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.
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.
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.