Each year, I work through Labour Day so that I can justify celebrating Wrestlemania Day – a festival of live professional wrestling on the big screen, plenty of craft beer, implausibly large burgers and a wide variety of hot sauces.
Monday was Wrestlemania XXIX. Over the course of four action-packed hours, we enjoyed the athletic spectacle of three self-proclaimed moral vigilantes beating up a second-generation narcissist, a giant and a bright white Irish hooligan, a Mexican aristocrat besting the local Tea Party candidate, a big red monster and a little chap who looks like a goat defending their tag team titles after completing an anger management class together, a dead man pin a smug disrespectful jerk (who was cheered out of the stadium) and an action movie star sadly lose to a clean cut All-American nice guy (who was booed relentlessly by every male over the age of 15 – including me). You know, just the usual.
Until about two weeks ago I would have placed money on Wrestlemania Day being the best day of this week.  However, that was before I heard about HOPSTOCK. This is a brand new three day celebration of fresh hopped beers. It has been put together by the Craft Beer Capital team and involves eight unique fresh hopped beers going on tap at twelve premier beer venues around Wellington. Each beer will be exclusive to one or two venues during the festival before going onto wider release (if there is any left). HOPSTOCK starts today – 10 April – and runs until Friday 12 April.
It is no secret that I am huge fan of hoppy beers. That includes fresh hopped beers which are brewed using hops which have not been dried or processed. The hops go basically straight from the vine into the kettle. These beers tend to be punchy, resinous and bitter – all good qualities in a beer as far as I’m concerned. Fresh hopped beers are usually more volatile – changing their aroma and flavour profiles quickly, sometimes in just a couple of days. In general, the beers become more balanced as time goes by but they also lose that real “in your face factor”. 
The first fresh hopped beer I tried was Mac’s Brewjolais way back in 2006. The brainchild of the extremely talented Colin Paige, it was made with the first hops of the season – picked in the morning then rushed to their now defunct Wellington brewery. To my mind, the first vintage (made with NZ Styrian Goldings hops) was always the best and it was particularly awesome when absolutely fresh.  In 2009, I was fortunate to ‘help’ brewer Ally Clem make Brewjolais.  Here is an extract from my column in the Wellingtonian newspaper:
“I made a beer. Well, technically I helped make a beer by taking notes and snapping pictures while other people did all the actual work. My sole responsibility was to check the map and figure out how much we would miss the Cook Strait Ferry by. The answer was one minute.
Most recipes do not involve the ferry so it should be clear the beer I almost helped make is something rather special. Mac’s Brewjolais was brewed in Wellington and is the very first beer anywhere to use hops from the 2009 harvest. The spicy Cascade hops were picked in Motueka on the opening day of the season and rushed by van and ferry to the Shed 22 brewery… Working until after midnight, the brew team produced 8,000 litres of Brewjolais.”
One story that did not make the newspaper version was the profound effect that 212kgs of fresh hops had on me and Ally. Hops, a cousin of the thistle and the cannabis plant, are very pungent. The rented van quickly filled up with the heady note of hops – a little too heavy as it turned out. We eventually realised that it would be prudent to wind down all the windows when we both burst out laughing at a sign. The sign simply said “Picton – 27 km”. It is a national beer tragedy that the last vintage of Brewjolais was brewed in 2010 but millions of litres of Flame Beer are still produced annually.
For HOPSTOCK, Malthouse will be hosting Tuatara Conehead Green Hopped IPA (5.8%). Let no one say I’m not dedicated to research. This morning my bottle of Conehead arrived by courier, I promptly put it in the fridge and on the stroke at 11:30am I ripped the package open solely in order to provide tasting notes for this blog post. It pours a dark golden colour with an appetising white head. On the nose it is dry yet fruity – passionfruit and orange – and spicy. Conehead is quite thick, almost sticky, but there is a manly bitterness which indicates drinkability. It’s definitely hoppy but balanced despite the “massive amounts of Nelson Sauvin in the hopback along with Citra and Amarillo in the boil.”
There are two other items of particular note from today’s Tuatara delivery. The press release contains this wonderful line: “the unpredictable nature of fresh hopping can a bit of a monkeys-and-typewriters-style quest for glory.” There was also a “sneak peek” at the new Tuatara bottles which took several years to source. The crown cap now has a distinctly lizard-like look and the bottle has a reptile skin thing going on. This distinctive packaging will certainly stand out on the shelves and this particular bottle is going straight into my bottle display. I deem it window sill worthy. In the circumstance it would appear appropriate to place Conehead next to the tragically empty magnums of Brewjolais 2006 and 2007.
Last week I had my own sneak peek at the Fork & Brewer’s HOPSTOCK offering – Fork & Brewer The Hopstepper APA. Now, I had it out of the tanks a week before release but it was tasting absolutely fantastic – punchy grapefruit and unashamedly hopcentric. In a small world moment it was made with Nelson Sauvin hops picked by the Tuatara boys and transported back to Wellington in their refrigerated and well-ventilated truck. They learned from our fail. The New Zealand craft brewery has learned from the innovation and genius of Brewjolais.
Next time, we drink a “a mug of that good dark beer” in order to wash down “bread and two of those little fish. Oh, and some bacon. Burn it until turns black.”
 This opening only really works if people are aware I’m self-employed.
 A bold call given Tuesday was Game of Thrones, Pizza and Laundry Night.
 If that is not a real phrase in beer nomenclature it most certainly should be.
 I wrote that it was best when the hops were “still raw and wriggling” – paraphrasing noted foodie Gollum.
 A role which led beer writer and proper journalist Denise Garland to call me a “lucky bugger” on her excellent blog.
Beer and Brewer Magazine
HOPSTOCK – http://craftbeercapital.com/hopstock/about
Denise Garland on Brewjolais – http://demiseblogs.blogspot.co.nz/2009/04/brewjolais.html
Fork & Brewer – http://www.forkandbrewer.co.nz/news?request=item&newsid=32
Malthouse Facebook – www.facebook.com/pages/Malthouse/7084276173
Malthouse Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/malthouse
Malthouse Taps on Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/MalthouseTaps
Neil Miller on Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/#!/beerlytweeting
Beer and Brewer Magazine – www.beerandbrewer.com/