This rocky start certainly put my beer appreciation back several years. Teenagers called Rheineck “weasel piss” which was highly unfair. If my pet weasel passed Rheineck, I’d rush him to the vet.
In time, I became a solidly loyal beer drinker. My first allegiance was to Lion Brown then Tui. I’d like to say I made the change based on taste and nutritional value but the real reason was that Tui had cooler free stuff. I still have the hats, Hawaiian shirts, television and matching couch to prove it. Back then, I thought Tui suited every social occasion and matched every type of food. The Tui marketing team were probably using me as a case study of the perfect consumer.
Then, slowly, things began to change.
For several years, a very good friend of mine known as Dr G had been trying to tempt me away from my favoured “East India Pale Ale (yeah right)” with any number of fine local and international beers.
When all around him had a box of the generic lager de jour, Dr G could be relied upon to have a veritable cornucopia of pilsners, extra special bitters and barley wine. He would always exhort me to “try a bit of this, sir, instead of your bog standard New Zealand lager”.
I resisted for far longer than was sensible but my conversion was finally complete when I met a Pink Elephant Mammoth. This was a boisterous ale brewed by an English ex-pat in Blenheim. I initially tried it because it was strong – I kept drinking it because it was so flavoursome. Ironically, this conversion happened on the balcony of the old Malthouse when I should have been in Philosophy 101.
Whole new vistas of beer were opened up to me and I’ve been frolicking happily in them ever since.
Roger Pink has been brewing in Blenheim since 1990. He has the notable distinction of having not one but two beers in Michael Jackson’s seminal Great Beer Guide (Pink Elephant Mammoth and Pink Elephant PDA). Beer writer Cameron Williamson once described Pink as “an elephant obsessed Englishman who was a forerunner in the boutique revolution.” That seems like a fair assessment.
Pink is a real individual who makes beers he likes when he wants to make them. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that when the legendary Michael Jackson asked Roger Pink what PDA stood for, Pink told him to mind his own business.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Pink Elephant ales but sadly they have been hard to find in Wellington consistently over recent years. That situation is changing now with more supplies available from a seemingly revitalised Roger Pink. Malthouse fridge #3 (I call him Bob) has stocks of both the legendary Mammoth and the new Humbug Ale.
Pink Elephant Humbug Ale (9%) is a northern hemisphere Christmas ale brewed upside down in Blenheim. Traditionally, this sort of beers is brewed dark, strong and spicy. Humbug certainly fits the bill. It pours a luxuriant brown with gentle ruby highlights. The firm nose is sweet with a hint of spice and higher alcohol. In the glass it is a cakey, sweet ale with notes of raisin, spice, marzipan, liquorice and even port. The closest Kiwi beer I can compare it to is Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch.
On the label Roger Pink recommends matching Humbug with yuletide puddings or even breakfast porridge. If that sounds a bit much, I’d pair it up with proper English cheese – perhaps a wedge of yeoman-like cheddar or a generous slice of stinky blue Stilton.
The Pink Elephant beers should not be confused with the Delerium range from Belgium which uses pink elephants as their logo. However, Delerium do also produce a Christmas ale – Delerium Noel – which on the label feature the cutest pink elephants in little Santa hats.
For some reason, tasting the Humbug on a sunny afternoon at the Malthouse brought to mind the classic Christmas beer quote from, as ever, Homer J Simpson:
You must love this country more than I love a cold beer on a hot Christmas morning.
I hope everyone had a malty Christmas and a hoppy New Year. Roll out 2009 – another year of beer.