that was not in the pay of “Big Cucurbita”. [1] It has some nutritional value, but is also one of those rare products where the amount of calories burned up to eat it is almost exactly the same as the amount of calories gained from eating it. This is called “calorie neutral” food and it is exactly as pointless as it sounds.

As a result, I approached this week’s June-iper pipewrench (a delicious combination of craft beer and boutique gin) with considerable caution. The gin – Hendricks’s Gin – is an old and reputable brand. [2] However, the beer match was Berliner Weisse – a style I consider almost as bad as strawberry beer – which was additionally poured through the Modus Hopperandus (the Malthouse Hopinator machine) over cucumber peel. I was sceptical that even 8 Wired, one of my favourite breweries, could make a decent Berliner Weisse, far less have it poured over a flavour-low second-rate melon cousin.

It turns out I was wrong. I had 8 Wired Hippy Berliner (4%) as part of a beer tour I was running on Monday. Despite my predictions, the cucumber is surprisingly prominent – fresh and clean – taking away some of the tartness of the beer and lifting the drinkability dramatically.

Using Hendricks’s gin in the pipewrench is far cleverer than I initially thought. A little research revealed that, in addition to the usual gin botanicals, Hendricks’s actually contains cucumber (and Bulgarian Rose, whatever that is). Anyway, the combination of cucumber beer and cucumber gin surprised and delighted me. It also should stave off scurvy for another few weeks and totally counts as one of your five a day fruit and vegetables. [3]

Last week I promised “The Porter Story”. This is the piece of writing which convinced me I truly wanted to be a beer writer, to tell the stories about beer and people who make and drink it. It was written by Pete Brown and appeared in his book “A Man Walks Into A Bar: A Sociable History of Beer”. [4] Some years ago I obtained his kind permission to reprint what I affectionately call “The Porter Story”. No other beer writer could make tragedy this funny:

Porter Explodes – no, really

“The brewers were about to try to symbolize the scale and ambition of the entire Industrial Revolution. In the shape of a beer vat. And like many of the most grandiose schemes of men throughout history, it would end in tragedy.

Of course, it was Sam Whitbread who led the way. In 1760 he made his deeply impressive Chiswell Street brewery even more fantastic with the addition of the Porter Tun room. The room was a feat in itself, with tourist guides at the time marvelling ‘the unsupported roof span… is exceeded in its majestic size only by that of Westminster Hall.’ And it was dominated by a giant beer vat.

The gauntlet had been thrown down. Proving that phallic substitutes among powerful men predate the arrival of bright red sports cars, rival brewer Henry Thrale built a new porter vat and celebrated its completion by having a hundred people sit down to dinner inside it. ‘Right then, you bastard,’ thought the Meux brewery, who went off and built one sixty feet wide and twenty-three feet high. They had two hundred guests to dinner in that one…

The contest reached its conclusion with the Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery tragedy in 1814. The brewery’s vat… held over a million pints of porter. It was made of wood and held together by twenty-nine gigantic iron hoops. One day a workman noticed a crack in one of the hoops.  As each hoop weighed over 500 pounds he thought a little crack was nothing to worry about and he forgot about it.

A few hours later there was an explosion so loud it was heard five miles away. The vat had burst, and the force of the jet stream of beer crushed the second vat. This meant that more beer than you can possibly imagine jetted out under very high pressure.* [Footnote: Yes, I’m sure you can imagine an awful lot of beer, but trust me – this was more.] [5] The twenty-five-foot-high, one-foot-thick, solid brick wall of the brewery stood no chance. It was flattened and a tidal wave of beer raged into the surrounding streets.

The first to die were those drowned by the initial wave. Others were crushed to death in the stampede as they threw themselves into the gutters to drink as much free beer as they were physically able, hampering any hope of rescue for those trapped in the rubble. Some of those who survived the crush subsequently died of alcohol poisoning. The survivors were taken to hospital, but they weren’t out of it yet. They reeked of beer, and those patients already in the wards rioted because they thought patients in other parts of the hospital were being served beer while their own doctors were holding out on them.

Finally, there were still further causalities when the dead were taken to a nearby house and laid out for identification by grieving relatives. Everyone was curious to see what victims of death by beer looked like, so they crowded into the house for a look, and the owners even began charging admission. Soon there were so many people in the house that the floor collapsed, and several of those who had gone to look at the dead ended up joining them.”

Darkest Days has been a tremendous success so far with over twenty crepuscular beers on offer. Wellington’s torrential rain and gale force winds have probably heightened people’s desire for a warming decadent drop. While there are a number of exceptional porters, stouts and dark ales currently on tap, it is perhaps worth remembering the classics.

Before I became the “Minister of Hops” and an unabashed hop head my first proper beer love was Belgian beers – big Belgian beers. Here are my tasting notes on a couple of genuine world classics:

“Very few breweries have a mission statement of any description. Certainly none that I know of, have something nearly as spiritual as “here, in this heaven of peace and silence where since 1850 Trappist monks have dedicated their life to God, beer and cheeses are made which in themselves gladden the heart of man.” [6]

Those words are the guiding philosophy of the brewery known around the world as Chimay. The semi-silent order of Trappist monks there started brewing in 1862 but has only been commercially selling their marvellous beers to the outside world since 1925. Operating under the motto “ora e labora” (work and prayer), Chimay make a house beer exclusively for the monks (Chimay Doree or Gold) and three beers for general consumption and charity.

The “weakest” of those beers is Chimay Red (7%). Like so many gingers in our intolerant world, Chimay Rouge is often ignored in favour of its blonder or brunette siblings. However, it is a genuinely fine red ale with notes of pepper and apricots. I would liken it to a peck on the cheek from Emma Watson – elegant and divine, but you just want more.

My favourite of the range is Chimay White (8%), one of the first and best Tripels I ever tried. It is heavily hopped (by Belgian standards) with the resulting bone-dry golden ale showcasing notes of muscat, juicy raisin, salt, apple and a champagne mouthfeel. Also known as Cinq Cents, Chimay White is drier than John Stewart criticising President Barack Obama.

Easily the most critically acclaimed Chimay beer is Chimay Blue (9%). It is a dark beer which has notes of chocolate, caramel, prunes, vanilla, funky yeast, smoke and brown sugar. If I had to invent a simile – and I believe I do for this post – drinking the Chimay Grand Reserve is like motor-boating a vat of decadent dark chocolate. Chimay Blue is also a cellar-friendly beer – changing and often improving with age.  Malthouse stocks a range of Chimay Blue vintages.

Orval brewery (officially Abbaye Notre Dame D’Orval) makes two beers and only sells one of them to outsiders.  The abbey traces its founding to when a countess allegedly lost her wedding, prayed for its safe return, a trout immediately and somewhat miraculously turned up with the ring in its mouth, so she founded a monastery as a big thank you.

Their one commercially available beer is simply known as Orval (6.9%). It has plenty of hops but most attention is paid to the addition of semi-wild Brettanomyces yeast, Belgian beers were some of the first proper beers I enjoyed as I entered the world of craft beer somewhat later than most. I recall the great Geoff Griggs – grand maester of New Zealand beer writing – describing Orval as having a “sweaty horse blanket” character, and thinking:

1) That cannot possibly be true.

2) If it is true, that cannot possibly be a good thing.

I was, of course, completely wrong on both counts again. [7] Orval has a distinct whiff and note of equine cloth clothings and it is one of the most distinctive, and delicious, signatures in the world of beer.  Every beer connoisseur should try this beer once, preferably with a washed rind cheese and some grilled trout. The taste of Orval is like a loving lick of salty sweat off the great Phar Lap’s post-race forelock.”

Malthouse is hosting the now annual launch of Renaissance Craftsman Oatmeal Stout (4.9%) from 5pm on Friday 1 July 2016. Renaissance brewer and outrageous moustache aficionado Andy Deuchars will be in town for the release, and Gabriel Davidson, Wellington Chocolate Factory chocolatier, will be popping in too.

Because decadence is a hobby for Malthouse, they are offering punters the option of adding a scoop of ice cream to their pint of Craftsman, to make it an Ice Cream Stout Spider (for $0.50 a scoop), [8] and selling Wellington Chocolate Factory chocolate bars in the form of their Craft Beer Bar and Great War Bar for $13.50.

Next time, we drink to plucky little Iceland and their famous soccer/football victory.

[1] The Cucurbita family includes cucumbers as well as gourds, squashes, melons, zucchini, and Alec Baldwin.

[2] Well, since 1999 at least.

[3] Malthouse management wishes me to stress that this nutritional claim is in no way legally binding because it is almost certainly untrue

[4] Still my favourite beer book in terms of style and the quality of writing.

[5] This was THE footnote which inspired my use of footnotes in this blog. One day, I hope to write on as good as that.

[6] It is hard to imagine, say, Joseph Wood from Liberty Brewing using pretty much any of those words in his mission statement.

[7] Arguing about beer with Geoff Griggs tends to end in utter defeat – at least it does for me. Because he is almost always completely right.

[8] Officially my beer hell – it will sell well.


Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Beer and Brewer Magazine

Cuisine Magazine

TheShout Magazine


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