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..?

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Liberty Brewing Co ‘Yakima Scarlet’

Is craft beer too expensive? Maybe it is. I guess the turning point comes on what you consider to be “too”. Undoubtedly, craft beer is expensive, especially compared to cheap wine and beer booze options, but is it “too expensive”?

I’m inclined to say it isn’t, because you get what you pay for, and with the price comes quality (for the most part). But I also need to acknowledge I’m gainfully employed in a decent paying job without any dependants to support (apart from a cat), so I’ve got more money to spare on nice beer than many others.

But, this blog isn’t about the price of beer, not really. But if you are interested, there’s some good reading on the subject elsewhere. Stu McKinley from Yeastie Boys wrote this neat little explanation of what makes up the price of a pint of Gunnamatta a few months ago, and it is certainly worth a read. And the infographic is priceless.

And Epic’s Luke Nicholas has written a good little thing picking apart New Zealand Herald’s beer expert Don Kavanagh, who had a bit of a whinge about the price of a pint. Somehow Kavanagh managed to apply thinking that might (might) apply to the big boys to reach the conclusion that craft beer brewers and craft beer retailers are creaming it. Now, that’s a Tui ad.

yakima scarletBut mentioning the price of beer is a useful segue into writing about the first beer from Liberty Brewing I tried (if my memory serves me right), their ‘Yakima Scarlet’.

Liberty don’t brew cheap beers. You’d be lucky to get one of their 500ml bottles at a supermarket for less than $10, often a few dollars more. At a bar, you’d expect to be set back at least $20 for a bottle, and their pints normally sell at around the $12 price point.

And they’re worth every bloody penny. It has been said that if you feel taken aback by the price of a craft beer, think in terms of how much you might spend on a good quality bottle or glass of wine, and compare that to the price of the beer.

That comparison may not hold true for each and every beer, but it certainly does for Liberty’s brews. Jo Wood makes interesting, high-alcohol beers, from the best ingredients and crafted to perfection.  (Though, that said, recently they’ve also started to bring out more moderate beers, available in six packs of 330ml bottles, that tend to retail around the $22 mark or so).

Liberty’s big beers are beers you’d buy in a bottle to share with someone else over food, or to last you an entire evening by yourself. Its beer you’d probably be wise to buy at the pub in a smaller bulb than a shaker pint, both to bring out the best of the flavour but also to ensure you don’t get smashed off your face from your first pint of the evening. It is beer you’d be wise to treat and think of as a good wine, and enjoy it with the same sense of responsibility and thrill of sensuality.

As I mentioned, Yakima Scarlet was the first of Liberty’s beers I tried, a few years back. It’s an unusual beer, best described as a “hoppy red ale” but, as Jo writes on the label, even the brewer isn’t entirely sure what style it is. It is absolutely a hop-bomb, full and sticky, with a big smell of fresh cut grass from the American hops and a huge bergamot aftertaste.

Yet it’s also very malty, the rich, sweet very red body giving a scent of toffee and a big slightly-burnt caramel sensation in the mouth. It lingers, on and on and on. The hops with their hint of orange and the desert-like sweetness of the malt sit there on your palate for what feels like an age, delicious, relaxing.

A very fine sipping beer. Perfect with roasted meat, or as a long afternoon drink, slowly whiling away the hours with a friend. Just one of many beers made by this company that I’d make that recommendation for.