Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Lion Breweries’ Waikato Draught

Truth be told, this is the first time I’ve sampled Lion Breweries’ Waikato offering, despite it being one of New Zealand's oldest beers. 91 years old apparently!

According to beer historian Mr Wiki, Waikato Draught was originally brewed in Hamilton by the Innes Family Brewery, the first brewery in New Zealand owned by a woman. Lion Nathan acquired the brewery in 1961 with production continuing in Hamilton until 1987 before being moved to Auckland. Unfortunately for Hamilton, this shift to Auckland meant Hamilton officially became New Zealand’s "Most Uninspiring City.” A title held until the first class debut of Daniel Vettori for Northern Districts against England ten years later in 1997. His first wicket, that of Nasser Hussain (caught at first slip attempting to drive), is recognised by the local council of the time as breathing new life into the city and inspired their catch phrase “Hamilton; Where It’s Happening,” Good stuff Lucas! Shortly after they planted a garden and bought some hot air balloons and things have been on the up and up every since. But I digress. In 2005 Waikato Draught won gold in the draught category of the Brew NZ beer awards with its classic beer being described as having a “strong malty flavour with well-defined bitterness.” That’ll be something to look out for!

What else? Technically a draught beer is one poured via a handle and from a keg or cask, now-a-days though Waikato primarily comes in a can or a bottle. In fact, it is rare to find Waikato Draught on tap outside of the 7,067-person town of Huntly. Basically very view taverns are brave enough to invest in a 50 litre keg. It might take 10 - 15 years to work through that much Waikato Draught and not many publicans are willing to sign up to that kind of commitment. Nevertheless, if one is prepared to make the trip to one of Huntly’s local establishments you’ll be able to find Waikato Draught on tap as well as a better-than-average chance of a Thursday night schnitzel special. Just follow the sound of the Waikato chainsaws calling to each other (they don't text over there) and keep a look out for the Huntly Hurricane (aka Lance Hohaia). Draught continues to be used in the title only out of tradition. Other than that, as a malty/bitter beer we’d expect it to be in some way related to the Pale Ale family. Whether a long lost cousin to be welcome home or an ugly step sister, we’ll have to wait and see.    

Let’s see how this goes.

Price: $7.99 4x330mls. Waikato Draught is certainly priced competitively when one compares it to other craft beers we’ve reviewed. Interestingly enough, Waikato Draught gets cheaper per bottle when you buy in bulk. A box of 15 works out at $1.73 per bottle and a box of 24 at $1.66. In theory then, a 249 pack would work out at about .59c per bottle. They’re practically giving it away. Or, maybe my math is wrong.

Alcohol content: 4.0%

Colour: Deep amber and golden hues. Plenty of bubbles and a reasonable white frothy head.

Aroma: Faint notes of sweet toffee are discernable. There is also subtle sour note as well, kind of a mix between 24-hour charity relay sweat, apprentice builder’s body odour, and the sticky wooden floors of the Mount Rugby Club just before church used to start after a Saturday night 40th birthday back in the day.

Palate: Even chilled the sweet malt flavours come through, hints of Pam's golden syrup. Other than that it is simply wet and watery. It is slightly fizzy but totally lacking any body. In terms of strong taste and bitterness; whoever did the write-up extolling the virtues of this draught beer has obviously never sampled a good stout or a quality IPA. I’m not convinced this beer even has any hops in it.

Finish: The initial swig of this beer is quite palatable compared to the finish. The finish is where it becomes pretty off-putting as it is hard to work out what the tangy aftertaste exactly is. Many myths surround what may or may not be the special ingredients used in this brewing process. Since 2011 the general consensus seems to be Beaver's Rugby World Cup winning socks and undies, the very ones worn as he nervously took the kick that became "The Kick." I’m not convinced though. This old misty is even more tangy than that. It’s almost as if someone has combined the muddy water of the Waikato river with select segments of yellow snow from Mount Ruapehu and a hint of Stihl’s HP 2 Stroke chainsaw oil, and then actually put it in the bottle! It's hard to digest.

On the Chart: Well in terms of complexity we’re sitting pretty low. Well let’s be honest, this bit of mooloo magic just isn’t that magical and will line up right at the bottom of the chart. It’s also not hoppy in the slightest. And while it is a touch malty, it's certainly not anything like a deep dark porter or stout. This is pretty middle of the road. A refreshing beer rather than a beer to be savoured. It’s looking pretty lonely on the chart.

Conclusion: Truthfully, Lion Breweries’ Waikato Draught is an easy drink. Easy like a glass of water is easy. There isn’t a lot to it. I’d say that’s why it is sold in 24 packs and maybe even one day in 249 packs for .59c a bottle. I think the idea with Waikato Draught is to come back for more. This isn't craft beer. Craft beer is different. Craft beer is to be savoured rather than skulled, and the flavours, like anything of substance, eventually fatigue the palate. Most craft beers are sold as a single drink, though you do get a few 4 packs and a handful of 6 packs. This particular Waikato Draught was one of 4 but I’m bamboozled as to what to do with the other three; I’m not touching them. Glad I didn't get a box of 24.

In all honesty, it’s not that Waikato Draught is that bad, it more that it just isn’t that good. Why waste time or money on a beer like this? When you want a coffee you go to local café for an espresso not to Gregg’s for an instant. It doesn't matter that Gregg calls it a "Special Blend" we know it isn't true. When you want steak you throw a scotch on the grill not a piece of marinated BBQ steak with those lines in it (where do those lines even come from anyway!?!). When you want a beer you pop a Tuatara or a Panhead or something from Garage Project. You stay away from Waikato Draught. At least I would. Quality over quantity I say. Less is more. This is an ugly step sister rather than a Cinderalla. Run!

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