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?

Panhead Custom Ales – ‘Hardtail Henry’

Dark and dangerous, Hardtail Henry

Dark and dangerous, Hardtail Henry

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you my favourite beer to be released in 2015. It’s dark, solid, and a bit intimidating to look at – and that’s before you’ve even poured it into a glass. It’s a beer not to be messed with, but with soft edges that may surprise you. May I present to you Hardtail Henry, a bearded biker of a beer from Upper Hutt’s brewing bogans, Panhead Custom Ales.

Lie with the devil long enough and his stench rubs off on you. To those who met him Henry carried not just the smell, but the ear and aspect of sin itself. But this was a deception, collateral damage from a communion with dark forces he’d spent his life opposing. All he knew was the dread and the road, that coiling snake whose end is marked only by the final reckoning. Look into the depths of this oaked stout and you can sense the darkness in his soul.

This rich, woody and strong (8% abv) stout is part of Panhead’s “Canhead” range – a range of four beers presented in 500ml cans, each can sporting the unique tale and striking face of a particular character. The cans stand out from the crowd, with Wellington tattoo artist Simon Morse’s excellent black-and-white artwork catching the eye amongst the rainbow of colours more usually seen on the shelves of a good beer fridge.

CanheadsThe other petrolheaded personalities in the Canhead range include Hermann Holeshott (a German hopfenwiesse), Johnny Octane (a red IPA), and a very floral and fragrant rosehip and hibiscus saison by the name of Lola Deville. But it’s the grizzled, bearded Henry Hardtail can that contains the beer that has most impressed me amongst all the fine new ales I’ve tried so far this year.

The aroma of this oak-barrel aged stout is woody and sweet, with hints of coffee and chocolate floating around the edges. In the mouth it’s superbly soft and creamy. Comforting, like a warm blanket, and warming as the strong alcohol makes its way down your throat.

The chocolate and coffee richness comes through even stronger as the black beer sits in your mouth, then as you swallow a delicious soft lemony goodness emerges, speaking of a very clever use of hops to balance the sweetness of the malt.

The woodiness lingers too, the oak tangy and, perhaps, adding a slight tinge of green wood smoke. Then, as the beer warms, it just gets even better. Vanilla emerges, as does a rich toasty goodness, the oak and the alcohol melding perfectly together to create a solid, black richness.

There’s nothing wrong going on here – the hops lend a zing to the upfront aroma and a gentle tingle to the aftertaste, but unlike some other black ales there’s nothing burnt or bitter lurking unpleasantly. Hardtail Henry balances perfectly, easing around any corner it faces, presenting a gorgeously smooth ride from the moment you open the can until the last drop is swallowed.

This might possibly be my favourite stout of all the stouts and porters I’ve drunk. Maybe even my favourite beer, full stop.

I sincerely hope you get to try it, if you haven’t already. Henry may be grizzled and intimidating to look at, but you’ll want to cuddle up with him on these long cold winter nights.

Hopstock 2014 part 3

Or, final thoughts.

I wound up my little Hopstock odyssey on Saturday by walking back into town and visiting another bar I’d never visited before. Black Dog Brewery have a brewpub down on Blair Street that I’d heard some very mixed things about, mostly hinging on their ownership by DB and whatever that might mean for “craft beer.”

Well, I liked the place for the half-hour or so I was in there. It was a nice shady respite from a relatively hot autumn day for this town, with good music playing, bar snacks to hand, and a nice feel with the patrons being seated right alongside the shiny stainless steel of the brewing equipment. Their in-house Hopstock beer, ‘Fresh Hopped Kakariki’ pale ale was easy drinking and quite floral, if a bit light-bodied. It was advertised as an American Pale Ale, but I think what they mean is it was a pale ale in the West Coast style; i.e. hoppy.

I also tried their ‘Malinois’ saison-style before heading on my way, and was quite impressed.  They’d certainly nailed the bright effervescence that should come with that style.

Panhead’s fresh hopped ‘Vandal’ at Rogue & Vagabond

Then, off to Rogue & Vagabond, for my final beer of the 17 on the Hopstock 2014 card. Here it was the fresh hopped version of Panhead’s ‘Vandal’ imperial India pale ale. It clocks in at 8% abv., but scarily it doesn’t taste it. It’s crisp, clean and very bright, like a sunny autumn morning, and very easily drinkable. A nice beer to sit with and consider the beers and pubs I’d visited over the four days of this fresh-hopped festival. When not communing with Rogue & Vagabond’s mascot and true owner, the broad and characterful bulldog, Bruce.

It’d been a fun four days. Seeing groups of people wandering around between the bars, grasping their Hopstock flyers in hand, smiles and chatting, as well as others taking their time by themselves or with one other person. Great conversations had with bar staff I hadn’t met before, as well as the lovely little chats you have with another good beer fan you’ve bumped into while ordering the beer, and may never meet again.

With sixteen bars and hundreds of punters heading all over the city social media platforms Twitter and Untappd really came into their own too. You can see what others had tried and liked or disliked, where they’d been and where they were heading, planning rendezvous or changing your plans as news came through that one pub might be running low or that another’s beer was particularly delicious.

It also reminded me that I’m not really that much of a hophead. Sure, I do like a nice hoppy beer, but Hopstock reinforced for me that I really prefer beers that do more with the malt or the yeast. While many others raved about the big hop bombs such as Renaissance’s ‘Grandmaster’ or 8 Wired’s fresh hopped ‘Hopwired’, I was far more effusive about what Fork & Brewer did with the malt on their ‘Hopstepper’ or the sharp bit of spice from the funky yeast used by Bach Brewing in their ‘Autumnal Harvest Ale’.

As I’ve written before, it’s all subjective, and this was no more apparent in what were by far the two most extreme beers of Hopstock 2014. Bayland’s Waifly was ridiculously hoppy; tounge-strippingly so. I found it almost undrinkable. Yet I was not in the least surprised when it was rated by others as their favourite beer of the festival.

I got the chance to try the Waifly again from the beer machine / handpull at Golding’s later, which provided a good example of how the method of delivery can change the taste of a beer. With the softer texture and lower carbonation from the beer machine, I found the Waifly far more palatable, the middle-ground flavours of the malt lifted and bolstered to soften the smash of the hops to the taste buds. Oh, it was still hoppy as all fuck, but I found it far more drinkable and balanced with that pour.

But for me, I was most enthralled by the ridiculously cloudy and sour ‘Hopwit IPA’ by Mike’s. Extremely tart and sharp from the wheat and yeast, yet full of apricot and bitterness from a huge whack of hops. Confronting, but I thought it delicious. But a ½ star review on Untappd that simply said “What the ____? Why?”summed up other’s opinions.

Some I spoke to suspect it may’ve been faulty, but if so I’m okay with Mike’s making mistakes like this. Their ‘Strawberry Sour’ was the result of yeast doing unintended things, and was utterly delicious. And if the Hopwit was a similar occurrence, then long live Brettanomyces I say.

Bruce Robert Vagabond, master of all he surveys.

Bruce Robert Vagabond, master of all he surveys.

Each to their own, I guess.

I really loved Hopstock 2014. In particular the experience of travelling around the town, taking my time, visiting new bars, chatting to new people who all shared a love of a good beer. Hopefully it was as much a success for the brewers and bars, because I’d like to see it back again next year.

But, that said, I think four days and sixteen bars is about the right size, so if it does return I hope there isn’t the temptation to make it bigger than it was this year. More bars, even with the addition of more days, might be asking a bit much from one small city’s beer community. Or at least, this member of it.

Cheers!

Panhead Supercharger APA

Panhead Supercharger APA @ Golding’s Free Dive

It’d been a long hot day visiting my mother in her nursing home up the coast, and frankly I was quite looking forward to a nice beer after getting back into Wellington.  The timing was fortuitous, because it gave me a chance to stop by Golding’s Free Dive to see the much raved about Adam Page with his Wellington band, The Counts do what may well be their last gig in this town for a while.[1]

It was great fun.  Adam Page on saxophone, vocal yells, percussion and awesome beard, providing the spark on top of solid-and-funky drumming from Rick Cranson, and layers of primal keyboards from Ed Zuccullo.  An old musician friend of mine turned up part-way through, and together we marvelled at the colourful and gritty tones Zuccullo pulled from his Moog and Fender Rhodes.  Music you can feel, oh yes.  Antique keyboard porn.

The band are hugely fun, jazzy swagger, funky swing, familiar covers played with, played around with and seduced.[2]  Table-dancing and sing-alongs. Yells and hollers. Great stuff, in a relaxed Sunday afternoon funky little bar, buried away from the hot afternoon sun as summer finally gripped onto Wellington proper.

On tap was Panhead’s Supercharger American Pale Ale.  I couldn’t remember if I’d tried it before, but immediately raising to my lips I knew I had, because of the strong sense-memory.  It’s like the Tuatara American Pale Ale but more.  More body, more hops, more lingering, lip-smacking flavour.[3]  The relationship’s no surprise – Panhead’s Mike Nielson opened the brewery after putting everything on the line to start his own business after being with Tuatara for a fair while.

Continue reading