Luke Nicholas of Epic Brewing Company and Steve Plowman of Hallertau pitted their IPAs against one another – Armageddon versus Maximus, “imported ingredients versus local fare, and town versus country.” 

Like most histories written by people who were personally involved in the story and who also enjoy drinking strong beers, there are a few questionable calls – most notably the implication that one brewery used all imported ingredients while the other used all local fare.  In fact, both increasingly used a mix as they became even more competitive over time.  Also, if Luke is to be believed, then titans must have gotten significantly shorter since the Greek myths were written. [1]

What is certainly known is that the West Coast Challenge is now entering its fourth year and the format has undergone two major changes.  The first three were head-to-head battles between the sizable hop-fuelled egos of Epic Brewing and Hallertau Brewing through their designated proxies of Epic Armageddon and Hallertau Humulus Lupulus Maximus.  This year, the Challenge was opened up to all comers and as a result added Grand Prix to its already extensive moniker. [2]

There were also no official winners in the first three Challenges, though both brewers declared themselves victorious on numerous occasions.  Attempts were made to collate public votes – either formally or informally – but all were less successful than the failed attempt to introduce the universal franchise to the Destiny Church AGM.  This year, there will be an official judging process conducted immediately before the public event. 

The august judging panel is comprised of international beer judge and beer writer Geoff Griggs, international beer judge and beer seller Mr Kieran Haslett-Moore, and Neil Miller, beer writer and self-described Minister of Hops. [3] I guess my role will be bringing the non-expert and non-bearded perspective to the judges table. [4] Official results will be posted on this blog shortly after the event.

A pleasing number of hoppy libations have been entered into the Challenge Grand Prix which takes place at Malthouse from 5pm on Thursday 14 July 2011.  Many of the brewers will be in attendance and the taps are expected to be busy.  Now, all the beers have been brewed (or tweaked) specifically for the Grand Prix which means that tasting notes or even basic technical information can be scarce.  In fact, the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor Colin had to send increasingly sternly worded emails to even discover the beer names for some.

Here is what we know at the time of writing:

The Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse: This is a collaboration brew between the four horsemen which in this iteration are comprised of the Impish Luke Nicholas and the Rockstar Kelly Ryan (both Epic), the Sensual Brewer Steve Plowman (Hallertau) and the Best Thing about New Plymouth Ever Joseph Wood (Liberty).  They describe the beer as a hoppy brew of biblical proportions. [5] It officially weighs in at 9.99% alcohol and a theoretical International Bitterness Unit rating of 250 IBUs.

Yakima Warrior: This is also a collaboration brew, this time between the Yeastie Boys and Liberty Brewing, though as usual the brewing occurred at the Invercargill Brewery.  The relevant measurements here are 7% alcohol and a more plausible 77 IBUs although with the Yeastie Boys involved there just has to be super-secret double beer geek twist in there somewhere.  The companion beer, Motueka Warrior, may be available in some form though supplies will be limited, if at all.

Superconductor Double IPA: This is a solo offering from 8Wired Brewing in Blenheim.  It is the brainchild of Soren Eriksen, former sea urchin researcher, current reigning New Zealand poker champion and on-going Pride of Denmark.  He describes it as having “80% more hops than HopWired” adding modestly “that’s a fair bit.”  My fellow judge has already written “I just know what Neil Miller’s going to say about this!”  I suspect that may not be my typical riposte of “needs more hops…”

Humulus Lupulus Maximus: The only beer to have entered all four IPA Challenge events, Maximus is the three-time defending champion, at least according to brewer Stephen Plowman after a few revitalising ales.  This will be a test of whether experience makes the difference – like it did with the State of Origin decider – or if a new batch of challengers will mark a changing of the guard – which is about to happen in Libya.

Blitz Greig: Potentially this is the most intriguing beer in a deeply intriguing field of entrants.  It is an entry from the Townshend Brewery.  Now, Lovable Cockney Rogue Martin Townshend makes some excellent beers but even he might admit he is known for his mastery of classic English brewing subtleties, rather than the raw firepower of American hops.  To deal with this, he called on Hamilton’s Smartest Man Who Still Lives in Hamilton, Greig McGill, for a good APA recipe.  Then, after realising it was an IPA challenge, Martin asked for a good IPA recipe. I can’t wait to taste it.

Mike’s IIPA: The latest batch of mike’s Imperial India Pale Ale would appear to be an ideal fit with the Grand Prix.  Previous offerings have been huge yet drinkable – ideal for the style.  This may be Urenui’s best chance to win a mainstream award since Top Town 1923.

Hop Zombie: There is no Armageddon entered this year but there is something potentially even more dangerous – The Zombie.  It is probably no coincidence that shortly after Batch One of this Epic beer was released, the Wellington City Council released a Zombie Apocalypse Plan (ZAP) chronicling how to deal with a zombie invasion. [6] Batch Two will be running wild next week.  Will any taste buds be spared?

McMoa: This is the entry from Moa brewery and there is a logical explanation for the name.  Legend has it that Mr Mallon flew down to Blenheim to lend a hand with this special brew.  Now, Colin knows his hops and he knows the Malthouse so it remains to be seen if the inside running will see McMoa home in first place.

14 July will truly be a special day for hop heads.

[1] Those legends are sketchy about exactly how titanic the Titans actually were, but all of them agree Titans were over six feet tall.  Titans were also renowned for their flowing manes of hair but that is another avenue of abuse entirely.
[2] Several distinguished commentators have noted the difficulty of saying “Fourth Annual Malthouse West IPA Challenge Grand Prix” after even a couple of hop bombs.
[3] A knowing tip of the glass to the flamboyantly-panted Yeastie Boy Stu McKinlay for that most appropriate epithet.
[4] Recent research by scientists for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has suggested there is a direct positive correlation between a lack of beard and a lack of beer knowledge.
[5] Book of Revelations 6:1-8.  Look it up people, it’s all there.
[6] Admittedly a number of American jurisdictions had done exactly the same plans some time earlier but that does slightly ruin the story.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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