New Zealand’s biggest and best public beer event begins tomorrow on the concourse of Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.  There will be four sessions (two each on Friday 5 August and Saturday 6 August) showcasing 208 beers, a veritable flocculation of brewers, live brewing, journalists making beers, chefs cooking, festive brews, beer and food matching sessions and beer enlightenment seminars.

It is a time of the year when beer gets a bit more attention from the mainstream media.  Many will have heard Chef Martin Bosley, Beervana’s culinary director, dominating the radio spectrum as his general take-over of the New Zealand media [1] rumbles relentlessly on. 

Part of the reason for the boost in coverage is that nine journalists (only two of which generally write about beer) have been paired up with craft breweries to enter a beer into the first ever Kiwi media brewing contest.  It is a great way for them to learn more about craft beer and of course a tremendous encouragement for them to do a story on beer and Beervana.

Dominion Post travel editor (and a former beer columnist) Cameron Williamson wrote “Brew Kids on the Block” about his work brewing a special Scotch smoked ale with Andy Deuchars and Brian Thiel from the Renaissance brewery:

“As dawn breaks over Cloudy Bay, I’ll be lugging 30-kilogram sacks of specialty malted barley, grinding it into powdery grist, loading a mash tun with a slurry of bubbling porridge, pitching a fermenting yeast culture and bucketloads of pungent hops.  I’ll be working like a galley slave. “[2]

Deuchars is realistic about the challenges of brewing the award-winning beers that emerge from this historic Heath Robinson collection of steel tanks, tuns, hoses and taps that has been producing good ale for a century.

“It’s not a quaint craft, brewing,” he says.  “You will get burnt and scalded and cut and bruised, and at the end of the day, you will be hurting.  But that makes the beer taste better.”

It smells, in the mash tun, like baking Vogel’s wholemeal toast, with a buttery richness and some Vegemite notes from a secret recipe of half a dozen special malts.  Roasted smoky and nutty grains and glorious herby bitterness from hops grown over the mountain in Motueka will make an alluring mouthful.  And some oaky notes from a secondary ferment in recycled wine barrels will give it a festive edge.

“It’s a really honest strong beer made from sustainably local ingredients,” says Deuchars.

The media brews will not the only one-off beers created for Beervana.  Brewers from around the country were invited to create a new festive beer on the theme “Let’s Go Black” – a clear reference to an event I can mention [3] but pretty much everyone else is who is not a global partner of Rugby World Cup 2011 cannot. [4]. Tuatara Brewing Company has produced a special festive offering called Tuatara XI

Tuatara XI is described as “a strong, black liquorice Belgian barley wine” which has a hefty dose of local artisan liquorice and plenty of alcoholic strength (officially listed at 10.5%).  It certainly is pitch black while the liquorice is evident but not over-powering.  It is available at the Festival Brew stall at Beervana and Malthouse will be the first bar to pour it with the kegs going on this Saturday (6 August 2011).

The Festive Brew category not only brings out brewing creativity, it also rekindles most brewers’ legendary love of jokey names and dodgy puns.  Highlights this year include Steam Brewing Company’s Cock & Bull “She’s in Saison” (black Saison) and Three Boys Brewery “All Black Balls Stout” (Stout). [5] However, my favourite name – perhaps revealing my own geekiness – is Golden Ticket Brewing’s “The Emperor Strikes Back.”

Finally, today is International IPA Day.  An appropriate way to celebrate would be with a (careful) pint or two of the remaining The Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse IIPA.  This is a “hophead super-group collaboration” [6] brew between 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 Four Horsemen as a hoppy brew of biblical proportions.  It officially weighs in at 9.99% alcohol and a theoretical International Bitterness Unit rating of 250 IBUs.

[1] Excluding Masterchef.  Don’t even mention Masterchef…
[2] Certainly in comparison to most of the luxurious travel junkets Mr Williamson is routinely compelled to endure.
[3] Media exemption.  See: The Major Events Management Act, section 30 (d).
[4] Though Steinlager are having a pretty good go at it with their latest adverts.
[5] Dr Ralph Bungard does however scoop the prize for cheekiest tasting notes with the official beer list describing the “All Black Balls Stout” as “Smell: Ballsy Black, Taste: Sucking on Blackballs.”
[6] Glass Tip: Phil Cook – for this phrase and inspiration for the title of the post.


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