Behemoth Brewing Company ‘Sacrilegious Saison’

Sacrilegious Saison His name is Andrew Childs, otherwise known as “Beer Giraffe”, and he’s approximately nine feet tall. So, appropriately, when he packed in his work as a lawyer to brew beer commercially, Behemoth Brewing Company was the name he chose, and “Bigger Tasting Beer” was the brewery’s moto.

He’s a lovely bloke too, great to swap tales with over beer, and he has the rude and robust humour of an entire classroom of fourteen year-old school boys. And that sense of fun carries over to the names and label art he gives to his beer.

It all started with the ‘Celia Wade Brown Ale’, named for Wellington’s mayor. It was a tasty coffee-flavoured dark ale, one of the winners of a competition that invited home brewers to make a beer with the capital city as its theme; the reward being a commercial release. Then there was the ‘Chur!’ New Zealand Pale Ale, the ‘Wet Dream’ imperial IPA, and most recently the ‘’Murica!’ American Pale Ale – and what more can you want than a beer that allows you to loudly order a “merkin” in a crowded bar?

Then there’s this, the ‘Sacrilegious Saison’, a suitably big 8% imperial saison-style ale. So much to love about it; from Andrew having to hand-label all 300 bottles of this very limited release on Good Friday, to the ‘Buddy Christ’ label art, to the “Mmmmmmmmm, Sacrilegious!” comment on the bottle.

The beer’s pretty heavenly, too. Soft and fluffy, full of that billowing effervescence that a good saison should carry. An aroma of clove, pepper and bitter orange, showing a well selected combination of spices and hops to go with the saison yeast.

The yeast brings more sweet funk than James Brown as it hits the mouth, then the aftertaste lingers on and on with spicy bitter orange flavours. Like the brewer, it’s a solid beast too, once the initial fluffiness has dissipated in the mouth, there’s a solid warming earthy body, with lots of lift coming from the alcohol.

Though it’s never a word I’d normally apply to the Beer Giraffe, this beer is remarkably sophisticated! There’s clearly been great care taken in the choice of ingredients, and they all play superbly off each other for a very more-ish drink.

I’d love to see more of it brewed; it’s a beer I’d love to have to hand for grilled meats around a BBQ in summer.

It’s Andrew’s birthday tomorrow; and it’s also near-enough to the first birthday of Behemoth Brewing Company. And so, to celebrate, he’s hosting some beers. Tomorrow evening, Friday 27th June, he’ll be at Auckland’s Vulture Lane Craft Bar. And the Friday after (5th July) he’ll be at Malthouse on Wellington’s Courtney Place. If you’re in the area, well worth popping along to try some of the well made, fun beers this adventurous young brewer is bringing into the world.

Beer Giraffe

Happy birthday, Beer Giraffe! USA! USA! USA!

WIFE – What’s Between (2014)

What's BetweenWhat’s Between, the debut album of WIFE, is quite the surprise. In a good way. A very good way.

WIFE is the name used by James Kelly, formerly the main member and writer with Irish experimental black metal band Altar of Plagues. Kelly disbanded Altar of Plagues last year, after the release of their superb, adventurous third album Teethed Glory and Injury, explaining that he felt that band had gone as far as he felt it could go in expressing where he wanted to go musically.

Listening to What’s Between, you can hear why. Because What’s Between is, at its heart, a pop album. There’s sweetly sung sentimental lyrics, hooky choruses, catchy refrains, bass that makes your hips move.

But What’s Between is also dense, dark; full of layers and shadows, much as Teethed Glory and Injury was. A sense of uneasiness lingers throughout, with lyrics of vulnerability and loneliness catching the ear while harsh white noise floats in and out, and the bass drops so deep as to become uncomfortable.

On this album, Kelly’s exploring the line between light and dark, between the masculine and feminine, creating as he does so something both beautiful and disturbing.

Co-produced by The Haxan Cloak, there’s a strong sense of the subterranean menace that permeates the sound his Triangle Records label mate creates for his own albums. The eerie effect is only increased by frequent use of close-harmony backing vocals, creating a funeral feel. But also religious, spiritual, a chorus that uplifts Kelly’s husky, sensual lead vocal lines.

I’ve been listening to this album a lot since the CD arrived in my mailbox on Tuesday evening – less than a week after ordering it online, thanks Boomkat! Indeed, I’ve barely listened to anything else. What’s Between‘ssensual, sexy, subtle glory, its interplay between strength and weakness instantly appealing and suiting my mood. The layered, careful production reveals something new on each listen; this album’s secrets aren’t revealed easily but are rewarding when uncovered.

Beautiful, oddly beautiful. The album’s grounding with instruments recorded live before the producer’s wand is waved over it leaves this clearly electronic album feeling natural, windswept, elegiac.

‘Dans Ce’ is the album’s centre point, seven minutes of throbbing bass and encompassing vocals, singing “the world is darkest in the light.” Kelly recorded his vocals for this track while gazing at the fog-covered hills outside his parents’ house in Ireland, and that mysterious, Celtic tinge pervades the track. Then it drops to near silence before slowly building up again with layers of odd, unsettling electronic sounds, shards of white noise moving in and out over a synth refrain. And suddenly you’re in the midst of a mid-tempo dance number, half-heard vocal harmonies floating above while the bass kicks your hips into motion.

Stunning stuff.

Beer match:  Tuatara use the tagline “a religious experience” for their ‘Belgian Tripel‘.  While it may not quite hit the mark of a true Belgian tripel, it has layers of subtle complexity and sultry sweetness going on that would fit What’s Between quite nicely.

SOBA Winter Ale Festival 2014

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Yeastie Boys ‘The Sun Before Darkness’ with my dearly departed notes, tasting glass and pen. RIP.

I went up to The Hunter Lounge on Victoria University’s Kelburn campus on Saturday, for the 2014 edition of SOBA’s Winter Ale Festival. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a disaster. A neglectful oversight threw a pall over the afternoon.

I left my programme with all my notes on the table we’d been drinking at! And, by the time I’d realised my mistake and rushed back to collect it, the table had been cleaned and cleared.

And, that’s about the only bad thing I have to say about this particular beer festival!

Fortunately, I’d checked in about 2/3 of the beers I tasted on Untappd, so I do have some idea about what I enjoyed (and didn’t) amongst a plethora of excellent and interesting ales. And I do mean ‘ales’, if my memory serves me correctly there was only one lager being poured that afternoon.

This was the first year I’d attended what had formerly been known as the ‘Matariki Beer Festival’, the winter beer fest put on for a number of years by the Society of Beer Advocates. But I’d heard many of my beery friends rave about it, about how well it was organised, how the focus was really on the beer first and foremost, and how brewers and drinkers alike mingled together in beery friendless.

It was all that, and more. Friendly, happy crowd, with each trip circling from our table to one or other of the taps being punctuated by running into brewers and drinkers worth having chats with.

Andrew Childs of Behemoth Brewing was there, looming large as only he can do, providing fun tales of his recent move into brewing and selling his beer full time. The fun and intensity he also puts into his full-flavoured beers – with their names straight from the inside of a fourteen year old boy’s locker – was also ably demonstrated, with Behemoth’s ‘Nut Milk’ hazelnut stout packed full of sweet hazelnut flavour. The play between the lactose smoothness and the woody bitter nuttiness was very more-ish; it’s the sort of beer that would be fun to have in a float with some vanilla ice-cream. Delicious, really, and I’m not just saying that because the brewer gave me a free t-shirt.

Stu McKinley of Yeastie Boys was also in attendance, mingling and joking and living up to his “one of the loveliest of New Zealand’s many lovely brewers” title which I just made up here and now (perhaps I should commission a trophy). Like Andrew, Stu’s also recently given up his day job, indicating that maybe there is a future in this good beer lark.

But putting it all on the line has not bought about a lurch into sensible conservatism for the Yeasties, because their three beers on at the Winter Ale Festival were all fascinating experiments, brewed with candi-sugar made from botrytised viognier wine.

The three ales are part of the Yeastie Boys Spoonbender series, the name coming from their idiosyncratic habit of describing collaborative brewing as “spooning.” This time, they were playing the big spoon to Australian winemakers Some Young Punks, who provided the sweet and tangy desert wine that was reduced down with added sugar to create the big crystalline slabs of candi-sugar.

Candi-sugar is often used in the brewing of Belgian beers, where it can boost the alcohol content without thickening up the body of the beer. And, with the sugar made from a fungus-infected sweet wine, all sorts of interesting flavours came kicking along with the alcohol as well.

‘The Sly Persuader’ lived up to its name, coming through at first as a very “business as usual” Belgian-style pale ale until, sneaking along at the end came a huge wine flavour, very dry and lingering, very much like the viognier itself.

The presence of the candi-sugar showed with a huge alcohol flavour in the notably boozy (10% abv)‘The Last Dictator’, an imperial porter. There was a nice complex richness here, but alcohol was the predominant note – I reckon this one could do with a bit of aging in the bottle to really come into its best.

The third Yeastie Boys Spoonbender, ‘The Sun Before Darkness’, was an odd beast indeed; certainly the most unique beer I tasted at the festival. The aroma was incredibly sweet; like sticking your nose into candyfloss. But in the mouth it was very tropical, full of sweet fruit flavours, and an intoxicating spice and saltiness. There were hints of rose petal and lime, and flavours I ended up as describing as tasting like chunks of mango stir-fried with a bit of fish sauce. I’m sure I’m not doing it justice, and I can’t wait to try it again to see if I can pin down further what on earth is going on here. Fascinating stuff – and quite drinkable!

And so many other excellent beers were tried, too. A pinot-barrel aged version of Parrotdog’s lovely Otis turned that milk stout into a beer that tasted of a robust and tannic pinot noir, if lighter and smoother.

North End once again hit their mark in creating another delicious take on an English style; with their ‘Southerly Front’ full of distinctly lemony hop flavours. Brewed to be faithful to a 1930’s style Burton Ale,  North End brewer and local beer identity Kieran Haslett-Moore turned up dressed to the era, with tie and shirt under a cardie, a Homburg perched on his head.

Baylands’ ‘Black is Black’ was chock full of Black Doris plums. I found it a bit dry and pummelling, but showing that it’s all subjective Black is Black managed to be voted the favourite beer by the punters in attendance – well done, Baylands!

And, despite its name, 8 Wired’s ‘Flat White’ coffee milk stout contained the richest coffee aroma I’ve yet encountered in a coffee flavoured beer. This was perfectly balanced with the smooth sweetness from the lactose, resulting in a beer with the aroma and flavour of an superbly made sweetened long black.

All these, and more, in a venue perfectly set out for a medium-sized beer festival.

I was particularly impressed by the way water was handled – if you wanted a clean glass (and, if you cared about the beer you’re drinking, you would) then you’d pop over to a counter where you’d exchange it for one containing water. An excellent way to encourage moderation and hydration from the festival goers, and to ensure that each beer had the best chance to show its wares when poured into a fresh glass.

A lovely beer festival. Would festival again!

SOBA Winter Ale Festival

The author at the SOBA Winter Ale Festival, complete with beer-geek-essential beard and t-shirt.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)

LovelessIt was early 1992, during my first year of university.

After spending my teens buying music on cassette (for a succession of cheap and nasty portable stereos) and on vinyl (to play on my father’s record player when he wasn’t home) I’d finally bought my first proper stereo, with a CD player. With the course costs component of my student loan.

And, so, I then set about buying CDs. And, still living at home, what better way was there to spend the drip-fed living allowance part of the loan apart from on beer at Victoria University’s Hunter Lounge (no ID asked for, wink wink), and bright, shiny new CDs at record stores both in Wellington, and back in my home suburb of Upper Hutt?

I know exactly the first CD I bought. Straitjacket Fits, Melt, replacing a much-loved tape. I still play that very CD to this day.

And many other good CDs were to follow. In the record store in Upper Hutt’s Main Street was this guy, just a tad older than me, who became a bit of a pusher. He had cool hair. He dressed unusually (especially for Upper Hutt). He played in some weird little bands round the place. And he carefully curated by the counter a stand of “Alternative” music; a mix of Flying Nun and stuff from overseas. Damian Christie’s gone on to bigger and brighter things since then, but for a while there he was my musical pusher, eagerly recommending things to pick out for me to try.

I’m in the habit of buying before trying, based on reputation, hype and, more often than not, the good word of someone whose taste I trust. I do that with beer, and I do that with music.  This attitude has kept me open-minded about both, and rarely disappoints.  I like finding the new and unusual.

Damien had tried to warn me, though, that My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless might be a bit unusual. Challenging. But I didn’t really listen to that, hearing instead his excitement about the album. So I bought it, took it home and… wondered if my CD player was broken.

Yes, I know now that while tapes may warp, stretch and sound fucked up CD’s shouldn’t – but, for a while there, I thought something was wrong with my newish CD player. I took the CD out, cleaned it, checked the alignment of the laser and mount within the player, tried again. Nope, still the same. Guitars that phased in and out, rhythms that lurched in and out of time.

But, I let the disc played on, and within a few tracks I realised that this wasn’t a faulty CD or player, this fucked up, swooning, stuttering and lurching noise was entirely intentional. Entirely designed. And entirely enthralling.

And, by the time the album came to a close with the massive, sweeping dance-beat epic ‘Soon’ I was in love. And, like Melt, I’ve still got that very CD, and still listen to Loveless often.

And it still holds up, so so well. Rightly talked about as an alternative rock classic, by one of the most iconic, idiosyncratic bands of the early 90s.

For a long time I didn’t realise that what I was hearing was, mostly, just guitar, bass, drums and vocals. I was certain that this unusual sound must be the result of some electronic gadgetry, sampling, looping and the like. But, over time, I realised that these songs are, for the most part, built from one electric guitar played hugely loud. Loud, with layers of distortion, unusual manipulation between the left and right hands and near constant use of the instrument’s tremolo arm to create walls of sound that sweep up and down. The noise booming hugely low while covering the mid-range with a solid pummelling of clashing frequencies, as the rhythm hand does all sorts of repetitive, fascinating little things.

And further below, there’s an effect-laden, near subsonic bass, holding down even lower frequencies. And the drums, often buried low in the mix, struck various baggy dance rhythms, while the vocals were dreamy, soft, near-unheard.

Layers and layers of sound, an album all about the rhythm and fullness of sound. An album that only reveals itself when listened to loudly, so loud that the room vibrates and shakes and moves with the noise. And, when played loud, it becomes clear how much this is a guitarist’s album.

No, it isn’t about flashy solos, but about finding an interesting rhythm, developing a particular sound and feel for a track, and just hammering it down until you become one with it. Hands, head, and feet. All moving together with the instrument, creating beauty and peace from the swirling musical chaos.

And it’s a great air-guitar album; songs like ‘When You Sleep’ and ‘I Only Said’ drive me to move my body with the rhythms, and inevitably, the dancing will soon centre around becoming one with the rhythm and movement of the spectacular rhythmic guitar of Kevin Shields that anchors the sound.

Loveless is very danceable; in the frequent moments it’s not delving into the deep and dark. And very head clearing. The barely audible words draw the ear in, and you strain to pick up the beat of the drums, and as you do Loveless trips its trap, capturing the listener. Suddenly your head is full with these twisting, hypnotic guitar rhythms, and your body is moving despite itself.

Even in the slow, nearly sub-sonic ‘Sometimes’ I find myself swaying, trapped, the crisp flick of the guitar pick across the strings an otherwise inaudible acoustic guitar providing an inescapable rhythm.

Then Loveless comes to an end with ‘Soon’. A timeless classic – not just because it will last the ages. But because with the repetition and rhythm, the dance beat and hypnotic vocals, time comes to a stop until, seven minutes in the real world later you emerge; pressing play on the stereo again.

Tuatara ‘APA’ (Aotearoa Pale Ale)

IMAG1383I’m all about pointing out that this whole “beer love” thing is jut a bit subjective. But, even within that, there’s layers of subjectivity. Subjectivception.

I mean, what makes up a best beer? A favourite beer? A loved beer? Not for drinkers “generally”, but for each and every one of us. If we had to choose our five desert island beers, what would we choose? And why would we choose them?

Would we choose rare hard-to-find beers, a beer that maybe we’d tried once and were blown away by? But, forced to drink that beer as one of the few left to us until our dying days, would we get sick of it?

Do we choose a full-flavoured, interesting beer that we’ve drunk quite a few of, that we know and love?

And, if I were doing my “five-beers-to-last-the-end-of-my-life” list, I’d probably make up my list with four of the five beers being either rare or interesting or unusual.

But I’d also choose Tuatara’s APA – the Aotearoa Pale Ale version, full of New Zealand grown hops such as Nelson Sauvin, NZ Cascade and Wai-iti. Because, amongst all the tea beers, the hop monsters, the smoked ales, the rich barrel-aged porters I love a good solid, flavourful drinking beer. Like this.

Something I love – and I mean, really love – about the Tuatara APA is its ubiquity. At least down this end of New Zealand’s North Island, you can find the Tuatara APA in either bottles or on tap in quite a number of bars and restaurants. Maybe, even a majority of them (but, admittedly, I don’t tend to visit an entirely representative sample of bars etc, being a beer geek). But, more often I’ve not, over the last two years or so I’ve found that most bars and restaurants I’ve visited have stocked this beer; even bars owned / contracted to the big two.

Why?

Because it’s damn good, perhaps?

There’s this big old waft of pine and citrus from the top, and in the mouth it is full, sticky, with grapefruit hops and lip-smacking sticky toffee. It lingers with a big long freshly citrus aftertaste, and that delicious sandpaper-like rasp that a good hoppy beer gives once it’s gone down the throat.  That sensation that just makes you want another sip.

But it’s not overpowering, not too fist-full-of-hop punchy or sticky-sweet aftertaste.  It’s a hoppy beer – a very hoppy beer – but it manages to be acceptable to those who love the hop and those who prefer to taste their breakfast the next morning.

But, I’m sure the quality of this NZ-hopped, American-style pale ale doesn’t explain why it has become so prevalent. That’s surely down to the way that “craft” has become “mainstream” and how Tuatara have managed to insert themselves into the public awareness as a local craft brewer through promotion and good sales work. Which means bars (including contracted bars) and restaurant owners who, deciding to surrender to a bit of this “craft beer market” know of, have heard of, have seen (and, perhaps, drunk and enjoyed) this beer, with its striking blue, red and white tap / label art.  (And, perhaps, with less stupid sexism like another “wants to be large” competitor. Ahem.)

And, I’m sure calling it an Aotearoa Pale Ale hasn’t hurt, either!

And we all who like nice beer get the upside; getting to have this excellent beer with food, with mates, all over the shop. And I’m grateful for it.

It’s also available in six packs at supermarkets and local bottle stores, which is something else I just love to see. Because then I can take a box home and, when the autumn weather allows it, pull some out, put them in the fridge for a bit, then go sit out on the deck with a book, some music, and some nice beer.

Which is really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Nice beer; when and where you want it? I’m all in favour of the rare, the unusual, the challenging; but more often than not I just want a nice beer, at a time when I want a beer.

And with their Aotearoa Pale Ale, Tuatara nicely fill that niche.

Cheers!

Swans – To Be Kind (2014)

To Be KindFinally, it arrived. To Be Kind, the latest release from post-punk noise band Swans was there, on my office desk. Delightfully packaged, and signed by head Swan Michael Gira. At last; because while I’d been waiting for my pre-order to arrive, the excitement that had been bubbling in anticipation of this release, the third since the band reformed last decade, had boiled over into an album everyone, it seemed, was talking about. Raving about.

I don’t have a CD player in the office, so I had to wait a few more hours still. But I left the CD there, on my desk, glancing it at now and then, reading the booklet, waiting, waiting, until I could finally get it home and into the stereo.

And when I did; wow. Yup, I understand the exaltations this album has received. It deserves every one.

If The Seer, Swans’ colossal 2012 release was marked by sprawling dark chaos, To Be Kind pulls Gira and his band into a tighter, tauter sound. The album’s more rhythmic, with roots of rocking blues or swampy Cajun stomps, kicking off with a massive groove on opening track ‘Screen Shot’, and propulsively returning to a driving groove throughout the the double-album’s length.

The production is much tighter and cleaner too, compared to the cacophonous wall of noise that made up The Seer. The drums are full and forward, the guitar crisp and present, synths and strings bright, vocals clear and understandable; every instrument in what’s often a very full mix can be heard, placed within the sound, and followed through the tracks.

None of which to say this is a commercial album, a clean album. An easy listening album. Oh god no, this is Swans!

Over the space of two-hours, Michael Gira uses the driving rhythms and instrumental stabs to lay out some of the most expressive, tortured, screamed vocals ever recorded. His voice twists and turns, shouts and yelps, melding  groans and throat-deep yells. His vocals, backed at times by a counter-chorus of layered singing from St. Vincent, folds lines and noises in on itself, revelling in how words and phrases repeat and echo each other.

Gira’s singing, shouting, his yells and moans are mantric. Zen koans asking questions  through repetition. Where the music on The Seer drove the listener into fight-or-flight mode, with To Be Kind it’s through his vocals, lyrics and chants that Gira is challenging us, daring us to sit still, engage and meditate.

Because, amongst the noise and the groove, and chaos and darkness, To Be Kind is a meditative album. A zen album. An attempt by one artist and his musicial colleagues to grasp some kind of transcendence. To learn what it is to be kind.

‘Screen Shot’ begins us on that journey, with Gira chanting a call to empty our minds; “no time, no now, no suffering, no touch, no loss, no hand, no sense.” This intonation continues, building over a hypnotic groove, calling us to lose ourselves before he begin to shout a nihilist directive: “Love! Now! Breathe, now! Here, now! Here, now!” Be here, in this moment, he demands. Demanding we place ourselves in his hands, under the spell of his voice and music, for the wild two hours that is to follow.

Repeated mantras return throughout the album, sometimes mockingly (“I need love!” Gira moans on ‘Just for a Little Boy’, to be answered by a derisive peel of laughter from a Greek chorus), sometimes beguiling and hypnotically (disc 1 ends with ‘Some Things We Do,’ which draws the side to a close with chants of “with tooth and claw, we touch, we teach, we fuck, we love, we regret, we love, we love, we love…”)

And so it continues. Through ‘Bring The Sun / Toussaint L’Ouverture’, a 34 minute two-part epic, where a repetitive chant collapses halfway through to the sound of a gathering storm, a nervous horse whinnying and tramping its feet before the song explodes again into a full scream of defiant anger. Through ‘She Loves Us’ which opens disc 2 with a deep, rocky groove which soon collapses into chaos, only to return, altered, menacing, as Gira spits “your name is fuck! Fuck fuck fuck! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Until, eventually, two hours later, comes the title track. ‘To Be Kind’ seeps quietly in, almost like the calm that settles after a storm has blown through, as Gira concludes his meditation. “To be kind, to be kind, to be lost, in a bed touching you,” he sings. Almost happily, he moans his last words, “There are millions and millions of stars in your eyes.”

But this turns out to be the calm before the storm, not the lull afterwards. Because from there the album closes with a wall of screaming guitars and crashing drums, in a musical coda that harks back most to the discordant horror that filled a lot of The Seer. Finally, with a crash of cymbals and jerk of guitar, it ends. Falls to silence.

And we, the listener, are left gasping for breath. Maybe exhilarated, maybe exhausted, maybe just lost in thought. I’ve reacted each of those ways come the end of To Be Kind. A need to pause, think, not move for a moment or two. To reflect and conclude the meditation.

This is a singular album. An important album. An album that provokes an emotional response and involvement well beyond the cheap and easy emotions of love, hate and sadness that populates a lot of rock music. To Be Kind is far far deeper than that. Because what Gira’s trying to do here is turn his lyrics and emotions back onto us, the listener, causing us to confront ourselves, to think, to hear in his words what exists within us.

To Be Kind will surely be on many “best of” lists for 2014. Deservedly so.

Swans TweetBeerMatch:  You’re going to want something dark and complex, served warm in a bulb, to sip away at. Something from a big bottle, perhaps, so it’ll last you the two hours of the album.  Nothing to brash or hoppy, though, you want a relaxing drink because the music will be confronting enough as it is.  Try Almanac’s ‘Bourbon Sour Porter‘ if you can find it, inky black with flavours of sweet bourbon, bitter coffee and tart fruit.  Or, locally, I’d suggest soothing your tastebuds from the noise with Mike’s delicious ‘Vanilla Coffee Porter’ for a smooth, creamy and slightly bitter alternative.