Wait, I’m not fooling anyone with this “pity me I am a martyr for your tastebuds” routine. The Annual Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge (now in its ninth year) is my favourite event on the Kiwi beer calendar and represents yet another step on my personal pursuit of hoppiness.

I have judged every Challenge which almost justifies me stealing and changing a quote from the Dalai Lama for this blog title. Obviously, he actually said “the purpose of our lives is to be happy”. In my defence, I have in real life met the man and he struck me as the forgiving type. I guess I will find out in the afterlife…

The panel of expert judges tasted the over two dozen unique West Coast IPA beers absolutely blind. We had no indication of the brewery, strength or style (apart from a couple of odd ones with very specific tasting notes). The three tables of judges – presided over by the near divine figure of beer writing doyen Geoff Griggs – all put forward their best entries for the final table.

At that point, any of the judges who were brewers and had entered the contest were kicked out to the Fork & Brewer. [1] The Fork was, for the first time, the sister bar for this event and was pouring all the Challenge beers over the biggest weekend of the year for both bars.

I was there, man. I was there at the final table. But due to the professionalism of the contest organisers I had no idea what beers actually won until the official announcement, on top of the bar, by Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Proprietor of Malthouse at 9pm. Sadly I was at home asleep in bed. [2]

In the interests of continued professionalism, I went to the Fork & Brewer yesterday and re-tried the three winners, knowing then their true identities. Here are my verbatim tasting notes:

In first place – Moa Perris Sky Juice (Blenheim) 7.2% – “This beer is clear and frankly very pretty in the glass. The aroma is like getting smacked in the face with a sack of sweet Valencia oranges. It is juicy and full, with a late ambush of hop bitterness. Dear fellow judges – we chose wisely.”

For second place – Epic Thor (Auckland) 8.8% – “The nose is dank – smells like Otto’s jacket. [3] Thor features Luke Nicholas’ typically subtle use of hops. I am kidding of course – Luke does not do subtle hops. The lingering bitterness of this beer makes me immediately thirsty and I am not convinced this is an accident.”

And in third place – Tuatara Centennial Highway IPA (Wellington) 8% – “This is clearly the darkest beer of the top three with a college trust fund amber hue. The first impression is caramel because this beer has a really serious malt backbone. There is plenty of citrus but also notes of stone fruit. I want to say damson plum but I have never tasted a damson plum in my life. This highway is well balanced and does not taste like 8%.”

While Moa got the Golden Gumboots Trophy and head brewer David Nicholls got to do a belly dance on the bar, the People’s Choice vote went to Liberty Brewing The Nine (Auckland) 6.4%. This may have been because brewer Joseph Wood threatened to dance on the bar if punters did not vote for him. The more likely alternative is that his beer was super nice and was the fastest selling beer on the night.

In a rare example of real journalism, I did manage to find out the story behind Moa’s name of “Perris Sky Juice” by simply texting the brewer. Perris Valley is a city/town just outside of Los Angeles. It is, I found out thanks to David, a world famous sky diving drop zone which he spent ten days skydiving onto in the 1990s. Hence, he explains, Perris (the place) plus Sky Juice (beer you drink to celebrate that you are still alive after voluntarily throwing yourself out of a plane). [4]

Now I would like to quote a real journalist – trained, skilled and qualified – Michael Forbes from the excellent Beerhive blog. He made these excellent points on Stuff:

“Beer can be a serious business, but it is supposed to be fun, and it’s hard to think of a more fun day on Wellington’s crowded craft beer calendar than the West Coast IPA Challenge.

The beauty of this annual beer competition, which takes place this year at The Malthouse on Courtenay Place and the Fork & Brewer on Bond St, is that it packs all the fun and variety of a beer festival into a pub atmosphere, making it a sort of 5pm drinks on steroids. [5]

It’s fun for the brewers involved because the only rule is they have to brew the most in-your-face beer they can think of. It’s basically a licence to go nuts on flavour, hoppiness, bitterness and, of course, alcohol content.

It’s also fun for the punters because 25 never-seen-before, completely off-the-wall beers suddenly appear in one place – much like you would expect at a festival – except that place is a couple of central city pubs.”

Mr Forbes then interviews Colin Mallon and here I have to correct him. He describes Col as “the brainchild behind the competition” Actually, the competition is Colin’s brainchild – he created it – it is the child of his brain, not the other way round. [6] Then the article gets back on the factual bandwagon:

“But I want to keep it in the pub,” Colin tells me. “The pub is where the people are. I don’t want it to be a hoppy Beervana. This event is all about the bars.”

As Colin explains, the West Coast IPA Challenge started out as a “p…ing contest” [7] between two Auckland brewers, Luke Nicholas of Epic Brewing and Steve Plowman of Hallertau, a decade ago over who could make the hoppiest beer.

Colin egged them on and suggested it happen at Malthouse.

“I can’t actually remember who won, and I don’t think they do either,” he says.

So, congratulations to all the winners at the West Coast IPA Challenge 2016 (some are still on tap at both venues) and heartfelt thanks to all the brewers who entered, and to the crowds of customers who made it a standout day on Wellington’s packed beer schedule.

Next time, we drink to monkeys – because everything is better with monkeys.

[1] Disclaimer: Hold on – I think we have reached some peace on this issue.

[2] So technically I did not know until Saturday. But Colin was still the consummate professional as organiser and steward.

[3] This Simpsons reference is so old that the show was actually funny back then.

[4] I may have taken some creative licence on the last part but the meaning is clear.

[5] Somewhere, Doug Sellman just got outraged and applied for another Government grant.

[6] This option does not bear thinking about.

[7] Almost certainly a “posing contest” or a “philanthropy contest”. What else could it be?

[8] I was there. Colin is right. It is unclear who won.


Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Beer and Brewer Magazine

Cuisine Magazine

TheShout Magazine


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