NZ Breweries ‘Steinlager Pure’ and Monteith’s ‘Double Hopped IPA’

Steinlager Pure, served on flight NZ 356 somewhere above the upper South Island.

Whoops, a week without a blog!  My apologies; but I came down with a bit of a cold, and then was out of town for a conference.  But, we’re back.

Of course, flying in-and-out for a two-day, one-night conference can often be a bit challenging when it comes to getting some nice and interesting craft beers.  We were at Rydge’s Latimer Christchurch, just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from The CBD Bar, with its range of Cassels  & Sons on tap. But I wasn’t able to get away from the evening dinner and socialising at the conference venue for long enough to check it out.

Oh well, no matter.  Because five years into this craft beer thing, I’ve found I’m able to sit back and enjoy a “mainstream” beer now and then, when beer seems the drink to have and other options aren’t available.  And learning to taste fully and taste properly over the years works just as well with your green bottle beer as it does with a fine hand-crafted ale.  Even if the results sometimes aren’t that flash.

And not to mention I’m often trying a beer for the first time ever; even if it might be one of the more ubiquitous beers in the country.

Like New Zealand Breweries’ ‘Steinlager Pure.’  A late afternoon flight back to Wellington, sun streaming in through the window, there seemed to be no better time than to try this heavily promoted and seemingly very popular beer than there, on that Air New Zealand flight.

And, what do you know, there’s a lot to like about this beer.  Starting with the packaging.  The slim green can is gorgeous, subtly playing with colours and textures for a look and feel that’s quite unique.  I’d love to see more craft beers sold in this style of can; it feels a bit special, looks quite sophisticated and, being a can, stores beer better than bottles.

The beer itself looks quite nice, pale and lively.  The aroma’s subtle but confident, grassy hops lingering above the glass enticingly.  And the taste wasn’t as bad as I might’ve feared – clean and crisp, nice bit of sweet biscuit in the base.  But the bitterness in the mouth was a bit off; a bit rough, and it left a harsh metallic note as it faded.  But was the beer offensive?  Not by any means.

And, while I would dearly love to see better beers served on our nation’s airline, as I sat sipping that beer, with some post-rock playing loudly in my ears while I watched the clouds roll away towards the Southern Alps, I felt perfectly content.[1]

The night before I had got a bit sniffy towards the drinks menu at the Rydges. Sure, I understand they’re probably tied into contracts and the like but, come on, setting aside an area on your menu for “bottled craft beer,” and all three were Monteith’s beers? 

Would it really hurt to get even just one Christchurch brewed beer onto that list?

Nonetheless, there was no better moment to give one of Monteith’s “craft” beers a go, so I chose the ‘Double Hopped IPA.’

“A bold IPA, with a concentrated malt flavour and sweetness. The higher alcohol gives real warmth, which is boosted by the crisp high bitterness. Dry hopped with cascade hops to give a big floral aroma flourish.”

So said the label.  And, you know, they weren’t wrong.   It was very sweet, and the 7.5%abv was obvious and warm.  I picked more peach than floral flavours in the hops – as I said, very sweet, and felt very soft and fruity in the mouth.

It even looked a bit peach-coloured in the glass.  But that could’ve been the nearby heater, warming against the night’s cool air.

Overall, it was good for the style, but not great.  A bit too sweet, and flipped to a burnt, stewed fruit bitter aftertaste on swallowing.  Not very balanced – if I had a choice I’d choose almost any other Imperial IPA over this offering from Montieth’s.

But, it wasn’t bad, not by any means.  Competent, and probably pointing itself squarely at those who want a full-flavoured sweet hoppy beer but don’t want to cost or the complexity that comes from the likes put out by Epic or Liberty.

And, screw it.  It’s good to see the big boys getting into some more interesting beer styles, and doing them well.  All credit to them.  And I’d like to try more of Monteith’s “Brewer’s Series” if the opportunity presents – in particular their ‘Barrel Aged Porter.’

Rest assured, however, my drinking of that will be to make a comparison to the porter aged in pinot noir barrels made by Hallertau…[2]


[1] Sitting in the window seat of a plane, playing some big spacious music while I look down on scenery or even just clouds is one of my happy places.   Not everyone loves flying, but I really do.

[2] Hallertau’s produced their delicious aged porter for years now under the name “Porter Noir.”  Back in 2012 Dominion Breweries set about trademarking that very name for this Montieth’s barrel-aged porter.  They abandoned the name, however, claiming they weren’t aware of Hallertau’s long use of it.  But only after they’d sold their porter under that name at the 2012 Beervana.  Hmmm…

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Wild & Woolly ‘Basilisk Spiced Berliner Weisse’ and Mikkeller ‘It’s Alive Chardonnay Barrel Aged with Mango’

X-Ale III

So far I’ve mentioned some of the sour and un-beer-like beers I encountered at the X-Ale mini-beer-fest; now time to mention two of the nifty spiced and fruit-flavoured beers that were also on the menu.

First up, Wild & Woolly’s ‘Basilisk Spiced Berliner Weisse’.   Now, I’ve got absolutely no idea who Wild & Woolly are.  Questions asked about the brewery were met by answers along the lines of “he was just standing there a second ago”, “he’s around here somewhere,” and “Llew, you know?”

A bit of Googling[1] revealed little more apart from an upcoming Craft Beer College tasting at Hashigo Zake, which looks quite interesting…

But, moving along, next was the question of the beer’s name.  Was it something to do with the mythical creature whose gaze turns its victim to stone?  At 3% abv, getting quickly stoned didn’t seem likely.  Was it something to do with the flavourings, which included kaffir lime leaf, lemon zest and Thai basil?   Questions along those lines were also met with “ask the brewer, he’s just over there.”  “I’m sure he was there a second ago.”

By this point, the brewer seemed as mythical as the basilisk.

But I was sure about the beer.  Damn delicious.  Absolutely full of the sharp, tangy flavours of the lime and lemon.  Like sniffing a fresh lime leaf, the aroma made me smile, lifting the spirits straight away.  In the mouth it was hugely fruity, a round sweetness followed by a superb tartness.

Another one of the X-Ale beers I’d have loved to enjoy outside on a hot summer’s day.  And, at 3%, you could sit with a number of them on a long afternoon, watching a former national villain become a hero by scoring lots of ‘runs’ at sportsball.[2]

Based on the 100 or so millilitres I had of this Basilisk at X-Ale, it’s earned a tentative place in my beer dictionary against the word “refreshing.”  I’d like to try more, to see if it will cement its place.

At the higher end of the booze scale, but no less fun and fruity, was Mikkeller’sIt’s Alive Chardonnay Barrel Aged with Mango.’    The 8% abv carried aloft a big, full sweet aroma of fruit and Chardonnay sharpness, and in the mouth it was absolutely full of mango flavours.  Chardonnay often carries that flavour, anyway, so aging this sour beer in the wine barrel with a some of the fruit itself just brought the whole round and sweet, and slightly acidic flavour all the way forward.

Like a bite of the fruit, it was big and bright up front, nearly eye-watering, but faded to a hugely sweet and delicious aftertaste.  Like a boozy, bright mango spritzer.  Of sour beer.

Awesome.

 


[1] “And all this time I thought ‘Googling yourself’ meant the other thing!”

[2] Yeah, I don’t pay attention to cricket, sorry. But some things as important as this week’s news even sneak into my awareness!

The National – Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers (2003)

Don’t you hate people who say they were into that cool new band before they were popular?  Don’t you hate people who say they prefer their old stuff better than their new stuff?  Aren’t they such wankers?

Well, I have to own such statements when it comes to The National.  I was a fan of this Brooklyn-ex-Cincinnati band a few albums before they started to really hit the mainstream. And the truth is I do prefer their second and third albums more than what they did since, what made them so popular.

However, and I say this hopefully to avoid accusatory fingers shouting “hipster!”[1], I don’t begrudge the band their success nor feel it remotely necessary to accuse more recent fans of being late-comers and dilettantes.  Those more recent albums are cool, too, and it’s great to see the band touring and selling out shows around the world.[2]

Yet, still, I come back to Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, The National’s sophomore album from 2003.  And, no matter which way I look at it, not matter how much I rate the angular spiky post-punk of Alligator and the moody indie rock of Trouble Will Find Me, this is the album I hold dearest to my heart.

Back in the early years of last decade a few music journalists slapped the label “Americana” on The National, a label that seems bizarre when considering their late-night, dark, updated-Joy Division sound of more recent albums. But on Sad Songs you can hear where they were coming from in trying to stick a catch-all genre to this band’s sound.

Because underlying Matt Berninger’s baritone are slide and acoustic guitars, a bit of moody strings, and some neo-vintage keyboards that aren’t a world away from the same sounds Wilco were playing with during the same period.

Bryce Desner’s sparse, angular guitar and Bryan Devendorf’s enthrallingly syncopated drum beats are also mostly absent; though hinted at now and then.  If it wasn’t for Berninger’s voice, it might even be possible to not hear the band that The National would go on to become.  Yet even Berninger does different things from what someone used to his later croon would expect.  Up to and including a bit of screaming.

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Yeastie Boys Golden Perch

Photo wasn’t taken today. You can tell by the clouds.

What a gorgeous day.  After a very mediocre January, summer’s finally hit Wellington.  No wind, clear blue skies, warm and joyful, perfect weather for the fun of the Island Bay Festival, going to the beach, sneaking good beer into The Basin to watch the test, or just relaxing on the deck with a book, a beer and some music.[1]

Some beers seem custom made for such beautiful weather.  Beers like Yeastie Boy’s gorgeous golden ale, Golden Perch.

I mean, just look at it, in the picture to the right. Gorgeous. Shining like gold.  All that glitters is not gold – some of it is beer, too.

Yes, that was a Tolkien reference, because this ale was brewed for the premier of The Hobbit, and is named after a tavern in The Shire, that serves “the best beer in Eastfarthing.”  A quality Frodo noted in The Fellowship of the Ring by choosing to avoid it on their journey east, so as to avoid the inevitable delay.

And I’m sure Pippin and Merry would’ve quite happily spent a day or more at The Golden Perch, if a beer as lovely as this sessionable little beauty was being poured.

Because despite clocking in with a very moderate 4.4% abv, this beer tastes huge.  The Nelson Sauvin hops explode out of the glass with aroma, bright fresh passion fruit and grapefruit.  In the mouth its sweet and malty, and very very smooth.

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Crippled Black Phoenix – (Mankind) The Crafty Ape (2012)

Magnificent.

That’s the word that keeps coming back to me as I think about (Mankind) The Crafty Ape, the fifth album by prog-rock / post-rock collective Crippled Black Phoenix.

It’s a huge album; a bloody great big concept album in three parts.  I couldn’t tell you what the concept is, though, because I’m too busy listening to the superb music that sprawls over its nearly ninety minute running time.

And, if you’re going to make a prog album, you may as well go the whole hog.  The first forty-five minutes is awash with songs that could’ve been lifted from 1970s albums from the likes of Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin.  The second track, ‘The Heart of Every Country‘ is led by a huge clean lead guitar and a husky male voice, and feels like it could be one of Dave Gilmour’s songs from a mid-period Floyd album. It makes a clear opening statement of where this album is coming from.  But not necessarily about where it is going to.

From there things get blusier, the guitars a bit dirtier, and a good layer of organ and classic synths come in, while the rhythm section holds things tight.  Jethro Tull would’ve loved to sound as groovy as Crippled Black Phoenix do on ‘Get Down And Live With It,’ while ‘A Letter Concerning Dogheads’ unleashes a huge slab of stoned rock, an organ running counterpoint to the dirty guitars and languid vocals.

The vocals, in particular, are a delight.  Joe Volk, on his last album with the collective, sings in a drawling baritone, a profoundly un-operatic voice, not at all what one may expect of an album so drenched in 70s rock.  And often a husky and fey female voice joins in, Miriam Wolf’s also adding a higher but no-less-grounded tone, wrapping her vocal lines around Volk’s for something at times beguiling, at times frightening.

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Kereru ‘Karengose’ and 8 Wired ‘Pilsner re-fermented with Brett’

X-Ale II

Kereru Karengose

I love sour beers.  And I would love to see more sour beers on New Zealand shelves, but at the moment we’re still in that great heady rush of hoppy ales.

Yet nearly every brewer I’ve talked to about sour beers also exclaims their love of drinking and experimenting with them, and of plans advanced to one stage or another to get one out there for drinkers.  But, often, there’s a hint that they know the beer might not find an audience with many drinkers…

Which was one of the great things about X-Ale; brewers able to have a crack at, play with, have some fun with some sour variations, knowing that there’d be drinkers waiting at the other end for the keg they end up producing.

A few weeks ago I’d been out in Upper Hutt visiting Kereru Brewing when Chris Mills, the head pigeon[1], told me that he’d prepared for X-Ale a sour seaweed ale.  I was immediately excited, interested in how the saltiness and sometimes glutinous umami of seaweed might work in a beer, especially a sour beer.

So, it was one of the first ales I went to when finally down in Hashigo Zake, last Saturday.

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Dead Man Walking (soundtrack) (1996)

Well, not a “soundtrack,” as the “music from and inspired by the motion picture” of Tim Robbins’ excellent 1995 film, Dead Man Walking.

Ah, the dreaded “music from and inspired by the motion picture” album.  The lasting legacy of Jerry Bruckheimer’s popbuster era, where each tent-pole film had to have a hit single, and the hit single also led a compilation album of songs that might have been heard in the film. Or might be similar in theme or feel to the film.

Or, most likely, songs that the record company paid the film’s producers to put on the album for a bit of cross-promotion.

Thankfully, the popbuster has mostly gone the way of the big-name-star led action films they accompanied,[1] and buying a soundtrack album these days actually means you’re getting, you know, the musical soundtrack to the film.  But, for a while there, every film had to have the accompanying album of odds and sods.

And, of the thousands of horrible albums released to tie in with a film, thousands of horrible albums with music from and inspired by, there’s quite a large number of very worthy albums.

Including this album for Dead Man Walking.

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