Fuck this weather. I mean, seriously. One fine day out of the last ten? It’s really not on.
Nonetheless, last week I headed down to Little Beer Quarter where all of North End Brewing’s beers were on tap, with the full intention of trying them all. It was a fun (if damp and cold) evening, catching up with friends and enjoying a few beers with one of the brewers (who was loving the weather, I’m sure). And I was far too busy being social to worry about such things as taking notes or photos!
When it comes to putting out consistently good beers that don’t rely on massive ABV or huge stunt flavours to win over fans, I think North End may be up there with the very best brewers in the country right now. They’re still a fairly small operation, but hopefully their plans to expand and ramp up production should see their beers more widely available than lower North Island soon. Do check them out if you get the chance.
My favourite North End beer, their Extra Special Bitter, was being poured from a cask sourced from Garage Project, and the touch of wood flavour from the barrel suited that warm and sweet ESB perfectly. I also tried their saison, Le Chaleureux Rivage, for the first time. Deliciously tart and bright. The season for a saison is supposed to be summer, but this one stood up to the cold and wet of a miserable autumn night to bring along a bit of brightness. Certainly very raved about by those I talked with about the beer, even those who say they generally don’t like saisons.
I have a theory about that. I’ve tried a few locally brewed saison-style beers aren’t all that good, to be honest. Often a lack of fruitiness and spiciness, or off-flavours that indicate indicate the yeast hasn’t behaved itself as the brewer hoped. And Belgian imports can be expensive, and who knows what sorts of abuse in the container and in the bottle the beer’s been through before it finally gets opened down here on the other side of the world.
But, when presented with a hoppy, bright, and well-made locally brewed saison, everyone I spoke to was of a similar mind – very very nice! And a good lesson to not write off a beer before tasting it, despite “not liking” the style. Because, maybe, it’s not the style that’s the problem, it’s your experience of it.
We had another funny lesson in how subjective drinking beer can be when we were all raving about how hoppy, full and delicious the Pacific Blond, North End’s new world kolsch, was tasting. How it was such a delicious pale lager. Until it was revealed that we’d actually been drinking the Hoppy Wheat, (due to a mix-up during ordering). None of us had noticed, despite some of us having had both beers before. Sure, the beers aren’t that dissimilar, but it does illustrate how what is going on in your own head can have a huge effect on what you brain thinks your tongue and nose are telling you.
I mention this, because last week I also had one of those ‘beer love’ moments, falling at first taste for a beer I hadn’t tried before. And it was a beer I’d been a bit leery of trying, for a not very good reason. Eagle Vs Dog Brewery is a collaboration between Christchurch-based brewers Golden Eagle Brewery and Raindogs Brewing Co, and their (rather ridiculously named) ‘Episode 2: Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster’ imperial brown ale has interested me every time I’ve seen it on the shelf. Both due to the style (I love brown ales) and to my beloved Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
But, still, I’d never spent the dollars and bought the beer, because somewhere along the line I’ve decided that I don’t really like Golden Eagle’s beers. I wish I could be more precise as to why, but it just seems to be ‘one of those things.’ And I didn’t even realise, until I was staring at this very attractive bottle on the shelf, asking myself why I’d never purchased it.
So, rational brain managed to triumph over the subconscious for a moment, and into the basket went the bottle. And bloody well done, rational brain, because this beer is delicious.
Thick and attractively dark brown in colour, there’s a lovely fruity aroma of hops lifting off the top. But the party really starts in the mouth, where the malt comes into play. Long and sweet, big toffee and nutty flavours that then fade back to a delicious taste of bittersweet fruit. It’s got all the flavours of a well-made brown ale, but turned up to 11 to match the 7.5% abv. It’s just “more,” in every respect – more hops, more body, more malty sweetness.
It all hung together wonderfully, very well balanced. And slightly reminiscent of having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.
Perfect for a wintery evening. And hopefully has pushed a reset on my only-recently realised prejudice against one-half of this collaboration. More please!