We were somewhere on the edge of Waitangi Park when the beer began to take hold…
We were on our way to Beervana (the BrewNZ awards and expo). It was freezing, the ground was soaked and the Overseas Terminal on the waterfront seemed far away.
Only an hour ago my cultural attaché and I had been drinking at the Malthouse in preparation. The Malthouse was chosen as it was both the "official" bar of Beervana and a place where I had a token for a free beer. While my attaché had a Stuntwoman Pilsner I decided to throw caution to the wind and have a beer called Armageddon.
Armageddon comes from the Epic brewery in Auckland. Three kegs of the 26-hops-per-glass beer were delivered to the Malthouse for Beervana. The first keg was tapped at 10pm on Friday and was empty by Saturday, so I needed to try it before the other two disappeared. Armageddon is a dark copper beer with a mild nose which hides a flavour that doesn't so much clear your palate as blast your tongue with a flavour of a thousand suns. Which is not say it's a bad flavour, in fact half way through the glass I found it immensely drinkable. The problem came with my second beer, a Mata Artesian, in that I found I couldn't taste it. It took almost ten minutes for my taste buds to recover.
And flavour was the theme of Beervana. Every brewer spoke about the aroma and flavours of their beers. The dry bite of feijoa, the tang of grapefruit, the hint of cinnamon, the richness of whiskey. This beer compliments salty fish and cheese; this one will clean out the heavy oils; this one matches chocolate cake and blue cheese. Therefore, having working taste buds was an asset.
All day Martin Bosley had been doing cooking sessions where he would create a dish and serve it with a matching beer. I caught the crostini with broad bean paste, sardine and parmesan matched with Epic Pale Ale, the pan-seared salmon (do not season your fish before searing!) with Crouchers Pale Ale, and the pilchards with stout (I can't remember which one). Bosley did mention that he felt he was losing some customers who really did want good beer while he was only serving Heineken and Peroni and that he would really need to expand his selection.
But to the drinking! I started with my old favourite the Epic Pale Ale (winner of the best Pale Ale [pdf] for the second year running). Luke from Epic is well known by many "internet folk" for his fantastic advertising idea of giving free beer to well-connected people and selling on word of mouth.
Interview with Luke here (mp3 10Mb)
But I wanted to expand my horizons while I was here, after all Beervana is a state of mind. My next stop was Crouchers, a brewery from Rotorua, and creator of a lovely golden pilsner, and a wheat beer called "The Hef" (named after both Hugh Hefner and David Hasslehoff). Surprisingly the Crouchers Pilsner held up quite well against the Epic (considering that the EPA has 16 hops per bottle) and was a very good beer.
Crouchers interview here (mp3 2.7Mb)
After conferring with some other attendees I tried the Captain Cooker from the Mussel Inn (or pig beer as I affectionately called it). A nice drop that I was fond of but it didn't "wow" me. It was richer than I expected and had an "older", richer flavour to it. The actual Mussel Inn though is worth a visit if you're in the Nelson/Tasman area.
Vox-pop interview here (mp3 4.5Mb)
As Ben (of Webstock fame) said in the brief vox-pop above time was running out. The event finished at 10 and beer sales would cease at that time. Next stop, simply because I like their beer, was Mata (as mentioned previously). However, I shall not be buying their feijoa beer. While its dryness might be nice in the middle of summer, I don't think I could drink more than a half. Very crisp and fruity but not my kind of beer I'm afraid.
Interview with Mata here (mp3, 4.5Mb)
It was while I was sampling the feijoa beer that I noticed a large redheaded man with a fine beard and decked out in Scottish finery. Imagine my surprise at his very New Zealand accent. He was attending with the Greenman Brewery, and told me that I had to try their Whiskey Dopelboch. That's right, beer with Whiskey in it! If good Champagne is like "angels pissing in your mouth" then this was what you would drink to get rid of that awful mental image.
Greenman interview here (mp3, 7.1Mb)
(Caution, this paragraph contains a rant) Speaking of "pissing in your mouth", I have to mention the one terrible flaw of the Malthouse: its urinals. For some reason the upmarket beer-bar, catering to those who don't want to "sink piss" but would rather drink a refined boutique brew, has urinals shaped like an open mouth with large red lips. Yes, you piss in a woman's mouth. It's disturbing, it's out of place, and it's incredibly sexist (I asked and there is no equivalent in the ladies either). I would recommend the Malthouse replace them quickly. Rant over, for now.
Back to Beervana. What a wonderful event! I tried a large number of beers I hadn't previously, learned a lot more about the types of food and had some wonderful conversation. I also learned some history: many of the brewers were German and many of those adhere to Purity Law of 1516, where only four ingredients can be allowed in the brewing of beer: water, yeast , malt and hops. So the raspberry beer was right out.
Thanks to Bridgette of BrewNZ for letting me and my recorder inside. And those who have been listening to the audio, you will know that I thought everything was "fantastic".
After that my attaché and other chaps headed into the night and ended up at the opening of Watusi, a fantastic bar that played good rock ‘n' roll and served frozen cocktails. For the first time in my life I wanted a beer instead.
Click here for the gallery of Beervana pics