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…

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Garage Project ‘Mon P’tit Chou’

Well, since I mentioned Garage Project in today’s earlier rant about the Chatoe Rogue, I might as well write a bit more about Aro Valley’s finest.  Garage Project have always been notable for the strength and variety of their artwork, across their tap badges, bottles and cans.

Cans.  I love beer in cans.  I wish there was more good beer in cans.  Cans are lightweight, cans are convenient for storage and transport, and cans do far more to protect the flavour of the beer within than any transparent glass bottle could ever hope to do.  I’ve had twelve month old IPAs from a can that, when poured into the glass, revealed themselves to be almost as hoppy and bright as they were when fresh.

But there’s a reason more brewers don’t sell beer in cans – because they don’t sell.  When punters think of beers in cans, they think dozens of Tui or DB Draught.  They think in terms of quantity, not quality.  And when you’re faced with a single 335ml can being sold for almost the price of a cheap six-pack of fizzy yellow lager, the suspicion that you’re being brutally overcharged probably looms large in some purchaser’s minds.

Which means the beers don’t sell.  I saw cans of Maui’s gorgeous CoCoNut Porter sitting unloved and unsold on Thorndon New World’s shelves for nearly a year, despite my best efforts to drink their stock.  Eventually they were discounted to be moved on, and while that was great for me to get a bargain, that beer going unsold means the supermarket’s never stocked it again.  And who can blame them – they’re there to make money, too.

But more and more local brewers are canning their beers, and Garage Project’s right there leading this trend.  As a brewery and a brand they’re not selling themselves to “Joe Sixpack”. From their Aro Valley location, adventurous artwork, frequent appearances on tap at Wellington’s hippest bars, and their beards, they’re going for a different market.  People look for good beer, interesting beer, challenging beer.

mon p'tit chouWhich brings me to this, Garage Project’s little French-style farmhouse saison, ‘Mon P’tit Chou.’   Just look at it; the pretty white can, the gorgeously cute artwork, the pretty font.  It’s a nice can to look at.  You want to keep it nearby while you drink the beer within.

And what a nice little name for a beer.  A French term of endearment, meaning “my little cabbage”.  The whole package, the colours, the soft artwork, everything about this beer just says “this beer is nice.”

I’d normally never recommend drinking from a can directly, but I think you can make an exception here.  Sitting on a lawn on a warm afternoon (even better if it’s the lawn outside Rogue & Vagabond), you want to drink this sprightly little beer right from the tin, just like I was doing for this photo.

But here’s the catch – I don’t really think all that much of the beer within the can! For something described as a farmhouse saison, I don’t get any of the farmhouse funk or tart sourness I’d expect to taste.  If I was to describe this beer in a word, it’d be “sprightly.”  It’s light on its feet, but there’s not a lot going on beyond the first fizzy orange peel notes on the nose.  It’s not very dry, the aftertaste doesn’t really do anything apart from fade quickly.

Indeed, after finishing the glass I struggle to even remember what this beer tasted like.

The thing is, none of that really matters.  Because sometimes a light, sprightly beer is the beer you want to drink. And when it’s coming from such a gorgeous package you can’t but help to enjoy every sip.

Is that superficial of me?  So be it.  As I wrote in that earlier post, beer’s a very subjective thing.

Southern Tier Crème Brûlée Stout

Good beer photography is always a tricky prospect in Hashigo Zake’s moody lighting, especially if you’re using the camera on your phone and have had a few.

So, as I mentioned in the previous post, X-Ale 2014 was held last Saturday.  A ticket-only, closed-door mini-festival of fifteen extreme, unusual and one-off beers, held in an underground bunker while the Sevens chaos began again outside.

It was great fun.  If Hashigo Zake hold it again, I’ll go again.

But where do I start, with fifteen notable beers to write about?

You start at the end, of course.

I’d been holding back on the Southern Tier Crème Brûlée (9.6%) for the entire afternoon, having heard so much about it before hand.  “Our very last keg” of the beer, to be precise – Southern Tier having decided to stop exporting their beers for some reason.[1]

I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  Brewed with vanilla amongst the ingredients, this imperial milk stout was spectacular and delicious, and it truly lived up to its name.

Big, bold and dark, topped with a head that looked just like whipped cream. Lifting the glass to the nose brought a huge delicious aroma of caramel poured over a rich vanilla ice cream.  The first sip completely filled the mouth with thick sweet custard, milky and rich, buffeted deliciously by the sharp burnt flavour of a freshly made caramel sauce.

Indeed, as I drunk it, my sense-memory more slid back to my favourite childhood desert. Brown sugar, slowly caramelized with a vanilla bean in a pot, poured over rich, fat, New Zealand vanilla ice cream.   And this was those flavours, in a glass, including the slightly harsh burnt sugar after-taste of a very natural, very rich caramel.

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