As a result, I tend to take slightly unusual holidays – I observe Saint Andrew’s Day (in place of Waitangi Day) and Wrestlemania Day (instead of Labour Day).  However, one occasion that I always studiously mark in my diary is the Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge. The sixth incarnation of this staggeringly awesome annual event will happen on 12 July 2013 and I’m already quite excited about it. [1]

There has been some recent debate in the real media (beer blogs) and fringe publications (the Sunday Star Times) about whether New Zealand brewers have become overly obsessed with hops.  Several of the finest beer brains in the land have said yes – they feel we have gone too far and need to return to balance and subtlety. Unsurprisingly, I disagree. 

Extremely hopped beers have their place in the beer lexicon in exactly the same way that massively malty beers do. So often I hear criticisms along the lines that “this double American IPA is so unbalanced – it’s all hops.”  However, when moments later I note that the Russian Imperial Stout is not demonstrating any hop character I am informed that hops would be “out of the beer style in this case”. 

Now, I actually agree with that observation but it has to work both ways. I think we should be able to celebrate raving hop bombs in precisely the same way we enjoy decadent malt monsters. Both contain malt and hops but they each showcase a different facet of the beer flavour spectrum. For me, balance is often over-rated – after all, if we really believed in balance then every MP would be Peter Dunne. [2]
There is technically an International India Pale Ale Day (4 August) but it is criminally ignored. I believe it should be as sacred as International Talk Like a Pirate Day (19 September), International Talk Like William Shatner Day (22 March) and International Bacon Day (the Saturday before Labor Day in the USA). [3] However, the good news is that there is currently a flurry of bouncy hoppy pale ales available at Malthouse.

Long time friend of Malthouse and perhaps the most famous brewer to ever dance on the bar without even remotely risking banging his head on the ceiling is Luke Nicholas, founder and head brewer of Epic Brewing Company. Two of his beers are currently featuring on the guest list.

His iconic Epic Armageddon IPA (6.66%) [4] is back on tap and rumoured to be a return to the original recipe. That heady mix included a mix of fragrant US Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Simcoe hops. I have a particular connection to this beer not only because it is one of my favourite styles from one of my favourite brewers but because I actually named it. 

Some years ago, Luke and I were running a beer tasting at the Backbencher Pub (opposite Parliament) and he was talking about a new beer he was making but which needed a name. He said it was “going to be bigger than [Epic] Mayhem but what’s bigger than Mayhem?”  I immediately replied “Armageddon.  Nothing is bigger than the end of the world.” [5] I also came up with the phrase “zymurgical big bang” which appears on the bottle. I’m proud of that little phrase because it is accurate and surprisingly clever even if my spell checker still hates it…  In the glass, Armageddon is a punchy, fruity, floral and quenching IPA which is dangerously drinkable.

Also on tap is Epic Mosaic (6.1%), a single hopped IPA. This is the successor to Epic Zythos and shares the same base recipe. The only difference is the hop which in this case is Mosaic hops from the October 2012 harvest in the Yakima Valley, Washington State, USA. The result is a pale ale of medium bitterness (by Epic standards) with tropical fruit and a late dryness. It’s been my tap beer of choice at Malthouse during March 2013. 

Making a welcome return to the taps is the American version of Tuatara APA (5.8%). This beer uses US Chinook, US Simcoe and US Zythos hops, a trifecta of greatness in my view. There are notes of grapefruit, passionfruit and pine needles over a solid malt base. It’s a tight tussle but I probably on balance prefer this version over the Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale. At 50 IBUs it still packs quite a kick on the finish. 

The three beers listed in this post so far are all American inspired and made with US hops. 

One of the most influential breweries on the West Coast is Lagunitas, a collection of self-described hippies making beers of distinct character in Petaluma, California, USA. I’ve been there – perhaps the first and only time I’ve ever drunk a Double IPA at 10am while sitting on a bar stool made with a full cowboy-style saddle. [6]

Their beer currently available at Malthouse is a seasonal release and wasn’t pouring during my visit. It is Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Wild Ale (9.420%). [7] Basically, they have taken their regular Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale and made a much bigger version using the classic Westmalle Trappist yeast.  The brewers say it is “massively dosed with boatloads of wheat and pale malt”, has “those curious phenolic off-flavours that are freakin’ everyone out these days” and “finishes with a big, hoppy ending.” 

I like every word in that description.

Next time, we drink to forget that we did not bet even $5 on Peter Fulton being the top scorer in both innings of the third cricket test against England.

[1] That level of excitement is expected to rise consistently over the coming months when the competition’s beers are actually brewed. I’m a judge so I will get to try them first. This pleases me.

[2] This analogy might not be making quite the point I intended as a Parliament comprised entirely of Peter Dunnes’ would produce some sensible legislation as well doubling sales of bow ties and popularising the classic “flock of seagulls” haircut style again.

[3] Every day is International Talk Like William Shatner Day and International Bacon Day in my household.

[4] 6.66% ABV is known as the “Number of the Yeast”.

[5] This theme continued with Epic Hop Zombie – Zombies being the only things left after Armageddon.

[6] I’m taking some creative licence here. It was definitely the only time I’ve drunk a Double IPA at 10am while sitting on a bar stool made with a full cowboy-style saddle.

[7] I’m sure that very precise ABV rating is not an accident…  Be careful when you Google it.


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Beer and Brewer Magazine


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