The Race that Stops the Beer Nation (patent pending) saw a new Grand Champion crowned, two place getters selected and the punters had their say in the People’s Choice award.
The Grand Champion Award winning beer was Renaissance Bloody RIPA (Red IPA). They carried away the coveted Golden Gumboots trophy and bragging rights over their peers for an entire year. In the Challenge form guide I noted “this highly decorated champion loves to make big beers but may be weighed down by sheer weight of recent trophies.” I was half right. 
They did make a big beer – reddish gold in colour, full nose, notes of caramel and orange over a firm bitter finish – but they had absolutely no trouble winning yet another trophy. In fact, Renaissance’s only problem seems to be that they are going to need a bigger trophy cabinet soon.
Second place went to Fork & Brewer Big Tahuna IPA, the first solo beer at the Fork from Rockstar Brewer Kelly Ryan.  My tasting notes include “crystal clear, notes of mandarin and grapefruit, hint of tart, almost inside out bitterness and bite, subtle but strong – good”.
The now infamous form guide predicted “the new brewer has left Hamilton but he still has a (sexual) thing for gumboots so the motivation is certainly there.” I am going to give myself a pass for that. Kelly certainly seemed motivated, he came very close to winning the top award and my wild allegations about his fetish for gumboots has not been denied.
Third place went to Epic Brewing Lupulingus IIPA. Yep, that is the name on the tap handle and soon to be the name on bottle labels in the supermarket. If I read my already messy handwriting correctly, I thought this beer was “slightly hazy, huge flavour profile including fuzzy naval orange, sherbet, Turkish Delight, grapefruit and a big, but short, bitterness.”
My as yet discredited form guide had this for Epic: “An original challenge and a lover of hops, he has to be one of the early favourites but tends to fade fast when the air guitars come out.” Nailed it. I enjoyed a couple of pints of this libation after a hard afternoon judging the 100% NZ Bacon and Ham Contest. That beverage choice may explain why I was home so early.
The People’s Choice Award was solely voted on by customers. The winner was Baylands Brewery & Brewing Supplies Rock Solid IPA, that brewery’s win for second year in a row. This is an extraordinary achievement for a small suburban brewer in their first few years of operation. Going back to back in the People’s Choice award is unprecedented in this category  and they must be the early favourite for a third title next year.
I’d like to throw in a Highly Commended From Me beer. Hot Water About Time IPA was one of the (comparatively) lower alcohol beers entered but it was bursting with flavour. My notes record “straight up, well made, bit of haze, reddish glint, big aroma, sweet juicy middle, hint of perfume then big hop finish, balanced, drinkable.” This beer proves that West Coast Pale Ales do not have to be strong to be great, but it does seem to help win competitions
Judging commenced at 9:30am but the judges received no sympathy because while everyone else was at work they were drinking IPAs, eating free white bread and rocking out to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing.  Obviously, I was one of the judges along with fellow beer writers Geoff Griggs, Jono Galuszka, Martin Craig and Shane Cowlishaw. We were joined by brewer Kelly Ryan in the first round. 
Some of my more poetic descriptions included “it is like snogging an ashtray” and “this beer is similar to a civet sitting on my face”. When a fellow judge tweeted some of these prosaic comments it began a minor Twitter war until I ended hostilities with a diplomatic “everyone is entitled to their opinion Shane , but you are wrong.”
The Challenge ran over two huge nights and they were likely the busiest days for Malthouse in 2014 just as they were in previous years. Amazingly though, Malthouse is still serving all (or virtually all depending on how busy it was last night) the Challenge beers. This is due to a combination of Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor ordering at least 150 litres of each beer and smaller serving sizes for the stronger ales.
As a judge, I’d like to thank Colin on behalf of the judges for the opportunity to be involved, for him being the steward at our judging session and for splashing out on two whole loaves of white bread as palate cleansers.
As a customer, I’d like to thank Colin and all the staff for their heroic work behind the bar. They were literally facing a horde of hop crazed beer enthusiasts and they did, as ever, a sterling job.
Finally, as a customer who still needs to settle their Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge tab, I’d like to thank Colin for his patience and to beg him to call off the goons. I’ll gladly pay you Thursday for a pint of ale today. 
Easily one of the most popular features of the Malthouse Blog in 2014 has been what has become known as The Greyhound Story which has been told over two parts in the last couple of blogs. I have been contacted by two people implicated in The Greyhound Story disputing the accuracy of key sections in this epic tale. I am presuming they are the only two members of The Conquistadors who read it otherwise there would have been more complaints.
First up was The Shark who disputes the assertion that he got this moniker for being the guy who “was not very good at poker.” While I utterly stand by my assessment of his poker “ability”, he has a point and the story needs correctly.
When the betting syndicate started, he began brilliantly. From memory, he had a run of soccer multi-bets picking two winners and a draw which meant The Shark was the runaway leader in terms of winnings until he peaked at week 3. The group ran for several years. After the peak, it seemed the more he tried, the worse things got. I have the same problem with my hair.
So to clarify – he initially got The Shark nickname because he appeared to have fooled us. Here was this quiet, modest chap carving us up in the sports betting stakes. It also helped that his surname rhymed with Shark which is always a bonus in New Zealand nicknames.  However, in reality, rather than a great player pretending to be bad to reel in his prey like a pool shark, he was actually an average player who had some beginners luck and gave everyone the wrong impression. Over Facebook we agreed he was more of a Reverse Shark but that was not very catchy.
I was also contacted by Bad Boy who disputed that I had a trifecta on the ill fated Wild Goose Chase Race where I bet on all the dogs that finished instead of attacking inanimate and animate (for a brief time) objects. It was his muscular belief that I only ever bet on the favourites to place – the most timid and mousey wager in racing history.
That would have been far too sensible. As explained in previous blogs, my betting system involved searching for horses or dogs whose names included powerful looking titles, professional wrestling connotations and/or references to alcoholic beverages
Here is a theoretical scenario. There is a clear favourite called, say, I’m Going to Win with a recent record of 111111111 and paying $1.20 to win. It is essentially the Usain Bolt of dog racing. Also in the field is another dog with a recent record of 87888868, paying $49 to place and which essentially the white sprint champion of France.  However, because the second dog is called “Emperor Hulk Hogan of Jim Beam”, I’m betting on His Majesty
And it just so happened that in the star crossed race at the heart of The Greyhound Story there were three dogs with names which matched my system so I placed my first ever trifecta bet. Additionally, the thought that my “results cannot possibly get any worse” may also have crossed my mind. So the story is true but it does not end there.
In retaliation to this criticism from Mr Bad Boy, I’d like to point out that his betting system involved researching recent form (which I consider cheating), checking the track conditions (obviously sorcery) and, strangest of all, heading trackside before the race to see which equine or canine contestants defecated and which did not. The final step in his system then seemed to be endless arguing with other poop-spotters about whether an animal going to the bathroom immediately before the race is indeed a good thing or a bad thing. My system looks positively normal compared to that kind of voyeurism…
For those interested in how eating ham went, the short answer is very smoothly – no digestion issues whatsoever. However, it did not spark an unquenchable need to eat meat again either so at 5pm on Friday, after a 4 hour sojourn into cured, salted and brined pork, I was back on the pescatarian wagon.
Next time, we drink to The Useless Box – every bar should have one to keep annoying customers occupied. (Link Below)
 This is better than usual.
 Disclaimer 1 – I was a judge in the Challenge and am, as most people will know, a very small part owner of Fork & Brewer. It should be noted that judging was done blind by a panel. Also, I had not tried Big Tahuna before so would be highly unlikely to recognise it
 Which admittedly has only been part of the Challenge for a couple of years now.
 Disclaimer 2 – Only one judge may have actually been doing the “rocking out” part.
 Disclaimer 3 – Kelly Ryan was one of the judges for the first round which selected the finalists for re-tasting. He did not try his own beer and did not participate in the final award decisions.
 If that is your real name…
 Did I just make a Wimpy reference? Does anyone get Popeye jokes anymore?
 The first rule of Kiwi male nicknames seems to be to chuck a “y” on the end. Indeed my Parliamentary nickname was (and remains) Millsy though I have had many others – Hippo, Sloth, Nils, Noz, Nelson and Andrew Williams to name but a few.
 Appears really good at nationals but simply can’t foot it internationally.
Beer and Brewer Magazine
The Useless Box – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqAUmgE3WyM (Glass Tip – My Second Favourite Canadian Stephen Beaumont)
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Neil Miller on Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/#!/beerlytweeting
Beer and Brewer Magazine – www.beerandbrewer.com/