Some people love it, others hate it.  PJ O’Rourke tells the remarkable story of talking to some young terrorists in Beirut who had kidnapped a group of Americans.  The youths with guns railed against America, Reagan and imperialism – and then proceeded to eagerly outline which American colleges they planned to attend in order to build a better life. 

Me, I love America. [1] One of my first proper interviews as a fledgling beer writer was with Andy Deuchars from Renaissance Brewery in Blenheim.  As is evident from his accent, Andy is an American and he memorably described his boisterous brewing philosophy as “if it is worth doing, it is worth over-doing.”  It’s a line I still use today when talking about the Renaissance range.  For me, that one line encapsulates the greatness of the United States.

Americans are always doing things bigger, better, louder and faster.  A Russian invented the internal combustion engine but installed it is a French boat – Americans unleashed the cherry-red Corvette convertible.  New Zealanders put beetroot and boiled egg in our hamburgers and called them Kiwi burgers – Americans removed the buns entirely, add another chicken fillet, extra cheese and extra bacon and dubbed it the Double Down. [2]

Germany was the homeland of the genius that was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – America spawned Lady Gaga, today confirmed as officially the most powerful celebrity in the world.  The English created Doctor Who – America made Star Wars. [3] It is a bit of a whitewash really. 

The only three things New Zealand consistently beats America at are rugby, cricket and turning up to World Wars on time America craft beers have the same spirit – bringing back lost styles, inventing new ones and generally turning things up a notch – from helping revive porter, pioneering Pumpkin Ales and hitting new heights of hopping.  One of their trademark styles is American Pale Ale – huge, heady, hoppy brews which started life as US versions of English Pale Ale but quickly became so distinctive a whole new style had to be codified.  The APA and American IPAs of the West Coast are particularly noted for their hoppy energy and intensity.  In a surprise only to perhaps a couple of hermits in North Korea, they are officially my favourite styles.

In 2008, Malthouse hosted the first ever West Coast Challenge which pitted American-inspired beers from Epic Brewing Company (Epic Armageddon) against Hallertau brewpub (Hallertau Maximus Humulus Lupulus).  Their annual battles saw the bar constantly raised, plenty of Hop Zombie smiles and constant disputes over which brewer “won”.  Last year, Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor attempted to introduce a public voting system.  It failed to work so badly that the Florida Supreme Court flew over and laughed openly at it. [4]

Bruised by that failure, Colin has changed the format for this year’s festivities.  Firstly, the contest will be open to any New Zealand brewery.  Because it is not a head-to-head event anymore, it is provisionally known as the West Coast IPA Grand Prix. 

Secondly, in order to ensure there is finally an official result, all entries will be assessed by a panel of expert judges.  Their decision will be final but correspondence will doubtless be entered into, particularly on Facebook and Twitter.  As one of those judges, I must note my long-held belief that the most effective correspondence is generally legal tender sent to a judge before the competition.

To date, a number of breweries have expressed interest in submitting a West Coast inspired brew.  These include Epic and Hallertau of course, but also new contenders such as Moa, 8Wired, Townshend and Croucher.  The Croucher APA is currently pouring over oranges on the Hopinator.  My spies report that Colin himself made a flying visit to the Moa brewery yesterday to play some form of brewing role for their mysterious offering which will be available for the first time at the Grand Prix.

The West Coast IPA Grand Prix will take place on Thursday July 14 2011 at Malthouse from noon.   I am expecting a wild brewing brawl with plenty of sledging and bucket loads of hops.

God bless America.

[1] I’m waving a little American flag as I typed that.  Yes, this is a Fabulous Rougeau Brothers reference.
[2] I don’t particularly want to eat the thing but I am tempted simply to annoy the strident people who are outraged at the Double Down’s very existence.
[3] Though K-9 is eleventy billion times better than Jar Jar Binks.
[4] This is a reference the Florida election recount which ensured George W Bush became President and Al Gore had to take PowerPoint 101.


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