Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Good George's Coffee IPA

Good George is a Hamilton based brewery started by a couple of mates who wanted to convert people from mass produced “bland” beer, to the more creative and quality beer that is craft beer. You can visit the Good George brewery and dining room in Hamilton and see where all the action happens while enjoy some quality food and a cold beer at there onsite bar. Around the town Good George is pretty recognizable in that their beer is often seen in 1 litre squealers (946ml on the bottle actually). The squealer is the main stay for their main line of beers, but they also produce a whole variety of beers that come in cans and bottles.

I’ve got their Coffee IPA which has been brewed in conjunction with Rocket Coffee. Craft beer and espresso; what could go wrong!?! The only thing is, this is an IPA not a stout. It's not unusual to have coffee flavours coming through in a stout but an IPA is pushing things potentially. We'll have to see. 

So, remembering that IPAs are a balanced beer with both sweet malts and tangy hops coming through (normally slightly more hoppy than malty), it’ll be interesting to see where this one goes. 

Price: $4.99 330mls

Alcohol content: 6%

Colour: Dull golden colour. A little cloudy. Plenty of bubbles and a nice thick white head.  

Aroma: Smells fruity but there are also the unmistakable notes of hops coming through. There is an earthy kind of smell to it as well, a slightly objectionable smell. I’m not really picking up any coffee notes.

Palate: Refreshing, but not terribly sweet or fruity. You certainly get the hoppy flavours coming through. If there is any fruit it is pink grapefruit. No malts and no coffee as it swirls in your mouth.

Finish: The finish is quite clever. Here is where the coffee kicks in, as you swallow and the aftertaste in your mouth. The citrus notes blend nicely with the coffee here, especially if you’ve enjoyed sampling different varieties of single origin coffee shots, as they often have a real fruity citrus notes similar to what you get in this IPA. The coffee lingers, but the taste this more like what you expect in coffee flavoured milk or those cans of coffees you find in Japan. Not exactly delicious.

On the Chart: In terms of hops and malt, I’m not really picking up any malt flavours in this version of an IPA. The hopps are there, but it isn't over the top, perhaps just a bit more hoppy than a pilsner. There are some clever complexities that make it interesting enough to drink. So hoppy and somewhat complex.

Conclusion: This coffee IPA by Good George is interesting and somewhat refreshing. I wouldn’t champion it as a delicious beer though. Worth grabbing one time for something different, but you wouldn’t stack your shelves with it in preparation of some doomsday apocalypse. Stick to Tuatara’s Indian Pale Ale for that. I find the espresso type coffee that comes through in a coffee stout far more enjoyable than the canned coffee flavours I’m picking up in this IPA. This is all good though, even if I decide not to finish it. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Ballast Point’s Watermelon Dorado Double IPA

Yes folks, you read the title correctly. A Watermelon Dorado Double IPA!!!

I’m in America at the moment and it seems only fitting to review an American offering. When I was here last year I had a couple of different craft beers, and they were all pretty good. The one that stood out though was Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA. Truly delicious. I was pleasantly surprised to discover Ballast Point for sale in New Zealand not long after coming home. It’s pretty expensive in New Zealand due to shipping and so forth, but they’ve some really interesting beers. Their Sculpin IPA is fantastic, as is their Habanero Sculpin which adds spicy habanero peppers to the mix. One of the more crazy, but superbly done, beers I’ve ever had is their Indra Kunindra Stout. Get this, a madras curry stout with cumin, cayenne, coconut and kaffir lime leaf. Probably something you’d only ever need to have once in your life, but you need to have one. Just add white bread or white rice for a delicious dinner. And they have plenty of beers that I haven’t tried yet, Pineapple Sculpin, Mango Sculpin, Grapefruit Sculpin, an Imperial Stout with Coffee and Peppermint. It’s all happening.

You should check out their website for a couple of reasons. Firstly to see the incredible range of beers they have, but also to see the branding. I’m a sucker for good branding and love the nautical themes they’ve branded all of their beers around.  

Ballast Point Brewing started as a home brew store in 1992. Originally a couple of college kids, Jack White and Peter A’Hearn, tried their hand at home brewing. They struggled to get their hands on the variety of malts and hops and gear they needed to really experiment as brewers though. So, in light of this they opened a home brew store and kind of set themselves up as the home brewers hangout of San Diego. San Diego’s craft brew scene is apparently pretty impressive now and it seems in large part because of this store set up by these college kids. A’Hearn studied for a Master Brewers Certificate at the University of CA and then they started brewing as Ballast Point Brewery in 1996 from the back of the home brew store. Long story short, it went from strength to strength. Ballast Point went from being the first micro-distillery in San Diego this side of the prohibition to being America’s 17th largest brewery. In 2015 they sold Ballast Point to Constellation Brands for $1 billion USD.

Enough of that though. I’ve a Watermelon Dorado Double IPA to open. Being a double IPA or an imperial IPA (same thing) this beer should be loaded with hoppy bitterness. It’s rated as 90 IBUs. That’s International Bittering Units if you can remember back to my first review. Tuatara’s Double Trouble, a double IPA, is 167. Totally of the charts bitter. Tuatara’s Indian Pale Ale is a 40. So this will obviously be a pretty hoppy beer. In theory there should be some malty sweetness coming through as well but we’ll have to wait and see. I’ve no idea what the watermelon effect will be.

Price: $7.99 355mls (NZD)

Alcohol content: 10%

Colour: Lovely golden colour. Slightly pale and slightly pinky. Not much head. Plenty of bubbles.
Aroma: Floral notes from the hops and slightly sweet. I’m trying to smell watermelon but more getting grass clippings. It is 90 IBUs after all!

Palate: Yum. Yum. Yum. It is very bitter and this hits you straight away. There is a sweetness to it as well though. Brown sugar rather than tropical fruit, but very subtle.

Finish: The finish is where the watermelon comes through. And it’s done really well. The bitterness sticks to the roof of your mouth while the watermelon flavours swirl around your tongue and bubble up your nose. The watermelon complements the bitterness so well. It’s a big beer. 10%. Loaded with hops. Plenty of bite. But at the same time, it’s like it is also loaded with summer memories when with beautiful watermelon notes.  

On the Chart: On the chart this is way down the hoppy side of things. Not quite as hoppy as Tuatara’s Double Trouble but they’re neighbours. There is more complexity with this beer though. The Dorado has hints of malt tucked into it, but also the watermelon is a really cool addition. Way to the left then and up a few notches in complexity.

Conclusion: Over all this is delightful. You should try one. Very hoppy, but there is more going on than just bitterness in this beer. In Tasting Beer, Randy Mosher points out the reality is that anything with taste ends up fatiguing the palate, and I think he’s bang on the money. This is one of the things I love about craft beer. It’s complex, there are all sorts of flavours heading in all sorts of directions all at once. Delightful, but it also means that one or two beers is perfect. The taste helps with moderation. Less is more. I think this is one of those beers. It’s a double IPA. One is enough. I look forward to having another one day, but not today. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Panhead's Quickchange XPA

Panhead is one of the new players in the New Zealand craft beer scene. Launched in 2013, Panhead started brewing in an old tyre factory and have designed their brand image around engines and motors and "monster" truck style brewing. They’ve five stock brews (a pilsner, a stout, an APA, a white IPA, and the XPA we are reviewing today). Then on top of that, they brew some pretty interesting seasonal specials as well, care to try a smoked ale or a salted gose beer?

The XPA we’re looking at today is an extra pale ale, with the emphasis being on extra pale. There focus seems to be on creating a "toned down pale ale." In their own words; “Sometimes you don't want your mouth flayed raw and your liver worked to a standstill.” So I’m expecting well balanced hoppy bitterness and the sweetness of malt, but I guess coming through gently. Sounds like it might lack body. In saying that, they are promising lots of hoppy fruitiness; “mango, guava, lychee and pineapple.” My mouth is watering. Let’s see.

Price: $7.99 500mils

Alcohol content: 4.6%

Colour: Definitely a very pale golden hew. Similar colour to a wheat-beer but not as cloudy. Very little head. Not many bubbles.

Aroma: Smells deliciously sweet and tropical. Pineapple comes through nicely.

Palate: Not fizzy at all really. Bitterness of hops hit the roof of your mouth instantly but then gives way to sweet fruit flavours. It’s certainly not super sweet or super fruity though and I’m not really getting “mango, guava, lychee and pineapple.” More green apple (like a basic cider) and a touch of nectarine. The floral/herby hop notes are present right the way though and bring a constant but not overpowering bitterness. Not really any malts and so no sticky sweet notes of caramel or toffee.

Finish: The subtle fruits give way pretty quickly and you’re left with tangy hops. It’s a pretty dry finish.

On the Chart: This Quickchage XPA, is billed as an extra pale, pale ale. It certainly is pale, but I think lacks the malty flavours needed in an IPA. Even as an IPA variant. It’s more hoppy than most pilsners, but wouldn't look out of place in a pilsner family photo. With this in mind, it’s off to the left in terms of hoppiness and pretty simple as a beer.  

Conclusion: This is a light and refreshing beer, quite hoppy overall and not terribly sweet. It’d fit nicely in your trundler if you’re out for 9 holes at your local hack. Don’t bother packing it if you’re teeing off at a “members only” recognised 18 hole course though. This XPA would be out of its depth on the freshly mown fairways and perfectly manicured sand traps of a real golf course. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Vibrant Spirituality and The Wall

John 7:37
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”
What follows is part one in a series of blog posts. Part two; Face-to-Face with the Wall can be read here.

Part One:

Questions, doubts, suspicions and uncertainty are part-and-parcel of authentic Christianity. In fact, it is almost inevitable that there will come a season where these things serve as the primary catalyst for spiritual growth in one’s journey of following Jesus. What’s unfortunate is that the modern church doesn’t always make space for people to doubt or to question or to be suspicious. Organisational church growth tends to require unwavering commitment to the vision, the values, the mission and the culture of “the house.” This tends to mean cultivating an environment of momentum, alignment, excitement and anticipation; an “atmosphere of faith.” The demand therefore tends to be for uniformity and conformity. This becomes a pretty challenging context in which to ask big questions about faith, the nature of the church, Christian spirituality and what it means to follow Jesus. Questions and doubts can be wrongly interpreted as a “lack of faith,” “a bad attitude,” “divisive,” or even a clear indicator that someone is “backsliding.” This is problematic on so many levels.

Let’s back it all up a little though…

In the early days of following Jesus, one’s spirituality is essentially shaped around the enthusiasm, excitement and newness of life that comes from an encounter with Jesus. In faith and repentance, either in a moment or slowly over time, one discovers that Christ is for them. One discovers grace, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. Something at the core of one’s being comes alive. The bible literally refers to it as being born again. There is an awakening. What matters most in these early days, and what is most encouraging, is that God is for you, and if that’s the case, well who can be against you? This season of faith can last days, weeks or months, but normally not years.

Over time, the enthusiastic follower of Jesus finds themselves connected to other Christ followers in the community of the church. Here one finds significant spiritual energy through being part of something bigger than themselves, and often through the example or inspiration of a charismatic leader or personal mentor. One’s spirituality is relational and all about discipleship. One learns to be like Christ. Most of this happens through participation in a local church and the various programs and ministries of the church. It tends to be very event or meeting orientated; camps, conferences, mission trips, prayer meetings, guest speakers, worship parties, small groups etc. This stage of the faith journey can last for a number of years.

Eventually, the disciple that has been learning how to be like Christ finds themselves given the responsibility of some sort of ministry for Christ. Here one spends time praying for others, encouraging others, supporting others, teaching others, serving others, leading others. Faith is about doing. One finds that their spirituality (the rhythms, practices and habits that sustain, energise and connect them to God) are largely found in the service of others. One studies in order to find answers for others, one intercedes on behalf of others. There is a keen sense of being the hands and feet of Jesus and of the responsibility that comes with this. All of this serves as a catalyst for growth in the journey of following Jesus. It is an energising and rewarding stage in the faith journey. Some Christians spend decades in this stage of the faith journey, some perhaps their whole life.

Throughout these first three stages of the faith journey, one of the main driving motivators, whether acknowledged or not, is the focus on figuring out how it all “works.” As Westerners we live in a culture of pragmatism, efficiency and “progress.” For something to be worthwhile it should add value, it should improve, it should help us in life. The assumption is that surely faith, Christian spirituality, the church, following Jesus will add great value to our lives. Faith without works is dead, but in these stages it would also be considered true that a faith that doesn’t work for you is dead. And guess what? One tends to find a faith that does work! Life goes from strength to strength. Things get better. Marriages and families and relationships improve. Doors of opportunity open up at work as one faithfully follows Jesus. And why wouldn’t things improve? Over time following Jesus brings wisdom, humility, characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, a sound mind and so on. These things add incredible value to one’s life.

In many ways faith in these stages of the journey is largely transactional. Sin and brokenness is exchanged for the righteousness and forgiveness of Christ. Not only that though, prayer, fasting, giving, service, worship tend to become techniques by which to engage God’s presence and blessing in one’s life and are turned into principles and keys through which to “unlock” whatever one supposedly needs to “unlock” and ultimately to “move” God. Great effort is put into figuring out how it all works and great comfort comes from the sense of accomplishment one feels as they figure it all out.  

Until suddenly it doesn’t work.

Something unexpected happens. Maybe something big. Maybe something small.

Maybe a personal crisis or family crisis of some sort. Something you just didn’t see coming. Something that seems unfair. Something where it seems like God has let you down. Maybe it’s that the church or a church leader lets you down. Maybe you have a burnout.

Maybe you go away on holiday, you disengage from the usual cycle of enthusiasm, community and responsibility that fills your Christian life. Maybe you find some space to consider some of the deeper questions and doubts you’ve harboured for a while. Maybe you read a book, or listen to a podcast, or have a conversation with someone that opens your eyes to some things you’ve never seen before. Maybe one book, maybe one podcast, maybe one conversation leads to another, and another, and another.

Do you love your faith so little that you have never battled a single fear lest your faith should not be true? Where there are no doubts, no questions, no perplexities, there can be no growth. – George MacDonald
Whether a major crisis or something small you suddenly realise you have questions, you have doubts, you’re suspicious. What seemed so life giving in terms of Christian faith and practice and culture suddenly doesn’t seem to work for you anymore. It all seems a bit broken and you find yourself face-to-face with “The Wall.”

Now the wall isn’t the crisis or the questions. The crisis or the questions are simply what brings you to the wall. The wall is a distinct experience of disenchantment. It’s where the formulas and techniques of faith that you had all figured out, simply stop working. You realise you’ve figured out far less than you thought. You realise that you had boxed God but that God won’t be boxed.  

At the wall you discover that, your pragmatic, efficient, techniques to master the Divine and bring about the God-transactions you want don’t always work.

At the wall you discover all sorts of things about yourself that aren’t always pleasant. How much you like to be in control. Your addictions to people pleasing, or success, to being needed, to having all the right answers.

At the wall you discover that the rhythms, habits, practices and disciplines that have sustained you for so long in your Christian journey need revising, revamping, replacing.

At the wall enthusiasm wanes, community seems annoying rather than helpful (unless they are on the same journey as you), and there is normally a real reluctance take responsibility in leadership or ministry.

But at the same time, face-to-face with the wall, there is usually deep sense that there has to be something more, that there is life beyond the wall if you could just work out how to get there. There is an awareness that God is doing something, though it is a mystery. It can be excruciating and exciting at the same time!

For those that are at the wall, questions, doubts, suspicions and uncertainty have now become their primary motivation for spiritual growth. Trite answers, one-liners and cheesy Christianise won’t suffice. Uniformity and conformity won’t be an option. Here is where it becomes problematic if questions start to be seen as a “lacking faith,” “a bad attitude,” or “divisive.” Here is where the church doesn’t always do as well as it could.

Firstly, it is problematic because when questions, doubts and a sense of uncertainty are shut down, stifled or rebuked it leads to disengagement. And so, despite sensing that God is doing something unique in terms of their Christian journey, the conclusion of many at the wall come to is that the church is unlikely to take them any further in their faith journey.

Alan Jamieson in his book, A Churchless Faith, looks at the alarming numbers of people that are leaving churches because they find them unhelpful in their spiritual journey. These people, often seen as “slackers” or “backsliders” are anything but that. They’re trying to be faithful pilgrims. On average those exiting church have been in church for 16 years. 94% have been leaders in the church and 36% have completed either part or full time theological training.

These aren’t prodigal sons and daughters running off to “sow their wild oats” and “squander the family inheritance” at the Bahama Hutt on a Friday night. They’re not slackers who’ve left because they got offended or had a fall out with the Worship Pastor. Jamieson writes that they leave because of “meta-grumbles” – deep rooted questions about the foundations of faith itself – that aren’t being addressed. I’d say because they hit the wall and found no help through.

New Zealand scholar Brett Knowles says, in regard to Pentecostal churches, that even though those that leave are affectionate about the church, they’ve largely found that the conformist nature of Pentecostal churches has taken them as far as it can in their spiritual journey. Which I’m suspicious is to the wall and then no further. It’s hard to get an accurate figure on the numbers in New Zealand, but the census data seems to indicate a 6.5% decline in Pentecostal numbers sense the last census. That’s thousands of Pentecostals moving on. It also seems that the greatest decline is in institutional forms of Pentecostalism.  

Secondly then, it is problematic because it likely means that our churches have become about organisational growth rather than the transformation of lives. Many too easily assume these things are the same. They are not mutually exclusive, but they are certainly not the same thing.

Thirdly, it is problematic because we’ve a generation of post-moderns coming of age. By very nature post-modern people are more likely to doubt authority figures, be suspicious of organisations, ask lots of questions and expect to get robust and well thought through responses. Churches need to champion this and make space for this not stifle it for the sake of momentum and alignment. Post-moderns will disengage and move on more easily than other generations if there is no space for questions, doubts and suspicions.  

Fourthly, it is problematic because there is so much life and vitality in the stages of faith beyond the wall, the church needs those that make it through the wall to the other side.

So, how to get through the wall? That will have to wait for another day. For now, it is important to remember that while enthusiasm, community and responsibility will at times be key to growing as a Christian, there comes a time where one is likely to find themselves standing face-to-face with “The Wall.” Here disenchantment with Christian faith and practice is actually key to growing as a Christian. It brings into question assumptions, un-thinking conformity and the prescriptions through which one supposedly masters matters of faith. If church communities can make space for this, aware of what is happening, then disenchanted pilgrims are likely to find the wisdom, encouragement and the space that is needed to begin a process of re-enchantment. And here, here is where it becomes an adventure, when the disenchanted pilgrim takes their first step. In my opinion they are on the verge of being born again, again. But here it isn’t about transactional faith and mastering how it all works. Here it is about transformative faith and the mystery of how God works.

Certitude is a poor substitute for authentic faith. But certitude is popular; it’s popular because it’s easy. No wrestling with doubt, no dark night of the soul, no costly agonizing over the matter, no testing yourself with hard questions. Just accept a second-hand assumption or a majority opinion or a popular sentiment as the final word and settle into certainty. Certitude is easy…until it’s impossible. And that’s why certitude is so often a disaster waiting to happen. – Brian Zahnd
Help is required in this adventure, this pilgrimage of re-enchantment. It is not an easy journey. But it is the help of doubts and questions not the help of certitude or bravado that is needed. Doubt makes space for faith, they are bedfellows. How can you have faith without doubt? Help is also needed in the form of guides and maps and signposts, but even these must be searched for. Not many know the way through inner wilderness and wastelands to the deep springs of Living Water. Not everyone has crossed through the wall. Don’t expect too much where the crowds are, crowds tend to be on a different journey. Beware also of quick fix, sure fire schemes; 3 steps, 7 keys, 21 laws, or 40 days of this or that won’t be what you should be looking for. It will more likely be dusty old books, wizened grey haired saints, prayers of yesterday, and pathways walked by many but almost forgotten that you’re after. It will be the unfamiliar, not the familiar, that opens new doors. Something ordinary rather than spectacular. And none will promise to be the answer, only to point you in the right direction. Blessed are those that hunger and thirst. Blessed are those that are born again, again. 

The next post in this series, Face-to-Face with the Wall can be read here.

Grace and peace. 

PS: The thoughts above are some of my reflections on life, ministry and the journey of following Jesus. They are informed by more than just my own journey though and a tip of the hat must be giving to Fowler's Stages of Faith, Hagberg and Guelich's The Critical Journey, Tomlinson's Re-Enchanting Christianity, Knowle's work in Global Renewal Christianity; Asia and Oceania, Lewis's Narnia and Tolkien's LOTR.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Tuatara's Indian Pale Ale

Having already reviewed a couple of Tuatara beers, I was loath to take on another. But, it just so happens that Tuatara's Indian Pale Ale is pretty much my favourite beer, not to mention one that I often measure others against. So I need to get the review out of the way.

Along with Garage Project, I think Tuatara are leading the way in the NZ craft beer scene. They have all sorts of other interesting beers like a Tiramisu Oatmeal Stout, a Spicy Red Rye Pale Ale, and a very refreshing Pacific Pale Ale. What originally drew me to their Indian Pale Ale though, was a couple of comments on the label. Basically their declaration that any craft brewery worth their salt will first and foremost offer a high quality traditional style IPA. I reckon they’re on the money there. Good call.

While craft beer is so much more than IPAs, much of the variety is found in the way that IPAs can tweaked. You can find Black IPAs, Red IPAs, White Mango infused IPAs, coffee IPAs, APA’s, Double or Imperial IPAs etc etc. Appreciating this, if you are going to go freelance and mix things up, then you should really nail a “traditional” style IPA first. The benchmark.

Tuatara promote this IPA as “true to form” and a “proper English-style” IPA. With that in mind we should be expecting full malt body as well as a decent hoppy finish. But it should be really balanced as well. Let's see. 

Price: $6.99 500mils

Alcohol content: 5.0%

Colour: A lovely amber gold. A nice frothy head. Not many bubbles.

Aroma: Smells tropical, apricots and herbs. Doesn't smell as herbaceous as some IPAs or as most APA's tend to be. 

Palate: So refreshing. Sweet fruitiness - apricots, peaches, passionfruit. And then refreshing hops. The hops are mellow though, not strong or sharp biting at your tongue. They dance throughout the fruit notes perfectly. It’s delicious.

Finish: As you swallow the sweet fruits give way to the tangy hops which then quickly mellow into smooth warm malty flavours. I reckon the subtle sweetness of cookie dough. The lingering taste is then the tartness of hops on the roof of your mouth.

On the Chart: Tuatara’s IPA really is a classic. It is that little bit more hoppy rather than malty, as one would expect in an IPA, but the hops don’t overpower and the creamy sweetness of the malt certainly shines. It’s also a wonderful balance between complex and simple. It’s refreshing but there is also plenty happening with different flavours and subtleties to look for. With that in mind I land the Tuatara Indian Pale Ale left of centre (hoppy and malty) and also want to tip my hat to enough complexity to make it perfect.

Conclusion: For a while my favourite craft beers were the big Double IPAs loaded up with hops. Ultimately though, the hoppy floral bitterness was too much. This IPA balances things so nicely. It really is delightfully delicious. 10/10.