The West Coast region is unique – almost a different country reluctantly tacked onto the back of the Southern Alps.  Few people live there but those who do tend to be gruffly friendly and delightfully contrary. The Coast air often contains the pleasant whiff of wood smoke and the environmentalists who object are derided instead of elected. The pace of life is slow, internet connectivity slower and every year tourists flock to one of the most unspoiled places in the world.

The Coast was originally settled by Maori who were drawn by the rich strains of pounamu (greenstone). Only a few Europeans made the perilous trek over the Alps [1] until gold was discovered in 1863.  Then prospectors flocked in from Australia, America, China and all around New Zealand. The West Coast gold rush lasted from 1864 to 1867 during which time Hokitika briefly became the populous settlement in the country. [2] Huge numbers of ramshackle pubs sprung up to provide quenching libations to the crowds of thirsty men, perhaps heralding the Coast’s enduring love of beer.

Of course, the Gold Rush did not last. They never do. That is why they are called “rushes” rather than “sustainable long-term industries.”  As the easily accessible gold dried up on the Coast, miners rushed off in search of the next rich seam which, from memory, was found in Otago. It did not last either.

Coal mining, however, did last and, though the industry peaked during the middle of the 20th Century, there is still mining on the Coast today. The miners created strong unions and political movements which were crucial in forming the Labour Party. Despite the legends, Labour was not actually founded in the famous Blackball Hotel.  Instead, it was a hall in Wellington. However, the Blackball Hotel was a centre of political activism and pivotal in the creation of New Zealand’s oldest political party. 

The Coast is world famous for the pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki. They started a grass roots movement which forced DB to back off plans to shut down the Monteith’s brewery at Greymouth.  This campaign also changed beer labels with brewers’ having to be a bit more upfront about where the beer is actually made. It was the scene of the notorious murder of Lindsay Lamont, stabbed multiple times by her butcher husband. Coasters also managed to so enrage then Prime Minister Helen Clark that she publicly called them “feral” and “inbred”. [3]

I earlier described Coasters as “delightfully contrary”. They seem to revel in doing things their own way which is often the opposite way to the rest of country.  That also applies to brewing. One of the hottest trends in craft brewing at the moment is “single hopping”. Basically, the brewer develops a base recipe and then uses only a single hop variety in each different beer. Because the only variable which changes is the hop, drinkers are able to isolate and understand the character of each hop variety. Breweries such as mike’s Organic Brewing and Epic are high profile “single hoppers”. 

Brewer Dave Kurth decided to make his last beer at the West Coast Brewery something rather special indeed.  Defying the fashion of using a “single hop” he chose to use “eighty hops”. That is right. It is not a typo. [4] Dave poured in eighty hop varieties over ten hop additions, a recipe which Luke Robertson from Australian Brew News described as sounding “pretty silly.”  He is right but it also sounds delicious. If Luke’s research is right, 80 is also the second highest number of hop varieties ever added to a beer, trailing just Top of the Hops 2012 from Great Yorkshire Brewery which had (allegedly) 2012. [5]

A full list of the hops is available. Luke Robertson rightly notes that there will always be debates about whether each hop listed counts as its own unique variety but I’ve read the list and it is just staggering – even to a battle-hardened hop head like me. 

The resulting beer is the West Coast 1080 IPA (6.5%). 1080 is, of course, a reference to the 10 hop additions and 80 hop varieties. [6] Perusing a wide range of tasting notes, the consensus seems to be that while 1080 is pungent and bitter (as expected), it is sweeter and far more balanced than expected given a look at the ingredient list. Yes, there are floral and resinous aromas, juicy citrus notes and a slow-build bitterness, but the Maris Otter base malt with reinforcements of Caramalt, Carapil, Caramunich and Munich malts seem to round out and soften the beer. That said, it still weighs in at a hefty 60 IBUs or so. 

1080 is on tap now at Malthouse and I just cannot wait to try it.

Joining it is the commercial version of the Champion Beer of last year’s National Homebrew Championship. Organised by the Society of Beer Advocates, the Championship saw a panel of judges work through 381 entries, awarding 108 medals and announcing the trophy winners in each class. The big awards were Champion Brewer and Champion Beer. The prize for Champion Beer was an opportunity to have the winning beer brewed commercially at Hallertau Brewbar by the Captain of Beer, Stephen (nature boy) Plowman

The 2012 winner was Wellington’s own Richard Deeble. His Deeble Pale Ale (5.9%) has been released from Hallertau to selected bars and will be pouring at Malthouse from Sunday. The brewer himself writes that “the beer combines bready, caramel flavoured malt with a big dose of Nelson grown hops that add a nice citrus and tropical fruit-like flavour and aroma.  It is then fermented with a clean American Ale yeast that highlights the malt and hops… The resulting beer is a very drinkable Pale Ale that showcases New Zealand hops without being overly bitter, harsh or unbalanced.”

Next time, we drink beers with names which annoy the people who annoy us.

[1] Those early travellers would consider the modern road over Arthur’s Pass, which is really quite terrifying especially when it snows, rains or is windy, to be a luxurious superhighway.

[2] The 2006 Census records Hokitika’s population as 3,078. Compared to the 2001 figure, this represented a worrying decline of 12 people in just five years. 

[3] There is no evidence that Coasters were upset by this, with the probable exception of the local Labour MP who went on to lose the seat the next election. He subsequently won it back in a tight contest. 

[4] For a change…

[5] I can’t even begin to figure out how that would actually work but it was on the internet so it must be true.

[6] Given recent events with beer names, we are fully expecting a flurry of media articles featuring faux outraged possums which lost friends and relatives to the pesticide 1080.


Beer Writer

Beer and Brewer Magazine


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