The central issue is whether extreme beers – those with massive alcoholic strengths, implausibly high hop counts, crazy ingredients or unnecessarily complicated brewing processes – have had their day and the taste pendulum is once again swinging back to more sessionable brews.

In terms of media coverage and buzz, it is still the extreme beers which garner the most headlines.  Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a 32% arctic oddity from Scotland’s BrewDog, appeared in news stories around the planet.  Heck, my dad forwarded me a couple of them and he is definitely a wine guy.  The articles were replete with photos and videos of the BrewDog founders dressed in giant penguin suits and drinking what is claimed to be the world’s strongest beer – their mums must be so proud.

Mikkeller, the itinerant Danish brewers, have recently released a beer called Mikkeller 1000 IBU with a “theoretical IBU of 1,000” though the actual bitterness level cannot possibly be that high.  This beer has caused quite a stir and, potentially, accelerated a backlash against extreme beers and the controversial marketing associated with them.  A poll over at the Beer Advocate website revealed that two out of every five beer drinkers wanted the craft beer trend to go back toward sessionable, lighter ABV beers.

My take on the debate is that beer truly is a contextual beverage.  Sometimes you really want a beer that makes you stop and simply go ‘wow’ – you want a real eye opener, a conversation piece, a beer that you will always remember even though you only ever had a single glass.  Lagunitas’ marvellously bouncy Hop Stoopid had this effect on my friend Dean late last year. 

Other times, however, there is a need for a beer that has character and flavour but which accompanies rather than dominates the conversation – a beer which can facilitate a long chat solving the world’s problems or last through a big sporting event.  There will always be a place in my drinks cabinet for these kinds of beers even if my love for the huge, hoppy ales seems to know no bounds.

On tap at Malthouse this week are two beers closely associated with the pretty extreme Hallertau Humulus Lupulus Maximus.  This is the hop-driven beer which battles out the West Coast APA Challenge with Epic Armageddon each year in mid July.  Hallertau Statesman (5.3%) is a well-made Pale Ale which has a sweet, spicy nose and plenty of body.  There is a touch of honey sweetness in the middle which counterpoints the spicy, sharp hop aromas and finish.

If Maximus is ‘Wild’ – and it certainly does a fine impersonation of being so – then Hallertau Minimus (3.8%) is taking a walk on the ‘Mild’ side.  Described by creator Stephen Plowman as a super-hoppy golden ale, it is bursting with sharp grapefruit and citrus notes.  It is surprisingly full bodied – almost silky – and well balanced.  This is clearly a sessionable drop.

On the subject of sessions, Monday the 25th of January is, of course, Burns Night (or Burns Nicht to be more precise).  This is the annual celebration of the life and works of Scotland’s most famous writer, Robbie Burns. 

To honour the great man, the Scottish beer available at Malthouse will include Twisted Thistle IPA, Belhaven Wee Heavy and a range of BrewDog brews.  There is also a rather bonnie range of single malt scotches – both Speyside and Islay – with which to make the Loyal Toast (“To the queen”).  In deference to delicate New Zealand taste buds however, haggis will not be served.

Finally, in some climate related news, a (very) small flock of Northern Hemisphere birds is said to have made a mammoth journey south in search of warmer climes.  In the end, they settled for Wellington.  Noted ornithologist Mr Colin Mallon suggests they may be very rare Tactical Nuclear Penguins.  Stay tuned for details for a very special tasting in February.  Woof woof!


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin (watch the video) –
Mikkeller –
Beer Advocate –
Lagunitas Hop Stoopid –
Hallertau –
Epic –
Malthouse Beer and Whisky List –
Malthouse Facebook Group –
Real Beer –
Beer and Brewer Magazine –