Many reasons are given for picking cans over bottles – cans completely protect beer from light, they are lighter, easier to recycle, cool down faster, can be served in places where glass is prohibited and, some argue, just look cooler. The list of local breweries using cans includes Boundary Road, Sawmill and Garage Project, with Moa, Three Boys and Harrington’s set to come on board soon.

However, the only Kiwi brewery currently using only cans – no bottles – is Hot Water Brewing Company in the picturesque Coromandel. [1] Owner and brewer Dave Kurth says he is “all about cans and they are all I’m going to use.”  His passion started at Maui Brewing (Hawaii, USA) right when they were beginning to can. “I love cans because they are light, transportable and a good environmental choice.  They are a better package for taking beer to the things I like to do, like go to the beach or go out fishing,” Kurth explains. 

Hot Water also sells six packs using an innovative, reusable holder from America.  Kurth says it is “much better than the old seagull killers, means the cans can go straight into ice or the chilly bin, and we don’t need extra cardboard packaging.” 

I first tried the Hot Water beers in the Coromandel on New Year’s Day. Some kind people, aware of my beer writing career, bought me a mixed six-pack straight from the brewery. As a result, I got to see the cans, marvel at the funky can holder contraption and taste the range all at the same time. I was impressed – the beers are clean, well made and tasty, but then I would expect nothing less from Dave Kurth who made his name at the West Coast Brewery. [2]

Malthouse is currently stocking two of his canned offerings. The Hot Water Golden Steamer Ale (4.5%) is a subtle, balanced brew broadly in the style of California Common (sometimes known as Steam Beer). It is nuanced, with hints of citrus, spice and floral notes followed by a gentle bitterness. The brewer himself recommends drinking it straight out of the can.

Next up is Hot Water Walker’s Porter (4.8%), a smooth but robust porter which utilises six types of malt and a fair whack of Kiwi hops (50 IBU). The resulting beer is smooth, silky, with old school cinema Jaffas (sweet chocolate and orange) on the nose. In the body there is milk chocolate, fresh coffee and background caramel, with a late burst of citrus hop and cleansing bitterness. Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Malthouse Proprietor is hopeful of getting Hot Water Kauri Falls Pale Ale back in stock after it sold out earlier.   

Joining the ever expanding can section in the trademark Malthouse fridges is a selection of pioneering US craft beers.  Oskar Blues was set up in a basement in 1999 and in 2004 they are generally considered the first US craft beer to exclusively can their products.  They claim to have invented the “craft-beer-in-a-can-craze.”  Oskar Blues has since expanded into two breweries (Longmont in Colorado and Brevard in North Carolina) and run beer events called “Burning Can”. [3] They have a reputation for not messing around when it comes to brewing.

That is certainly true of their three brews at the Malthouse. Oskar Blues Ten FIDY Imperial Stout (10.5%) is variously described as titanic, viscous, hefty, enormous and inimitable. From the numbers available I have no reason to doubt the validity of that assessment – 10.5% ABV [4] and 98 IBU. The claim to being a “boundary stretching beer” also seems justified.  

Next up is Oskar Blues G’Knight Imperial Red IPA (8.7%) which allegedly gains its name from “cool new textual slang” for good night. [5] Weighing at 60 IBUs, this silky beer has been likened to a velvet machine gun. It pours amber red with a reddish collar (assuming you don’t drink it straight from the can in which case you will have no idea about the colour). There are notes of caramel, raisins, toffee, rye, tropical stone fruits and citrus. It is balanced and tasty.

In the interests of research I tasted the Oskar Blues Deviant Dales IPA (8%) after a five and a half hour business meeting at Malthouse. Contained in a handsome 1 US Pint can adorned with logos such as “sippin’ on a tall can” and “let’s sling a little mud, girl”, the brewers argue the beer is meant to say one thing “MORE HOPS”. [6] There are four hop additions and then heavy dry hopping with more Columbus which produces a hazy orange beer bursting with hops. There are notes of grapefruit, pine, peach and orange peel over a very American sweet caramel and honey backbone.  

Oskar Blues are joined by their compatriot Flying Dog Brewery with their distinctive artwork and in-your-face style. Their motto is “good people drink good beer” which is a quote by Hunter S Thompson. It is a little known fact that in between “two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-coloured uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls” [7] Mr Thompson enjoyed craft beer.

Kate Blackhurst nicely summed up the Flying Dog story on her blog writing “the brewery was established in Aspen, Colorado in 1990 after a dozen ‘under-qualified and unprepared’ mates completed ‘an amateur mountaineering expedition’ up K2.  Drinking beer after surviving this trek [founder] George Stranahan noticed a picture on the wall of a flying dog that had been drawn by a local artist.  He writes, ‘Now, we all know dogs don’t fly, but nobody told this particular dog it couldn’t fly’ and so he adopted the symbol of the flying dog with the mantra, ‘it is amazing what you can achieve if nobody tells you that you can’t.’”

Flying Dog Snake IPA (7.1%) is available which the brewery describing this libation as their “resident hop monster” and “more cunning than a snake in a bush.”  Scoring 91% on RateBeer, this light amber 60 IBU pale ale is bursting with Warrior and Columbus hops and, if that was not enough, dry hopped with additional Columbus.  It has the expected big hop notes – grapefruit, grass, pine and wild flowers – sweet medium mouthfeel and plenty of hop bite near the end. [8]

Strong Scottish peer pressure was brought to bear on me by an unnamed Proprietor to include this next beer – Tennent’s Lager (5%) – which also comes in a can. It can best be described as a clear golden lager, medium carbonated, touch of hops and some grainy malt notes, finishes relatively clean. The unnamed Proprietor thought it would be an appropriate match with the new Fork & Brewer Haggis and Pineapple Pizza [9] which he also designed and championed onto their new menu (launched yesterday). 

Finally, Hopstock 2014 (Motto: “Be sure to wear some Humulus Lupulus in your hair”) is officially underway and runs from noon 23 April to close of play 26 April at sixteen craft beer venues all around Wellington. It is a celebration of New Zealand hops, particularly fresh hopped brews. Each venue will have a specific green hopped beer which has been made by nineteen breweries (including three collaborative brews).  Malthouse will be serving Peak Brewery Fresh Hopped Rudolph’s’ Pique (5.5%). It is an organic Canadian-style Red Ale with a hint of Belgian yeast and brewed using green wild hops grown at the brewery on a lifestyle block near Carterton. 

Next time, we drink to Shane Jones and the end of a political career that promised so much and could well have ended up quite differently.

[1] Unsurprisingly, it is located relatively close to the famous Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel.

[2] Kurth’s last beer at West Coast, 1080 IPA, was perhaps his best ever.  He went out with a bang making a beer which used a staggering 10 hop additions of a scarcely believable 80 hop varieties.  My tongue is hanging out just thinking about this brew…

[3] This is a quite inspired play on words referencing the famous counter-culture “Burning Man” festival.

[4] Ten Fidy is, of course, street slang for 10.5.  It is a common term on the mean streets of Thorndon. 

[5] This phrase is not used on the mean streets of Thorndon.  We say good night properly around here.

[6] I did not know this at the time of purchase but I now feel it vindicated my choice. 

[7] This is just the description of the contents of his car trunk on page one of his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  Even Hunter S admitted it looked like a “mobile police narcotics lab” and the two of them probably wouldn’t need “all that”.

[8] Did you see what I did there?

[9] I’ve run the concept of Haggis and Pineapple Pizza past a wide cross section of friends.  The most common response was “Eeeewww… pineapple.”  Yep – turns out pineapple is more of a pizza foul than haggis.


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