Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Fat Monk’s Raspberry Wheat Beer

This week we’re going to take on a wheat beer. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a wheat beer, I think a Hoegaarden from memory, and it was absolutely disgusting! Basically beer + wheat-bix + coriander + grapefruit/banana all blended together. Houston we have a problem! Now, it could have just been that particular beer or it could be that there is something in that particular flavour profile that just doesn’t suit my taste buds, I’m not sure. Either way, terrible stuff and it put me off. But maybe now, a little older and wiser, it might be worth having another go. After all, wheat beer is pretty popular.

Wheat beer is a traditionally European style beer. The German edition is a white beer and is traditionally brewed with a 50/50 wheat and malt mix. The Belgium edition includes extras like coriander and orange peel (Hoegaarden is Belgium). Because they are brewed with wheat and a lot less malt and than brown ales, IPA's or even pilsners, they really end up being a whole different genre of drink. They often smell like banana and spice and usually have don't have much hops and so tend not to be bitter. Sometimes they are mixed with cola, or served as a radler (half wheat beer and half lemonade). So I guess if this raspberry wheat version is no good I can at least try and adding some lemonade.

Fat Monk is a Hawke's Bay brewery. About 15 minutes down the road from where our family was holidaying a couple of weeks ago (Havelock North), and also the reason why I thought I’d try the beer. Better give something local a whirl. I also grabbed a couple of beers from The Hawke's Bay Brewing Company about 10 minutes in the other direction.  Locally there is also Zeelandt Brewery and Giant Brewing Company. Bored with mass produced largers, Fat Monk started out as a brew-pub and a part of Abbey Cellars (a local winery). They started their experimental brewing in 2012 and then serving and selling in 2013, thus they are pretty new to the craft beer scene.

Price: $7.49 500mils

Alcohol content: 4.7%

Colour: A pale watermelon red with the raspberry in the beer giving it the red hue. It looks very similar to a berry cider but is cloudy. There are stings of tiny bubbles but not much fizz.  

Aroma: Smells of mashed bananas and raspberry. It also smells a bit like cough medicine, but not in an overpowering or unpleasant way. 

Palate: Swirls around in your mouth, a bit like a sour cider. No malty flavours and no hoppy flavours. It really is a whole different kind of drink; something entirely “other” than beer. The wheat profile hits first and then sour raspberry comes through afterwards.   

Finish: It’s a pretty dry finish, as overall the beer isn't particularly sweet. Here the wheat profile sticks to the back of your mouth and is probably the most pleasant part of the drink. 

On the Chart: Here the chart doesn’t work. Wheat beer isn’t really regarded as malty nor hoppy and so a chart setting malt against hops is basically pointless. I’ll put it slightly to the left of centre because the sour notes work like a type of bitterness (kind of). In terms of complexity, well, it lacks body but still has a little bit going on, so it doesn't bottom out on the chart. 

Conclusion: Its perhaps not fair to make the first wheat beer reviewed a raspberry infused one, but hey, it is what it is. I asked my wife what she thought; “Well, I don’t like beer, but this tastes quite nice.” I think this pretty clearly points to the reality that this brew is more in the cider family than the beer family. It is beer, but it isn't beer. Ultimately this was, to me, a sour kind of cider and to be honest, not really that enjoyable. I better make sure that next time I review a wheat beer that it is a more traditional variety, like a Hoegaarden. I wouldn't go out of my way to track down another bottle of this, but if you like sour ciders and wheat beer, this would probably be a 10/10 for you. If that’s the case you’ll be all over Fat Monk’s Raspberry Wheat Beer.  

Next week we'll review Tuatara's Indian Pale Ale. I know I've already reviewed two of Tuatara's beers and there are so many other breweries doing cool things in NZ, but their IPA is one of my all time favourites and pretty much the beer I measure other beers against. Ciao. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Tuatara’s XV Limited Release Aged Russian Imperial Stout

It’s winter and that makes it the perfect time to tuck into the darker ales. Last week we popped the top on Boundary Breweries’ London Porter. It’s a cheaper craft beer, a lot cheaper than this week’s XV, but it delivered beautifully. This week we’re tackling one of the big boys on the market at the moment. To celebrate 15 years of brewing Tuatara have released a limited edition “XV Aged Russian Imperial Stout.” And it looks pretty impressive!

XV – 15 years of brewing for Tuatara.

Aged – they actually brewed and bottled the beer in August 2015 and have carefully cellared it ever since. It’s been stored away getting more and more complex over the last 12 months.

Stout – A stout is “more-or-less” a stronger version of a porter. Usually between 7% and 8% rather than around 5.5%. Always a dark and malty beer.

Russian Imperial – Russian Imperial stouts were a type of stout brewed in England for the Russian Court in the 18th Century. A Russian Imperial tended to be an even bigger version of a stout, anything from 9% through to 15%. This imperial by Tuatara is 11%. So an Imperial stout is a big beer.  As a side note, this is why double IPAs are often called Imperial IPAs. Not because they were brewed for Russia, but because they are big beers as well; imperial has become synonymous with big beers.

Big with a stout doesn’t just mean alcohol though. Stouts are big across the board. Lots of different dark malts create potential for all sorts of flavours to come through; chocolate, coffee, liquorice, caramel, toffee, maple syrup etc. Lots of malts also mean space for plenty of hops (if a brewer wants to add hops), some stouts are very very light when it comes to hops. Tuatara has brewed this stout with Simcoe and Amarillo hops though, and it has an IBU bitterness rating of 100. That’s really high! Their Double Trouble APA was 165 and off the scale, while their IPA (probably my favorite beer) sits at 40. And even at 40 the hops come through still. So 100 is pretty hoppy. It will be really interesting to see the balance of this beer.  

Here we go!!!

Price: $17.99 500mils

Alcohol content: 11%

Colour: Black, deep dark black. Almost oily as it pours. Like molasses, so better grab a knife and a fork. It has a dark macchiato head. Looks amazing. Hold it up to the light and there is no colour coming through; it’s pitch black!

Aroma: Smell is delicious. Strong liquorice aroma. Coffee and chocolate. Also though, there are sour or herbaceous hoppy notes coming through too. Yum! 

Palate: This is genuinely amazing. And so much happening! At first there is a hot hoppy tang, but it is warm and tingly, almost like a liqueur. It feels so thick and creamy. The hops combine with the malts and offer a big liquorice flavour which then transforms into strong espresso coffee. This is awesome!

Finish: As you swallow the coffee is strong and then smooths out to a dark chocolate finish. Real dark chocolate though, like 80% cocoa, so it leaves a warm and bitter aftertaste. As you sit though, this mellows and your mouth feels like it has been painted with caramel sauce and crushed chocolate coated coffee beans. It’s delightful.  

On the Chart: This beer is about as complex as it gets. Surely! You’ll only going to see the bottom of the black bottle hanging down on the chart. It is a very complex beer and jumps straight to the top.  It’s an oily and black with so much malty goodness, but at the same time the hops come through wonderfully as well. Even though it has an IBU rating of 100, I’ll still be putting it in the malty section of the chart. The hops are not overpowering or harsh at all.

Conclusion: This beer was an absolute delight. Ballast Points’ Indra Kunindar Curry Stout is an amazing beer too, but you feel like you’ll only ever need to have it once in your life. This Tuatara XV felt like a beer worth getting again and again to share with friends. It may have already sold out though, so if you are after a bottle get one quick. $17.99 obviously makes it a more expensive beer, but well worth it. It really is a taste sensation!

Next week we'll check out Fat Monk's Raspberry Wheat Beer.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Boundary Road's London Porter

It's the middle of winter, mild as it might be, and that means log fires, hearty beef stews and even heartier black beers. Or, in other words, it's time to tuck into a variety of deep and dark porters and stouts. This week will have a look at a porter, and I've chosen a cheaper one on purpose. Firstly to see how it holds up, and then secondly, because next week we'll be reviewing Tuatara's 15th Anniversary Russian Imperial Stout; the XV. This one is a little more pricey.

So, Boundary Road's London Porter... Boundary Breweries launched in 1987 as competition to the two powerhouse breweries operating in New Zealand. Dominion Breweries (DB) and Lion Nathan. I’m not sure if they set out to brew “craft beer” or just largers capable of sitting alongside existing NZ beer. Either way they are now owned by the Japanese beer giant, Asahi, and brew a range of craft beers as well as Kingfisher, Carlsberg and Tuborg, (and I assume some Asahi as well), all under license. The fact that they do this, and the awful "ginger beer beer" they brewed one time, makes me suspicious of their ability to brew quality craft beer. It seems they are so diversified that to really do craft beer well could be a push. They also come across to me as "the supermarket craft beer." They actually promote on their website the supermarkets you can buy it from. Makes me wonder if it is cheap and nasty rather than the real deal. Still I thought I’d give their porter a go.

What’s a porter? How is it different to a stout?

There isn’t a lot of difference between a porter and a stout. If you search the internet, you’ll find plenty of interesting discussions of subtle differences but at the end of the day they are two different versions of the same sort of beer. Essentially. More or less. There is some debate. 

Basically though, porters originated in London as a dark style beer brewed using brown malts with the first record of "porters" being in the early 1700’s. Up until around 1700 beer was brewed and then sold to publicans who would age the beer themselves and serve when they felt appropriate. Porters were aged at the brewery and then sold to pubs. They were a strong beer, just over 6%, and apparently a favorite of beer among local street and river porters. 

Stouts were historically the strongest of the porters, 7% or 8%. Originally called “extra porters” or “double porters” or “stout porters” they were eventually known as “stouts.”

Nowadays porters are not a hugely popular beer, aside from in the craft industry. Even then, dark beers are usually brewed stronger, as stouts, and you’ll find a wide variety; chocolate stouts, Russian stouts or Imperial stouts, oyster stouts, chocolate stouts, oatmeal stouts etc. You can find honey porters, vanilla porters and chocolate porters aged in barrels if you shop around, but stouts tend to rule the roost. Looking forward to next weeks Tuatara XV Russian Imperial!

Let’s give this London Porter a try. I’m expecting creamy caramel malts and not a lot of hops. Also, I'm suspicious it will lack body, i.e taste watery through the middle. We’ll see. 

Price: $5.99 500mils

Alcohol content: 5.6%

Colour: Black (obviously) but when you hold it up to the light, it is a deep red where the light can get though. Nice head, creamy rather than coffee like as we sore with the Aro Noir. A few bubbles but nothing to note.

Aroma: Smell is subtle, hints of coffee and chocolate ice-cream.

Palate: At first a slightly bitter taste with the beer feeling like it lacks body, it feels watery. But then the depth kicks in with wonderful deep flavours; milk chocolate, caramel, instant coffee. As you tilt the glass to drink, you again notice the beautiful red hew in the light. It is a very deep red/brown.

Finish: The aftertaste is that of a double shot flat white in a tulip. Espresso now rather than instant. Then a couple of swallows later you get the residual bitterness of hops. Nice hops too, not overpowering or too "herby." 

On the Chart: This porter is about as complex as Garage Project’s Aro Noir but certainly not as hoppy. You pick up the hops for sure, but it’s malt that is leading the whole way. Complexity is the notes of coffee and caramel rather than the contrasting hops. 

Conclusion: I’ve no complaints about this beer. It was a lot more than I was expecting. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Guinness or a Kilkenny, both which I find pretty watery through the middle. They both seem to lack body and complexity (from memory at least). This London Porter doesn’t lake anything. It’s a great beer. Not as complex as an imperial stout, or a beer that has set out to actually capture chocolate or coffee or whiskey flavours, but still delicious. It’s a cheaper brew and it’s a supermarket brew, but provided you like a dark beer, there is nothing wrong with it. Good value for money. Yum. Time to chuck another log on the fire, put the old knitted reading socks on, and with feet up, tuck into a couple of chapters of The Hobbit. Better finish this delicious beer too. Good stuff. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Harrington Breweries’ The Rogue Hop NZ Pilsner

Started in 1991, John Harrington, of Harrington’s Breweries (Christchurch NZ), set out to brew affordable and tasty beers as an alternative to the overpriced brown ales dominant in New Zealand. At least that’s the story on their website. At the very least, Harrington’s tends to be a slightly more affordable craft beer and is available at most supermarkets. Today I thought I’d tackle their pilsner.

What is a pilsner? As mentioned in our previous discussion of IPAs and APAs, beer was traditionally brewed dark. With clean burning coal allowing for lightly roasted malts and a paler ale, all sorts of brewing possibilities opened up. In the early 1800’s England started producing pale ales and then especially the “Indian Pale Ale” which was exported to India with extra hops preserving the beer for the duration of the voyage. At the same time pale ales were also being brewed throughout Europe. Pilsner is a style of pale ale that takes its name from the Bohemian city of Pilsen, which at the time was a part of the Austrian Empire. While Indian Pale Ale took off in England and India, Pilsners were increasingly the rage in Europe. The clear golden beer was a welcome alternative to darker European Ales.

How is it different to something like an IPA?  What should one expect from a pilsner?

IPA’s tend to try and balance malt and hops. Strong hops are added to strong malts and the result is a reasonably big beer full of flavor and complexity. Pilsners on the other hand tend to be lighter beers. The lighter malts used in a pilsner aren’t as strong as in an IPA and thus the bitterness of hops comes through without the brewer needing to be so heavy handed with the hops. A pilsner is still a hoppy beer but it is more easy going. One should therefore expect the bitterness of hops, but also more pleasant (but subtle) flavor profiles are given a chance to come through. This Harrington’s pilsner is promising gooseberry aromas and peachy/apricot flavors. We’ll see. Pilsners also tend to have a dry finish, which basically means a crisp finish rather than a sweet lingering finish. Let’s see if this is the case.

Price: $4.99 500mils

Alcohol content: 5%

Colour: A lovely bright golden colour. A lot more pale than an IPA which tends towards a browny/orangy gold. This is very pale. Slightly cloudy. Not much bubbles.

Aroma: Sweet to smell. Honey and peaches.  

Palate: It’s fizzy. Feels light and refreshing in the mouth. You pick up the bitterness and grassy flavour of the hops straight away and then lovely hints of tropical fruit. 

Finish: The contrast when it comes to the finish between this pilsner and the Epic Pale Ale from last week is quite remarkable. While the flavors of the Epic Pale Ale linger, with the pilsner the bitterness drops off straight away, closely followed by the sweetness of fruit. And then it’s gone. It is a clean and dry finish and a part of what makes a pilsner such a refreshing beer.

On the Chart: On the chart we’re in the hoppy and simple quadrant. Here the continuum between hops and malt on the chart doesn’t quite work. The Epic Pale Ale from last week was more hoppy than this pilsner but also had unmistakable caramel malt flavors in the mix. And so, while the pilsner is placed on the chart as being less hoppy than the Epic Pale Ale, it is not more malty. You don’t pick up any malt flavors in this pilsner. This of course make it less complex but also potentially more of a refreshing beer.

Conclusion: I’ve not drunk a lot of Harrington’s but I have most of their premium range at one stage or another. They genuinely are a more affordable craft beer but, at least in regards to this Rogue Hop NZ Pilsner, that doesn’t mean you are getting a second rate beer. This pilsner is on point; delicious and refreshing with the sweetness coming from the fruitiness of the hops rather than the caramel sugars of malt. I’d happily recommend this to anyone looking to sample a pilsner, especially after a great days fishing and with a plate of fresh Snapper. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Epic’s Pale Ale

Epic is a well-regarded Auckland based NZ brewery. Their most awarded beer is there Pale Ale. Essentially it is brewed in the style of an American Pale Ale, but they refer to it as their Epic Pale Ale. It’s their signature beer and for many enthusiasts is the standard “go-to” when it comes to craft beers. If this is an American Pale Ale though, what about an Indian Pale Ale? What’s the difference between APAs and IPAs? What even is an IPA?

So firstly, what is an IPA? Throughout history beer has mainly been brewed dark; brown through to black basically. Malts were dried over wood burning ovens and the result was nearly always smoky, roasty and toasty. About 300 years ago this changed. Clean burning coal allowed roasters a far greater degree of control when it came to roasting malts. Lightly roasted malts meant pale through to golden beers could be brewed, each with slightly different flavors. A whole would of delicious possibilities opened up. The Pale Ale took of in England and not content to drink this only on the mainland, England set about shipping this around her Empire. Especially to India. That’s always been England’s way, importing and exporting, shipping things around the world. Well at least up until Brexit. Now they’re building a wall.

While stouts and porters, the more traditional dark beers, survived the trip to India, pale ales didn’t travel so well and were prone to age horribly. In order to help the pale ale make the trip, extra hops were added to stabilize and preserve the beer, and the alcohol content upped a little. And there you have it; India Pale Ales or IPAs. They’re a deep golden color and have plenty of hops, but also the malt flavor comes through nicely. They also tend to have a slightly higher alcohol content. Tuatara’s Indian Pale Ale is a fantastic example of the traditional IPA (and quite different to the Double Trouble from a couple of weeks ago).

With craft beer brewing taking off throughout the States in the 1980’s, brewers started to play around with the standard IPA. Different types of hops and malts and different combinations meant no shortage of possibilities. With all sorts of variations also came a more standard form of American Pale Ale. While you’ll still pick up the malt in an APA, the hop factor has been turned up a notch. This means more floral flavors and more fruitiness; stone fruit, citrus, lychee etc. This is what we should expect in Epic’s Pale Ale, a more hoppy version of a standard IPA. If you put the Epic Pale Ale alongside Tuatara's IPA one time you'll notice the difference.

In saying all of that though, there are so many IPAs and APAs out there now that it isn’t always possible to tell them apart as brewers have different interpretations of each. It can be a pretty mixed bag. You’ve also got people brewing Pacific Pale Ales and even TPPAs (Trans-Pacific Pale Ale). So best of luck.

Ok, the Epic...

Price: $7.99 500mls

Alcohol content: 5.4%

Colour: It’s golden for sure, but it is dark.

Aroma: Fruity and also herbaceous, burnt raisins and grass.

Palate: Refreshing, sweet, fruity. Maybe passion-fruit and nectarine and lime. Raisins for sure.

Finish: Great finish. Sweet fruit gives way to bitter flavors of lemon grass and pine. Sits in your mouth long afterwards. 

On the Chart: The hops certainly overpower the malts in Epic’s Pale Ale. But the malt still comes through nicely. There is plenty of complexity with different flavors on display. The fruit and herbs of the hops as well as the sweet raisin like toffy of the malts. We end up landing towards the hop end with a good amount of complexity.

Conclusion: Epic’s Pale Ale is a great example of craft beer. As you work your way through the bottle you can taste both the hops and the malt coming through, each giving way to the other at times. This means all sorts of secondary flavors and the chance to ponder whether they are coming from the hops or the malt.

Next week we'll have a look at a pilsner.   

Friday Craft Beer Review: Garage Project’s Aro Noir

My intention this week was to review a beer that was extreme when it came to malts and with no hoppiness. I’m not sure the Aro Noir will be that, but it looked to interesting to pass by. Its a beer brewed by Garage Project, another Wellington based brewery, and I always find it hard to pass by a Garage Project beer once I read the label. GP started small but is now one of New Zealand’s favourite craft breweries. They make some of the most interesting and unusual beers I’ve tasted. We'll still have a chat about malts though and then see what happens. 

What are malts? Malts are the end product of processed cereal grains. Cereal grains, most commonly barley, are allowed to start germinating (through soaking in water) but then have the germination process halted when the grain is removed from water and oven dried or roasted. Malting the grains turns the cereal starch into sugar, which in the fermentation process then becomes alcohol.

Most of the colour in beer comes from the malts. Lightly roasted malts produce a beer that is more pale in colour, while malts that have been roasted longer produce darker beers. We'll look more at this next Friday. Many beers are brewed with multiple malts, each varying in colour and flavour profile which influences the final product. Most beers seek to balance the sweetness of malt with the bitterness of hops. Obviously though, there are no shortage of possible combinations, and this no shortage of beer possibilities. As you move from light beers (lightly roasted malts) to dark beers (more heavily roasted malts) its normal to note flavours such as caramel, toffy, marmite, chocolate, coffee, burnt sugar, and even blackberry begin to take over. 

Dark beers tend to be a hearty drink that is savoured while golden beers tend to be lighter and more thirst quenching. Traditionally then, dark beers like stouts and porters, tend to appeal more on cold winter nights than they do in the middle of summer around the BBQ. Each to their own though. There are no rules.

Ok, so Garage Projects Aro Nor.

Price: $4.99 330mls

Alcohol content: 7%

Colour: Deep black with a macchiato like head. More bubbles than I was expecting too.

Aroma: Smells delicious, a lot like the burnt chewy pieces of beef roast that end up stuck to the bottom of the roasting dish. Hints of coffee and plums.  

Palate: It’s yum. Tastes like a shot of espresso, a juicy bite of rib roast and golden syrup. There is some fizz to it as well.

Finish: The finish is lovely. At first there is a hoppy bitterness, you can't mistake it, and then a kind of roasting dish toffee kicks in. It’s a nice combination.

On the Chart: I was meaning to review a beer that was big on malt and light on hops. This is malty alright, but not light on hops. It is a malty black beer but the combination of Columbus and Summit hops make it something more. It’s a really good example of a dark beer made more complex because of the hops used. So while it is still in the malty quadrant it isn't extreme, more to the middle as the hops come through. I need to also acknowledge the complexity of the hops and also the coffee/toffee/burnt beef flavors that come through.

Conclusion: It is delicious even though not what I'm normally looking for in a stout. If  I’m drinking a dark beer I’m normally looking for a full blown malts, chocolate and coffee, almost a milkshake. I don’t need any hops. However, the Aro Noir achieves the brief on the can and brings hops into a stout really well. This makes it really interesting. It's not a black IPA but you get that sense It would be perfect if you are looking for a black beer that is more balanced with interesting bitterness rather than being a full on chocolate or treacle thick shake. 

Next week we'll have a look at an IPA. Or is it an APA? What's the difference anyway?