Now that the triennial Mayoral candidate brewing blog has been published, voting papers are being distributed from today. Coincidence? Almost certainly. [1]

To celebrate this civic milestone, Malthouse is running the now annual Session Beer Session starting in, oh, about an hour and running until they run out of sessionable beers. [2] From noon on 16 September 2016, Malthouse will be serving ten responsible yet flavoursome session beers.

For the purposes of this event, Malty has taken a relatively liberal definition of “session beer” as being under 5%. Once you start arguing about how to define “light”, “low alcohol”, “lower alcohol”, “mid-strength”, “session” and/or “less-than-full-strength” beers then you end up in a world of confusion.

I know because I literally just did exactly that. In an article about “lighter beers” [3] for the latest edition of TheShout Magazine (part of FMCG Magazine published by the Intermedia Group) I noted that “it always pains a Kiwi to admit the Aussies are ahead of us, but this is demonstrably the case when it comes to the consumption of light (under 2.5%) and lower alcohol (under 3.5%) beers. In Australia, around one in four beers sold are in these lower alcohol categories. Here, the same figure is closer to just one beer in twenty.”

As a multi-time award nominated beer writer I interviewed a number of brewing figures for this article because, let’s be honest, lower alcohol beers are hardly my area of expertise. [4] The article notes “one of the trailblazers for hoppy, flavoursome, low alcohol pale ales is Paul Croucher, co-founder of Croucher Brewing. Croucher explained their Low Rider “Very Small India Pale Ale” (2.5%) was initially brewed to address what he saw as a “lack of quality options in the lower alcohol segment of the craft beer market” and a belief that “we could develop something better. Lowrider is now Croucher Brewing’s best selling beer, probably the only New Zealand brewery to have a light beer at number one.”

“Looking at the overall beer scene, Croucher believed “it is pretty clear that you cannot have every beer being 5%, 6%, 7%, 8%, 9%. After the success of Lowrider we have gained a lot more confidence in that space and will be moving into the 3.5% to 4% market.” In addition to the drink-driving changes, Croucher noted that “people like to chat, converse and have a few beers. If you are drinking those stronger beers then you can’t drink so many.””

For the 2016 Session Beer Session, Malthouse is putting on ten taps of session beers. For the first time, all of the session beers can be served in an Imperial Pint Glass upon request. [5] Amusingly, the definition of “pint” is nearly as controversial as the definition of “session beer.” However, as an Imperial Pint – which is technically illegal to ask for or sell – is considerably larger than a traditional “pint” it will (unsurprisingly) cost a little bit more. You have been duly warned.

Here are some very brief tasting notes on the ten session beers on tap:

Croucher Downshift (3.5%) – Downshift is the latest session IPA from the creators of Low Rider, a beer which really launched the session IPA thang in New Zealand. It has an English inspiration and notes of orange zest and the flesh of a super ripe melon.

Emerson’s Bookbinder (3.7%) – This was a session beer before session beers were popular. Brewed in the style of a traditional English bitter, Booky (as it known to its many fans) is full-bodied and has notes of caramel, marmalade and nuts from the use of four malts and two hops.

Fork Brewing DRAFT (3.8%) – Kelly Ryan, brewer and #brewjesus at Fork Brewing, describes this beers as “meta, reverse psychology, walk down memory lane [6] called DRAFT, a 3.8% classic NZ Draught Lager. By default, this was the very first style of beer that I brewed in my life was when I was at DB Breweries working at Tui. I’ve been brewing now for 15 years, so it is bit of an anniversary – literally to the day – to when I started as a brewer back at the beginning of 2001.” The finished product is purported to have notes of caramel, Digestive Biscuit, golden syrup, berry fruit and – I am not making this up – a “molecule of lemon juice” squeezed in from a distance.

Fork Brewing Sourbet (3.7%) – A raspberry and lemon Berliner Weisse because Kelly likes to drink tart beer. Well, some of the owners of Fork Brewing like to drink Double IPAs so get on with it Kel! [7] In my personal version of beer hell there are notes of raspberry, lemon tartness, almonds, and sadness.

Good George Amber Ale (3.7%) – Another beer looking to invoke the classic English working person’s Bitter. There are rich malts (caramel and a dash of chocolate) balanced with colonial hops (citrus, herbs, pine needles). This was a gold medal winner at the New World Beer and Cider Awards.

Mussel Inn Captain Cooker (4.4%) – I see no reason to update my tasting notes from last year as they remain perfect: “This beer is as Kiwi as Pavlova, Phar Lap and Laughing at Quade Cooper. Brewed at the iconic Mussel Inn in Golden Bay, it uses freshly picked tips of the Manuka tree (the bottle version is stronger and uses dried Manuka). Based on James Cook’s original recipe but updated for modern palates, this beer sings joyfully with notes of ginger, Turkish delight, rose water and unicorns.”

Moa Session Alps (4.3%) – This is a White IPA, a new beer style which has sprung forth without my express written consent. The brewer describes it as “a light, fruity ale that takes its bitter, hoppy character and combines it with Belgian yeast notes of coriander and pepper.”

Raindogs Wee Bairn Bitter (3.8%) – Brewer Sean Harris notes that “Wee Bairn Bitter is named for my daughter Mila. It is brewed in the English tradition as a Session Bitter. Highly drinkable, a few pints can be enjoyed with friends whilst maintaining your wits! Wee Bairn is well balanced with toffee and toasted malt flavours married with a smooth bitterness. Citrus and fruity notes develop from late and dry hopping.”

Pomeroy’s Golden Bitter (3.8%) – Brewed for one of the best pubs in the nation, Christchurch’s Pomeroy’s Old Brewery Inn, by the neighbouring and modern Stainless Steel Brewery, this is a slightly more modern take on the classic Bitter, with plenty of caramel but a hint more fruit and grassiness. At Pom’s pub it is often served with plates of pork crackling! [8]

Valkryie Gudrun (5%) – This is a dark ale (not a porter or a stout the brewer insists) with bittersweet notes of chocolate, chai latte, vanilla and cinnamon. It is named after Gudrun, a Norse queen who could be charitably described as “feisty” – if and only if “feisty” meant killing your sons, roasting their hearts and feeding them to your drunk husband, [9], killing said husband, then burning down his hall and killing all his men. Amazing, she remarried shortly after. It ended poorly.

Next time, we drink to 80s music – history will judge it kindly. I know I do.


[1] But I like taking credit for things. (Glass Tip: Stephen Colbert)

[2] The beers that run out will be of course be immediately replaced by other beers which may or may not be defined as “sessionable”. I think that covers all eventualities.

[3] See? I produced a long list of possible descriptors and in the very next paragraph used a completely different one. That is how untidy this definitional scene is.

[4] The next article is about cider. I needed some serious help on that one too.

[5] Even before I asked, I have received a certified and notarised letter from Malthouse confirming they will not serve me West Coast IPA Challenge winning Moa Perris Sky Juice (7.2%) in an Imperial pint glass “even if you start grovelling and begging like last time.”

[6] He may have been hanging out with the Yeastie Boys too much judging by this flowery prose…

[7] Disclaimer: As a part-owner, I can instruct Kelly to do anything I want. As a part-owner and the one guy who knows how to make beer, Kelly can completely ignore me and just continue making popular beers. He has chosen the latter option.

[8] I think I gained a kilo just typing that…

[9] And people think pork crackling is bad for you…



Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Beer and Brewer Magazine

Cuisine Magazine

TheShout Magazine



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