Monthly Archives: October 2011

Session Beers

Curated by GreasyLightbulb

Hosted by Scotty

The Hop Garden


5 July 2011


The Session Beers tasting was curated by GreasyLightbulb who has been with the Thirstyboys for well over a year. He is a well travelled Englishman, a footy player and supporter. He says he once cycled into a flaming mountain of chickenshit, once had his hands in Merryl Streep’s muff, walked on the underneath of ice, and was kidnapped by the Russian Mafia. All true and all stories available to the right people, i.e. those who buy him a beer…..

Here is the story behind the “session” on session beers.

I’d been mingling with The Thirstyboys for a while now, enjoying the stimulating combination of a) high brow discourse on culture, politics and the arts; b) beer line-ups that inspire childish grins presented by some of Australasia’s best beertenders (that’s official!); and c) generally getting tipsy and having a laugh. However, I had become conscious that the only way to ensure I’d crossed the line from hanger-on to fully fledged member would be to contribute by curating a tasting. So I volunteered. Then I went home and googled “curate”. Hmmm that wasn’t much help….. now I needed a parish and a priest. Ignoring Wikipedia for now, the theme (stolen from/donated by The Jesuit) was to be session beers. A subject close to my heart having grown up in the English countryside where you really are only ever doing one of two things, working or drinking. Oh, or both.

Then came the brainstorming and I was suddenly acutely aware that the current trend for big hoppy motherfuckers slightly restricts the range of session beers provided by NZ brewers, despite being a nation of some drinking reputation. This of course begs the question: What exactly is a session beer? Most of my ideas involved beers that tended to be lower in alcohol, but there clearly are other factors involved in making a beer sessionable. We would have much to discuss. To promote debate I spent my lunch break that day with the internet and an old Word template making an educational resource which instantly wins prizes for being the worst researched and best plagarising guide in the world. I had to pull something out since the last two tastings had seen The Jesuit providing the Westvleteren 12 alongside a booklet on Trappist monastery details from brewery stats to instructions on how to cycle around them all, and Gingerbeardyman brought us Stu, one of our favourite brewers with some of his very special personal brew. These two nights were insanely good beer drinking fun.

I had ridiculously big shoes to fill, and I had to do it with session beers.

Townshend Bandsman Cornet – Moutere, Nelson, New Zealand 3.7abv

Before Scott had even put the beers on the table the distinct aroma of Bandsman Cornet had transported me to a parallel universe like only olfaction can…, sitting in a beer garden in a village called something like Grimblethorpe, watching the green rolling hills, perhaps a tractor moving in the distance or the rhythmic puff of a steam train progressing through the land in no real hurry, the birds are singing, the sun is warm on your face, and you’ve just been given a beer. As I was quietly wallowing in my contentment and wondering where I could get a packet of Walkers crisps with a pickled egg in, KaroriFryUp lept from the other side of the table to share his similar epiphany from time spent in UK real ale pubs. We’re both particularly huge fans of Martin Townshend’s work and I knew a few of his brews would be eminently suitable for this session. Martin is from England and uses simple, natural and traditional approach to his brewing in the depths of the Moutere Valley, with UK malts forming the backbone of his beers and Fuggles featuring often in the hops. This particular number was one of a pair, the other being the more NZ-flavoured Bandsman Trumpet, which were used in a taste off in The Free House in Nelson to decide the direction Martin would take with his lighter style aromatic hoppy bitter. The Riwaka hops won out and the finished draft will just be known as Townshend Bandsman – to be released in November along with a tweak to Townshend branding and (whisper it…) a NZIPA. You heard it here first folks.

Cornet was certainly aromatic, slightly blossomy. It’s colour was a beautiful shining gold as if harnessing the powers of the sun – though possibly I was still having visions at this point. It had very crisp and clean tropical fruit flavours dominated by pineapple with a smattering of sweet grapefruit. Slightly thin body and it was not particularly fizzy. We could drink heaps of this, and we could drink it quickly. Some argued it was an amber ale, not a bitter. But let’s move on, wars have started over more trivial matters.

“Well crafted…”

“Very much a summer beer”- the jesuit

“how many to drink on a hot day?…12!

“Everything from Townshend is interesting if not always to my taste” Scotty

3/5 Boy Scout Badges (a new scoring system temporarily replacing Man Points for this tasting)

Brew Moon Broomfield ale Amberley, North Canterbury, New Zealand 4% abv

Brew Moon is a tidy microbrew café thing in Amberley. They are organically minded and do a nice dry stout. This wasstylistically an English Brown Ale, tawny brown colour, musty caramel on the nose with an odd fizziness that was commented on heavily. Some sweet malty flavours, and a burnt finish. Probably not helped that the bottle was out of date, it was also served a bit too cold.

“Effervescence is not in its flavour, it sits in the back of the palette” the jesuit

“Fizzyness replaces weight in the balance of the beer”

“Tastes like it has been left in your grandfathers closet” GBM

“Something not complete about it…” tvdisko

“..not integrated” GBM

         “Nice, dirty and odd” the jesuit

                           “Lovely carbonade”  GBM

         “The good thing is… there’s five more!” (beers to come)

2.5/5 Boy Scout Badges (BSBs)

Emersons Bookbinder, Dunedin, New Zealand 3.7abv

A bit like Townshend beers, this is an NZ spin on a classic English ale and it’s been around for 15 years or so. Who doesn’t love Emerson’s? Richard Emerson himself is a legend and now Chris O’Leary (of Limburg fame) is also pulling the brewing strings. Bookie and the pilsner will always have a well deserved place in the definitive story of NZ beer evolution. We discussed the concept of session beers as gateway beers, Bookbinder being a key corner turned in the groups’ reminisces of personal ale discovery. Everybody has a time when they tried something different which turned out to have more flavour than the generic pub beers which then leads to further investigation of drinking options. For me it was Green King IPA which I’d turn to when I just couldn’t force any more Stella down. IPA progressed seamlessly up to Abbott Ale (particularly when teenage peer pressure forces one to up the alcohol quotient) and from there it was a simple sideways step to the rest of the world of beer and before you know it I’m drinking Rex Attitude at 8 o’clock in the morning like it’s perfectly normal. Bookbinder is special to me because of its availability too. It’s so unthreatening that it’s a good option for bars that are not aiming specifically for craft beer drinkers. e.g. I love that I can get Bookbinder in the Southern Cross! It was also much appreciated due to the lower alcohol, it’s the beer people have when they’re driving1.

On this day it was gulped down, despite being a bit too cold again. I guess it was winter. Copper brown with well composed spicy cream qualities and a hint of citrus. Nicely weighted, nothing is overpowering. We necked it with big smiles.

“It’s the old girlfriend you go back to” (GLB)


“Yummyyummy” GBM

“Bright nice flavour” tvdisko

“Nice boyscoutish creamy head” the jesuit

“One of the best beers in New Zealand” GBM

“If it is on tap I’ll have a bookbinder” tvdisko

“This is the beer I am most often going to buy over a bar” bladder

4/5 BSBs

mike’s Organic Ale – Urenui, New Zealand 4% abv

Another classic Kiwi beer! Been around for over 20 years, this was formerly known as mikes Mild (the “m” in mike’s is small on purpose) and made it into Michael Jacksons favoured 500 beers of all time. A “family run” outfit that has actually changed owners a few times, now owned by a South African called Ron. They are still organic and still bottle and label by hand. Mild is a style that should be suited to sessioning, it came about as a way of rehydrating farmers back in the day, before being adopted by industrial workers for their breaks too. It featured the ugliest beer label of the tasting, despite it being an award winning design.

“As far as Taranaki goes its label is pretty cool” – Scotty.

It was very dark brown, dry with a chocolate taste, slightly creamy and some bitter grapefruit pith. A fairly brief finish. As I drank more the chocolate flavours dominated and became sweeter with a bit of kahlua going on. Sadly it was not popular on the night.

“big nose, chocolate malt in there…the Keyser Söze of beers” GBM

“really dry for such a sweet nose “GBM

“literally does not stick with me” tvdisko

“no depth”

“we don’t have that again” tvdisko

 “one of the worst beers I have had in beer club” GBM

It still got 2.5 BSBs, though two of the ThirstyBoys didn’t finish their glass…..

Founders Generation Ale – Nelson, New Zealand 4.2abv

Made by John Duncan in the slightly freaky Founders Park in Nelson (themed parks are scary – ever watch Westworld as a kid, or high?). Founders beers are commendably organic and simply made in the spirit of the “Bavarian Purity Law”. This is a shmancy way of saying they only use water, barley and hops though I’m not 100% sure I believe them. But if so it’s possibly one of the reasons why their beers have always had a homebrewesque quality to me. They are also often distinctly better draught than from the bottle. At the time of tasting Founders brewing was up for sale. Which got the ThirstyBoys scrabbling round in our pockets…. but to no avail. Hopefully someone will invest and keep production going, possibly with a slight tweak to the marketing. They are one of Scotty’s favourites after all, but apparently not easy to get people to drink.

“A nutty brown ale, a heavy fruit, smoky caramel” scotty

“Always been a reluctantly hard sell” scotty

“Don’t have a compelling brand identity like yeastie boys”

“a bit of a tar taste to it” tvdisko

“It is what you call a dirty ale” GBM

“I can still go home and put out” GBM (on what makes it a session beer)

3/5 BSBs

Shepherd neame Spitfire- Kent, United Kingdom 4.5% abv

Yusss! Now we’re talking. Beer from the old country. You know, the one that invents things like cricket, empire building, penalties and beer, then quickly becomes quite shit at them. Shepherd Neame have been making beer since before Captain James Cook was even born, so you’d hope they’ve got the hang of it by now. They are more English than England itself with beers called things like “Canterbury Jack” and even “4-4-2” and pretty much invented the genre of “Kentish ale”, though DB may well hold the patent for it here for all I know. Spitfire has been made since 1990 – the 50th
Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. It’s associated marketing has not always covered itself with politically correct glory.

So yes, it’s a Kentish ale. Arriving in a clear bottle oddly and with no BBE on it. It’s all about the malted hops with a big herbaceous nose and rich bitter taste with some complexity of spice and sour fruit. Toffee and a metallic taste see you to the end. It was served in a posh glass because Scotty only had a couple of bottles between us. Definitely best drank fresh I was concerned it might not be in the best shape, but it turned out the boys agreed it had travelled well.

“Really alive, a bright beer a place of bright promise” GBM

“Nice aroma” tvdisko

“An outstanding bottle” GBM

“Has the smell of stinging nettles”GLB

“Is this a bitter? It could be”Scotty

BSBs sadly not recorded

Townshend Number 9 Stout – Moutere, Nelson, New Zealand 4%abv

Well you know all about Townshend already, this is a sweet stout named in homage after Spike Milligan’s office. Made with UK yeast and a high mash temperature which produces lots of dextrins. It’s these badboys that help the perception of sweetness. Generally this is considered much better fresh and on the handpull, but we can’t always be that choosy this far away from Moutere. Smelt a bit like coffee and had sour plum and chocolate on the palate. Overall feeling lighter than most stouts but with a balance that makes it sessionable.

 “An essential stout-could almost pass as a dark ale” scotty

 “Your coco-chocolate toasty-burnt toast not uncommon brown”

“I really like this guys beer” KFU

“It’s balanced” GLB

“Got a nice sour plum…it’s a good well put together beer” GBM

“A nice way to finish” tvdisko

And finish we did! But not before getting a freebie off Scott for trying to offload his out-of-date beers on us. The boys had actually warmed up for the session by having a drink at The Malthouse beforehand because it was “too cold to walk to The Hopgarden in one go” so it wasn’t exactly needed. But anyway we decided to go off-style and had Green Flash Stout – San Diego, USA 8.8abv. Which was an awesome choice, smooth dark and sexy with a luscious finish “ exciting dance, with the wrong girl” GBM.

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For further consideration of session beers, please do check


1  The ThirstyBoys do not condone driving at the best of times, never mind when drinking beer.

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