Monthly Archives: June 2013

Value Beers

Words and plagiarism of intellectual property by Greasylightbulb

Hosted by Scotty

19 June 2013

Now the Tuesday new releases at cult beer bar Hashigo Zake are certainly helping the core of Thirsties meet their beer quota, and there are more than enough beer happenings professionally devised for our puntage so we don’t exactly need more events on the calendar. But we had become slightly spiritually unfulfilled somehow! We were missing the holistic benefits of the esoteric ramblings and cultural discourse inspired by one of the curated themed sessions which were so influential to the birth of the group. We had ideas, and now there was a program up and running, but we had forgotten June!

We needed 1) a theme that didn’t need complicated purchasing/smuggling/stealing of exclusive and elusive brews, and 2) a willing fixer. I had an embryonic (1) that I was working on, and for (2) we were grateful for yet another favour from Scott of the Hop Garden, New Zealand’s reigning “Bartender of the Year” 

The Idea

Recently the argument about what is craft beer had reared its head again. I personally feel it is actually a phrase that has only a very limited use and the idea that it can and should be defined is based on something of a fallacy. However now that the term “Faux Craft” exists possibly our hand is forced as we are no longer being asked to define a debatable category, we are having to define a line which has to exist now that we have labels for those things that fall either side of it.

Intrinsically linked to the quality or authenticity status of beer is issue of cost. It often pains me how much beer costs and I had to make some rigid life rules to address the effect of this when I realised last year that I spent more money on beer than on anything else. Rent, transport, food, holidays… take your pick, they all played distant second fiddle to my regular donations to *sigh* craft beer bars and shops. This year that won’t be the case, but it still will be a very significant proportion. I’m going to spend less even though beer is generally costing more (blame the hipsters if you want). Now Hashigo’s proprietor Dominic Kelly has previously penned a seminal post about the factors as to why beer costs what it costs here in Aotearoa which is all well and good, but surely we should then celebrate those who manage to make beer that seems more expensive than it actually is? Achieving the same in the world of winemaking is always worthy of respect within that industry.  Admittedly even more respect is paid when the makers are family owned, or small scale, or using traditional techniques etc and so on, but nonetheless making good wine affordable is commended. How often do we do the same for our beer? In fact there’s a general sense that we want our beer to be expensive, as it implies quality or scarcity as well as providing status and a sense of luxury or celebration.

However I’d occasionally had beer at BBQs and the like that I’d very much enjoyed in the occasion despite being inexpensive (and often undoubtedly not craft), but I regularly had a mental block about exactly which ones they were. This suggests that possibly branding isn’t quite as functional as some marketing people think it is, or of course that I have a rubbish memory. Either way, I wanted to do a blind tasting with a mix of beers to challenge preconceptions, possibly find impressive cheaper beers, and get people to think objectively about the beers and how much they are worth.

Taking up the challenge were the distinguished and deliberate Jesuit, fervent and forthright GingerBeardyMan (GBM), playful and provocative KaroriFriUp (KFU), scholarly and scrivening Malice, myself (understated and magnetic, if you’re asking) and two prospects hoping to negotiate the eclectic challenges placed before them on their journey to becoming a fully fledged badge-wearing Thirsty Boy.

The Thirsty Boys June 2013

Value Beers Session Invite

The Beers

Beer one was a pilsner. Drank quickly, as is customary for the night’s first beer, but not rated by the group.

It’s hoppy” Jesuit

“It’s a bit grimey to be honest” GBM

“bit flat” Prospect 2

“strangely vegetal, brussel sprouts” GLB

Is it a craft beer? The group pondered. There is “bad craft” after all… More positive conversation centred around how good everybody thought Tuatara pilsner was recently, and this wasn’t it.

Beer two was an amber ale, new world style with caramalised malt dominating affairs of taste. After suspicions had been roused by beer 1, everyone was now on the lookout for faux craft situations. However all present felt that this was definitely craft. “You can tell just by looking at the head” GBM.

”strangely sticky but still sessionable” GLB

“not that alcoholic” KFU

“Simple, but a good beer” GBM

Thoughts were that it was nothing exciting but certainly there was nothing bad about it. Inevitably people tried to guess what it was: Raindog? Townshends? Cassels and Sons? Brew Moon? Sprig and Fern?

Beer three was….. another amber! Well “…billed as an amber” declared Scotty with a hint of mystery. Although not presented side by side, the sequential nature of the tasting allowed for a comparison. This one was sweeter and hoppier but with a metallic hint. Two preferred it, two definitely didn’t, the rest were enjoying the view from the fence

“I’m not sure if I like it” Jesuit

“Tastes a bit filthy by the end” GBM

It was divisive between the boys “Faux craft” reckoned KFU, while two others wondered if it was a recent Garage Project release (that they hadn’t tried yet). GBM reckoned it had wholemealy qualities but Jesuit felt it was more like sourdough.

“I love it, I could probably drink three more” Prospect 1

“I reckon it’s Sassy red” KFU

“It’s not Sassy Red!” everybody else

At this point KaroriFryUp declared that assessing the ABV of each beer would assist in guessing how much they might cost due to New Zealand’s method of taxing beer. A wise idea that instantly become very poorly applied.

Beer four was from the enticingly termed “other grain” category. Amber in colour, with a honeyed spice taste that wasn’t subtle.

“Thin and watery” Malice…. “that doesn’t mean it’s bad” GBM

“Townshends!” Jesuit

Everyone figured the other grain was rye, Jesuit speculated that this could be Kaimai.

Fortified by a bit of alcohol we were finally able to address the elephant in the room: Thirsty Boys monthly events and their lack of female participation (not including what KaroriFyUp gets up to on the way to or from the venue of course…). The idea of being part of a gender-discriminating organisation was abhorrent to all, but this conflicted with the brief liberation from the “subtle censorship of women” that the events afford.

Beer five was a pale ale, and something of a slap in the face following on from number 4.

“I’m getting a dog fart smell” KFU, presumably referring to the beer.

“smells like stinging nettles” GLB

It was very cold and very bitter with a dominating grapefruit quality.

“definitely a craft beer” GBM …“Emerson’s?”

“8 wired?” Jesuit, two others agreed

“gets more palatable as you go through it” Prospect 1

“This is delicious” Prospect 2

A table of women nearby was proving distracting for some of the group by now, ruining note-taking and making something of a mockery of the discussion held during the previous beer.

Beer six was a pale ale again! Served less cold it was still bitter but with marmalade the dominating characteristic.

“ginger marmalade on toast” Jesuit, “burnt toast” GBM

“I can’t believe this is a pale ale” GBM

“honeyed tea” Prospect 1 remarked, and suddenly everybody could taste the tea!

“that tea is a slightly medicinal taste” GBM

Almost sounding like a breakfast beer with those descriptions aye? Jesuit guessed it may be Tuatara, the group was evenly split as to whether they preferred this one to the last one. For Prospect 1 and Jesuit it was the favourite beer so far.

Beer 7 was a strong ale. There were clues that the ABVs were having a demonstrable effect when Prospect 2 said for the umpteenth time that we were drinking Sassy Red. I wasn’t massively keen on it but that may be due to a conflict between my vegetarianism and the beer’s slightly pork-like palate. I did think it tasted like a quality beer though.

“The term strong ale covers a multitude of sins” Jesuit

“Oh my god… Smokey bacon rind” Malice

“some lovely espresso coffee thing going on” GBM

“fatty, between-your-fingers fatty” Malice

“but it’s quite sweet….. real smooth” Prospect 1

We talked physics and maths and then the conversation fell off the end of the parabolic curve.

The Big Reveal

Scott came along and told us what was what to general gasps or groans…..

Beer one: Mac’s Hoprocker 5.0% ABV.

vegetably

Slightly unexpected that this wasn’t liked, it’s often been mentioned by several of the Thirsty Boys as being surprisingly good and it had just won best pilsner at the Australian International Beer Awards at Good Beer Week in Melbourne. It was the cheapest beer of the night, you can get 330mL bottles for 2.65$ or 568mLs for 4$ *.

Beer two: Samuel Adams Boston Ale 5.4% ABV.

Balanced

Enjoyed albeit without excitement, this was the sort of feeling from those BBQ situation beers that I was rambling on about in the beginning I guess. Second cheapest beer of the night at a fiscally impressive 3.20$ a 355mL bottle.

Beer three: Boundary Road Red Baron 5.6% ABV.

Unsubtle

Costing more than the Samuel Adams at 6-7$ a 500mL bottle, it divided opinion as to whether it was better.

Beer four: Boundary Road The Resident Spike’s Red Rye Ale 6% ABV.

Creamy

Cheaper than the Red Baron (though you had to get it in a 6 pack ~ 18$ 6x330mL) it seemed pretty good value to most.

Beer five: Tuatara American Pale Ale 5.8% ABV.

Intense

Enjoyed by the majority, the step up in intensity of taste was noticeable. It is more expensive than all the other beers at 7.50$ a 500mL bottle

Beer six: Boundary Road Stolen Base 8% ABV.

Er… burnt ginger marmalade honeyed tea

Same price as the Red Baron, despite the difference in ABV. Since it was cheaper than the Tuatara but preferred by half the group this arguably represents a successful result. Calls itself an Imperial IPA and the high alcohol was a surprise to the blinded tasters.

Beer seven: Harrington’s Big John Special Reserve Bourbon Barrel Aged 6.5% ABV.

Bargain smokey sweetness

Regardless of personal enjoyment this imparted a distinct sense of being expensive, but is actually around the same value as the Boundary Road beers.

*prices are bottleshop prices

So overall thoughts: While we didn’t find any epiphanies of value for the whole group, the Big John, Red Rye and Stolen Base impressed the most. The only real result was confirmation that we really aren’t very good at blind tastings, but it was an interesting experience to drink without the clouding effects of marketing, assumptions and expectations. Those who didn’t have epic journeys home &/or marital parole to obey spent our money on a Ballast Point Porter that was delicious.

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A pilgrimmage to Mikkeller’s Bar, Copenhagen

Text and photographs: The Lady Piemaker

A relative newcomer to the world of craft beer, I was treated one December evening to a glass of Black Hole by the gypsy brewer, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø aka Mikkeller. I had been driven to the depths of despair by work that day, and a sympathetic Thirsty Boy, knowing of my new found love of a barrel-aged dark brew, sought to bring me cheer. At $38 a bottle, it was not a cheap pick-me-up, but it certainly did the trick. It literally was Christmas in a bottle.

When I announced to the Thirsties in February that I was being sent to Copenhagen for a conference, The Jesuit immediately assigned me the task of visiting Mikkeller’s Bar, which had been voted the best bar in Copenhagen by the Danish daily paper Politiken in 2012. Recalling the deliciousness of the Black Hole, it was a mission I was more than willing to accept.

Happily, the bar was only a mere 10 minutes walk from my space saver hotel, itself a harsh lesson in the fact that not all Danish design is stylish, and full to the gunnels with ‘Beliebers’.* Mikkeller’s Bar is in the Vesterbro district near the railway station, an area on ‘the up’ with the prerequisite red light history to give it a bit of an edge.  

Mikkeller's is just around the Erotic Corner.

Mikkeller’s is just around the Erotic Corner.

Setting out to create ‘a small, cool place for beer enthusiasts as well as novices to enjoy top quality micro brewed beer’, Mikkeller promised a bar with a difference.

‘Often beer drinking is something you connect with big, round tummies and sports on a flat screen. But at the Copenhagen based Mikkeller Bar the high quality of the beer goes hand in hand with the delicacy of the surroundings.’

What more could a member of the Thirsty Boys’ Ladies Auxiliary, with high aesthetic ideals and a loathing of sports, desire?

A Saturday night at Mikkeller's.

A Saturday night at Mikkeller’s.

My first visit took place on a Saturday night in the company of a young colleague, a bit of a spirits man. When we arrived in the little side street around 9pm, the semi-basement bar was pumping, with punters happily spilling up and out onto the otherwise quiet street. Ranging from their 20s to early 50s, male and female, and speaking in multiple tongues, the crowd was friendly and upbeat. The menu of craft beers on tap was of candy store proportions.

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Mikkeller’s black board menu of beers on tap.

Before even reading the menu, I knew what I wanted – another Black Hole. The bartender seemed impressed. Soon I had two in attendance as they scrabbled about to see what they had in stock. It only came bottled. Which one did I want? The bourbon, cognac or red wine? They’d have to go to the cellar. They seemed excited. I had obviously ordered well. Eventually one returned and presented me with a bourbon barrel aged Black Hole at 13.1%, offering me the bottle as a keepsake (I graciously declined, while quietly stealing a pile of beer mats). We ordered a hunk of cheese, some pickles and a strange dehydrated sausage, and settled outside. The beer and cheese were a winning combination – easily my best Danish food experience. The bartender reappeared to see if the Black Hole was up to satisfaction. It was. At 125,000 kroner, about $29 New Zealand – it was a bargain compared to home. Although Copenhagen has a reputation for being horribly expensive, I certainly wasn’t feeling the kroner pinch on the beer front.

A Mikkeller Still Life: Two glasses of Black Hole, with cheese, pickles and a dehydrated sausage. Simple. Delicious.

A Mikkeller Still Life: Two glasses of Black Hole, with cheese, pickles and a dehydrated sausage.

For round two, Herbaceous B and I went our separate ways. As a chardonnay drinker, I opted for an Its Alive Mango Chardonnay, described by Mikkeller as a Belgian Pale Ale, and others as a sour or wild ale. It proved to be a delightfully crisp drop on an evening edging towards spring. Herbaceous B showed he had a hair on his chest, and ordered a Beer Geek Brunch Weasel. An imperial Oatmeal stout, it is brewed with one of the world’s most expensive coffees made from the droppings of weasel-like civet cats. Apparently, this fussy Southeast Asian creature only eats the best and ripest of coffee berries.  At 45,000 kroner, it’s about $9 a glass.

My second visit to Mikkeller’s took place on a sunny Sunday evening sometime after 5pm, sans colleague. Having completed what must have been a 20km museum and shopathon around the city, I ordered a Women’s 10km, a dark ruby coloured fruit beer and took the weight off my feet. Beautiful in the glass, I desperately wanted to like it, but came to the sad conclusion that fruit beers are the rosés of the beer world, their prettiness often undermined by a medicinal taste. Each sip resulted in a kick at the back of the throat. I eventually gave it up for a delicious weasel-poo brew – coffee and oatmeal in one, a total meal in a glass. It was super dark and sticky. A bit like licking melting tar off the road on a super hot day, but yummy.

An abandoned Women's 10km alongside a glass of Geek Brunch Weasel.

An abandoned Women’s 10km alongside a glass of Beer Geek Brunch Weasel.

Comfortably solo, I perched on a high stool at a table made from drawers, to drink, write and observe my fellow patrons (including a couple in their 70s and alas a young American who loudly pronounced English to be the most superior of languages). In the less crowded daylight the ‘delicate’ nature of Mikkeller’s bar interior was revealed. Crisp white walls. A pale minty-green floor. Stylishly mis-matched chairs. A single stemmed flower on each table. It’s look more akin to a chic café than a beer bar.

Mikkeller's Bar sans punters - a fist-banging free space designed by Femme Regionales

Mikkeller’s Bar – a light and airy fist-banging free space designed by Femme Regionales (Photo: Mikkeller’s Bar)

The bar, a combo of black tiles and glittering glasses.

The bar, a combo of black tiles and glittering glasses. (Photo: Mikkeller’s Bar)

With something of an understatement, Mikkeller notes ‘All in all the bar is not quite as ‘manly’ as most beer places’ (although the friendly, well-informed hipster bartenders certainly have the prerequisite number of tattoos and piercings for a cult beer establishment). While personally I’d describe the interior as ‘stylishly quirky’ rather than ‘solemn’, Caroline Hansens of the Femmes Regionales explains the rationale for their design approach:

“If there is something a bit solemn to a place, people won’t bang their fists in the tables and empty their glasses in one sip, but behave in a different manner. We like to demand something from our audience – beauty generates beauty.”

If only more bars in New Zealand sought to demand the same. Innovative beer in a beautiful environment is a wonderful thing. If you ever find yourself in Copenhagen, I would highly recommend dropping into Mikkeller’s Bar for a beer with a difference, a chunk of delicious cheese and a great vibe that won’t break the bank. And if Mikkeller’s Bar is a little too delicate for your sensibilities, you could always track them down at Copenhell,  Denmark’s biggest Metal fest, for which they brew a little moonshine.

The Essentials: Mikkeller Bar, Viktoriagde 8BC, Vesterbro, Copenhagen, http://mikkeller.dk/the-bars/ 

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* Common usage term for fans (primarily adolescent girls) of unfathomably popular American ‘singer’ Justin Bieber.

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BEER HAIKU #43 Left Coast baltic porter

10 June 2013 – Only one keg in the country, courtesy of Hashigo Zake Cult Beer Bar, a select coterie of Thirstiest assembled to taste and versify in honour of this rare brew. In the event, it proved somewhat more divisive than anticipated, with one member of the Ladies Auxiliary suggesting that it was a ‘diet porter’. Others of us thought it splendid!

Left Coast Baltic Porter

Dark, contemplative

Gingerbeardy spawns again

Wan winter warmer

Food match: Aged Gouda, Camembert.

It’s the kind of beer you drink when: Shipwrecked off the coast of Denmark.

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BEER HAIKU #42 Garage Project Death from Above

Bespoke brewed for Melbourne’s Great Australian Spectapular, Death from Above excited some anticipatory outrage and puffery in the traditional media, very much of the “Who will think of the children?” genre. Concern trolling at its most cringe inducing!

The Thirsty Boys are blissfully oblivious to such Pecksniffian canards. Thus, the haiku:

Garage Project Death from above 7.5 abv

Salt, spice, pungent, tart –
Johnson’s Hueys bring the rain
Mango chutney, hops

Food match: Tom Yum soup, sweet gherkins, smoked kipper with poached or scrambled eggs, kedgeree

It’s the kind of beer you drink when: posing for a Guns & Ammo pictorial.

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Beer Haiku #41 Liberty Roggenator Winter Rye Ale

A winter ale might be anticipating the season a shade, but as the thermometer edges downward, this new release from the first week of June made us all – save the Lady Piemaker – feel a shade more blokey.

Liberty Roggenator Winter Rye Ale

 Hark the twilight sad
Lumberjack beer, this manly brew
Double in the rye

Food match: Bacon buttie with HP sauce, freshly killed anything, asador (Argentine barbecue).

It’s the kind of beer you have: After you’ve just skinned a few bison. If you’re Gingerbeardyman, whilst listening to a Twilight Sad LP.

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