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!

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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.

Hopstock 2014 part 1

And it has begun, Hopstock 2014. 17 fresh hopped beers across 16 bars around Wellington city and nearby suburbs, over the space of four days.

I kicked it off with a glass of the Cassels & Sons ‘Fresh Hop’ pale ale with a delicious Caesar salad for lunch at Bin 44, and right from the start it was revealed that fresh hopping does not mean full-on hop-bomb insanity. This light little pale ale was gentle and sweet, very easily drinkable, a nice light beer. The hops adding a gentle bit of lift and freshness without doing damage to the taste buds.

Fork & Brewer 'Hopstepper'

Fork & Brewer ‘Hopstepper’

Then, after the working day was done, the ‘Wet Dream’ at The Bruhaus. A collaboration between Behemoth Brewing and The Twisted Hop, Wet Dream is more your traditional monster imperial India pale ale. Big, sticky and bursting with sharp gooseberry flavours from the Nelson Sauvin hops.  In contrast, the ‘Hopstepper’ American pale ale, brewed on site at Fork & Brewer was very malt-forward, hitting with a big burst of sweetness from the thick complex body before a the pine and grassy bitterness came through, with a nice touch of an almost minty aftertaste from the US Cascade hops.  My favourite so far, I think.

Up the road at Little Beer Quarter are a pair of collaborative beers between Townshend’s  and Liberty, two of my favourite brewers who seem at times poles apart. Martin Townshend tends to brew perfectly made variations of styles that have the malt as the centrepiece, while Jo Wood from Liberty is usually all about the hops. But, together, they just nailed it. Adding fresh Riwaka hops to the ‘Oldham’s Pil’s gave the pilsner a bright, summery zest with almost a suggestion of cider, while fresh Green Bullet and Nelson Sauvin hops in the delicious ‘Last of the Summer Ale’ extra special bitter turned that ESB into something with an aroma and finish that was deliciously Sauvignon Blanc-like.

Finally, just across the road at The Taphaus was the hoppiest of the day. Renaissance’s ‘Fresh Hop Grandmaster’ imperial India pale ale was positively glowing with hops, a massive aroma of lemon and lime lifting off the very pale and gorgeously clear beer. Coming in at 8%, this was a deliciously citrusy boozy thing, a delight to sit on and sip gently, marvelling how different flavours (including mandarin and mint) started to appear as the little glass warmed.

Despite owning the beer Bucket Fountain t-shirt, I missed last year’s Hopstock due to illness. And this year, the presence of so many beers across such a large area of the city had me thinking that collecting the entire set would be an unachievable and likely dangerous task. I’ve changed my mind about that, now.

Renaissance Fresh Hop Grandmaster

Renaissance Fresh Hop Grandmaster

Sticking to half-pints or tasters, drinking slowly, eating food, and enjoying the walk as much as the beer has made the idea of visiting all of the bars over the next few days very attractive, and very achievable. And, as the five beers I tried yesterday revealed, it’s not all about death by humulus lupulus. There’s different styles of beers, and only two of the five I tried would be described as ‘extremely hoppy.’ The rest used the fresh hopping to emphasise or alter certain tastes within the style.

And it’s looking to be a good way to get a feel of bars I haven’t been to, or been back to for a while.  I hadn’t set foot in The Bruhaus for over three years after a disappointing first experience, but I was very pleased with the feel and service of the place now.  It seems a nice little bar, in a part of the city that needs more good little bars.

So, tonight, I might round off most of the other inner city bars on the trail, then over ANZAC day and Saturday I’ll pick off the outliers. And if you’re in Wellington up to the 26th of April, I recommend you head on off to the Hopstock website and pick up the trail yourself.

It really is an education in fresh-hopped beer. Now, when’s the malt and yeast festival..?