Hallertau – ‘New Zealand Wild Ale with Horopito’

New Zealand Wild Ale with HoropitoSo, there I was, in Auckland, on a typically four-seasons-in-one-day Sunday, with no plans for the afternoon. A perfect time, then, to head out west towards Riverhead, to the Hallertau Brewbar and Restaurant.

I’d always been meaning to get out that way every time I’ve been up to Auckland over recent years, but had never quite been able to make the trip. But on this Sunday it was a quick easy drive into the green farmlands starting to flush with spring, to Hallertau’s big shed nestled within an orchard. The complex features a restaurant, bar and the brewery itself, which brews beers not just for Hallertau, but also Liberty as well as a few other contract brews (including, at times, Behemoth), all under the same roof.

The place was bustling, families and small groups all having had the same idea – a bit of a drive with some good food and drink at the other end. But we found a space at the bar, which was an open bench in the centre of the shed. Behind us was an array of busy tables, and before us the shiny stainless steel of the kit of a working brewery. It’s always a delight, being able to sit and drink a beer mere metres from where it had come into existence.

I asked our friendly, knowledgeable bartender for a rundown of the beers, and as soon as he mentioned a sour beer I stopped him in mid-flow and ordered one. I love sour beers, and will try any I come across, always keen to taste what the brewer may’ve done with some tempestuous yeast; with results that can sometimes be wonderful, sometimes not.

The sour beer in question was Hallertau’s ‘New Zealand Wild Ale with Horopito’, the champion Media Brew from this year’s Beervana – a beer that had run out at the festival itself even by the time I got to it about halfway through the Friday session. I was excited to finally give it a try.

It arrived in a small glass (“because the flavour is very strong”, it was explained), and it almost glowed with a pale golden colour, the still beer capturing the wood of the bar and the shining steel of the brewery nicely. The aroma immediately revealed two of the special ingredients and techniques that had gone into making this beer; strong scents of gooseberry and dry, slightly sour white wine displaying the unique wild yeasts used to brew the beer, and the subsequent 18 month aging in Sauvignon Blanc barrels.

No carefully selected and stringently controlled yeasts were used to brew this beer. Instead, after mashing, the tun was left uncovered for a night while fans blew in air from the orchard outside the brewery, allowing the mash to be inoculated with natural yeasts from the local environment. Using wild yeast is always a risk, but happily for Hallertau fermentation brought about a full, natural sour flavour, along with a comforting softness, resulting in a beer that shared more characteristics with a good natural cider than a pale ale.

The white-wine barrel aging further emphasised those dry, crisp, sour flavours and then, prior to kegging, horopito (or “pepperwood”) leaf was added, leaving the final beer with a slight warm peppery-ness at the very edges of the palate.

In some respects this wild ale didn’t taste particularly like a beer; its flavour combinations would probably challenge and disgust many beer fans. But for me, as a drinker who loves to find new flavours that can be created through the chemistry of brewing, it was a joy, each further sip revealing spice, wine and cider flavours that were most unexpected, and very lovely.

And, not just me. The friend who accompanied me on this little trip, who is not a beer fan at all, took one sniff, then one sip, and declared that she’d finally found a beer she loved. This was a declaration so momentous, I immediately surrendered the half-glass that remained, helping myself instead to the Hallertau cider she’d ordered, which was also quite delicious.

But we did leave with a litre of the New Zealand Wild Ale in a rigger, with which I can confirm that the ale goes down a treat with pâté, pesto, cheddar, brie and blue cheese. Wine and cheese? No, beer and cheese – and a dry, sour beer like this is perfect for a cheese board.

Highly recommended, but this ale is rare and only available at the brewery bar out in rural West Auckland. Worth the trip.

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Shihad – FVEY (2014)

Shihad 'FVEY'Shihad are back with a new album, after four years of solo projects, films and raising families. And, on FVEY, Jon Toogood and his Wellington-formed band have got some things they think you need to be paying attention to.

There’s no band other than Shihad about which I can say that I was there at the beginning and am still with, many albums and decades later. But when Shihad formed in 1988 there were very few bands playing or fans listening to that Metallica and Megadeth-influenced style of metal. And to us kids getting into the sound and forming our own thrash metal band out in Upper Hutt, the guys in Shihad were our heroes and our inspiration.

Shihad were older than us (only by a year or two, but that seemed a huge gap back then), far cooler (they were from Wellington, after all, we were just black-jeaned suburban bogans), and far more musically accomplished and successful.

We were in awe; but it was more than that. Because Jon Toogood (guitar and vocals), Tom Larkin (drums), Phil Knight (guitar) and Hamish Laing (bass) (later replaced by Karl Kippenberger) were so damn friendly and supportive to us and other kids like us, as we formed shitty little bands in shitty little high school music rooms. Looking back it seems ridiculous, but we looked up to Shihad as if they were amazing rock stars when, of course, they were just a bunch of kids themselves, living off their parents and the bones of their arses, doing what they could to make their own rock star dreams come true.

I remember trips on the train into Wellington, in our best cheap knock-off Metallica t-shirts and jean jackets, to see them play live. From my memory all these gigs seem to be at Rocky’s, that live music venue on Cuba Street that continues to this very day, where it is now known as San Fran.

We were far too young to be allowed into a live music venue with a bar, of course, but in we’d get when one of the Shihad guys – who were all under the 20-year legal drinking age themselves – would stick their head out and see us. Sometimes it was Tom Larkin but more often Phil Knight – the blistering lead guitarist with the mop of curly blonde hair – would come out and escort us in past the doorman on the promise that we wouldn’t buy or be bought any drinks. (Yeah, right).

(I still think back to the decor of Rocky’s with a shudder. Inspired by the bar’s name, the seated area of the bar was decorated to look like a cave, with pillars and partitions of sprayed-on and spray-painted polystyrene intended to look like cave walls and stalagmites. How it ever got permission from the council or fire service I’ll never know; the potential for a Great White-like horror in the dark, smoke-laden bar seems terrifying to me now.)

But, that was then, this is now; 2014 and the release of Shihad’s most recent album. Twenty four years since we played the thrash of Devolve at garage parties when our parents were away, Shihad are back working with Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman, who produced the blistering industrial metal of Churn, the first of their nine albums. And this reunion with the driven, ornery, outspoken Coleman has come right when Jon Toogood is sounding pissed off; more pissed off than he’s sounded in years.

And from it comes FVEY, which may well be this bands best album since 1999’s The General Electric. Possibly their best since Killjoy, or since Churn. Or perhaps, simply their best.

Toogood’s always had a political slant to his lyrics, a left-leaning, liberal, socially aware and observant nature that sometimes shows itself in unusual places (listen to the lyrics of ‘Debs Night Out’, for example). He’s never been shy about putting his thoughts forward either, like when he, soon after supporting Metallica for the biggest gig of Shihad’s short career, remarked how disappointed he’d been to see a “Don’t Call 9-11, Use .357” sticker on James Hetfield’s amplifier.

Toogood’s often sung of frustration and anger at corporate greed, bad government, the insensitivity of the powerful and privileged, the grey acceptance of a docile population. And those songs are here, such as with ‘The Big Lie’ (“it’s the year of distraction, have we had enough, have we had enough of the big lie?”), the remorselessly pummelling ‘Grey Area’ (“I am a reflection, I am what you wanted to hear”) and the venom-fuelled rage of ‘Model Citizen’ (“We want an end to this terminal cancer”).

Toogood’s big target on the album is Echelon, and the Five Eyes intelligence arrangement (‘FVEY’, geddit?), and a government who he accuses of breaching our privacy and lying about it. The shouted “G! C! S! B!” bridge of the album’s blistering opener, ‘Think You’re So Free’ leave you in no doubt of what Jon Toogood has on his mind.

But, no matter how venomous and driven Toogood and Shihad may be, it’s an open question if the level of musical intensity and anger on this album would’ve been expressed if it weren’t for the return of the mad, maddening and vibrantly outspoken Jaz Coleman to the role of producer. Coleman looms large on this album, no doubt having stoked and goaded Shihad until he got what he thought they were capable of, until he got what he wanted to hear.

And what Coleman wanted to hear – and what we can now enjoy – is an album that returns Shihad to a level of tightness and targeted grunt that it is almost reminiscent of the industrial metal of Churn. But even more than that, it is Killing Joke that might be the nearest musical touchstone for FVEY. In particular the precise roar of metal madness that has been the sound Coleman’s produced with his band in the 21st Century.

But if the album’s tight and focused, full of groove and riff, it’s certainly not slick. You can hear microphones bleeding into each other and ad-libbed shouts and yelps (some, you suspect, from Coleman who stood in the room as the band recorded mostly live). During the breakdown the reverb on the drums is crisp and natural, speaking of a good room rather than good software, while there’s a looseness to the propulsive riffs, a constant slight variation that speaks of endlessly repeated takes until the right one was recorded rather than of being built from loops.

It all reaches its apex, perhaps, on ‘Cheap As’, where Toogood’s near spoken polemic builds until he’s shouting “Cheap! As! Fuck!” over and over until the song explodes into a double-time riff, Tom Larkin’s drumming leaving the listener open-mouthed and forcing your head to band along. It might be the most metal thing Shihad have done since Killjoy.

But for me, it’s ‘The Great Divide’ that is the standout track. It begins with a solo-guitar riff, loose but somehow tight and, just before the rest of the band kicks in, you can hear the microphone bleed and yelled enthusiastic laugh of someone in the room. Then Toogood, with layered vocals, strikes a gorgeous vocal that ascends in harmony over the repetitive guitars of the song’s chorus. It’s harsh, intense, beautiful metal – and then, it explodes into a double-time crescendo, a catharsis as Toogood screams his anger at the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

It might be my favourite Shihad song, ever. And FVEY might be my favourite Shihad album. Not the album of a band heading into soft middle age, but of a band driven by the world around them, by an idiosyncratic producer, and by the desire to play some good damn metal.

Garage Project ‘Hāpi Daze’

IMAG2308(1)I have a Sunday routine. I wake reasonably early, do a bit of housework, then walk the five or so kilometres into town to the Harbourside Market, down by Waitangi Park.

En route I’ll stop by either one or other of the supermarkets to see what good, inexpensive protein is available. Once at the markets I’ll then grab a bite to eat from one of the food stalls – I particularly like the venison hot pot eaten with a bread roll from the bakery stall nearby. Then, a quick visit to the Waikanae Butcher’s truck (I strongly recommend both their haggis and their Cajun sausage), before the market proper to load up on fresh vegetables and fruit.

And then, home to cook!

But once finished the market it becomes very easy to stop by one of the many good craft beer bars that can be found when you walk from market end of town to where my bus passes, on Willis or Victoria St. So many bars, but some choose not to be open Sunday lunchtime, but more do. And if the sun is shining and the air is warm, almost inevitably by the time I’ve carried a load of produce from one side of town to the other I’ll be feeling the need for a sit-down and a drink.

And, hey, they buses only go every half-hour on Sundays, so there’s always a bit of a wait.

So it was the other weekend. I’d scored an inexpensive kilo of beef cheeks and picked up a big load of onions, leeks, celery, garlic, carrots and potato to cook them with, and after reaching my bus stop, the sun was shining, I was sweating a bit, and my bus was another fifteen minutes away. And right next to this particular bus stop is The Taphaus. Which has tables perfectly positioned to sit outside and keep an eye out for the bus.

And on tap that particular Sunday, The Taphaus had Garage Project’s ‘Hāpi Daze’. At the sight of the tap badge I’m pretty sure I broke into a grin. Because this hoppy golden ale is perfect for a refreshing beer in the sunshine.

Hāpi Daze is bright, light, and fruity, and at 4.2% abv it won’t derail any plans you may have for the rest of the day. A hop aroma sparkles deliciously off the top of the glass, while the light, sweet body rolls around nicely on the tongue before the refreshingly bitter finish trails away.

Hāpi Daze (Hāpi being the Maori word for ‘hops’) showcases off a range of New Zealand hop flavours – I can pick out the familiar flavours of passionfruit, grapefruit and the leaves of a lemon tree. But it’s all in moderation, all in balance. It’s not a hop bomb but a lovely gentle golden ale, with the sweet golden malty base solidifying the more fruity, expressive notes to create something quite special.

Now, that’s my idea of a bus stop beer. A pause to catch the breath, to plan out the afternoon’s cookery, and to consider that The Taphaus – which has had some problems over the years it has been open – seems to be turning a corner towards putting the quality of the beer first. Admittedly, I tend to only pop by there when waiting for a bus at that particular stop, but over winter I’ve found my infrequent visits have seen the bar and the service – and the knowledge of the staff – improve each and every time.

It’s a competitive market, selling craft beer in Wellington. And, and beyond the delight of being able to sit in the sun having a quiet beer a metre from a bus stop, what I’m seeing at The Taphaus is bringing me back to stopping by there for the beer rather than just the convenience. And being open on a sunny Sunday lunchtime with a refreshing, easy-drinking, tasty beer like the Hāpi Daze; that’s worth a second or third visit.

Or even, a second or third pint, but not that day – because the bus had arrived, and these beef cheeks won’t braise themselves…

Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire (2011)

Ryan Adams Ashes & FireRyan Adams has a new album out. A self-titled album, which seems a fair enough thing to do after fourteen officially released albums. And a few hundred more albums that never saw the light of day apart from the odd track here and there or through rare bootlegs, due to record company obtuseness / artistic stroppiness / poor quality / alien invasions (delete as appropriate).

But this post isn’t about Ryan Adams. It’s about Ashes & Fire, the one that came before, released in 2011. I may not even buy his most recent release. Like so many others I’ve gone from being a huge fan of Adams to falling out of love with the music; not least because of also falling into frustration with the man himself.

Be it due illness / drugs / uncompromising artistic values / alien invasions (delete as appropriate) Adams went from some great albums with Whiskeytown into a solo career that opened with two utterly superb albums but was then followed by; well, a mess of erratic albums and live performances.

But then in 2011, after taking some time off to get married and to recover his health, Adams returned with Ashes & Fire, an album hailed by some at the time (including myself) as a return to form, a return to the Ryan Adams that we first developed our musical crushes on a decade before.

Now, a few years later just as his next studio album hits the shelves (at least the second – if not third – he’s recorded since then, having scrapped the earlier efforts) I took a moment to put Ashes & Fire album back on. From adoring it on release, as time went by I played it less and less, and so I was interested to see what it held for me now.

Listening again, it becomes clear that what Adams has really done on Ashes & Fire is to return to what came before. The songs hark back to earlier Adams material, three albums in particular.

‘Come Home’, ‘Save Me’ and ‘Kindness’ could have come from 2005’s Jacksonville City Nights, carrying Adams’ more mature, tear-weary voice, lush countrified arrangements and luscious steel guitar.

Ashes & Fire also lifts from Gold, Adams’ 2001 commercial breakthrough, the gorgeous, tremulous yet lively part-heartbroken part-hopeful love songs Adams writes so well, in particular on ‘Chains of Love’ and the album’s title track.

And, from his stunning solo debut Heartbreaker from 2000, we can hear the live-in-studio feel, stripped back and acoustic guitar, in particular on the album’s open ‘Dirty Rain’.

If it’s possible to pick through the 11 songs on Ashes & Fire and place them amongst those three albums, it’s just as easy to pick what this album isn’t. This isn’t the raucous glam and brit pop influenced rock of Rock n Roll, nor is this album the commercial, full-on country rock sound of the last couple of releases he did with The Cardinals, nor is Ashes & Fire the twin-guitar led Grateful Dead revival that was Cold Roses (my favourite Adams album, by the way).

Adams is squarely in a comfortable country ballad space with Ashes & Fire, not straying too far from what is probably a very safe course for him. And yet, despite that, despite the near unoriginality of it, the album is gorgeous. Beautiful. Adams may’ve done this many times before but, when his voice creaks and rises and breaks within one of his ballads it’s confirmed again that he really is very very good at this style of music.

But beyond those things that Adams does so well, there’s two particular elements to Ashes & Fire that lift it for me, at least for as long as I listen to it, to a blissful musical experience. Long time Adams collaborator Norah Jones returns to provide backing vocals on three of the albums tracks, and as usual her and Adams voices meld to create something heartaching and bittersweet.

Jones also plays piano on many of the songs, providing a superb counterpart to Adams and his guitar, adding a timbre and tone that brings the songs to life. But even more than Jones’ contributions on the keys are those of Benmont Tench, founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Tench plays piano, electric piano or sublime Hammond B3 on almost all of Ashes & Fire’s tracks, and it’s his contributions that lift this album beyond a pastiche or rehash of what Adams had done before to something quite special.

And, as I listen to ‘Do I Wait’, as Adams’ voice weeps and Tench’s B3 soars, I realise that I probably will go out and buy that new Ryan Adams albums. Because if Ryan Adams has even one song on it like this one, it’ll be worth it the price of purchase.

Beer match: This is a relaxed album, not too challenging but with little touches that reward you if you pay attention. The quality is in the details. And that makes me think of Yeastie Boy’s ‘Digital’ IPA; an IPA in the American style, but one that won’t always stand head-or-shoulders above the hop-monsters and sugar bombs that some other local brewers can put out within this style.  No, the Digital is well made, the right mix of fruity sweetness and gentle bitterness. It seeps on softly, and leaves you smiling gently. Much like Ashes & Fire.

Tuatara Brewing ‘Black: Toasted Malt’

Tuatara Black ice cream floatIt was a dark and stormy night.

No, really, it was. And cold, bitterly so. The wind blowing in from the south was slamming right into the beachfront bach we’d hired in Raumati. But, inside, we were warm and comfy, all the heaters up full, enjoying that sense of comfort that only comes when you’re away from home, coddled together against the elements in a small, spartan building.

Of course, we’d expected that weather, taking a holiday on a Raumati beach at the tail end of winter. But we didn’t mind, not at all. It was nice to get away from home for just a bit – even if it wasn’t very far away – nice and close to my mother in her nursing home, so we could spend some quality time with her.

And, after dinner, when we’d taken mum home and put her to bed, it was time for us to relax, luxuriate in the warmth while the wind howled outside and the waves crashed against the shore, safe in our dimly lit retreat.

A perfect night for a float with stout.

I’m not sure when I first heard of the idea of serving a stout with ice cream. Sure, Phil Cook’s enthused about them for quite a while, but I’m sure I was aware of them – had drunken them – before then. Or maybe that’s just because, as a concept, the drink just works. Just makes sense. A dry, bitter-sweet stout solid and dark, mingling with sweet, rich ice cream. It just sounds delicious.

So, given we were up the Kapiti Coast, it was appropriate to go local with the ingredients for this wonderfully luxuriant drink. Paraparaumu’s own Tuatara Brewing have recently released a trio of limited edition bottle-conditioned stouts, all with the ‘Black’ name. There’s a dark chocolate version, and one made with coffee but neither of them impressed me as much as the ‘Toasted Malt’ version.

By itself, the Black Toasted Malt is a beautiful mix of complex rich maltiness, bursting with chocolate and toasted bread flavours, which underlies a huge fruity hop flavour, lashings of bitter orange aroma and long, cleansing bitterness.

But, then, add a dollop or two of  vanilla ice cream from Kapiti Fine Foods. The ice cream froths and foams, turning the beer’s head into a airy dreamy cushion. And, as you raise the glass to your lips, the frozen ice cream gentle nuzzles against your lips as the dark beer swirls around it into your mouth, carrying with it a creamy sweetness.

This Tuatara Black is strong enough, especially with its bitter toasted flavours, to survive the rich sweetness of a fine creamy ice cream. The natural vanilla flavouring of the dairy dessert is a perfect match for the chocolate and orange notes of the stout. And each mouthful is different, as differing amounts of beer and ice cream mix together with each sip, until by the end of the glass it’s all a creamy, gorgeous messy mixture of the two, rich and complex flavours melding together into a grown up’s milkshake of delight.

Making this stout ice cream float was a moments inspiration. I’d bought the beer for myself, and the ice cream to have with a delicious chocolate brownie we were planning to have as a late night treat. But there, in the little bach, warm against the winter’s storm, splashing the ice cream into the beer made perfect sense. And sensually, it was a perfect flavour combination.

However, be warned: stout ice cream floats have a particular side effect. Especially if you have facial hair…

Cheers!

Cheers!

David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights – End Times Undone (2014)

David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights : End Times UndoneI was seated at my desk, headphones on, my eyes gazing out the windows instead of the monitors in front of me. The cloud was low, misty tendrils lingering over town belt above Thorndon. It look cold, damp, maybe a bit miserable.

Then, just as another bank of rain rolled in from the south, the shimmering 12-string acoustic rolled in, setting the rhythm for ‘Like Rain’, the opening track on End Times Undone, the most recent solo album from New Zealand musical living-legend David Kilgour. And, as another guitar whined and hummed a feedback note, the scene outside my office window transformed. No longer miserable and cold, but pretty and soft. Rain sweeping gently in, but I was coddled in the warmth of a comforting sound.

Kilgour as a solo artist would never be accused of being experimental or avant-garde, but what he does release is always consistent and reliable. You push play on his latest album, and you know you’re going to get sweet jangly guitar-led songs, with catchy multi-tracked vocals and cozy choruses.

End Times Undone doesn’t deviate from the pattern Kilgour’s set over the last few decades, but it’s also never boilerplate. Because part of Kilgour’s charm is his languid looseness; from day one his approach to singing and slinging his guitar has reminded me greatly of a more peaceful, more laid-back Lou Barlow. The songs are full of improvisation and charmingly bum notes, a relaxed style and keenness to not play the same melody exactly the same twice that belies an intense mastery of both the guitar and how to string words and harmonies together to get songs that get stuck right in your head. The best sort of earworms.

End Times Undone also brings with it a gentle wall of sound, a swirl of psychedelia, that brings hints of Jesus And Mary Chain and the 60s and 70s bands that so strongly influenced Kilgour and other Flying Nun originals; bands such as Velvet Underground and The Byrds, hints of Grateful Dead and the country languidness of early Neil Young and his later guitar work with Crazy Horse.

It’s a sound – a “southern psychedelic” – that’s a vital but often overlooked element of what made the Flying Nun sound so distinct during the 80s, an element of stoned jangly that defined a lot of what made early music from The Clean, The Chills, Sneaky Feelings and similar so catchy amongst the raucousness of the loud guitars and low-tech production.

So, it’s a joy to hear David Kilgour pulling back in those pretty swirling elements into this release, with a 21st century production that allows you to hear the multiple guitar parts, each doing their own thing but uniting into a wall of gentle comforting sound.

And, at times, the album breaks loose, and there’s a steady procession from the albums’ gently psychedelic almost-country opening track ‘Like Rain’, to the clashing, clanging penultimate track ‘Down the Tubes’, where Kilgour slashes and bashes at the guitar, angular open chords raining pretty noise down. Then the album closes with ‘You Don’t Get Back’, perhaps the most “Clean-like” song here, big noisy guitar almost overwhelming the muted vocals, Kilgour doing that thing he does so well, flicking his wrist and ripping out a wall of shimmering treble chords as the drums and bass lock down the tune.

But, elsewhere, it’s mostly quite a quiet, gentle, soothing album. Kilgour’s voice, layered on itself many times over, is relaxing and endearing, melding nicely with the way his guitar constantly noodles around the melodies, picking out a joyfully stoned never-repeating hook the songs are hung over.

This record won’t shake the world, but while it is playing it is a joy. Put it on when the weather’s miserable outside, and you’ll feel warmer instantly. Sometimes you need music that’s like a big comfy sweatshirt, lovely and lovable, and enjoyable through and through. End Times Undone does that, very nicely.

Beer match: Think Kilgour, think Dunedin. Think Dunedin, think Emerson’s. The iconic Dunedin-based leader of New Zealand’s current craft beer boom has many good beers that’d go well with this. But, if we’re looking for something comforting to go with listening to this album as the weather packs up outside, then look for Emerson’s ‘Weizenbock’. It’s a dark, rich, malty strong beer, with hints of chocolate and fruit cake, and a touch of spice. Like End Times Undone, it’s a warming beer, a comfort-drink.