Conversation was sparse but intense during each tasting round, raucous and wide-ranging between beers. All the focus was on the scribbled numbers  they were assigning to each entrant in the Fourth Annual West Coast IPA Challenge.
Colin Mallon, the handsome yet softly spoken Scottish Malthouse proprietor, had invited brewers from around the country to submit their version of a hoppy West Coast pale ale. In the previous three years, the Challenge had been a straight fight between Hallertau and Epic. With the change in format, this year was more of a battle royal with more brewers and collaborations of brewers entering the ring.
This was the first year there was a formal judging process and this role was performed blind by Geoff Griggs, Kieran Haslett-Moore and me. Each of the seven entrants was marked out of ten against a very broad interpretation of the classic American IPA style. All the judges picked the same top three beers though there was naturally some disagreement over the exact order.
However, after toting up the critical numbers the winner by a very narrow margin was the McMoa IPA from the Moa Brewing Company of Blenheim. This beer was made with the assistance of Colin Mallon but it has to be stressed he had no role in the judging. Colin’s involvement goes some way towards explaining (if not justifying) the beer’s somewhat unusual moniker.
Second place went to veteran Challenge participant Hallertau, with third taken out by brash newcomer Epic Hop Zombie. So, the two most experience challengers pick up the places but the trophy goes to the high-flying Moa. In another format change, there is actually a trophy this time – a beautifully mounted and coated pair of boots – with Josh Scott from Moa the first to hoist aloft the now coveted Golden Gumboots. 
Congratulations should also go to the other entrants which were The Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse (collaboration), Superconductor Double IPA (8Wired), Blitz Greig (Townshend) and mike’s IIPA (mike’s). As correctly predicted in this blog last week, #deepfriedhaggisonastick made its triumphant return in the form of haggis and arancini balls which were unsurprisingly popular. 
There was an eighth entry which did not make it to the judging but appeared on tap later in the evening. The Yeastie Boys had created Yakima Warrior as a serious contender for the trophy. Their efforts were spectacularly derailed by Toll Tranzlink who, despite their own delivery sheet clearly specifying a Wellington address, rushed the beer right through the Capital in order to drop it off in Palmerston North on the very morning of the event. Stu McKinlay captured and tweeted an incontrovertible image of the offending sheet (link below).
It was a real shame as both the Warriors were tasting delicious when they arrived later. A number of punters went for a 50/50 mix between the two.
For much of Thursday night Malthouse was at full capacity and had to regretfully turn some people away. The good news is that most if not all of the Challenge beers will be available over the coming weeks. Exactly what will be on when will be determined largely by which taps are available so just ask the staff. This is a great chance for those who missed out last week to sample the entries and indeed for those who were there to get another taste.
On the topic of hops, Malthouse has broken with recent tradition and actually put some hops in the Hopinator. At the moment, the boisterous Renaissance Discovery APA is being dispensed through a bed of New Zealand Cascade hop flowers which are encased inside the Doctor Who-like gizmo at the end of the bar. Previous attempts at using hop pellets were abandoned for taste and aesthetic reasons.  Next up will be Coopers Stout over Mojo coffee beans.
Beervana is looming on the beer horizon. Their website is being constantly updated with information about the beers available, the tasting and education sessions and, of course, the sale of tickets. Check out the website and stay tuned for more details here in coming weeks.
 One judge had a particularly idiosyncratic take on what how numbers should be epicted. The other two simply used had what is officially known as “messy boys writing.”
 Almost certainly not real gold and probably too small for any brewer to actually wear (with the possible exception of Luke Nicholas.)
 Some previously self-professed haggis-haters were onto their third tasty morsel before they thought to ask what was in them. The result was simply more converts for the #deepfriendhaggisonastick crusade.
 Colin described the hop pellets as resembling ““baby poo after ten minutes.”
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine
Yeastie Boys Twitter – Toll Tranzlink image – http://twitpic.com/5pqyg2
Mojo Coffee – http://www.mojocoffee.co.nz/
Beervana – http://www.beervana.co.nz/
Epic – www.epicbeer.com
Hallertau – http://www.hallertau.co.nz/
Liberty – http://www.libertybrewing.co.nz/
Yeastie Boys – http://www.yeastieboys.co.nz/
8Wired – http://8wired.co.nz/
Townshend – http://www.townshendbrewery.co.nz/
mike’s – http://www.organicbeer.co.nz/
Moa – http://www.moabeer.com/
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
Beer and Brewer Magazine – http://www.beerandbrewer.com/