A well worn copy of this tome sits permanently on my office desk and I see from the scribbled annotations inside the back cover that in December 2003 I had tried 91 of the 500 beers and today that figure has risen to 174. 

That number may seem low but many of the beers in the book are limited editions, incredibly obscure [1] and/or long out of production. Four New Zealand breweries are included: White Cliff’s (now mike’s Organic Brewery), Australis (which ended somewhat acrimoniously in 2000), Emerson’s (now owned by Lion but still operating) and Pink Elephant (which has reinvented itself as a contract/hermit brewery). 

The only Kiwi brewery to have three beers listed was Australis – a joint venture between Keith Galbraith and Ben Middlemiss at the iconic Galbraith’s brewpub in Auckland. To put that achievement in context, only two beers from Chimay are included in Jackson’s top 500. 

Beer writer and author of Beer Nation: The Art and Heart of New Zealand Beer, Michael Donaldson, describes Richard Emerson, Roger Pink and Ben Middlemiss as the “Holy Trinity” of New Zealand craft brewers.

All three men richly deserve that designation and their beers were amongst the first to pull me into the boutique market. A pint of Pink Elephant Mammoth on the balcony of the old Malthouse was literally my breakthrough beer. While Richard and Roger have stuck with their own breweries, Ben has worked at a number of places on both sides of the Tasman including (but not limited to) Marlborough Brewing Company, Cock and Bull/Steam Brewing, Australis, Martinborough Brewery and the Shakespeare Tavern. Today, he runs Ben Middlemiss Brewing Company. [2]

Did I mention Ben’s name is actually Stephen John Francis Middlemiss? Born Stephen, he says he “became widely known as Ben at high school when I started making a beer called Ben’s Best Bitter which was modelled on a recipe by Ben Turner, an English beer writer. In the beer world I’ve been known as Ben ever since.  I happily answer to both Steve and Ben.” 

He was brewing beer at age 14 because – and these are his words, I’m not making this up – “the wines that I was producing at home were getting consumed too quickly by my mates and the waiting time between vintages was too great so I decided I needed to make something that could be turned around a bit faster. It also seemed like no one was able to make good homebrew at the time so it became an enjoyable challenge trying to discover the secrets of making good beer.” [3] This involved hitch-hiking to Christchurch to buy quality ingredients not found on the unrefrigerated shelves of supermarkets in Blenheim.  

The three Australis beers in Jackson’s book were Benediction – an 8.7% Abbey-style ale, Hodgson – a full-bodied 6.3% India Pale Ale, and Romanov – a 7.8% complex Russian imperial stout. Middlemiss says those beer styles “were all individual and assertive in their own way yet had been dropped from the portfolios of the major breweries a long time ago. I wanted to resurrect them!”

None of the Australis beers are available these days for a range of exciting legal reasons [4], but Malthouse is currently serving two of Ben’s new beers. Middlemiss Lunatic Soup (6.5%) is surprisingly still on tap. I say “surprisingly” because I tried to drink it all over the weekend. It’s a powerful, punchy New Zealand pale ale with strong citrus notes, assertive bitterness and a delightful cloudy – almost soupy – appearance. [5]

There are also bottles of Middlemiss Hodgson IIPA (8.8%) in the fridges. This Imperial India Pale Ale is named after George Hodgson, a brewer instrumental in the brewing and export of IPA to the troops in India during the days of the Raj. It will apparently cellar for up to five years but I can’t see it lasting more than a week at my house. It has been described as fruity, earthy, floral, heavy and hot, with notes of grapefruit, pine and caramel. User DylansDad on RateBeer correctly observed that this ale is “not for beginners.” Note the alcohol percentage well before consuming. [6]

During his time at the Cock and Bull, Middlemiss mentored a young “and very eager initiate” called Luke Nicholas. Luke went onto to achieve fame as the Impish Brewer and as a trail blazer for heavily hopped beers in New Zealand through his Epic range. It is therefore fitting that Thursday 9 May will see the tapping of the last (known) keg of Epic Hop Zombie (8.5%) at around 7pm. There will also be a similarly rare appearance of Deep Fried Haggis on a Stick which, in culinary terms, is exactly as described. It’s delicious. [7]

Live music Sundays are proving popular and this week Amiria Grenell will be playing from around 3pm (doors open at midday). Grenell is a singer-songwriter and recording artist who has been playing professionally since the age of 14 – the same age as Ben started brewing

She has toured with Fly My Pretties and played a number of gigs as the much missed Dux de Lux in Christchurch. It was a great live music venue as well as a fabulous brewery and it breaks my heart to see it broken and locked behind a security fence. 

Next time, we drink with Aaron Gilmore because it is a great way to get national media attention.

[1] Even by beer geek standards which is saying something.

[2] His Facebook page suggests he his current interests include science, World War Two fighter planes and beer.

[3] Middlemiss started making wine after his hobby of making fireworks resulted in the lawn catching fire. It is fair to say he had a far more adventurous childhood than most.

[4] Exciting mainly to lawyers.

[5] The normally reliable Urban Dictionary defines Lunatic Soup as “any type of cider” which doesn’t seem accurate in this instance. Either a rare miss for the Urban Dictionary or Ben just liked the name.

[6] This is a wholly out of character subtle play on words.

[7] The event is contingent on me failing to successfully barricade myself alone in the pub with the Zombie and the Haggis.  Given this plan has appeared in consecutive blogs, I may have lost the element of surprise.


Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine


Ben Middlemiss Brewing – http://www.benmiddlemissbrewing.co.nz
Ben Middlemiss on Twitter – https://twitter.com/BenMiddlemiss
Beer and Brewer interview with Ben Middlemiss – http://tinyurl.com/d84l2c3
Epic Brewing Company – www.epicbeer.com
Amiria Grenell – http://www.amiriagrenell.co.nz/_/home
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/