Text and photos: Greasylightbulb
April 6th 2013 saw the inaugural GW Brewday event in Martinborough. Some might feel there isn’t exactly a shortage of beer events these days but this addition seemed to capture the enthusiasm of ale aficionados and lager lovers to create a bit of a buzz. Since many non-attendees have subjected us more committed types to interrogation afterwards, we thought it best to pool our hazy memories into a more permanent record of the day.
A beer celebration bang in the middle of wine country might seem a bit odd at first, but actually makes a fair amount of sense. Whenever I’ve been with winegrowers socially they’ve drank beer about 95% of the time (that’s 95% of their drinking time, not 95% of their waking day. Chefs, on the other hand….). Also one of the key angles of GW Brewday is its regional focus, and wine growing areas have understood the importance of that concept for pretty much ever. You can always match your Wairarapa pinot noir to your Wairarapa seasoned olives with Wairarapa feta, such pairings often working so well because the food and wine styles of an area have evolved together and tend to reflect other factors from predominant weather to social practises. Although contemporary craft beer rarely has a true sense of terroir (though it can if it wants), it often reflects local trends and adding it into the regional mix adds another dimension of choice to the enthusiastic punter. Mildly ironically Marchfest, probably the best established regional beer festival in NZ, was on at the same weekend even though it was April. Thus denying Wellingtonians and others the chance to go to both. First World problems and all that….
Brewday was set up corral-style with a horseshoe of tents around a wee paddock with some tables and hay bales facing a stage truck. As a map geek who is also fond of at least pretending to make strategic plans for festivals, I was warmed to see the conveniently pocket-sized program feature a well organised lay out of the breweries and food stations. Having committed it to memory it unfortunately turned out to be a work of fiction
Not that that was much of an obstacle to walking round and seeing what was where, which ultimately was always going to happen anyway. Five hours in a paddock is a long time to resist the urge to explore. Most intriguing though was this area:
The map (yes I was still using it) suggested it was the “activity zone”, tantalisingly without expanding on what that actually meant. From our observations we figured activity might be a euphemism for smoking.
The biggest tent was used for seminars: chocolate and beer; cheese and beer; Craft Beer College; and Mike from the exciting Panhead almost-brewery. We plumped for the beer and cheese tasting. You had to book (and pay) for this beforehand but I was entertaining some visiting gourmands from Victoria and was keen for them to see that we can do that sort of thing too. Like all the tents the white canvas made for an oddly intense and slightly oppressive omnidirectional lighting effect.
Possibly due to the inaugural nature of the day the organisation seemed a bit slow as lots of tiny beers were poured then we all queued up to individually get our bits of Kingsmeade cheese and beer tasters. At first I was gutted to be at the back of the tent and therefore getting the last servings but on reflection the people at the beginning had to sit there patiently not eating or drinking the goodies in front of them, which would have been quite a tease. I on the other hand had done three beer runs to the outside world in that time. Anyway 40 mins later and off we rolled, Kieran Haslett-Moore is eminently qualified on the subject and gives a great presentation. I’m impressed by the way he looks for novel matches and doesn’t shy away when they don’t quite work, focusing instead on the characteristics behind the incompatibility. Voting afterwards declared the winningest match to be the Sunset Blue cheese with the (noticeably non-regional!) Fuller’s 1845 beer. It was a great cheese with a nice tangy spice quality that complimented the rich sweet-toffee maltiness of a classic beer. The most interesting match for me though was the Castlepoint feta with Garage Project’s Baltic Porter as it was a great example of how flavours affecting each other on your palate. After a bite of the crumbly traditional-style salty cheese the beer tasted hugely different with a sudden deep chocolate character dominating affairs. Kieran explained how smokiness and saltiness go well together and suddenly everything made sense.
The Beer Stalls
Afterwards we hit the breweries in earnest and although all our local favorites were represented, it was more exciting to come across several we’d not heard of before from outside of Wellington including Long Beach, 50 Knots and Regent 58. These discoveries represented something of a highlight of the day and really provides a reason for having an event such as this in the beer calender. Long Beach from Waikanae already run a fantastic café and bakery near the beach but are building a brewhouse up the road from these. Their stall was staffed by exceptionally happy and friendly people selling pies and making cheesy puns whilst chatting with considerable enthusiasm about the project. 50 Knots are a new bunch who now own Crooked Cider but are dipping a toe into beer as well, so to speak, by brewing at Peak Brewery. They were notable for an admirable desire to get people’s thoughts and opinions on their beers. Regent 58 are some beardy homebrewers with a penchant for traditional style ales expanding into commercial production, so expect to see them in a supermarket or pub near you soon. Currently their beers are all bottle conditioned though which I reckon still catches the neophyte beer drinker/barstaff by surprise with unfortunate consequences.
Beer Highlights (in no particular order):
Long Beach Amber Ale – ABV 4.2%
A delightfully moreish American influenced malt forward beer in an underrated style. Crisp, clean and quaffable. Look forward to a lot more of this sort of thing when the brewery is up and running soon. Waikanae is quite suddenly becoming a destination!
Garage Project Baltic Porter – 8.1%
Virtually unanimously voted “best beer” at the cheese and beer session. Medium bodied and lightly smoked with some complexity of flavours and a deceptive strength. Intriguingly, there may be more of this maturing in barrels somewhere in the Aro Valley.
Kereru Velvet Boot – 8%
Enjoyed on tap for our first time. With experiences of the bottles having varied hugely, this was a gloriously fresh and uplifting world-beater of a Belgian. Luckily for us this skilled man is also just a couple of months away from having his own brewhouse.
The Things to Help You Enjoy the Beer
The food was great, I dare anyone to try and run a beer event vaguely near Wellington with substandard fare these days! Fork and Brewer’s spicy haloumi kebabs being a much appreciated veggie option and also perfect beer match, but Le Canard’s huge roast chicken meals showed the biggest queues. The music consisted of Wellington’s slightly painful Oompah band, the technically slick rock of Mr Groove, and the always willing cover band The Noodles. The latter gave us the drunkenly hilarious but certainly high scoring game “what song don’t you want to hear them play”. To their credit they did get the crowd dancing with their happy interactive zeal.
There were some non eating and drinking stalls, with glassware and wooden beer-associated items. I’m not sure how well they did for business. We contained our disbelief at being told how much better beer is when drank from 98% silicon glass that appeared to be a few microns thick…. the term “high definition drinking” was bandied around as if it were somehow real. Another genuine highlight though was the chance to try some schnapps and beer matching at the challengingly-named Zumwohl stand. Basically all the fruity ones match wheat beers (and sunshine) while the neutral one compliments virtually anything, but especially dark beers.
Perhaps preminising the need for a blog review, I asked around for opinions of the day.
It certainly didn’t make for a cheap weekend with a non-early bird ticket price of $45 providing only admittance and a glass (and attracting separate booking fee and credit card fees), which compares a bit unfavourably with events such as Beervana, Pacific Beer Expo or the previously mentioned Marchfest. If you had to get the bus back to Wellington then you missed out on a fair bit of the day as well. Also there was some speculation as to how much fun it would be if the weather had crapped out as it was threatening to do, such are the risks as well as joys of an outdoor do I guess. Basically though the outcome was every single person seemed to have a really good time (those that knew to bring warm coats and portable chairs with glass holders being especially content), with large quantities of humour, friendliness and interesting beer being shared.
One of the advantages of Brewday is it’s a great excuse to have to stay in Martinborough. Though there are distinctly refined high-end dining and drinking options for afterwards, none of them had a mechanical bull (and were somewhat surprised to be asked) so it was off to the Pukemanu Tavern….