborough Brewery. It's only 8% ABV and suffers a little from that lightness. I got notes of prunes and putty from it, making for a so-so stout, but definitely lacking the oomph to be accorded imperial status.

We finish on one from Moa: Perris Sky Juice, a California-style IPA. So I was surprised by how English it tasted. The ABV is up at 7.2% yet it's very smooth, simple and drinkable. Its hops bring a calm and earthy meadow-flower and orange character, finishing on a peculiar but pleasant note of dark chocolate. Though hazy, it tastes like a pin-bright English bitter. Very nicely done, if not especially Californian.

I've omitted another Moa beer because it's already reviewed elsewhere on this blog. Watch the video (when it appears) to see how it all fits together. Thanks to Reuben and Brian for this whistle-stop tour of New Zealand brewing. If there's a lesson, it's probably that Garage Project is one of the country's more famous breweries with good reason.

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