Category Archives: Beer styles

Aged beers

Words by Greasylightbulb

After a hiatus that was threatening to turn epochal, the Thirsty Boys finally managed to be in the same place at the same time and in the company of a themed beer selection. It’s certainly not that we hadn’t been drinking in the meantime, it’s just that orderly structure had eventually given way to a pleasant casual whimsy. However much like a room of monkeys on typewriters, all we had to do was wait long enough and this day was bound to happen.

Being nothing if not contrary, it was decided to ignore the fresh sensorial delights of the current wet hop season and instead explore the dusty old box that had been unearthed when I recently moved house. I knew there had been some bottles somewhere in the garage, some of which had been put away on purpose, others less so. I hoped some might be nice, but figured that even if not, then it could provoke interesting discussion about the whys and wherefores of ageing beers.

 

 1. The Bruery Saison Rue (8.5% ABV)

bruery saison rue

The box turned out to contain a pleasingly wide variety of beer styles. First up being a 2012 Saison from Orange County’s Belgianesque The Bruery. They no longer make this under the same label, but spinoff brand Bruery Terreux do. It’s made with rye and bottle conditioned with some brettanomyces. Described in the literature as rich and hoppy when fresh, but expected to “…dry out and become more complex with rustic notes of leather and earth” with age.

On the day it was delightfully classy start to proceedings, with the advertised earth and leather propped up against a fruitiness which opened up and became more complex a little while after decanting.

“Subtle and aromatic” The Jesuit

“Held its malt body really well” Gingerbeardyman

“Hints of sherried honey and spice” Greasylightbulb

It was enjoyed by Malice who normally finds saisons hard to like; and also Troughboy even though he considered his tastebuds to be unenlightened despite all the practise they were getting. It was superbly well matched to a round of Tenara ashed goats cheese from Kaikoura which the Lady Piemaker had kindly provided

This very vintage won Best beer of 2012 by Wine Enthusiast magazine. We gave it 7/10 Man Points (see here for no real explanation at all), though we scored all beers at the end of the tasting which leads to something akin to curved grading.

 

2. Chimay Bleue/Grand Reserve (9% ABV)

Chimay-bleue

Iconic strong Belgian ale from 2012. Quite a lot of information and opinions are available in the internet bout the ageing of this and other Trappist beers. Although exact character will vary with vintage, the size of bottle, and the way it is stored. As a crude rule, 3-4 years in bottle appears to be considered a peak time. It’s intricacies on the palate left the Thirsties grasping for likenesses

“Raspberryish” Lady Piemaker

“Fruit preserve on burnt toast” Gingerbeardyman

“It’s Christmas cakey” Lady Piemaker

Conversation then turned tangentially to how hipsters were now drinking the iconic Scottish budget fighting juice Buckfast, the origin of the hipster culture, and merits of artisanal firewood.

(8 Man Points)

 

3. Invercargill Brewery Pitch Black Imperial Stout (9% ABV)

Product_PitchBlackImperial

Batch barrel aged in central Otago Pinot Noir barrels for 3 months, then left to its own devices in Greasy’s garage for 3 years. Invercargill say it “….will only improve with age”. Despite an erratic supply this far North (unlike a few years ago when we could get our hands on an extended range)  Invercargill brewery are still warmly regarded by several of the Thirsties. Would age legitimise that fondness or highlight the erraticism? Well with minimal carbonation it poured an enticing deep walnut tinge and….

“coffee and blackberry” The Jesuit

“ a good dessert evening beer, great with ice cream” Lady Piemaker “…and chocolate”

Though its impossible to know, we felt it would risk getting a bit flabby with more time, so were happy to revel in it’s gorgeousness for now

(9 Man Points)

 

4. 8 Wired the Sultan (10% ABV)

8-wired-sultan

This sultana-containing Quadrupel was the originator of the stash for ageing. It was picked up at Wellington’s Beervana festival in 2011 or 2012; memory failing me slightly. However I do remember the distinct feeling that it was a) amazing, and b) could be even more so. Hence putting it away and trying harder not to drink it than I normally try not to drink things. The bottle blurb states it would continue to develop for 3-4 years.

“..has a tartness to it” The Jesuit

“This is like a beer you drink just by itself, you don’t need food with it” Lady Piemaker

It was agreed that we’d like to have another one, which was a problem since sadly it appears to be discontinued by 8 Wired. This is an inherent risk in ageing beers, in small volume anyway. When you get it right, and find yourself relaxing in the glow of a decadent complex beer at its peak, the feeling risks being tinged with the regret of not buying and keeping more at the time.

(8.5 Man Points)

 

5. Liberty Brewing Renall’s Towards Muriwai (11% ABV)

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You may have notice that the proceedings have gone Belgian – stout – Belgian – stout, turns out it’s not easy to order this selection. I went with anticipated size and body rather than beer type (then stuck the freak at the end…). Other suggestions would be welcomed though!

Anyway: back to Liberty. Described as a “Black Forest Stout” this single batch from 2012 contains a hefty dose of sour morello cherries. It was made for Brewers Guild New Zealand awards, and won a medal. However it really has its roots in a much more personal symbolism. It commemorates Liberty Brewing’s Joe and Chistina Wood’s 12 years of marriage. Apparently they were aiming for 12% ABV, but missed. I hope that fact isn’t symbolic of anything. Muriwai was a special place in their youth and the beautiful label was by an art teacher from the college they met at. It really was a bottle with sophisticated elegance. I remembered thinking it as a good end-of-night beer originally, but our commentary suggests that the effects of time may have shifted its optimum place in one’s daily routine.

“A beer for breakfast” Lady Piemaker “..like coffee”

“Good with porridge and brown sugar” The Jesuit

Compared with the rest of the night’s dancecard it didn’t have as much depth or complexity of flavour. But we did wonder what it would be like with even more age. Since it was my last bottle, the regret firmly took hold.

7/10 Man Points

See more by the label’s artist Sarah McBeath at http://www.bakedbean.co.nz/

Renall's towards Muriwai col

Renall’s Towards Muriwai by Sarah McBeath 

 

6. Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Jack and Ken’s ale (10.2%)

sierra nevada

This American dark barley wine is the oldest of the bunch. Crafted in 2010 as one of four commemorative and collaborative brews to celebrate Sierra Nevada’s 30th anniversary. This one was a collaboration with Jack McAuliffe of New Albion Brewing who has been described as the first American microbrewer. It is said that… “this robust ale should age gracefully for years”. Today we could prove it.

“That’s an incredibly great beer… just the balance between all the elements” Gingerbeardyman

“I once drank a bottle of this on my own, I was very swirly” The Jesuit

(at the 65 IBUs) “oh no, it’s not bitter, at least I don’t think it is bitter” Lady Piemaker

“Layers of liquid liquorice” Greasylightbulb

“..it has a serial moreishness” the ever quotable Gingerbeardyman

“I don’t see how it could get any better” Greasylightbulb

(9.5 Man Points)

 

7. De Molen Raad & Daad (6.5% ABV)

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Not much could be researched about this oak aged sour from 2013. Brouwerij De Molen themselves had no mention of it on their website. There’s a discussion on Ratebeer.com about how the bottle was made differently to the draught. Google translates the name as possibly meaning council and deed. Mysterious. Very different style to the other beers, as apparent in the atmosphere created by the swirling glasses.

“oh no” Troughboy’s prospect

“…a felonious aroma” The Jesuit

“Genuinely embodies horse saddle sweat” Greasylightbulb

“Sweet and sour acidity” Troughboy

“It has candy to it” Lady Piemaker

Scoring was divisive, but averaged out at 6/10

 

Well what could we conclude from the evening? Apart from wishing I’d saved the Sierra Nevada for last. Exploring the effects of ageing would be much more successfully achieved if we had tried aged beers alongside their more youthful versions. Some American brewers are now branding some of their range as “vertical beers” for this express purpose. Unfortunately some of our brews were batches never again repeated, denying us that opportunity. But we can safely say that this selection was aged and it was delicious. Relying on our memories somewhat, they were generally felt to be more complex and interesting than they had been originally. I’ve decided imperial stouts and barley wines are the ones to put aside for me, so I’m off to find some more to fill that new hole in the garage.

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Aged Beers – The Empties

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When cheese meets beer: an Aro Valley Romance

Wine and cheese is a pairing is viewed by many foodies as one of life’s great culinary pleasures. Less appreciated is the pairing of beer and cheese. This December, the Thirsties invited Lucy from the blog Life & Cheese and the intrepid brewers from The Garage Project, to join forces to do some serious match-making between their respective loves.

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Behind closed doors at the Garage Project, Lucy curated an enticing cheese board featuring an alliance of cheesy goodness from France and England.

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Around the cheese board clockwise: Valancay (pyramid shaped), Delice de Bourgogne, Beaufort, Keens Cheddar and Stichelton.

As we hungrily eyed up the boards of white gold, Phil from The Garage Project poured us a cheerful taster of Hāpi Daze, and Lucy gave us a run down on how to get the most out of our cheese and beer tasting during the evening. This included the command that bread was only to be consumed as palette cleanser and not as a cheese carrier. Her most memorable piece of advice, however, was on how to make a ‘cheesy highway’ in our mouths for the beer to slosh down.

As we earnestly concentrated  on preparing our cheesy highways with a slice of Valançay, a nutty, fudgy raw goat cheese, Phil poured our first match-fit beer, Summer Sommer, the brewery’s ‘love child’ with iconic Norwegian craft brewery Nøgne Ø.  As the honey coloured liquor hurtled down 15 different highways, Lucy told us that acidic goat cheeses are good at holding their ground against hoppy IPAs, and their lemony tang complements lightly spiced beers. The Valançay was fresh and springy – a little too young for some palettes. With the addition of a mouthful of Summer Sommer, however, it happily changed seasons. It may not have been love, but a pleasant summer day’s match was made.

Whereas most beer tastings move slowly from light to dark, Lucy threw out the rules with her second pairing. Next inline on the cheese board was a plump, luxurious and silky looking cheese. When cut, it revealed its triple cream gloopiness in all its glory. It’s name was Délice de Bourgogne – a femme fatale of cheese if there ever was one. It was the perfect cheese, Lucy decided to star alongside a dark glass of Aro Noir, the Garage Project’s ‘stout for all seasons’. Fittingly, as the glasses were poured, Wellington’s skies darkened and the asphalt outside the brewery became slick with rain.

I had initially been dubious about the pairing of the Délice and Noir – I was a fan of hard cheeses with stouts. Lucy assured us, however, that ‘the lactic sweetness of triple creams create magic with malty triples, stouts and porters’. We might not have been fully listening by then, however, as the magic had already begun to play out on the cheesy highway which had become a highway to heaven. Everyone fell head over heels for Délice’s seductive charms, and a near perfect match was made between an elegant French import and a beer from the wrong side of the valley.

Two cheeses down, and three to go, and already we had reached perfection. Had the evening peaked too soon? Having delved into the dark side we were back in the sun with Pils ‘n’ Thrills, a citrusy American hopped pilsener. Lucy paired this with Beaufort, a raw, alpine cheese from Savoie, France. Smooth, fruity, nutty and sweet, it is known as a ‘friendly’ cheese and one of France’s, and now Malice’s, all time favourites. True to form, it went with every beer we tried as ‘alpine cheeses have the body to stand up to malty porter and stouts and the sweetness to pair with ESB, lager or pilsners’. However, it was super good with Pils ‘n’ Thrills. Somehow, it made the beer’s citrusy nature, something I typically run a mile from, so much more palatable and enjoyable.

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Lucy from Life and Cheese enthuses about Beaufort, the ‘Heidi of cheeses’, in front of a line up of Pils n Thrills.

Sometime about now, three young, brazen Argentinian tourists hustled their way into the brewery, proffering an empty Garage Project bottle. They were leaving the next day, and were desperate to savour every drop they possibly could. Ian took pity on the damp trio, refilled their bottle and wished them well for their travels. Meanwhile, back on the cheeseboard we were crossing the channel to England, to a hard, crumbly cheddar and curmudgeonly looking blue.

The cheddar was made by the Keens, a family from Somerset who have been making cheddar since 1899. If you are travelling their way, you can purchase cheese directly from their farm in 25kg, 3kg and 1.5kg truckles (a truckle being a fancier and more fun way of saying wheel of cheese). We didn’t quite have a truckle, but we ate a fair amount of cheddar, for as Lucy decreed ‘its made for beer’. While IPAs complement its sharp kick, malty ESB, stouts and sweet barley wines lure out cheddar’s sweeter side. The Garage Project’s Ian matched this traditional cheese with the brewery’s futuristic Venusian Pale Ale, a zesty beer full of lemon grass, kaffir lime leaf and grapefruit peel and spiced with a touch of Venusian Spear Fungus for that extra special kick.

Ian

Ian from the Garage Project spins a tall tale about the trials and tribulations of gathering Venusian Spear Fungus.

And then last, but never lest, there was the gnarly old blue – not a Stilton but a Stichelton from Nottinghamshire – a raw milk cheese Lucy had once flown across the world to try, but which she managed to buy more cheaply at Moore Wilson’s for our tasting. Our last cheese of the night was born over a glass of beer.

Legend has it that one evening way back in 2004, a cheese maker with the unlikely name of Joe Schneider was having a beer in a London pub with Randolph Hodgson, chairman of Neal’s Yard Dairy, the cheese-lover’s mecca.

‘Randolph asked, ‘You wanna do this raw-milk Stilton project?’ I said, ‘Yeah, great idea,’ and got another beer. But the idea sunk in – he’d planted it. Later on I thought, wow, could I really do that? It’s like the Holy Grail of cheesemaking, to bring back the quintessential English cheese and make it with raw milk on a small working farm.’

The cheese born over a beer – the mighty Stichelton.

Lucy paired the Stichelton with a beer inspired by another great English tradition, Shakespeare. For the latter we have to thank Peter Gillespie’s sensationally literate and historically aware 10 year old daughter, Maddie, the beer’s creative brains (good parenting Pete). The father and daughter duo first brewed Burning Globe in 2013 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Globe Theatre fire of 1613, during which a man’s breeches caught fire – an incident ‘that would perhaps have broyled him, if he had not by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with a bottle of ale.’

Globe

Burning Globe on tap – a once a year treat.

As the Globe had been made from oak, Maddie insisted that the beer was brewed with oak-smoked wheat malt. (You can read Maddie’s account here).

Brewed only once a year, Burning Globe is simply too delicious to waste on putting out a fire. Indeed, The Little One pronounced Burning Globe as evening’s stand-out, declaring that she had found her one true Garage Project Beer. In regards to a match for the old blue, however, she thought the Stichelton ‘really hummed’ with the Aro Noir and VPA.

While Burning Globe was much admired all round, and it was agreed that many of the cheeses could be happily eaten with many of the beers, the stand out match for the evening was by total agreement the voluptuous Délice de Bourgogne with a glass of slick Aro Noir – cheese and beer perfection.

nubbins

The cheesy remains of an evening well spent.

With only the nubbins left, the evening came to a close, and we made our way home clutching our cheesy beer babies. Thankfully the rain had stopped.

A big thanks to Lucy and Kate from Life & Cheese and to Phil and Ian from the Garage Project for hosting us. It was a great night, full delicious beer and cheese, passion, history and tall tales. We now feel qualified to make cheesy highways on our own.

All of the cheeses described above, with the exception of the Stichelton, can be purchased from Wellington’s Francophile haven, Le Marche Français. The beers of course can be purchased directly from the Garage Project’s cellar door at 68 Aro Street, Wellington. The delicious bread, which must also get a mention, was baked by Acme.

By The Lady Piemaker

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My Year of Beer (+ free bonus cake recipe)

Text: The Lady Pie Maker

October marks the first anniversary of the foundation of the Thirstyboys’ Ladies Auxiliary, which means I have  been heading down the stairs to Hashigo Zake most Tuesday evenings for the past 12 months. As such, the Thirsties asked me to reflect on my first year of beer.

While I happily sipped shandies made by my uncle when I was 10, the taste of beer never appealed as I moved into my teens, student years and beyond. Kegs, yard glasses, six packs, pints and halves were all foreign concepts. I grew to look down on beer, and beer drinkers to boot. Tui naturally had a lot to answer for. I thought beer was beer, and I didn’t like it or the culture that surrounded it –  that was until I was lured into Hashigo’s basement one evening by a Thirsty Boy. While I stubbornly clung to my chardonnay at first, eventually I began to brave each week’s new release – a sip here and there, and eventually a half of my very own.

A Singaporean Jungle Beer jolted me to my senses. How surprisingly delicious. I could like beer. I had found my beer, except that it was a one off special keg, so within an hour of being found I was lost again.  A few weeks later a porter by the Garage Project, famously described by the Draughtsman as like ‘drinking a whole f&#%$ Christmas cake’, made me realise I well and truly preferred the dark side to the light.  2013 became the year of the great imperial porter.

On a succession of amiable Tuesday’s, when the topic of conversation is always and often only about beer, I have learned the following:

Beer is not just beer. Beer comes in an amazing array of styles and flavours, and is made from all sorts of weird things from chillies to avocado leaves and weasel poo. Who would have thought?

civet-cat-coffee

Weasel poo, or more correctly civet cat poo featuring highly desirable excreted coffee beans.

Despite expanding my drinking horizons considerably, I still don’t like drinking across the spectrum (unlike Malice). I like imperial porters on the whole, and the occasional Saison – which is just a nice word to say as well as tasting a little like chardonnay.

'The Luggage Porter'. Post war tin toy.

‘The Luggage Porter’. Post war tin toy.

On a cautionary note, however, three imperial porters in a row is simply one porter too many. It can only lead to trouble. I am yet to find my sessionable beer.

Beer doesn’t only go with rugby and racing. Beer goes with poetry and great conversation, and best of all – with cheese.

Cover of Rod Derrett’s classic 1965 record, Rugby, racing and beer.

Cover of Rod Derrett’s classic 1965 record, Rugby, racing and beer.

Craft brewers are an inventive, irreverent and interesting breed, culturally engaged and culturally playful. I like it.

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Wellington in a Pint winners, 2012.

Beer bars no longer have sticky floors, and are pretty convivial places just to be. Some even have flowers.

Mikkeller's Bar in Copenhagen - a fist-banging free space designed by Femme Regionales

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

Beer and style can go together (see Beervana 2013).

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Stephen dressed for a Sherlock adventure at Beervana 2013.

Wine might have legs, but beer has Belgian lace.

Beer makes a mighty fine baking ingredient.

The MightyThirsty Cake, otherwise known as a porter chocolate cake best served with porter syrup and 'clouds' of cream.

The MightyThirsty Cake, otherwise known as a porter chocolate cake best served with porter syrup and ‘clouds’ of cream.

In thanks to my year of beer, here is the recipe for the truly magnificent MIGHTYTHIRSTY CAKE

FRUITY BIT

100 grams each of raisons and dried pitted dates and prunes

250 mls porter beer (I used Three Boys – get a 500ml bottle as you’ll need more later)

2 Tbl brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

CAKEY BIT

6 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

175 grams caster sugar

200 gram ground almonds

30 grams cocoa, sifted in theory

1/2 tsp Chinese 5 spice

1 tsp baking powder

YUMMY PORTER SYRUP

250 ml Porter beer

160 grams brown sugar

1 cinnamon stick

HOW TO MAKE

FRUITY BIT: Chop fruit, pop in a medium sauce pan with other fruity ingrediants. Bring the porter to boil, and simmer for 10 mins, stirring every now and again. Cool for 5 mins and then wizz in a blender. Cool some more.

CAKEY BIT: Whisk eggs, vanilla and sugar in a big bowl and add wizzed fruity mixture. Combine almonds, cocoa, 5 spice, baking powder, and then add to egg/fruit mixture.

Pour into a 22cm spring form tin that has been lined with baking paper. Bake for 40 mins, or until skewer comes out clean, at 170 degrees. Cool in the tin. Pop on a plate.

SYRUPY BIT: Put all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil, and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Simmer vigorously for about 10 mins or until reduced and thick and syrupy (this took me more than 10 mins).

HOW TO EAT: Dust the MightyThirsty Cake with icing sugar, and serve each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and a generous splash of syrup. Serves 10 to 12 in theory.

BEER MATCH: Sam from Hashigo Zake, after conducting a professional tasting, recommends pairing your MightyThirsty Cake with a glass of Left Coast Voodoo Stout.

A CAKE YOU EAT WHEN: feeling mighty.

A glass of Voodoo – the perfect MightyThirsty Cake match.

WITH GRATEFUL THANKS TO DISH MAGAZINE FOR SHARING SUCH A MARVELLOUS RECIPE!

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David Tua inspired a craft beer?

Did you know Samoan heavyweight boxer David Tua inspired the brewing of a craft beer in New Zealand? I just posted this week’s haiku (below), and in the accompanying photograph are four glasses of the 8 Wired Bumaye and a larger glass of a beer called “Ø for Awesome“. It’s named after a phrase made famous by Tua. Check out this story…

Thesweetscience.com

As beer scribe Neil Miller recounts “On 10 October 1992, heavyweight boxer David Tua appeared on a celebrity episode of the inexplicably popular Kiwi version of the trite game show“Wheel of Fortune”.  While no one remembers the performance of his alleged co-celebrities actor Andy Anderson and Fair Go reporter Rosalie Nelson, David Tua entered popular folklore by uttering three famous words.  Asked by host Philip Leishman for a consonant, Tua appeared to request an “O for Awesome”.”

Today, if you say “o for awesome” in New Zealand, there’s a good chance people know the moment you are referring to. Fast forward to February 2012, and the moment inspires the collaborative brewing of an Imperial Amber Ale by brewers 8 Wired, Renaissance and Nøgne Ø.

As a New Zealand born Samoan / Irish man I have waited to taste this beer and experience its awesomeness for over year (since I heard about it). On Tuesday night after work, I hoofed it over to Hashigo Zake Cult beer bar, where my gingerbearded, Scottish friend (and former u boat captain) presented me with a beer from what was advertised as “the last known keg of Ø for Awesome.” 

It's O - O for awesome!

It’s O – Ø for Awesome!

It was pretty awesome….firstly, because it comes in at 9% (so you won’t be drinking it by the six pack at the Apia Way Niteclub); secondly, it tastes rich and toffee/chocolately (so you won’t be knockin’ it back); and thirdly,  because according to Miller, it has “one of the longest beer names in recent New Zealand history:  “8 Wired/Renaissance/Nøgne Ø – Ø for awesome (9% 75 IBU)”.”  It was also awesome to be sipping it with the Thirsties. The proprietor of the bar said he hadn’t had it in since the end of 2012. So…choohooo!

There is no argument that Tua is awesome….and I think it’s awesome that his modest contribution to the “popular lexicon” is celebrated in New Zealand beer geekdom in this memorable way …but you’ve got to read Neil Miller’s original blog to get an expanded telling of this beer story. Check it out here.

 

…comes in bottles?

 

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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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