Townshend Brewery ‘Old House ESB’

Townshend's Old House ESB at The Third Eye

Townshend’s Old House ESB at The Third Eye

The big news in New Zealand’s good beer circles yesterday was the announcement that Townshend Brewery has signed a deal with Tuatara Brewing. The deal will allow 2014’s New Zealand Champion brewery to tap into Tuatara’s greater distribution network, and while Martin Townshend will still brew smaller batches in his shed down in Upper Moutere, larger batches of Townshend’s most popular beers will be brewed at Tuatara’s large brewery in Paraparaumu.

This is very good news indeed. I’ve been a huge fan of Martin Townshend’s superb beers for years now, admiring both his ability to make perfect examples of traditional styles while also playing confidently with more left-field brews. But I’ve also been in the privileged position of living in Wellington, where most of Townshend’s product is sold and where it’s never far away from the shelves or taps of one of our excellent craft beer stockists or bars.

With this news comes the hope that Townshend’s beers will see greater distribution around New Zealand and, perhaps, overseas. The more people can get a taste of why Martin Townshend is held in such esteem as a brewer, and why his brewery and his beer have won so many awards, the better!

To celebrate this union of two of my favourite breweries, there really was only one thing for it. So I walked into town, towards the south end of the CBD, to Karo Drive[i] where Tuatara have recently opened up ‘The Third Eye’. The Third Eye is an attractive little bar, housed in a historically significant building with the interior dressed with the original gorgeous native wood.

At one end of the high-vaulted rectangular rooms sits a microbrewery where Tuatara and the occasional guest brewer try out experimental brews, at the other is a range of leaners and couches for a small number of customers and a bar equipped with 14 taps. On those taps are poured at least 10 beers from Tuatara, both their popular ales and a few more unusual brews, while the other taps are set aside for a few guest brews and at least one cider.

It’s a good space, with a relaxed friendly feeling and relaxed friendly knowledgeable staff, in a part of Wellington that’s slowly but surely seeing an expansion in good beer and food – Crafters & Co and The Bresolin are quite nearby, and Garage Project’s cellar door and brewery is just a short walk away in Aro Street. And yesterday The Third Eye were pouring a pair of Townshend ales, so it was the perfect place to raise a glass to the news of the Tuatara Brewing and Townshend Brewery deal.

On tap was Townshend’s ‘Sutton Hoo’, an American amber ale. The Sutton Hoo is a superb example of the style with the hops and red malt well balanced – some brewers over-hop their American ambers and, to attempt balance then punch up the malt to the point where what emerges really is more of an American pale ale. But the Sutton Hoo is lighter, smoother, and with a gently delicious hoppy zing.

But what I was really at The Third Eye for was the ‘Old House ESB’. Extra Special Bitters are one of my favourite styles of beer, with the play between soft sweet malt and a cleansing bitterness always appealing. And of that style, Townshend’s Old House is one of the best I’ve tried.

Sitting in the warm wooded interior of The Third Eye, I smiled at the day’s news as I lifted the glass to my nose and breathed in the wonderful aroma of this ale. There’s hints of slightly acidic, slightly sour almonds and walnut in the scent, with smooth sweet tinges of honey. In the mouth the sweetness initially prevails, smooth creamy clover honey flavours floating amongst the delicious malty mouthfeel.

Then the slight nutty sourness returns in the after-taste, with a lingering sharp sweetness, reminiscent of salted caramel with perhaps just a touch of lemon rind. That play between sweet, sour and bitter is difficult to get right and get delicious, but the Old House does it well.

An ale well worth seeking out. And, with Townshend’s now having access to Tuatara’s distribution network, maybe you’ll see more of this and other beers from Townshend in your neck of the woods soon!


[i] Karo Drive, the newish inner-city route of State Highway 1, was apparently named by local school children as a contraction of “Kids of Aro”. However, one meaning of the word in Maori is “to parry, dodge, duck or avoid.” Given that Karo Drive has become infamous for red-light runners and endangered pedestrians, the name seems entirely appropriate!

Tuatara ‘Tu-Rye-Ay’, Panhead ‘Triple Eye’ and more…

Tu-Rye-Ay

Tuatara’s Tu-Rye-Ay

Life has a way of flying by when you’re a beer and music blogger who is also holding down a full time job, maintaining a relationship and battling though a winter of bad weather and illness. But, Beervana is just around the corner, so it would be remiss of me not to sit down in front of the keyboard to mention a few of the beery highlights that I’ve encountered since I last posted here.

Black IPAs had never featured particularly strongly on my beer radar; both due to their relative scarcity and the unfortunate subjective truth that I usually didn’t like them. But Epic’s latest version of their Apocalypse IPA impressed me mightily, and so too now has Tuatara’s most recent limited release beer, a black IPA going by the name of ‘Tu-Rye-Ay’.

Well, on the label this beer is described as a “Midnight Rye IPA”, but when a beer pours black as my cat’s fur, is light in body and wafts with an aroma of fruity hops then excuse me if I call a black IPA a black IPA.

However, the rye grain used in the malt does bring a spice and touch of sticky caramel to this ale, but it sits subtly behind the big fruity aroma and zingy freshness. Unlike the rasping roughness of some other rye ales, the first taste to the Tu-Rye-Ay in the mouth is of a clean, clear and a little pine-like resin as the hops wash through.

Then follows a big rush of tangy sweetness, with only a little bit of that stickiness I’ve come to expect from rye ales. The body’s light but cushioned, reminiscent of a porter but a lot more gentle – I’d almost call it feathery.

The predominant notes are from the hops, however – citrus and lemon honey sweetness, rolling together deliciously over the rich, warming dark body. And yet, despite clocking in at 7.5%, this beer doesn’t feel boozy warm – it’s light, refreshing, and distinctly easy to drink. It’s quite a delicious beer.

Very delicious, in fact. I might almost say it might now be my favourite hoppy black ale…

And the beer gets extra points for being promoted with this video; featuring the song the beer is named after and a whole bunch of brewers and Wellington bar staff showing that having a sense of rhythm isn’t necessary to brew or serve good beer!

The 8th annual Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge also took place recently. For this event the Malthouse, that stalwart Wellington craft beer bar, invites brewers to enter their version of (or interpretation of) the style of India Pale Ale that emerged from the West Coast of the United States to take the world by storm. It’s not necessarily an easy to define style beyond “lots o’ hops”.

Typically a West Coast IPA is bracingly bitter and a bit boozier than other IPAs , with the malt being boosted to help the beer remain balanced due to the large amounts of hops involved. But within that purview there’s scope for brewers to experiment, as was demonstrated by the 23 brewers who’d entered this year’s challenge presenting many different variations on the theme.Amongst the golden pale ales there were dark red rye beers, a brown IPA, beers whose hop profiles were resinous and sticky while others were light and fruity.

The event itself is always a fun night at the Malthouse, if you can get in – the doors open at midday, and by four pm or so the bar’s crowded with beer-enthusiasts looking to get a taste of hoppy wonderfulness, as well as many of the brewers themselves. The interest is intense, with the coveted Golden Gumboot at stake for the brewer whose beer most impresses a panel of beer experts.

The most successful beers inevitably go on to be highly sought out when they’re further distributed in bottles and kegs, and often the Challenge presents the punters their first chance at getting a taste of a superb beer that will become part of a brewer’s core range for years to come. It also comes with the chance of tasting a beer that didn’t work out at all, and sometimes that can be fun in its own right.

But that’s the nature of such special events, and you pay you money (for a small glass, if you’re sensible and want to try as many of these boozy drinks as you can) and take your chances!

Panhead's 'Triple Eye'

Panhead’s ‘Triple Eye’

Quite a few of the beers featured on the night of the Challenge have already hit shelves around the country, including Panhead’s ‘Triple Eye’. This beer is monstrous – both in label art and in character. It’s a terrifying 13% abv – a “Triple IPA” indeed!

The hops lead the Triple Eye’s initial assault on your senses, with a big rush of lemony cheesecake sweetness, thick and chewy but with the aroma of fruit filling your nostrils. But then the thick sweet malt kicks in, carrying with it the massive flood of alcohol.

Stronger flavours emerge, at first the taste of sticky cough syrup. But then another flavour emerged, boozy and bittersweet, a flavour I hadn’t tasted for years and, in truth, a flavour I’d never sought out after one particular night where teenage me had drunk a whole litre of this spirit while hanging out on a suburban golf course.

Southern Comfort. I swear Panhead’s Triple Eye tastes like Southern Comfort!

I can’t say I’m really a fan of this beer, but it’s worth seeking out to give it a go (with a friend) if you’re a fan of insanely big IPAs. Not many other beers like it on sale in New Zealand at the moment!

Epic's 'No Agenda'

Epic’s ‘No Agenda’

Another interesting ale from the West Coast IPA Challenge was Epic’s entry for this year, their ‘No Agenda’ American Brown Ale. Though of course, this being from Epic and brewed for the Challenge a better description of this beer may be as a brown IPA.

It certainly is brown, and richly malty, with a lingering liquorice aftertaste. It’s quite well hopped but, speaking again to Luke Nicholas’ continual mastery of hops, the aromatic flavours here are used to boost and add a tang to the malty warmth of what is a solid, reassuring ale. It’s a brown ale, but not your grandpa’s brown ale – and it’s a pretty lovely winter warmer for these dark nights!

However, my two favourite ales of the West Coast IPA Challenge haven’t yet made bottles, and may never do. ‘The Flower Arranger’ by Fork Brewing – the brewing arm of Wellington’s Fork & Brewer gastropub – is light and beautifully golden in the glass, and caresses the air with a delicate, delicious scent of fruit salad.

Aromas of pineapple, grapes, sliced apple and orange draw you in, and then in the mouth that big delicious fruity flavour of passionfruit – that flavour so predominant in New Zealand IPAs – comes on superbly balanced on the lightly sweet base. Quite superb, quite beautiful, and recognised by the judges of the Challenge who awarded it the third place out of the twenty-three entrant.

The eventual winner of the Challenge was the entry from small Wellington brewer ParrotDog, who took out the Golden Gumboot with their ‘HighTime’ IPA – apparently named at the last minute because they’d decided it was “high time” they entered the Challenge.Apparently.

Suffice to say, ParrotDog went a little crazy with the hops for their entry, but what came out the other end was a near-perfect example of a superbly balanced and very drinkable IPA. The floral and fruity hops (yes, passionfruit again!) predominant, soaring over a pared back and vitally robust gentle malt. Despite the full hop flavours the profile sits squarely in the gently fruity part of the palate rather than sticky or harshly bitter.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which of The Flower Arranger or HighTime was my favourite – they both struck me as being near perfect examples of the style and, when sat side by side they also present a beautiful picture of golden beery joy. Gorgeous.

Flower Arranger and HighTime. Or is it HighTime and Flower Arranger?

Flower Arranger and HighTime. Or is it HighTime and Flower Arranger?