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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3 thoughts on “Value Beers

  1. Quite excitingly, there may be a new “king of affordable beers” in town (well, the Hutt anyway)….
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/small-business/8917914/Brewer-keeps-an-eye-on-commercial-possibilities

    • Lets see if he can do a tasting at the brewery, it is only a 10 min walk from my house and 2 mins fron the train station. I could have you all for pre drinks lunch.

  2. […] VALUE BEERS: A blind tasting with a mix of beers to challenge preconceptions, possibly find impressive cheaper beers, and to get people to think objectively about beers and how much they are worth. […]

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