Sessionable, quaffable and responsible – Session Beer Session
Thursday, 12 October 2017 11:04

The now annual Malthouse Session Beer Session showcase of mid-strength brews kicks off on Friday 13 October 2017 and is officially scheduled to run until close of play on Sunday 15 October 2017.

In reality, the session will run until the beer runs out which might be later but is much more likely to be sooner. For many of the beers on offer there is only keg. Better safe than sorry so my advice is to get in early.

This is the third Session Beer Session. The fact that it has quickly become a popular fixture on the legendary Malthouse Beer Calendar reflects the growing popularity of beers between 2% and 4% (though sometimes up to 5%). More brewers are making them and they are getting better at making them. It can be challenging (but certainly not impossible) to keep flavour up when the alcohol goes down. Last week I tried to coin the phrase that “it has become extremely fashionable to brew sessionable.”

It has not caught on.

Croucher Low Rider really opened my eyes to this style. That beer was covered in the previous blog which detailed the first half of the line up. Here are my notes on the remaining session beers:

Good George Zealong High Tea Brown Ale (4.2%) – Brewers seem to love making more tea beers partly at least in order to torment me. However, there is a great story behind this particular one. Good George brewery is located in Hamilton, City of the Future. [1] Just up the road from them is the Zealong tea plantation, the only tea plantation in the country and quite a Hamilton tourist attraction apparently.

Good George made this beer using Zealong’s speciality Oolong tea leaves instead of hops. Tea beers have their fans and they have described this brew as subtle and balanced, with a sweet body and distinct (but balanced) notes of the Oolong tea. Oolong also has its own set of fans.

Sprig & Fern Amber Lager (4%) – I have always liked the Sprig & Fern. Tracy Banner is an accomplished brewer (and lovely person), there is one just round the corner from me, my supermarket has a fine selection (at reasonable prices), and one of their pubs in Nelson made the best pork pie I have tasted in years. [2]

Anyway, the Amber Lager is a bit of a throwback to the Classic Kiwi Draught style which historically was around 4%. This smooth beer is all natural with toffee/caramel malt notes and gentle bitterness.

Sprig & Fern Oatmeal Stout (4.3%) – The Sprig & Fern has a large and seemingly ever expanding range of beers so it is not surprising that even a professional beer writer like me has not caught them all. Additionally, my natural tendency to drift towards their pale ales, pilsners and fresh hopped beer means there are some holes in my expertise.

I am very familiar with this style though. The Oatmeal Stout pours pitch black with a fetching white collar of creamy foam. In the glass there are notes of coffee, caramel, chocolate and a little nuttiness. Yes – rolled oats do go into the brew and provide a silky body and subtle oatiness to the beer. [3]

Three Boys Local Session IPA (2.4%) – When I first really became interested in craft beer I drank a lot of Three Boys, then a new brewery on the scene. Their Pilsner and Wheat were particularly popular in my fridge. Now much larger and well established, they have expanded both the core range and the Brewer’s Reserve selection.

Local Session IPA is designed to be their mid-strength offering. Virtually all breweries are recognising the need to be involved in this segment of the market, particularly with the new drink-driving limits. The trick is to keep flavour and character. A good session beer is one that you actually want to drink. This IPA is hoppy, fruity (tropical fruit salad), balanced and clean. There is also a bit of a new look to the packaging.

Twisted Hop Little Brother (4.5%) – Before the quakes I literally could not visit Christchurch without popping into the Twisted Hop brewpub for a couple of proper pints and a pork pie and/or Scotch egg. [4] Unfortunately the Hop was badly damaged in the quake and the original brewery had to be closed. However, after a lot of work and effort, it is great to see it back on its feet and, if anything, more widely available.

Little Brother is an American Hopped IPA at the higher end of the alcohol scale for a session beer. It is still less than the average which seems to have crept up to 5% or even higher for craft beers. This beer has notes of grass and orange, but the star is firm malty sweet body (particularly on handpull).

Tuatara Coastin’ (4.6%) – The name of this new beer is a reference to the nearby Kapiti Coast and not, as I had initially assumed, the nearby mega-shopping complex. Lucky I do some research and do not make it all up... all of the time. This session IPA has plenty of Motueka and Galaxy hops over a solid malt structure. It is fruity and the brewers describe it as “distinctly quaffable.”

McLeod’s Heathen Un-Ordinary Bitter (3.7%) – McLeod’s has really burst onto the scene. I was initially attracted to this brewery because McLeod is my mother’s clan and their labels have the famous Scottish Hairy Coo (or Cow) on them. [5] I became a real fan because of their tasty beers, particularly the Double IPA (quelle surprise!)

This is their particular take on the classic English Bitter, often known as Ordinary Bitter to distinguish it from Best Bitter or Extra Special Bitter. It is smooth and sessionable, with biscuit malt and a dash of citrus hops. This would probably choke an old school English bitter drinker but is very much to the modern Kiwi palate.

Hallertau No.6 Session IPA (3.7%) – Legend has it that when Hallertau launched, they asked their customers for beer names suggestions. The results were... disappointing. So the first beers launched with numbers (No.1, No.2, No.3 and No.4) and only picked up their proper beer names like Statesman later. No.6 is the latest addition to the range and it is a session IPA. It boldly promises “twice the hops and half the tipsy.”

It is crisp and refreshing. The hops are extremely evident with notes of pine, mango, grass and a hint of fresh lemon. Hopefully it will get a grown up name soon but it certainly does what it says on the bottle.

Brew Union Broadway Bogan (3.8%) – Palmerston North used to be described as a craft beer desert largely because it was true. It was also fun to tease proper journalist and champion beer writer Jono Galuszka about having to live there. Now he may be the one quietly laughing as bars, stocklists and even breweries are popping up in Palmerston North, Knowledge City. 

This beer actually used to be called Draught as a nod to New Zealand Draught scene. It still is but has now been renamed Broadway Bogan as a nod to the streets around the brewery. Strange but my Google Maps does not show any streets of that name anywhere. There is however a Dr Bogan who runs the Bogan Dental Centre in New York, and the Broadway Shopping Centre in the Bogan Shire Council area of New South Wales.

Based on an English bitter but with added New Zealand hops and an American yeast. The aim to be easy but flavoursome with notes of caramel, citrus and – the brewers suggest – Turkish Delight. It has a dry finish to encourage quaffability. This is another word that my computer believes does not exist.


Next time, we drink to Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios who last week was talking about his new maturity and sense of purpose. This week he has been fined for storming out of his first match after losing the first set. He then pulled out of his scheduled doubles match cited “a stomach bug” but did not get the required medical confirmation of this “condition”. All class that boy!


[1] Yep – I am going to keep on saying it!

[2] Sadly I can’t remember which one it is or if they still make them. The chef on-site made the pie I had and was apparently chuffed by my compliments.

[3] Even if my spellchecker does not believe that oatiness is a totally legitimate flavour descriptor. Well, it does now.

[4] There is a bit of a culinary theme developing here. I’m also getting hungry. The dangers of beer writing I guess.

[5] The Hairy Coo is not the national animal of Scotland. Neither is The Elusive Haggis. It is in fact The Unicorn.


Cheers


Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Cuisine Magazine

TheShout Magazine

DrinksBiz Magazine


Links


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