Friday, October 30, 2009

Trick or Treat

Halloween seems to be growing in popularity in New Zealand. News website has even changed their logo for the 'holiday', adding a jack-o-lantern and a cobweb in a google-esque move.
I have never really got into the whole Halloween thing, with but with the sudden explosion of trick-or-treaters, Halloween parties and stuff getting in on the act, I thought maybe I should give it a try by tasting some 'scary' beers.

Wychwood is a UK brewery with magical-themed beer - 'dreamcaster', 'wychcraft' and 'dragon's bite' to name just a few.

Unfortunately, only a few beers out of their extensive range are available in New Zealand, but boy are these ones good!

Wychwood Hobgoblin 5.2% ABV
When this was first brewed in 1988, the brewery was called Glenny Brewery. But Hobgoblin was so popular they changed their name to Wychwood and started brewing character-themed beer. And it's not hard to see why this built up such a following.

Hobgoblin pours red with an off-white head and smells of raspberries, roasted malt and has a subtle caramel aroma. The flavours are similar - but bigger. Hobgoblin tastes like raspberries and plums, with a slight hop bitterness and a roasted malt finish to create a very balanced flavour profile. There is no doubt that the plum and berries are most prominent though. It is also very clean on the palate, despite the big flavours.

Wychwood Black Wych Stout 5% ABV
As a dark-beer fan, I think I preferred this to the Hobgoblin, but only just.
Black Wych is black in colour (surprise surprise) with ruby edging and a tan head. It has strong chocolate and caramel aromas, with dark malt and a touch of coffee. Despite the sweetness on the nose, it tastes incredibly dark and rich - just how I like it. It has a dark roasted malt flavour - maybe a little burnt, rich coffee flavours and a hint of dark chocolate. It has a bitter finish, and is a very smooth beer despite being a little on the fizzy side at the beginning of each mouthful.

So while I will not be dressing up this Halloween, making mischief or eating waaaay to many sweets, I will be celebrating the 'holiday' by drinking a few of these Halloween beers. And if you come across Wychwood brews in your local supermarket or liquor store, give them a try - they look good, and taste even better.
Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Drinking Chocolate

It is no secret that chocolate is a big weakness for most girls, and can soften even the most stubborn of women.
Personally, I can get through almost a full block of Caramello during a 2-hour movie, and have been known to down several family bags of original MnMs over the space of a weekend.
But recently, I have found a far more fun way to get my regular cocoa dosage - chocolate beer. (For some reason because it is in liquid form I also think I'm being healthier than eating my old favourites, whether it actually is I doubt!)

I know what you're thinking - chocolate beer doesn't exist. But before I tried my first, the closest I thought you could get to a 'chocolate beer' was Renaissance Elemental Porter or Invercargill Pitch Black with their dark chocolate and coffee hints in a rich malt body. Oh how wrong I was.

The first chocolate beer I ever tried was about a year ago, from the English brewery Young's. My partner David and I had been avoiding trying it at The Malthouse for quite some time because double chocolate and stout sound, well, quite disgusting really. But because it was one of the few beers that we had not tried from The Malthouse's generous selection at that point, we gave it a crack. Half an hour later the bottle had been well and truly consumed and we were still sitting at the bar talking about it. In fact, I think everyone I spent more than five minutes with for the rest of that week heard, in detail, exactly how amazing it was.

Young's Double Chocolate Stout 5.2% ABV
Since that fateful afternoon I have had many tastes of the brew, and am I always surprised how similar it is to the real thing. It pours pitch black with a fluffy light-brown head. It smells of milk chocolate, dark malt and dark fruit - maybe a bit of cherry. The flavour is surprisingly balanced for such a full-bodied beer! It tastes like milk chocolate all the way from start to finish, but has a cocoa and dark malt bitterness at the end of each mouthful - chocolatey, but not too sweet. Could definitely have more than one in an evening, and have known many a non-beer drinker to enjoy it as well.

Blenheim brewery Renaissance recently tried there hand at brewing a chocolate stout too - this time an oatmeal stout made with real Belgian cocoa nibs.

Renaissance Craftsman 4.9%
This too pours pitch black and has a thin tan head. It has dark, roasted malt and rich cocoa aromas and tastes very dark too - black malt and cocoa flavours, with a pleasant bitterness in each mouthful - like the cacao beans you can taste at Dunedin's Cadbury factory. The body is a little on the watery side, but this actually works very well to balance the rich and bitter flavours. What I like about this is you can taste the bitterness of the chocolate - any dark chocolate lover would adore this beer.

But the closest thing to chocolate I have been able to track down is from a brewery in Greenwhich called Meantime (cool huh?). New Wellington beer bar Hashigo Zake just got in a few of the Meantime drops, and among them is a beer simple called chocolate.

Meantime Chocolate 6.5% ABV
If I hadn't seen this poured directly from the bottle, I could swear someone was playing a mind games with me. It's dark brown with ruby edging and smells exactly like Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate. No kidding. It is incredibly rich in flavour - like I'm eating a block of milk chocolate. You even get a wee bit of furriness on the inside of your cheeks like when you suck on a cube of your favourite block. It has a touch of dark malt at the end of each mouthful and has quite a watery and fizzy finish which really work to cleanse your maouth and make you want to go back for more. You couldn't get any closer to liquid chocolate if you tried - it even hides any hint of its 6.5% ABV.

And the best thing about being a chocolate beer 'comfort food' convert is that you don't feel nearly as full after a bottle or two of it in a cooled, liquid form - leaving room for a bar or two of the real thing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A wee celebration

There was a wee bit of good news in the beer world recently, when DB announced they were relinquishing their 'Saison' trademark. The press release read:

DB Breweries is in the process of cancelling the registration of its Saison trademark with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ). The company has held the trademark since April 2002.

DB Breweries’ general manager marketing Clare Morgan says the decision to cancel the trademark was a logical one given the company hasn’t produced Saison for a considerable time.

“We haven’t brewed Monteith's Saison for six years and we have no intention of re-launching it to the market as it no longer fits our current Monteith’s portfolio. The brand was very well received when it was first launched but we ceased production in 2003.”

Saison is not a very popular beer in this part of the world, but since SOBA began to fight DB over their trademark of beer style 'Radler', Saison too has grown a bit of a following. SOBA members and beer lovers have began an informal 'Stuff You DB'campaign, by boycotting DB products and drinking Saisons and Radlers from other breweries.

Wikipedia says saisons were traditionally refreshing, low-alcohol pale ales brewed seasonally in farmhouses in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, to refresh farm workers during harvest season. These days, saisons are brewed all over the world with an average range of 5 to 8% abv and are generally refreshing, light summer ales.

Golden Bay's Mussell Inn has got in on he act with the release of their White Tiger Saison 5.7%ABV.
It pours a golden, honey colour with an off-white head and gives off a strong citrus and malt aromas. It tastes of citrus fruits, particularly lemon, with a light, refreshing biterness and there's a smooth roast malt flavour in each mouthful. Perfect for spring with our changeable weather.

Nøgne Ø Saison 6.5%
This version of the Belgian beer is brewed in Norway and is now available in New Zealand - well, one bar in Welington. Hashigo Zake stocks a good chunk of Nøgne Ø beers, and Saison is one o their stand-outs.

It pours a hazy gold with a massive white head, and gives off a smooth caramel aroma. It has very strong flavours, with caramel, orange, lemon, malt and a touch of hop with every taste. The hop is fresh and citric, which balances the malt-driven caramel well and doesn't over-power the other flavours. It is a perfectly balanced brew with fresh and refreshing flavours. Delicious.

Now that DB have taken one step in the right direction by relinquishing their saison trademark, we will hopefully see more of the refreshing style in breweries and stores as we move into summer. And, with any luck, it might not be too long until we beer lovers can have radler back to.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My winter escape

Winter. It’s not exactly everyone’s favourite season. But I love it. Winter is the best excuse for drinking smooth, dark ales to warm you from the inside out, and intensely hoppy brews to ward off that dreaded cold.

Unfortunately, this winter I have been too preoccupied with keeping warm and healthy (well, attempting to anyway) to share my very beery thoughts. No longer. I managed to survive winter relatively unscathed, thanks to some full-flavoured concoctions from many of my favourite kiwi brewers. And here are three reasons why winter was not so bad afterall.

Renaissance Elemental Porter 6% ABV
Elemental is my favourite Renaissance brew. The aromas are every girls dream – strong coffee, dark chocolate and a touch of roasted malt. The flavours of this black brew do not disappoint either. The first mouthful brings a big coffee hit, followed by a rich dark chocolate flavour and cocoa. Dark malt comes through at the end, slightly burnt to leave a bitterness on the palate and balance the subtle sweetness lingering from the chocolate. The perfect warming beer on a cold winters evening.

Epic Armageddon IPA Batch 1 6.66% ABV
More balanced than the 2008 version, Armageddon 09 has mega hops with a decent malt body. The hops are fruity, with a big citrus nose, and taste incredibly fresh. They are bitter, almost peppery, and linger for hours – everything Epic is about. But what impressed me most about this batch was the underlying malt character. A strong roasted malt flavour could be tasted in every sip, but did not take away from the big hops at all. If anything, the malt accentuated the flavour of the hops. No cold or flu could mask the big flavours of this beer, can’t wait to see how the 2010 will match up.

Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black 6% ABV
It’s not hard to see how this beer won a trophy at BrewNZ. Pot Kettle Black is not a rich, dark and warming ale or a fresh, hoppy beer – it’s both. And it does both incredibly well. My preference is to drink a hand pulled PKB, but I only got around to writing notes on the bottled version… whoops! But it is impossible for this beer to disappoint, It pours pitch black with a brown head, and smells of coffee, berries, roasted malt, hop, a bit of smoke, and dark chocolate. The flavours start off sweet, with dark chocolate and smooth caramel malt to warm the insides. This is followed by a black coffee bitterness, a bit of smoke, a subtle dark fruit flavour, and a strong, bitter hop finish which lingers. I am continually amazed at the sheer amount of flavour Yeastie Boys can pack into every beer - look out for Plan K and His Majesty. A well deserved best in class.

So although the winter blues have passed us by, keep the winter brews handy for those chilly spring nights when you need a bit of warmth and flavour. And look forward to hearing more from me.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fresh from the hop-vine

I'm a bit of a hop fan. Why? Because more hops = more flavour.
Different styles of hop produce a variety of bitter flavours. Hop flavours can be subtle or in-your-face, fruity or peppery, and leave quickly or linger long after the last gulp.

Nelson is considered to be the hop centre of New Zealand, where a number of different hop styles are grown, harvested and distributed to brewers all over the country. Better still, due to our position on the globe, New Zealand is the first country in the world to harvest their hops every year.

And this is why I love Brewjolais. Since 2006, Mac's Brewery have produced a hop-packed beer using the first hops of the season. What's more, is that the hops are picked, packed and brewed in the same day. Fresh anyone?

For the past three years, this deal has not been a problem. The hops were picked in Nelson, packed in Nelson and brewed in the Mac's Brewery in Nelson. Easy-peasy.

But in December last year, the Nelson plant was closed. All of the Mac's brewing is now done in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. This was all fine until hop-harvesting season rolled around at the end of February, and Head Brewer Alasdair Clem realised there was wee problem: the closest brewery to the Nelson hop fields was now across the Cook Strait.

Despite the obvious difficulties, Alasdair was determined to produce a 2009 vintage of Brewjolais. Armed with a dodgy rented vehicle and beer connoisseur Neil Miller (lucky bugger), Alasdair and his accomplice picked and packed the first Cascade hops of the season, then shipped them over to Wellington and started brewing before the days end. Even missing their return ferry did not deter the pair.

And what a finely balanced brew this year's Brewjolais is.

Mac's Brewjolais 2009 (5.5% ABV)
This year's American Pale Ale pours a honey brown with an off-white head. It smells strongly of hop, with malt and vanilla aromas to complement and a hint of yeast. It has a smooth and balanced flavour with strong hops, a vanilla sweetness and a malt body. The hops taste incredibly fresh and have a herb character, with a burned hop bitterness on the finish. A beautifully rounded beer, yet the hop shines through in a bold and tasty fashion, as one would expect from Brewjolais.

The 2009 Brewjolais is a step up from the 2008 vintage, with a more balanced flavour but just as much hop character. And I can't get enough of it. Available at the Mac's Brewery bar Shed 22 and the Craftsman on Courtney place, I think I could single-handedly get through the limited number of kegs before the month's end. So hop fans, get in fast - Brewjolais never lasts long, especially when I'm around.

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?