There was nothing too unusual about that except that they had entered it twice.  Basically, they had entered two different batches.  Nobody had ever done this before and there were some questions about whether it should be allowed.

As Head Steward at the time, I was asked to rule on the issue.  After reading the rules carefully and asking the universal decision-making question * I concluded there was nothing in the competition’s conditions which precluded entering multiple batches of the same beer provided the relevant entry form was filled out and the cheque cleared.  As a former university lecturer, brewer Paul Croucher was used to dealing with bureaucracy and his paperwork was perfectly in order.

Both beers were judged and one batch of the Croucher Pale Ale received a bronze medal.  This meant that Paul Croucher – a former winner of the non-commercial (homebrew) section of the Awards ** – picked up a medal with his first commercial entry. 

I admired Paul’s innovation, creativity and audacity.  The bottom line is that he paid a couple of hundred dollars to get detailed feedback from a group of beer super-palates.  This was information he used to refine his recipes and improve his beers.  Of course, the competition rules were changed the following year so that this situation could not happen again. 

Since then, Croucher’s Rotorua brewery has expanded substantially and the beers are relatively frequent visitors to Wellington and Malthouse.  In fact, Croucher Pale Ale and Croucher Vicar’s Vice are on tap this week.  To mark this event, I asked Paul Croucher for his thoughts on Malthouse.  This is what he had to say:

“We love the Malthouse!  Always enjoy the chance to try something fresh and of course to catch up with Colin – great host.  Love getting it hand-pulled at the Malthouse!  Most recent pint was Yeastie Boys PKB remix for Paul and Three Boys IPA for Nige *** en route to watching the Phoenix win their semi over the Jets.”

“The Vicar’s Vice pouring now is actually the second batch of their popular seasonal offering.  It is a loving homage to Hoegaarden’s Forbidden Fruit and is affectionately known around the brewery as The Choirboy.  This Belgian-style Strong Ale is made with piles of barley malt, Ardennes yeast, crushed coriander seeds and fresh citrus zest.  They stress the zest was done by hand using real fresh fruit (oranges, lemons, grapefruit) and took, in technical terms, “flippin’ ages.”

The result is a mahogany beer with a firm collar of foam.  There is fruit and spice on the gentle nose while the beer is quite bready, fruity and spicy (coriander and clove) with a bit of heat from the high alcohol content.  One drinker noted on his Facebook account that he was “enjoying a Vicar’s Vice, which is a beer, not a sexual accessory.  Not my favourite but going down well.”  I’m sure Malthouse staff will be bracing for plenty more jokes like this.

I have always been a fan of the Croucher Pale Ale as evidenced by the fact it is one of the few beers to have made my annual Top Ten Beers list for three years in a row.  The latest batch really showcases what I enjoy about it – a balance between some robust English malt sweetness and big late bitterness from New Zealand Cascade hops.  There are notes of passionfruit, orange and grass which combine into a seriously pleasant pint.  From the Too Much Information Files, the brewery claims the Pale Ale also produces “delicious burps.”

By a very lucky coincidence, the Croucher team’s last visit to Malthouse coincided with one of my rare visits to the same venue.  Despite working a full and gruelling session, at the Beer Show the day before, they were in fine spirits and hugely optimistic about the brewing year ahead.  For this post, I asked Paul for an update on the brewery: 

“We’ve fallen back in love with brewing.  After four or five years of chasing perfection (a moving target!) with our three main brands, we’ve started brewing beers for brewing’s sake.  Our first foray was 500L of Cherry Bock last year and we haven’t looked back.  The latest, to be launched in two weeks, is a black IPA.  It’s blackened with chocolaty dehusked roasted barley and has enough dry hopping of Amarillo and Simcoe for Paul to have had to remortgage his house.”

Overall, Croucher Brewery is producing some fine beers in the Aromatic Capital of New Zealand.  They are not, however, perfect.  It turns out the Croucher crew were some of the very few fans of the lip-shaped urinals which blighted Malthouse for several years.  Paul used the interview for this post to inquire where they went and to implicitly plead for their return.  Thankfully, that doesn’t look like happening.

* What would Chuck Norris do?
** His Bohemian Pilsner won in 2004.
*** Nigel Gregory Esq.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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