Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Falling for Autumn...

I woke up this morning to grey skies, sporadic drizzle and a biting Wellington wind. Winter is on its way. But as I wrapped myself in several layers of clothing and walked to uni with my hood on, I had a skip in my step. It's Autumn, which means its time to open all those warming, nutty and spiced ales. Mmmm...

Kid Chocolate
(3.6% ABV)
One of the newer breweries on the scene, Yeastie Boys, first provided a taste of their Autumn seasonal at the Liquorland New Zealand Beer Festival on February 28th.
Their interpretation of an English Mild Ale, this style is traditionally a refreshing, malty brew with subtle flavours and a lower alcohol content.
Kid chocolate pours a
clear, still amber with a creamy light-tan head. The aromas include caramel, chocolate, smooth malt and slight hop notes - very balanced. The initial strong malt bitterness moves through to reveal light caramel, milk chocolate, chestnut and roasted malt flavours, with a lightly hopped finish. This is an incredibly smooth and balanced ale, which is also quite clean on the palate - another gem from Yeastie Boys.

Mike's Mild Ale (4% ABV)
Mike's Mild Ale from White Cliffs in Taranaki also has a dominant malt character. Despite being a tasty beer and perfect for the coming months, it does not work quite as closely to the English style as Kid Chocolate.
Mike's Mild pours a dark brown with a very thin head. Although its
appearance is average, the aroma and flavour are far more than that. Mike's Mild has a yeasty nose with a strong roasted malt character and a hint of dark chocolate and herb. It has a lightly hopped flavour, with roasted malt, a slightly burnt character and a smokey, peppercorn bitterness. Although Mike's is slightly too yeasty on the finish, which leaves an unpleasant bready character on the palate, it is a substantial, warming and malty brew - very tasty after collecting the falling leaves on your front lawn.

Reserve Ale (4% ABV)
Sunshine Brewery in Gisborne continues to produce great beers for good prices, yet are substantially under-rated in the beer community. Their Reserve Ale, available in riggers from Regional Wines and Spirits, is a refreshing ale for the summer - winter transition.
Sunshine's Reserve Ale pours amber with thin, off-white head. It looks a lot like Tui actually, but tastes A LOT better. The beer has a malty aroma, with subtle vanilla, spice, raisin and yeast. The dominant malt character moves through to the flavour, where it creates a smooth, warming balance with the subtle hop and light plum, raisin and vanilla flavours. There are subtle yeast notes on the finish, which coats the palate beautifully. A well-brewed ale with smooth flavours and reccommended for regular consumption over the coming months.

So as the warm, Summer weather that has been gracing our country moves into the cool, wet and windy days of Winter, just remember the skies are only silver because they're filled with that valuable silver lining - Autumn brings one of the best excuses to drink those beautiful malty, spiced ales which warm you from the inside out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Something a little Irish...

It was March 17th yesterday, which is also known by the Irish, Catholics and stout-lovers as St Patrick's Day. We Kiwi's celebrate our Irish heritage (or lack thereof) by spending the day dressed in green, humming to Irish tunes and downing as many pints of Guinness as, well, the Irish.

But with 2009 marking 250 years of Guinness, I think the whole St Patrick's Day tradition of drinking the Irish stout is getting a little... boring. And as the Irish are known for their weird and wacky (ok, mainly drunken) ways, I wanted to find a different way to mark the occasion. And so with a little searching and experimentation, I did.

Guinness Special Export (8%ABV)
Brewed for the Belgian beer market, Guinness Special export is available in bottles from specialty liquor stores in New Zealand and is well worth tracking down. It pours pitch black with a light brown head, but does not have that creamy "Irish" head as there is no widget in the bottle.
Nevertheless, this beer is quite an exceptional stout. With coffee, malt, caramel, dark chocolate and a hint of alcohol on the nose, there is no doubt you are in for a treat. The Roasted malt and coffee flavours hit the taste buds immediately, moving though to the sweeter characters of caramel, dark chocolate and an almost syrupy alcohol taste. The finish is quite bitter in contrast to this sweetness, with burnt malt and a smokey flavour giving the beer a real kick to end he mouthful. Unfortunately, the aftertaste is, well, unpleasant, with the mix of alcohol and bitter malt leaving a syrupy-burnt flavour lingering for quite some time. A very good beer despite the finish however, and very different from the original Guinness stout.

Guinness Draught (4.2%) and Lindemans Framboise (2.5%)
In a bit of a twist on the stout and raspberry trick, I thought the traditional Guinness could benefit from the addition of a splash of raspberry fruit beer.

Guinness, in its pure form, is a little watery despite a creamy, nitrogen-filled head. (The addition of nitrogen means the beer produces smaller bubbles, which results in a smooth, creamy texture. Mmmm...) The aroma and flavour both consist of solid coffee and roast malt characters, and the beer also has a subtle biscuity character which adds both body and a sweeter element to each mouthful. Guinness is, however, just a classic stout with no frills.

Enter: Lindemans Framboise.

Lambics are known for their sweet, fruity characteristics, and Lindemans' range of fruit beers tend to be on the sweeter side of the scale. Almost everyone has heard of adding raspberry cordial to a bitter or lightly-flavoured stout to add a sweeter element to the brew. So I decided to push this boundary a little in the spirit of St Patrick's Day and add Lindeman'd Framboise to Guinness.
By only adding approximately 30mls of the lambic to 300mls of Guinness, the impact was quite startling. The beer's aroma was transformed into a field of raspberries with a subtle malt character. The raspberry notes worked beautifully with the Guinness flavours too, with the berry sweetness combining with the coffee and malt flavours to create a more full-bodied, yet smooth, texture and balanced sweet and sour notes. Although I feel this experiment would have worked even better if the amount of framboise was almost halved, the addition of the Lindemans lambic made the Guinness a more complex and flavourful beer which could be enjoyed by stout lovers and haters alike. Well worth a try.

Green Man Stout (7%)
Finally, for those who have been around for almost as long as the Guinness brew itself and need a change, Dunedin's Green Man Stout is the way to go. Not only is this stout better in flavour, but with a name like 'Green Man' it's almost like you are drinking an Irish beer. Almost.
This beer pours an opaque dark brown with a light brown head. The aroma is quite malty with coffee notes, dark chocolate and a hint of plum. The flavour is surprisingly crisp, with incredible complexity - dark chocolate, raisin, plum, prune, a strong cherry character and a bitter coffee finish are all present with every sip. The only hint of the 7% ABV comes in the aftertaste, accompany a lovely dark fruit flavour. This is far more complex than either if the Guinness brews discussed here, yet clearly adheres to the stout style. Sometimes we Kiwi's can beat the Irish at their own game.

Although the official St Patrick's Day celebrations have come to an end, why not do as the Irish do and get a bit tiddly for the rest of the week trying these Irish-inspired concotions. Besides, it's Guinness's 250th anniversary for the whole year - who needs St Patricks' Day as an excuse?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Wet, wet, wet

I love beer. I love discussing beer with anyone who has ever tried beer. I also love to see people drinking beer and, moreso, quality beer. What I don't like is being shoved every-which-way by loud drunks in a far-too-small marquee on a grey, rainy day. Which is what most of my experience at the Liquorland New Zealand Beer Festival entailed.

The venue was Waitangi Park in Wellington City and organisers had thoughtfully put up marquees to keep the impending rain off stallholders and beerlovers alike. However, what the event co-ordinators did not expect was well over 2000 Wellingtonians showing up to taste what was on offer while it constantly poured with rain.

I arrived at the park not long after noon and, along with my boyfriend and brother, quickly claimed a place in one of two seating tents. As we took turns to do the rounds and sample the newer and older brews, the park began to fill up and the tent became awfully loud. Discussing the beers casually with the boys soon became a yelling match, and girls with high voices are not easily heard over the drunken laughter of male university students. We begrudgingly left our prized seats when the, shall we say intelluctually challenged, drunken under-grads, started to spill their Carlsbergs on us.

Soon after wading through the swamp that was once Waitangi Park, we took shelter from the rain between the Speight's and Tuatara stalls, and realized the squishing and the scrummaging in the standing area was not much better. We quickly ridded ourselves of our bright-green beer tokens and left, thinking five hours in such uncomfortable surroundings was a pretty reasonable effort.

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions in which the beer festival took place, there were a few very interesting beers available to try.

Invercargill Boysenbeery
A lambic-style wheat beer with incredibly strong flavours. It pours a cloudy, deep red with a pale pink head - it was quite amusing to see a large number of kiwi blokes walking around with such a girly-looking beverage in their glasses. Full of berry aromas with a hint of vanilla, and it does not disappoint with a bitter-sweet boysenberry flavour. Quite full in body for a fruit beer, due to the addition of wheat, and a beautiful sour-yet-sweet complexity which akes every mouthful a delight.

Croucher Belgian Beer
A 'mistake' by the brewers own admission, yet a very pleasant-tasting one at that. During the brewing of a Pilsner batch, the air-bourne wheat malts contaminated the brew creating a Belgian-like beer as a result. So Croucher decided to sell it as a special relase at the Liquorland Beer Festival and recieved a lot of positive feedback from the crowd.
It pours a slightly hazy golden with a white head and has subtle yeast, wheat and banana on the nose. The flavour is quite complex, with yeast and a strong taste of cloves. Banana, caramel and sweet malt all work to balance, and even complement, the initial yeast and herb flavours. A yeast-like film is left on the palate at the finish which is a bit disappointing after such complexity, but all-in-all a good beer which I hope to try at similar events in the future.

Baltika Porter
Baltika, a Russian export beer, is quite new to New Zealand and is soon to be widely available from liquor stores and supermarkets - or so I was told by the girls behind the stall. With 9 different beers, Baltika cover a wide-range of styles from golden lagers to strong malt liquors. The porter was the best of those I sampled at the festival, and what a quality porter it is.
It pours a dark brown with a large brown head and smells quite smokey with caramel, chocolate and some alcohol on the nose. It tastes quite clean, with caramel, dark chocolate and vanilla flavours most prominent, with a slight syrupy taste of alcohol. However, the roasted malt flavour at the end of each moutful balances this sweetness nicely, to leave a sweet malt flavour on the palate.

All of these brews are highly reccommended if you get a chance to try them, although I would suggest doing so in a much more comfortable location than a cramped, swampy park in the pouring rain.