Back home and over a few restorative ales, local legend has it they discussed some of the techniques and flavours savoured at numerous beer venues across America’s magnificent West Coast.  At the end of the evening, each agreed to make a new US-inspired beer but both were adamant theirs would be the superior drop.  In order to make that crucial judgement, the Annual Malthouse West Coast IPA challenge was hatched.


For the first three years it was a simple joust between Stephen Plowman’s Hallertau Maximus IPA and Luke Nicholas’ Epic Armageddon IPA held at a neutral venue which loved hoppy beers. [1] Despite the simple, almost child-like, format, no winner was ever formally declared so both brewers simply asserted victory and there was much trash-talking. [2]


Now in its fifth year, the Challenge has expanded exponentially.  Recently, it has morphed into an open Grand Prix event where any brewer can front up a new hopbomb especially for the event.  Last year, eight or nine challengers entered the arena.  A second innovation was the addition of an expert judging panel which now ensures a proper decision is made. [3] The 2011 winner was Moa’s McMoa IPA, though their press release headline celebrated a victory in the previously unknown “West Coast Pale Challenge”.


The brief from founder and organiser Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor is clear.  Brewers are invited to enter strong, hoppy pale ales in the style of the IPAs which are so popular on the West Coast of America.  Beyond that, brewers pretty have free reign.  There is no requirement to use American hops and no maximum level of hopping. 


Currently, eight brewers have entered the 2012 Challenge and several more are expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks.  Obviously, foundation competitors Hallertau Brewbar and Epic Brewing Company will be there again to continue their rivalry.  They will be joined by defending champion Moa Brewery who will undoubtedly be keen to win again and put out a press release. [4]


Also back for another go are hop specialists Liberty Brewing Company, pop icons The Yeastie Boys and the original West Coast cockneys at Townshend Brewery.  The 2012 Challenge will see the debut of Wellington’s own Black Dog Brewing and The Garage Project. 


Traditionally held in mid-July, the 5th Annual Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge will be held this year from 4pm on Friday 13th July 2012 at Malthouse on Courtenay Place.  There will be no charge for admission and all of the entries should be available for sampling and purchase over the course of the evening. 


Previous events have been hugely popular and the hard-working staff behind the bar are expecting another big crowd on the night.  Expert predictions that New Zealand beer drinkers are rebelling against heavily hopped beers are – to mangle the old adage – greatly exaggerated.


As is the fashion with the kids these days, there is a Facebook events page set up for the Challenge though there is no requirement to register.  However, as an indicator of the Challenge’s likely popularity, even though it is over five weeks before the first beer is poured, nearly 40 people have replied that they will be attending.  It is going to be a hoptastic event on a lucky day for hopheads.


Speaking of which, there will be a more than useful warm-up at Beer O’Clock which takes place from 5pm this Thursday (7 June 2012) at Malthouse.  It will see Epic Mash Up, West Coast Mash Up, West Coast International Pale Ale and the last keg of Epic Hop Zombie in the land.  Remember, drinking beer is a bit like jogging [5] – warming up properly is critical.


Forget the Diamond Jubilee, All Hail Humulus Lupulus!


[1] In 2008, there were approximately 17 craft beer drinkers in Auckland, including both the protagonists and most of their staff.  In 2011, that number has almost trebled.


[2] Much of it was made up and then breathlessly reported in this blog.  However, Luke Nicholas’ claim that he is a “brewing titan” clearly does not measure up.


[3] At the time of writing, this year’s panel will be without my expertise as I am already booked to judge the Great New Zealand Ham and Bacon Competition.  However, I will be at the Challenge later in the evening, almost certainly in need of an adult beverage after a long day of porcine goodness.


[4].Moa really, really, really likes issuing press releases.


[5] Except it is more fun to watch and involves considerably less Lycra.




Beer Writer

Real Beer New Zealand

Beer and Brewer Magazine



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