The Great Pacific Beer Expo is on this weekend in Wellington, New Zealand. It is run by Hashigo Zake Cult Beer Bar and follows on from last years successful event. Once again, the Thirstyboys are looking forward to exploring the beers of the Pacific rim.
The beer I am looking forward to most is the kava coconut beer from Garage Project. For me, it’s a conspicuous offering in what is a mouth-watering line up of the regions craft beer. This is the beer that will speak to the history of indigenous beverages in the region like no other this weekend…mainly because it is made from coconut and kava. There is no need to describe coconut here, but kava is a beverage made from the roots of the kava plant (piper methysticum). The dried roots are crushed into a powder-like form and mixed in a bowl with water. It is often served informally, although its most important use is in meetings and ceremonies. It has some physical effects on drinkers, including numbness of the lips, and a sense of well-being and relaxation. Excessive daily drinking over a long period can cause health problems.
By invitation of the Garage Project brewer, Pete Gillespie, my wife Tere and I had a chance to contribute to the development of this new kava coconut brew. I got hold of a couple of bags of dried kava powder, and one evening in one of the Garages of the Garage Project, Tere mixed Pete a big bowl, made him drink it and offered tips about taste, strength and protocols around its use and consumption.
Pete’s last taste of kava was unpleasant, it was in Australia and involved insects. It’s a story he should tell sometime. Beermeister Mr Phil Cook, who was also present, sipped his kava from the coconut cup like a gentleman, thinking it through, ruminating on its aroma, muddy appearance and taste. He wasn’t ecstatic but he was working it over. Now, I am not one to argue beer with Mr Cook but I said, “c’mon…it’s only slightly muddier than a Belgian wheat beer!” and I think he uttered “ I’ll give you that…”. Pete probably felt more culturally indebted to us as we’d mixed a large bowl of the sacred beverage, which could not be left standing. Over the course of 45 minutes, he managed to down several coconut cups in one go (with little pauses to breathe) tuning in his taste buds but losing feeling in his face. It was obviously enough to give him confidence to concoct this new beer. I look forward to his blog about the brewing process. Once the kava was consumed, we left Pete and Phil to close up the Garage Project for the night, which Pete seemed to be attempting in super slow motion.
Tere was brought up with kava in Fiji, where it is called yaqona. She is well conditioned to drinking it. I have consumed kava among Tongans in New Zealand, in the bush of Ambrym in Vanuatu and in Suva and Rabi in Fiji. Occasionally, we have had informal sessions at home in New Zealand. I am still not completely used to it, but I have drunk gallons of the stuff in the interests of experimentation, social obligation and getting to know my in-laws. Every evening in Rabi, while drinking kava in the kerosene lamp light in the family village, I used to dread the sound of the pounding of kava root out in the darkness. They pound it in a pipe closed at one end using a heavy iron pole. When you see one of the lads emerging into the light of the drinking circle and straining under the weight of two 20 litre buckets of muddy coloured liquid, you know that night will be a long one. Your back teeth will be floating…
This weekend the kava coconut beer has the potential to bring back for me memories of travel, good times and numb lips. I don’t know what to expect. The beer might just be evocative of kava…aromatic perhaps. It might be more coconutty, or face numbing…or it could be something else. The Great Pacific Beer Expo 2012 is the place to find out …looking forward to it!
LINK: The Great Pacific Beer Expo 2012 http://www.hashigozake.co.nz/pacificbeerexpo.html
LINK: The Garage Project: http://garageproject.co.nz/
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