Words and Photos by GreasyLightBulb
With Wellington on a Plate (WoaP) now incorporating quite a few beer-friendly experiences we had planned to hijack one of those as our August event. However this plan was thwarted by an inability to overcome the bizarrely obstructive booking system that appears designed to stop people going to things and generally piss them off in the process, as well as a need to accommodate the odd vegetarian (insert joke about odd vegetarians here). Although WoaP gets bigger and more impressive every year, both of these issues have been recurring themes in our experience so we figured we might just as well make our own event up, only slightly inspired by the WoaP “Curried Garage!” night. As a result this monthly session was, unusually for us, open to the Ladies Auxiliary and friends/partners/equals of Thirsties. So we had to be on our best behaviour. Despite this we left it to Karori FryUp (KFU) to make this concept real and he lined up a couple of facilitative experts then invited us to congregate on a Wintry weeknight for four courses matched with two beers each.
Hosted by Monty Patel @ Tulsi with Master of Ceremonies Neil Miller
15 August 2013
KFU chose Neil Miller (Beer writer of the year in 2014 – get your bets in now) for expert insight into beer and curry matching. It transpired that Neil was actually the man responsible for KFU’s beer awakening, thereby indirectly became the Godfather of The Thirsty Boys, and through this responsible for turning dozens of people he’s never met on to beer….This is because it was at an event Neil hosted some years ago when an introduction to Epic Armageddon turned KFU into the hop seeking progeny he remains today. This promptly led to the formation of the Thirsty Boys when KFU and Mr Horse mused that starting a beer group would be a socially acceptable way to meet their new found cravings. This worked so well that nowadays Mr Horse has a beer group for pretty much every night of the week and gone on to spawn more converts through these. All of which are therefore indirectly and unknowingly indebted to Neil for this.
It really is a freaky Butterfly Effect. Even freakier is that all this turning of people reminds me oddly of something else. You may not be aware that Neil even used to do a line in publishing beer haiku! You know, before it was all the rage.
Monty of Tulsi had kindly provided a venue and menu for us in his flagship curry house on Cuba St. He’s an energetic character with a huge personality. Since opening in 1999 his business is now starting to reach empire proportions with a chain of restaurants and a factory making wholesale and supermarket foodstuffs as well as his own range of pies. This makes him very busy so he sadly couldn’t stay around for the evening which was a shame as it would have been great for him to have seen the successful beer matches. Before he vanished to another engagement he showed us how he likes to drink his beer: with lemon and tabasco.
His staff also excitedly informed us it was conveniently India Independence Day, but we were uncertain whether that was a celebration or if we should offer our condolences. While waiting for everybody to gather we perused Tulsi’s fridge and warmed up with a Kalyani Black Label 7.2% ABV “malt liquor”. This seems to have replaced Kingfisher Strong in curry house fridges recently and ambitiously claims to “symbolize the values of male bonding and comradery”. It tasted like brown bread and old fruit and probably isn’t really designed for drinking on it’s own.
Vegetable Pakora, Onion Bhaji and Tamarind Sauce with Kingfisher Premium (pale lager 5.0% ABV) and Tuatara APA (5.8% ABV)
Kingfisher being the classic, or clichéd, beer for Indian food. It’s designed to be mild flavoured and less carbonated than European lagers to not conflict with the more intense curry flavours. Neil told us about the company which is ginormous – they own an airline and cricket team as well. They also do an Indian version of the Pirelli calendar and have purchased the distillers Whyte and Mackay who make many famous whiskies. A close examination of the label hinted that this was bottle was actually made nearer the foothills of the Hunua Ranges than Bangalore. But that’s probably ok as after all since our food isn’t actually from India either. Neil explained how hops can act to cool down the spiciness that is in a lot of Indian food. The Kingfisher didn’t seem to have many hops so and the food brought out a distinctly savoury malty character like shreddies. The Tuatara on the other hand developed a honeyed pineapple taste that better complimented our deep fried goodies. We scoffed the lot without Malice realising there was no meat involved.
“Kingfisher is as bad as I remember it, it’s flat, it’s bland, but it’s not offensive” GingerBeardyMan (GBM)
“It’s nowhere near as sweet as most green bottle lagers” Jesuit
Malai Kofta with Emerson’s Pilsner (4.9% ABV) and Epic Lager (5.0% ABV)
As mentioned earlier, an Epic beer was the lubrication used at the conception of the Thirsty Boys, and also it turned out that Neil credited himself with the naming of their
Hop Zombie (Edit: it was Armageddon he named – my bad!). Epic’s range is well known for having fairly extreme levels of hoppy bitterness and alcohol so this is their most moderate offering, though it still contains over twice the hops of a Tui. It’s all about sweet but balanced tropical fruits. Emerson’s Pilsner as blogged elsewhere is a lot of drinkers’ fondly recalled gateway beer which has a place in New Zealand’s history assured. The idea behind these pairings was that the juicy fruity beers would contrast the fatty richness and heat. As a matching it didn’t quite work as the malai sauce was certainly rich and creamy but had no heat. Instead it had a pleasantly delicate and fragrant blend of nutty spices while the kofta were equally mild soft orbs of paneer, cashew and potato.
“I don’t generally order vegatables” Neil
“carbs overload” Malice
“KFU hasn’t had his phone out” GBM
“Most lagers don’t add much to spicy food, they are just wet” Neil
“Oh, the phone’s out now” Lady Piemaker
Conversation turned to Ian Botham and his promotion of Moa, he’s the knight of the realm you’d have a fight with apparently. We offered GingerBeardyMan more beer and he accused us of racial profiling, it was going to be one of those nights…
Lamb (or veggie) Vindaloo with ParrotDog BitterBitch (IPA 5.8% ABV) and Northend ESB (5.2% ABV)
Now we’re talking! The spiciest course and the biggest beers to match. This course also provided an excellent example of the benefits of having a professional expert like Neil in our company as he regaled us with interesting tales of the formation and history of these beers and the people who made them. Tasting in this context really adds extra dimensions of insight and intimacy to enjoying the beer. The ESB was already cherished by a few of us and we were keen to show it off to the rest, it had a gentle bitterness and mellow marmalade flavour. The BitterBitch was a sharper grapefruit taste and had greater intensity, also it’s one of Neil’s favourite beers of all time. The vindaloos weren’t that hot, especially the veggie one (I blame the obvious presence of Kiwis at the table for this*), but they had a gorgeous sticky caramalised tomato sauce coating the spiced goodies. The ESB matched the lamb itself very well but the ParrotDog stood up much better to the chilli.
Since ParrotDog are just round the corner from Tulsi, and the ESB was contract brewed at the Fork and Brewer we were certainly drinking local
“Take it from me, he is a two fisted drinker” Jesuit, describing GBM
“Bitterbitch, is a slightly controversial name” Neil
We talked about how Andre the Giant got paid for being in the Princess Bride in the form of a bar tab of legendary magnitude, to the dismay of the producers. Also, as is customary in these things, we voted for our favourite beer and also our favourite match. A concept that was possibly slightly confusing to some of those present.
“Zimbabwe are looking at you guys saying your elections are shonky..” Neil
*Previously upon asking a waiter the difference between the offered “Kiwi hot”, “English hot”, and “Indian hot” he cheerfully explained “for Kiwi we don’t put any actual chillis in at all, for English we make it hot, if you say Indian then we fuck you up and watch from the kitchen”
“Indian” chocolate cake with Invercargill Pitch Black Boysenberry Stout (5.0% ABV) and Kereru “For Great Justice” Coconut Porter (4.5% ABV)
Not knowing what to expect of an Indian chocolate cake, it turned out to be… well, a chocolate cake! A dry chocolate sponge in a much nicer sweet ganache. Overall impressively un-Indian. Neil told us about the Otago berries and roasted grains used in the stout which helped make it both sweet and tart and that the porter was made with coconut roasted over a wood fire to bring in some smokey notes. When matching food and drink you can either choose to compliment or contrast and this course was all about that choice.
“Steve (from Invercargill) is very affectionate for a South Islander, somewhat huggy even” Neil
Chris (Kereru) used to brew nanobatches in the kitchen and shed, until his wife told him he was making a mess, so he’s recently invested in a sweet brewery set up in Upper Hutt which will shortly be open for tours and cellar door activities. The chocolate cake made the boysenberry beer very tart and really highlighted the berryness, while the coconut porter became very biscuity. It was the match Neil was most interested in as we voted almost unanimously the Boysenberry to be the best match but a majority preferred the coconut porter on its own merits. The aim with successful matching being to look for something greater than the sum of the individual parts, and that was certainly the case with the chocolate cake. Randomly a piece of banana cake made its way on to our end of the table and it was a better match with the coconut beer.
Full of beer and developing some tasty burps we thanked Neil and the Tulsi guys and disappeared into the cold evening air.
Beer and curry is truly a great match, and surely the best example of a food that everybody would say goes better with beer than with wine. However the sad thing is that we don’t actually think you could recreate this experience in Wellington without a great deal of effort. None of us knew of a curry house in our “Craft Beer Capital” that had a decent choice of beer and none that do BYO allow you to bring beer! This seems a hugely missed opportunity for the industry. Whenever I’ve asked why you would have BYO wine but not beer I’ve never been given an attempt at a reason. I have however had success with drinking beer from flash looking 750mL bottles that I pass off as wine. Otherwise your best bet may be to take a BYO curry to a beer place that doesn’t specialise in its own food so lets you bring your own, such as Black Dog or Bar Edward on a Monday.
If anyone knows otherwise, please share! If not, let’s please all hassle the restaurateurs until they yield.