Over several pints of various unctuous India Pale Ales brewed in and around California, they began to discuss whether similar beers could be made back in New Zealand.  Each was adamant they could certainly do it, but somewhat more sceptical that the other could.  The result was a challenge – brew a hop-fuelled IPA which was inspired by the beers of America’s West Coast. 

The 2010 Challenge will be held at Malthouse starting 3pm on Saturday 17 July and, according to Facebook events at least, finishing at 3am on Sunday 18 July.  For the first time, people attending the Challenge will have the opportunity to vote for their favourite and an official winner will be declared on this blog next week… though probably leaked on Twitter well before then.  Voting will be conducted through a trusted system from antiquity * but the details will not be revealed now for fear that a brewer – potentially an impish one – might attempt to rig the ballot.

In preparation for this gladiatorial event, I talked to both the brewers.  First up, I asked if there were any changes to their beers from 2009.  Luke indicated there were no changes to his Epic Armageddon (6.66%). **  “Basically, my seasonal beer has become permanent so the recipe is set.  However, I do have a super secret beer I will be putting on tap at the Challenge.  I’ve kept it completely under wraps – Mr Plowman doesn’t even know about it.  There will be a sneak preview on Saturday,” Luke said.

By way of contrast, Steve has tinkered with Hallertau Maximus Humulus Lupulus (6.8%).  ***  He explained “I wanted to up the drinkability a little bit so I played around with the malt balance.  There is less Crystal Malt and more Munich Malt.  I also used less Columbus hops, more Simcoe hops and the same amount of Amarillo.”  The hop fuel for Armageddon is quite similar with the traditional ‘shed-loads’ of US-grown Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Simcoe

The next question was geographical rather than philosophical.  Why would two brewers based in Auckland hold a showpiece event like the Challenge in Wellington?  The answer, it seems, is the venue and the drinkers.  Steve said “There is nowhere to have it in Auckland.  If we had it in Auckland, half the number of people would turn up and half of them would be whingeing about the beers being too hoppy.  Drinkers in Wellington have much more hop-focused palates, more so than anywhere else in the country.  In the end, it is based on a simple concentration of hop fiends.”

Much to everyone’s surprise, Luke agrees.  “Auckland does not have a rocking freaking venue. ****  Malthouse and Wellington is where the good beer people are.  There is also a sympathetic publican who lets me air guitar all night long!” ***** In related news, everyone who RSVPs on Facebook for the Challenge will receive a free set of air guitar strings courtesy of Malthouse.

In last year’s Challenge preview, each brewer talked a lot of retro pro-wrestling smack about the other.  As indicated at the time, the exchange was entirely fictitious.  This year, they were persuaded to offer a few real insights and insults after been told that the other had already done so.  In terms of journalism, that is a small step up the ethical scale at least.

Luke cryptically suggested that his opponent “should be ready to face the Apocalypse” and “watch out for the Four Horseman.”  He also hinted at a Double IPA Challenge in the future.  Steve was at his epicurean best noting that “Luke has been running around talking up his big rep.  Just because you are the flying brewer does not mean you are a hoppy brewer.”

Of course, the Challenge is not the only beer event this week.  Malthouse Stingo is being launched at 5pm Wednesday 14 July 2010 and the event is open to everyone.  Full details of the beer and the launch are in last week’s post – A Cup of Old Stingo (Oil of Barley).

The final word, for once, goes to Steve Plowman.  Asked to sum up the Third Annual West Coast IPA Challenge he pauses thoughtfully then observes “Hops will be the winner on the day – and that’s the best result you could ask for really.”

* So obviously not MMP then
** The Number of the Yeast
*** The Neighbour of the Yeast
**** Some editing may have occurred here to keep the site’s PG rating

***** Not!


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


West Coast Challenge on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=138752902801850&ref=ts
Epic Brewing Company – http://epicbeer.com/
Epic on Twitter – https://twitter.com/EpicBeer
Hallertau – http://www.hallertau.co.nz/
Hallertau on Twitter – https://twitter.com/HallertauBeer
Cup of Old Stingo – http://www.themalthouse.co.nz/index.php/blog/144-a-cup-of-old-stingo
Malthouse on Twitter – http://twitter.com/malthouse
Malthouse Facebook Group – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wellington/Malthouse/7084276173
Real Beer – http://www.realbeer.co.nz/blog/blog.html
Beer and Brewer Magazine – http://www.beerandbrewer.com/