However, even I was surprised and honoured when the Craft Beer Capital team decided to host a four day, eighteen venue celebration of my beloved hops to mark my birthday and honour this, the 300th post on the Malthouse Blog.

Post Number One (appropriately enough titled “The Constant Pursuit of Hoppiness” ) appeared way back in October 2008 and began with the sentence “blogging is apparently no longer the exclusive domain of tubby guys in track pants posting their every waking thought from the comfort of their parent’s basement.” [1] There were no trademark footnotes back then and the post was about half the length of the more recent epistles.

For five and a half years, this blog has written about close to one thousand beers with comments ranging from one-word descriptions to pages of in-depth research and detailed tasting notes. Some of the recurring jokes have caught on (The Impish Brewer, Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor, Stu McKinlay’s trousers, hugging Steve Nally) while others somehow failed to capture the public’s imagination (mike’s Commando IPA, Steve Plowman as the Epicurean Brewer, actually putting hops in the Hopinator once in a while).

The literary blessing that is ‘footnotes at the end of beer articles’ has spread through the Kiwi beer blogosphere in some part because of their popularity on this blog. It is appropriate to acknowledge again British beer writer Pete Brown whose book “A Man Walks into a Pub” inspired me to start using the format. [2] 

Hopstock 2015 starts today (April 15) and officially runs until April 18. The organisers state the third annual Hopstock is “a celebration of Nelson’s hop harvest. Each year, we savour the fantastic, fresh-hopped beers created from new season hops sent straight from the vine (or for you zythophiles, bine) to the brewery for immediate addition to the brew.”

The 2015 line-up is the biggest and most exciting yet, with 25 fresh-hopped beers brewed by 28 breweries (including 3 collaborations) pouring at 18 official venues around Wellington. For details, check their wonderfully informative website at the link below.

It is clear (to me) that the first three days of Hopstock are simply building up to the big finish – 18 April, the culmination of the fresh hop festivities and, not coincidentally, the day of my birth. Now, I am aware of at least one shaggy looking beer purveyor who is trying to claim Hopstock is being thrown for his birthday which is 15 April. This is, to use a debating turn of phrase, “nonsense on stilts.” Analysing which famous people have birthdays on each day of Hopstock clearly demonstrates it is all about me. [3]

April 15 is the birthday for Leonardo da Vinci, Seth Rogan, [4] Emma Watson, Austin Aries, and two people I have given a lot of my money to over the years – singer Samantha Fox and Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor. The selection for April 16 is equally diverse including noted comedian Charlie Chaplain, noted non-comedian Martin Lawrence, Vickie Guerrero, Pope Benedict XVI, Spike Milligan, Jimmy Osmond and Paul London.

Pickings are relatively sparse on April 17 with the only eminent people being Rowdy Roddy Piper and Sean Bean. [5] They must be disappointed to share the day with the vapid Victoria Beckham and self confessed Commie Nikita Khrushchev. 

As for April 18, the climax of Hopstock 2015, there is really just me. OK, I’m happy to acknowledge that James Woods, Rick Moranis, [6] and Conan O’Brien were also born on this day. I’m far more ambivalent about having the same birthday as the foppish David Tennant, and simply vomiting with rage at Kourtney Kardashian for taking some of the class off this otherwise august date as her family has the innate ability to do to everything they are ever associated with.

For Hopstock, Malthouse will be pouring mike’s Hopstock and Two Smoking Barrels (5%), a smoked, distressed hop, barrel aged New World ale. My mind boggled at the concept so I braved the vagrancies of the Taranaki phone service and rang brewer Ron Trigg for the inside word.

Ron set the scene saying “fresh hopped beers all tend to be very young and green and fresh because there is not a lot of time between the hop harvest and serving them to customers. We wanted to do something different, so last year we brewed a fresh hopped witbier which is pretty unusual. This year we decided to really geek it up.”

“The beer is made using our own Smoothcone hops off the fence at the brewery. No one seems to know the origin of them. Rather than fresh green hops, I wanted to utilise “distressed” fresh hops. Basically, I roasted them in the oven at a very low heat. It was hugely labour intensive as we only have a small oven which does not have any temperature control at less than 170 degrees. Given I wanted 60 to 70 degrees, I had to keep turning the oven on and off,” Ron said.

“I basically slow roasted the hops until they start turning brown. They are not fully cooked. The difference between distressed hops and fresh hops is that the flavour will be more woody than grassy. That was the differentiation I was going for. The idea came from Mike Johnson who told me that back in the pioneering days he used to roast malt in his home oven because he could not get darker malts. He burnt out two cookers that way,” explained Ron.

He was not finished – not by a long shot. “I’ve also always wanted to make a tobacco beer. I had a bag of really old Hallertau cone hops so I made some severely bitter hop tea and added it to the wort in the fermenter to control the bitterness and colour. I used normal ale yeast as well as brett yeast as it fermented in funky ass brett-infected barrels,” Ron said.

He was still not finished. “Then I dry hopped the beer with fresh green hops in the barrel and, while it had a lovely colour from the hop tea, it was still a bit astringent – too green and grassy. So I took the beer out of the barrels and put it into stainless steel so I could steep some of Gladfield’s new manuka smoked malt in there for a few hours. It has been conditioned for three weeks in the brewery and a week in the kegs,”

Ron describes the beer as a “solidly drinkable New World ale, pale by colour but not a pale ale.” The name is an obvious nod to the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and is completely accurate as they only used two barrels to make the beer. Ron concedes that “mike’s generally has a penchant for short beer names but here we came up with a big long waffly one. It is much better than our earlier idea of calling it Distressed Hop Beer!”

mike’s Hopstock and Two Smoking Barrels is on tap at Malthouse now. Ron Trigg himself will be in the house from 5pm on Thursday (16 April) and is bringing some manuka smoked malt to put into the Hopinator to see how it tastes. [7] Next week, mike’s Imperious Imperial India Pale Ale will be on tap. This IIPA is packed with American hops and was reportedly very harsh and full on at the start. However, Ron believes six weeks of conditioning has mellowed it out. I’m certainly looking forward to it. [8]

Next time, we drink to the musical legacy of Samantha Fox.

[1] For the record, I’m writing this while wearing shorts and sitting in my own living room.

[2] This is still my favourite book of his and, told correctly, “The Porter Story” always brings the house down at tastings. That is quite an achievement given the tale is about a sizable number of people dying. 

[3] This was the initial working title for the 300th post until “The Man” insisted I actually talk about beer as well.

[4] Those two do not appear in the same sentence very often.

[5] Spoiler: Sean Bean dies.

[6] My 23rd favourite Canadian for those that are keeping track at home.

[7] Colin may not yet be aware of this idea but fortunately he never reads this far before posting the blog.

[8] Providing Kelly Ryan from the Fork & Brewer has not drunk my sample bottle as he claimed on Twitter yesterday.


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine
Cuisine Magazine
TheShout Magazine
New Zealand Liquor News Magazine


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