The idea of starting a beer-and-music blog has been long lurking around the back of my mind, from a suggestion planted by that creative madman Stu McKinley, of Yeastie Boys fame. Good beer and good music. Interesting beer and interesting music. A pair of passions that take up far too much of my time and income, but they reward, entertain and comfort the attention I give to them.
I think about both similarly. I’m always seeking out the new; new flavours, new sounds, new colours, new textures. There are favourite beers and albums of course, brewers and artists I’ll always go back to, enjoy and discover (and rediscover). But I’m not one to sit back and be content with the same beer every time I visit the pub, nor am I one of those people whose musical tastes ossify by their mid-twenties.
Others may be happy to drink the same beer and listen to the same music while doing so. But it seems to me that such people are also those who complain that “there’s no good music being released nowadays.”
Not me. I’m always seeking out tasty new beers and interesting new albums, and in this blog I’ll be taking turns to write about one then the other, linking the two when I can
But first, what better way to start this blog than by diving straight into presenting my favourite beer of 2013? With no prior posts to establish any bona-fides or credibility, what better moment is there to pass judgement on the year’s best?
Of course, there’s no better moment. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert – about either beer or music. I just love them both, and want to share the love…
Yeastie Boys ‘Gunnamatta’– buzz and hum’s favourite beer of 2013.
I didn’t like it.
I can’t remember exactly where I was when I first tried Gunnamatta, Yeastie Boy’s “dry leafed” IPA, flavoured with Earl Grey Blue Flower tea. I’d certainly heard about it before hand, the excited reports coming back from the 2012 Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular – for which the beer had been specifically brewed – had New Zealand’s beer twitter community abuzz.
It was likely at Hashigo Zake. And while I can’t remember exactly where I first tasted it, I can still recall my reaction. Immediately, I felt my mouth tighten and go dry. I might’ve gagged a bit. I may not have finished the glass, as the intense tea bitterness had left me with a headache.
I’m just not a tea drinker, you see. Tea’s tannic bitterness has always been difficult for me, and I find myself wanting to dump lots of sugar and milk into the cup. Which is sort of defeating the point, really. My reaction to my first tasting of Gunnamatta were clearly prejudiced by my “don’t like tea” attitude. Almost certainly, I went into that first pint expecting not to enjoy it. And I didn’t.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years enjoying Yeastie Boys product is that there’s always a method to the madness, and each beer they produce deserves a second chance – results may surprise.
I do remember my second attempt at this beer. It was at home, with a bottle of Gunnamatta bought from Island Bay New World, drunk on a warm late-spring afternoon in 2012. I enjoyed the flavour of this one a lot more; while the tea was still lip-puckering, I smelt the orange flavour of the Earl Grey a lot more prominently, buoyed by a fresh sweetness from the IPA base and a strong pale malt (with a slight – very slight – touch of wheat lurking).
Unfortunately, half of this bottle ended up over my kitchen bench. It nearly exploded out of the bottle when I opened in, a huge frothy slightly orange-tinged orgasm of foam. Clearly, something had gone wrong.
I’m not sure if that over-excitable bottle of Gunnamatta was related to what has come to be known as “The Great Yeastie Drought,” a drought that extended well into 2013 if you were looking to buy their stuff in bottles. But Gunnamatta was the first to return to the shelves of Thorndon New World, and even if it wasn’t my favourite Yeastie Boy brew, nothing was going to stop me buying a bottle to take home for immediate drinking.
And it was great. Now, I’ve heard that the recipe hadn’t changed, and I have to take that at face value. But I know I’m not the only person who found the Gunnamatta that returned in 2013 was subtly different. The malt seemed more rounded and sweetly solid, the citrus and bitter-sweet aroma of the hops buoying along the big rock star flavours of bergamot and tannic tea perfectly. To my tastebuds the beer went from being harsh and tannic, to bright and refreshing.
As the year went on and summer slipped into Wellington this beer really came into its own. It’s perfect for drinking on a hot sunny afternoon, as the flavours added by the late-leafing stood up better to sunlight and warmth than any other similarly pale ale. From the first sip of cold frothy ale, with mouthfuls of bittersweet orange, to the warm end of the pint, full of sweet and robust Earl Grey tea flavours, it just works.
Certainly the beer I’ve enjoyed most (and almost most often) over 2013. And also a perfect beer to kick off this beer and music blog. Because (like many Yeastie Boys beers) the name comes from a song. Brewed as this beer was for an Australian beer festival, inspiration was found in Paul Kelly’s twangy, surf and sun soaked instrumental opening to his 2004 album Ways and Means.
Sit in the sun, play that song loud, and sip this beer. Perfect.
Postscript: Gunnamatta’s going global. It has been announced that the Yeastie Boys have received one of only ten invites to brew at the world’s largest ale festival, brewing Gunnamatta at Adnams, for the JD Wetherspoon’s International Real Ale Festival. About 50,000 litres of this delicious beer will be served in 850 pubs across England during April. Get amongst it!
And, with this news, Stu’s also mentioned that they’re considering some kind of physical base in Wellington – a brew pub or warehouse with off-license. Colour me excited…
Runner up: Liberty Brewing C!tra
The people’s champion, the critic’s choice, one of the most raved about beers of 2013. Believe everything you’ve heard or read about this imperial IPA – it’s incredibly good. Tastes to me like an utterly delicious home-baked lemon-and-passionfruit cheesecake. Tastes bloody great.
However, given its price and strength (9% abv) I couldn’t quite call it my favourite, despite loving each of the four glasses I’ve had of it over the course of the year. But it’s damn close. Well done, Liberty!
 By not mentioning any vibrantly coloured apparel when naming Stu McKinley I’ve likely broken the rules of New Zealand beer blogging. In my very first sentence.↩
 About which they are very very wrong.↩
 As I typed the words “best beer of 2013” in the same breath as “Gunnamatta” I’m sure I felt Neil Miller shudder slightly, somewhere in Wellington.↩
 Being aware of one’s prejudices is vital, in beer and music. There’s no such thing as “objective criticism” of either, but at very least one should try to be aware of your own baggage and how that will affect your experience of something.↩
 For a while there over the summer of 2012-13, and into the autumn, it became increasingly hard to find any Yeastie Boys beers anywhere as a perfect storm of fuckery hit the brewers. But, amongst the negative, Sam and Stu were still able to provide the positive, not least this delightfully open and honest explanation of The Great Yeasties Drought.↩
 “Tea don’t skunk, mufakas!” – another classic quote from Stu McKinley, who really is a National Beer Treasure.↩