Category Archives: Ale, beer

Thornbridge acronym ale taste test

Thornbridge's Jaipur and Chiron

Very pleasant, somewhat flying visit to Sheffield over the weekend to visit friends, and celebrate a Big Birthday. Said birthday celebrations took place in the Beauchief Hotel, which serves Thornbridge beers. Andrew Drinkwater over at Andrew Drinks classifies Thornbridge as a “big regionals” along with Adnams, and presumably Harveys down here in Sussex.

I talked a fair bit about Thornbridge over here, back when I encountered their Tzara, a Kölsch-style beer at the Cut Bar in London.  It was really good to have a chance to try more of their range though.

Long boozy lunch
It’s said that long, long, rambling, amiable lunches are a more Mediterranean thing, but we – about 40 Brits – managed to do about five hours of eating and drinking and chatting. During this time, I mostly drank Thornbridge’s Lord Marples, a 4%, fairly dark British cask bitter that was toffee apple, slightly spicy, a great winter drink. Yes, it’s been hot for March the past few weeks in England, but it was cool and rainy again on this particular Saturday.

A vs I
I tried several other Thornbridge ales, with the most interesting test being a comparison between their mutli-award-winning Jaipur and Chiron (both from kegs). The former is a 5.9% IPA, the latter a 5% APA. It’s a shame the bar didn’t also have Thornbridge’s Kipling “South Pacific Pale Ale” and Halcyon (“Imperial IPA” – ie stronger) to complete the journey through closely related, hoppy ales.

Two was good though, with the IPA being a classic 19th century style of English ale, now highly influenced by APA, an American style of ale that emerged in the 1970s as arguably an evolution of the IPA, or more specifically as an evolution on American IPA. So what we had here was a modern English take on an older English style of ale, and a British take on a related style of American ale. Broadly, you could say a more traditional, English IPA was defined by its inclusion of English hops, with their subtle, dry, bitter flavours. Jaipur, however, is made with a range of American hops, and as such had a bigger, more overt citrussy flavour along with its crispness.

Yes, but…
The Chiron is bigger though, more aromatic, tangier, more fruity, with more citrus, pine, passionfruit in both the aroma and the taste, as you’d expert from an actual US APA. Both delicious. But I do wonder why Thornbridge call the Jaipur an IPA when it’s so heavily influenced by APA you could just as easily market it as an (English) APA.

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Types of beer

Are innumerable: even the key styles have sub-varieties, or the names may have changed meaning over time and distance, or the same style may have different names in different languages or dialects, just to add to the muddle.

This list is just an attempt to consolidate my knowledge. I’ll keep adding to it, either as I learn more, or realise I’ve forgotten stuff, or when people correct me. Or to add images.

Abbey
Belgian beers in vein of Trappist beers, but without the official monastic supervision.

Ale
Generic term for beers that are made with top fermenting yeasts at warmer temperatures. Historically, ales were unhopped but not any more. Not for a long while.

Altbier
“Old beer”, a German (specifically Düsseldorf and Westphalia) dark ale.

Amber
Coppery ales that derive their colour from crystal malts.

American IPA
US evolution of the English IPA. Big, aromatic, bitter ales made with the distinctively citrussy, resiny West Coast US hop varieties: Cascade, Amarillo, Chinook, Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus. The quintessential beer of the craft beer movement.

APA
American pale ale. “The first true American craft-beer style, this took inspiration from the pale beers brewed in Europe and then made them American by using the hugely fruity hops grown the West Coast of the United States.” (Mark Dredge). On a spectrum with pale ales and American IPAs.

Barley wine
A fairly generic term, but basically an English style of strong ale, with 8% ABV plus. Indeed, at 12% some have a comparable strength to grape wine.

Bière de Garde
“Beer for keeping”, strong ale from Pas de Calais, equivalent to Belgian saison beers.

Bitter
Synonymous with English pale ale. Ales with wide variation in colour and strength, but most typically around 5% and golden-brown. By modern standards not especially bitter or hoppy, more defined by mellow maltiness.

Bière blanche
See witbier (below).

Blonde
Generic term for light, golden coloured pale ales of varying malt and hop profiles.

Bock
Strong German lager. The name, purportedly, derives from accent and dialect variables in Germany, where the place where the style originated – Einbeck – became ein bock (“a billy goat”). Variables include doppelbock (see below).

Brown ale
Fairly generic term for a sweet, brown generally mild, lower alcohol ale. More specifically an English ale type, originally.

Doppio malto
Italian birra doppio malto (“double malt ale”) can be seen as the equivalent of English strong ales or even some barley wines, or strong Belgian abbey beers, or Trappist dubbels. Italian beers are classified as analcolica (non-alcoholic, though technically low-alchohol), leggera(light) or normale, speciale and doppio malto, with each category defined by its gradi plato – a measurement of density.

Dubbel
“Double”. Medium to strong brown Trappist ale.

Dopplebock
Dark, maltier version of bock (see above).

Dunkel
“Dark” in German, and used to refer to various dark lagers. More typical of Bavaria. Malty, not as strong as dopplebocks.

ESB
Extra special bitter. An English brewer’s highest original gravity bitter, after session/ordinary bitter (lower) and special/best bitter (middling).  Synonymous with premium bitter.

Faro
A type of lambic (see below). Made by blending  a lambic and a young, sweetened beer.

Frambozen, framboise
Dutch/Belgian raspberry lambic (see below).

Fruit beer
Any beer that uses fruit adjuncts. May be whole fruit, purées or juices. Kriek cherry lambic is a fruit beer, for example, but others may be more convention brews augmented with fruit ingredients.

Geuze, gueuze
A type of well-carbonated Belgian lambic, made with blend of older (2-3 years) and young lambics.

Golden ale
Generic term for light golden ales, sometimes used synonymously with “blonde”. Arguably, golden ales have less body, and are crisper, more like lagers.

Hefeweizen
“Yeast wheat” in German. A type of wheat beer with low hoppiness, high carbonation, phenolic clove aromas. See also kristallweizen.

Helles
“Bright” in German. Distinguishes this lager from dunkel. Munich pale lager inspired by Czech pilsners.

IPA
India Pale Ale. Now a varied style (see American IPA) but original English versions were less punchy, made with older, mellower English hop varieties. The hoppiness originally developed out of necessity – its preservative quality allowed the ale to survive the long journey to British imperial India without going off.

Imperial stout, Russian Imperial stout
Strong (9% ish ABV) dark beer style first brewed in 18th century England for export to Russia. Brewing industry veteran Ian Swanson, teacher at the Beer Academy, said it was a case of the ships needing ballast as they went to Russia and brought back timber.

Kolsch, Kölsch, Koelsch
A light, lager-like top fermented beer from Cologne (Köln), Germany. Becoming popular as it’s easily accessible to lager drinkers, but is quicker to make, not requiring lagering (cold store conditioning).

Kriek
A type of Belgian lambic made with sour cherries.

Kristallweizen
A type of wheat beer: a hefeweizen that’s been filtered for brightness.

Lager
Generic term for beers that are made with bottom-fermenting yeasts at colder temperatures, and involve a cold “lagering” (literally “storage” in German) conditioning period, originally in caves or tunnels.Where caves or tunnels weren’t an option, winter ice was used to cool the cellars. This was superceded by refridgeration in the 1870s. Lagers were first brewed in Britain in Glasgow and Wrexham in the 1880s, but didn’t really start to take over until the 1960s. Despite German (etc) pride in lagers, it’s the culprit for some of the worst crimes against beer in its long history, and the reason I stopped drinking for years as a teenager in the late 1980s. Shockingly for a country with such an important ale history, the biggest selling beer in Britain since 1985 is a generic industrial lager. Mentioning no names. …. Carling.

Lambic
Distinctive beer style specifically from Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels). Relies on spontaneous fermentation and wild yeasts (like Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus) and lactobacilli, and as such is very different to other beer styles with their tightly controlled yeast strains. Various sub-varieties, like kriek, geuze, faro. 30% unmalted wheat. Winey and sour flavours. Hops used for preservation not bitterness, so often old and intentionally cheesy. Aged in sherry and wine barrels.

Märzen, Märzenbier, Marzen
A malty lager originally from Bavaria though now more generic.

Mild
Low gravity, malty beer from England. “Mild” originally referred to a young, fresh beer, as opposed to a more flavoursome old, or stale, beer but more recently can mean “mildly hopped.” X to XXXX strengths, historically.

Milk stout
A variable of stout (see below), made with lactose (milk sugar). Lactose is unfermentable so the resulting beers have a thick, creamy body with lower ABVs.

NZ draft, NZ draught
Common New Zealand beer style. A malty, minimally hopped brown lager with ABV around 4-5%.

Oatmeal stout
Stout made with oats alongside the malt, adding a smoothness.

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfestbier
Traditionally Märzen lagers brewed in March and largered to October. Now a registered trademark of six members of the Club of Munich Brewers.

Old ale
Name for dark, malty British ales, generally 5% ABV plus. Originally contrasted with mild ales.

Oud bruin
“Old brown”. From the Flemish region of Belgium, a malty brown ale with sour notes due to an atypically long aging process.

Pale ale
Generic term for ales produced with pale malts. English bitters, IPAs, APAs and Scotch ales are all variations on pale ale.

Pilsener, Pilsner, Pils
Type of pale lager that originated in the Bohemian city of Plzeň (Pilsen), now in the Czech Republic. Now many lagers made outside of Pilsen are considered pilseners.

Porter
Originally a dark, nutritious ale drunk by London porters in the 18th century, made with dark brown malts . A strong porter was a “stout porter”, though now the terms are almost interchangeable.

Pumpkin beer
US style, made with pumpkin flesh and often unveiled ceremoniously in the Autumn. Often spiced with pumpkin pie spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. A type of vegetable beer.

Rauchbier
“Smoked beer” from Bamberg, Germany. Made with malt dried oven an open flame.

Roggenbier
A Bavarian type of rye beer with light, dry, spicy taste. Brewed with same yeast as hefeweizen (see above).

Rye beer
Beers featuring rye alongside the more typical malt (malted barley). See roggenbier.

Saison
A fairly generic French term (“season” ) for strong-ish pale ales. Saison beer evolved in the farms of Wallonia, French-speaking Belgium, where it was brewed in late winter, and stored for drinking by farm workers slaving away at the harvest and whatnot.

Schwarzbier
“Black beer”. German term for dark lagers made with dark malts.

Scotch ale
Scottish style of pale ale, malty but lightly hopped. Also known as “wee heavy”, apparently. May feature peaty or smoked malts, often fairly strong (6-9% ABV).

Session
Not so much a style as a strength: weak-ish beers (4% ABV or less, generally) than can be drunk fairly copiously in a “session”. Generally more about the (US, citrussy) hops than the malt.

Smoked beer
Beers made with smoked malt – which is dried with open fire. Not a fan.

Stout
Originally a British term to describe strong beer, such as “pale stout” or “stout porter.” Evolved and muddled up with porter, and came to be another name for dark (black-ish) ales. Remained popular in early 20th century when porters all but died out, before its revival in the 1970s.

Trappist
Beer produced by, or under the supervisor of, Trappist monks. As of 2014, there are 10 Trappist beer producers, mostly in Belgium, but also in Netherlands, US and Austria. Chimay most famous. Various top-fermented styles, classified as Enkel (single), Dubbel and Tripel.

Tripel
“Triple”, strongest of the Trappist beers.

Vegetable beer
Any beer that’s made with vegetable ingredients – like the US pumpkin beers. Another popular vegetable beer flavouring ingredient is chili pepper. Even though it’s technically a fruit (see fruit beer).

Vienna
Local equivalent of dunkel or schwarzbier, that is a dark lager.

Weissbier
“White beer” in Bavarian. A category of wheat beers that includes hefeweizens.

Weizen
“White” in German. Wheat beers, same as weissbier basically but a different dialect name.

Wheat beer
Beers (usually ales, see above) made with a high proportion of wheat – at least 50% – along with the malt.

Witbier
“White beer”, aka “bière blanche”. Wheat beer from the Netherlands and Belgium (predominantly). Tends to be hazy when cold, due to yeast and wheat proteins suspended in the liquid. Mostly feature gruit: a Dutch term (grute in German) for blends of herbs, spices and fruit used for flavouring and preserving certain continental beers prior to the popularisation of hops in the middle ages. Today these may well involve coriander and orange zest.

It’s one big happy fermented family! Pop Chart Lab, a Brooklyn-based design team have done some excellent visualisations of it, here and (a newer version) here.

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Beer School

Beer samples

It was a bit different to any other days I’ve ever spent in classrooms.

Sitting in the downstairs room of The Draft House, near Tower Bridge in London, I learned about beer, discussed beer, drank beer and drank beer with food.

Although I’ve enjoyed beer for years, it’s only the past few years, and particularly while living in Italy, that I got more serious about trying to understand it, its history, its many permutations, and how to match it with food. But self-education can only go so far, so moving back to England presented a good opportunity to actually go to beer school, or more precisely attend a course run by The Beer Academy.

Founded in 2003, and part of the IBD (Institute of Brewing and Distilling) since 2007, the Academy has a goal “to enlighten, educate and enthuse candidates about all aspects of beer.”

With two, day-long classes run by brewing industry veteran Ian Swanson, and attended by a variety of knowledgeable people from various corners of the trade (including maltings, hospitality, marketing, and even a representative of the Worshipful Company of Brewers), it was a highly informative experience.

Now I just really need to gen up on my chemistry. Sure, I was pretty good at chemistry at school, but that was 20 years ago, so I really need to study my dimethyl sulphide, acetaldehyde, diacetyl etc before I truly become comfortable about throwing these terms into conversation.

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There and back again

This blog is still alive. As are we – perhaps against the odds, as Britain has had the worst winter storms for 20 years and we arrived home right in the middle of them. We touched down at Heathrow 22 December, when large swathes of our fair isle were already flooded, and repeatedly buffeted by high winds. We even managed to get down to the southwest of England on a train, then across Devon for Christmas (with no water on Xmas morning – but hey, between me, my dad on the phone and my father-in-law we fixed it), then back up the country to my folks’ place, then across to the southeast, to finally settle in Lewes, Sussex.

We haven’t got any proper internet yet, but before I even think about complaining about the two and a half week time between ordering and connection I have to remind myself it took us five months – five whole flippin’ months – to get internet in Italy’s great capital.

So in the meantime, here’s one of my last drinks on our travels, in Singapore. It’s a lager made with spirulina from RedDot (or Reddot, or Red Dot) brewery. We also visited Singapore’s other key brewery, Brewerkz, that night. It all seems like a very very long time ago, but it’s only just over three weeks.Monster Green lager at Red Dot, Singapore

And here’s me back in wet, wintry Blighty drinking ale (cask Old Ale, then bottled IPA) from Harvey’s, the small-ish, traditional family brewery that’s survived here in Lewes since 1790.

Drinking Harvey's at The Swan, Lewes

I’ll probably talk more about Harvey’s, but sadly I don’t think I’ll be on a brewery tour any time soon. Apparently they’re booked for two years.

Having posted those pics, however, I’m not actually drinking that much beer at the moment. My tipple of choice is currently hot chocolate, and I’ve been trying various varieties, and making biscuits to dunk in it. I’ll report back on my findings soon. Via the miracle of real – indeed fibre optic – internet. Fingers crossed the installation goes without a hitch tomorrow. Touch wood. Touch cornicello. Make inverted mano cornuta gesture. Etc. Not that I’m superstitious.

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The Last of New Zealand

Brothers shelves

The past week or so we’ve had a great time catching up and hanging out with old friends. Hence a bit of slackness on the blog. Plus, well, I’m aware this has really become a beer blog the past few months, and I’m slightly sick of the sound of my own (typed) voice on this subject.

That said, we’ve finally left NZ, so I wanted to write up some final thoughts on NZ craft beer, and in some ways retract some of what I said earlier.

I won’t be talking about bread and cake, though I’ve really enjoyed the baked goods of Bread and Butter, a small chain of real bakers in Auckland. Great breads, and I came to crave their almond croissants the last few days I was in town.

Strident ales
I’ll say straight away that in our final days in NZ, we finally drank some beers that had a lot of assertive hoppy character, something I’d started to begin to think didn’t exist in the craft beer scene there. Specifically, we went to a few places in Auckland that I wish I’d known about when we’d been there five weeks earlier. These places were recommended by the very genial Simon Nicholas of Hop Federation, one of the last breweries we visited on the South Island.

Simon Nicholas at Hop Federation

Simon was the head brewer at Hallertau, the Auckland brewery whose beers we’d enjoyed at The Golden Dawn on Ponsonby Road. He had recently relocated to the South Island, buying up the former Monkey Wizard microbrewery in Riwaka, outside Motueka in Tasman.

This small operation was previously run as a hobby by an English dentist, so Simon was in the midst of transforming the place into a full-time serious operation, and was also in the midst of tinkering with the beers he was developing. It was a really pleasure to chat with him and enjoy the beers he kept saying he was still “mucking about with”. Frankly, they were all superb already, but I’ll be interested to go back when he’s satisfied with them. (Or, ideally, find a few bottles at a decent beer pub in Britain, like London’s Cask Pub & Kitchen.)

His Red IPA was his biggest success so far, and it was delicious. He called it a “bit of a muck about”, but this lovely dark amber beer is sharp and resiny smelling, and has a great balanced taste from dry hopping with Simcoe and Cascade hops and mellowing it with Gladfield malt from Canterbury.

Driving past Hop Federation, Riwaka

Hop shortage
He said he wanted to make it with exclusively NZ hops, but they just weren’t available – indeed, he explained despite the Motueka area’s fame for hop-growing (something that was affirmed in a mid-19th century painting we saw in the Nelson museum), half a decade or so ago many were pulled out and replaced with jazz apple orchards. Just when NZ hops were becoming even more in demand in the international craft brewing scene. Ooops.

“There’s a worldwide hop shortage for our hops – it’s a real shame,” he said. Furthermore, as hops are all centrally controlled in NZ, it’s not even possible to grow your own adjacent to your brewery.

Before leaving the South Island we visited Bays Brewery near Nelson Airport, which was more traditional than craft (for example, they pasteurise and filter, like McCashin’s; Simon wrinkled his nose at the very idea of this. Indeed, why make a product that’s carbonated by an organism then kill that organism?) and Golden Bear in Mapua.

Golden Bear, Mapua, NZ

The latter has an American brewer, so I was intrigued to chat with them, as US craft beer tastes seem very unlike those of NZ, but when we arrived on a beautiful summer evening, there was a gig and a lively crowd in their brewpub, so that wasn’t really on the cards. Their Seismic IPA wasn’t bad though.

Golden Bear beers

Though TBH, I enjoyed a bit of the Mussel Inn’s Captain Cooker manuka at the café just over the yard from the brewery more. That was one the few beers I mentioned on my old blog during our previous visit to NZ back in 2007.

Back in the big sprawl
So yes, Auckland. When we got back, we first had a few days staying at the Piha bach (Kiwi English for holiday home) of our friends Jude and Roger. I bought a few beers to take with me, and was tricked by yet more “faux craft” branding. This was Hancock & Co, whose branding emphasised a whole yarn dating back to the mid-19th century; in reality, the brand is actually new, created by an off-license chain and exploiting some NZ brewing heritage. (See here.)

This wasn’t a trap one could fall into at Brothers Beer though. This was the place recommended by Simon: a small brewery close to the town centre in a funky development called City Works Depot.

The brewery has been in operation for about a year, according to the slightly unfriendly girl serving, whose too-cool-for-school attitude contrasted with the friendliness of most of the brewery folk we met on our South Island road trip (3095km – god help me. There go the last tatters of my green credentials when combined with all these aviation crimes).

Tasting paddle at Brothers BeerShe warmed up a bit when we got chatting more about beer. We had a tastling padddle of five of their brews. Alongside their own beers – brewed, with a cloud of malty mashy odours, right there – they had some representation from other breweries, like Yeastie Boys (based in Wellington). The venue also has some slightly sagging shelves laden with bottles of genuine craft beer – so no Hancock’s, Boundary Road or Founders and plenty of Mike’s, Parrot Dog, Townsend’s, Invercargill Brewery and 8 Wired etc, and even some overseas stuff like Speakeasy, which we’d had in its native San Francisco.

Brothers’ beers proved something of a relief and a revelation. When we were in Auckland before, other than Hallertau at The Golden Dawn, we’d struggled to find any decent craft beer on tap. Here, though, was a brilliant selection – and not only that, some of them were fantastically dry and bitter, displacing our experiences of so many mild-mannered, she’ll-be-right malty lagers and under-hopped ostensible IPAs. Yay. Flipping yay.

So their El Dorado IPA (6.7%) came with a scent of ginger and lemon, and a big-bodied taste of hoppiness, and a dry mouthfeel. Their Aramis pale ale (5.3%) had a smell and taste that was both minerally and yeasty, reminiscent of Marmite, along with a bitter-sweet balance of hop and malts. Surprisingly, the one we liked best was their Gronholm Imperial Pils (8%). I’m really not a fan of lagers, pils and pilsners generally but this was a really complex beer. Fran said, its odour was of “something very green – peas? Smells amazing.” I got grapefruit and a real astringency akin to tea tree or eucalyptus essential oils. Fran also said it had a “Strong male sweat thing”, which might sound off-putting, but it really worked. Big, bitter and delicious.

No blimmin’ NZ draught mild brown lager here.

Though I’d still say their taps are pouring a little cold. And they need some hand pumps.

The latter we found at our next Auckland port of call, another recommendation from Simon: Vulture’s Lane, a pub on Vulcan Lane, just off the unprepossessing Queen Street in downtown Auckland. Why didn’t I find this place before?! Guidebooks and Google both failed me.

Chur at Vulture's Lane

They had a great selection, including yet more breweries I’d not even heard of before: like Hot Water Brewing Co, a new outfit in the Coromandel (close to the famed, freaky Hot Water Beach) and Behemoth Brewing Company. We had a golden ale from each, Golden Steamer Ale and Chur. I had to have the latter as the label was cool; it was delicious too, even, crisp and fresh, sweet, bit of hop, resin. A really nice, balanced summer ale.

Finally and farewell
My final few bottles of NZ beer before our departure were a Taranaki Pale Ale, from Mike’s, which Kelly at Green Man in Dunedin had mentioned as NZ’s only other organic brewery currently, and Scallywag Rich Amber Ale, from Schipper’s, in Auckland.

Scallywag

The latter I had to buy as it had another cool label that not only reflected the great dog company we’ve had on this trip (notably, in a bit of utterly coincidental alliteration, from Baxter, Bandit and Betty) but even listed all the hop varieties, malts and even the yeast used in the brew – what an excellent touch, for an excellent beer, a sweet, deep, rich, crisp ruddy brew that’s not unlike Hop Federation’s Red IPA.

Schipper's Scallyway label

Now we’ve gone I wish I’d had more time, and more prior knowledge, and someone to share the driving with.

Never mind.

We’re in Singapore now, enjoying the monsoon, and having a day off the booze to help with the jetlag. Though I do hope to get to Brewerkz and Red Dot (Reddot?) before we head on home to Blighty for Christmas.

Me at Scotts

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Wellington: ugly buildings, splendid beards and fine beer

Havana and block md

We’re big fans of train travel, but NZ seems to have decided it’s a novelty, not a basic, logical sensible part of a sustainable transport policy: so the train from Auckland to Wellington only runs every other day. And is a tourist attraction, not really a quotidian mode of transport. So instead of a stately cruise down through the North Island on two rails, put in at great expense and manpower in the 19th century, we headed south in a coach instead.

We arrived in Wellington, NZ’s pint-sized, hill-and-ocean-hemmed, notoriously windy capital around 8.30pm after 12 delightful hours in the combustion engine behemoth that is the InterCity coach.

The wind – which had kept the first European visitors to NZ, Abel Tasman and James Cook, out of the harbour – wasn’t blowing, which is probably a good thing, as we found ourselves on the 22nd floor (actually the 14th or something, after all the superstition non-floors – 13 etc – have been factored in) of the generic chain hotel we’d accidentally booked. If the place had been being gusted it would have freaked Fran out even more; as is she was already worrying about what this elevation would be like in the event of earthquake.

Earthquakes are of course no joke in NZ. Christchurch, the South Island’s principle city, was terribly mangled by quakes in 2010 and 2011 and as a result building legislation has been revised. Now Wellington is a city that boasts fascinating topography, with craggy bays and hills, but it’s also defined by plentiful dull modern architecture, notably, but not exclusively in the CBD, and piss-poor town planning. The fact that the only characterful historic areas, notably the idiosyncratic Cuba Street, will probably get a massive makeover due to the combination of the new legislation and your predictable developer greed (lack of vision, aesthetic insensitivity etc etc) means the city will probably look very different if we come back in a few years.

In the meantime, we enjoyed trying to find interesting eating and drinking places, scrabbling through our hefty NZ Rough Guide, pottering up and down Cuba Street, round into backstreets, where older buildings are just about hanging on amid the identikit modernity. Having slept badly in our air-conned eyrie of blandness, we fancied the comfort of a cinema, so bought tickets to go to the Light House on Wigan Street. (Great little cinema, which even had some local craft beer like Tuatara; profoundly manipulative film One Chance.) Beforehand, however, we managed a quick beer across the street at the Havana, a bar, or pair of bars, in two old huts dwarfed by depressing modern buildings.

At the Havana we had a couple of beers from ParrotDog, a local brewery. Both – Bitter Bitch IPA and Flaxen Feather Blonde – were bottled, too cold straight from the fridge, very carbonated, but featured a decent amount of tasty NZ hops.

Angry Peaches beer and dinner at Olive, Wellington

After the film, we went to dinner at Olive on Cuba Street. This was a really nice restaurant, one of the best meals we’ve had for ages. It felt kinda posh, and I felt kinda scruffy, and I agonised about what wine to have (I settled on a very pleasant Milton Te Arai Vineyard Demi Sec 2009 Chenin Blanc) before changing tack after a glass and deciding I’d much rather try a beer from Garage Project, another Wellington brewery, a micro operation based in an old petrol station. The eccentrically hospitable waitress accommodated this with aplomb, as did the amiable waiter with his stupendous beard (if he’d had a black t-shirt showing off tats he’d look like a classic craft beer hipster). Jeepers, I’m getting serious beard envy. I’d love one of those dense lustrous beards, but unless I glue one on, I know I’ll go to my grave without every having that experience.

Anyway, the Garage Project beer was called Angry Peaches and was it great. The scent was fruit, cranberry, lemon and “Fairy Liquid” (Fran) and it was pleasingly not over-carbonated, mellow (despite the name) and sweet.

Fran Malthouse bar

The following day we went to the Malthouse (Courtnay Place), a great beer bar with an impressive selection, including more from Garage Project. There was even another guy with a great beard, damn him. We were served by a helpful, knowledgeable barmaid (no beard) who gave us several samples before we both alighted on the two beers on the hand pumps as an alternative to all the carbon dioxide on other taps. Our choices were from another local brewery, Fork & Brewer: Moon Blink Black IPA (5.8%) and Base Jumper (6.3%). The latter is a really smooth, surprisingly mild APA, with caramel and cereal tastes, and several hop varieties (Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial from the US; Orbit and Motueka from NZ) while the former is floral and blackcurranty.

Afterwards, we went to Chow, a kinda pan-Asian tapas place, with more good food – and, shock horror, actual spiciness, something that was very elusive in NZ a decade ago – and good beer. I had another ParrotDog, Dead Canary Pale Ale (5.3%), a gingery, orangey, malty ale while Fran had a Stoke Amber Ale. Stoke is part of the sprawl south of Nelson, original home of Mac’s, and Stoke is the McCashin family’s new brewery’s new brand. It was a delicious beer too, smooth but crisp. Good to see the McCashins back in business. Be interesting to see if they sell (out) this brand in a few years too, or keep it a microbrewery.

Beers in Chow, Wellington

So all in all, Wellington hasn’t disappointed on the beer or food front. Oh, and that thing I mentioned in the last post comparing its food options with NYC – the Rough Guide 2012 actually says “Wellington has more places to eat per capita than New York and the standard is impressively high.” Yep.

Now we’re on the ferry taking us across the Cook Straits to the South Island, aka the Mainland, aka the Middle Island. This route seems to be where old English Channel (and other European) ferries go when they retire. Just a week or so ago, one of these veterans dropped a propeller. Hopefully ours will make it, as at the other end, Picton, we get a smaller boat back up into the Marlborough Sounds to meet my wonderful old friend Nadia, who was one of my principle baking (and cooking generally) teachers and has a wood-fired oven with a view of the sea. Hopefully we’ll do some baking together, and I can get some bread back onto this blog, which has, I know, become somewhat ale-focussed of late.

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An Auckland craft beer hunt

Recreation of a historic Auckland boozer in the Auckland Museum

Considering New Zealand was the country where I learned to love real beer, and considering last time we visited (in 2007) we encountered a range of interesting craft beers, Auckland has proved a bit of a damp squib on the real beer front the past few days. Everywhere we went, there were your classic Kiwi blokes with pints and jugs of generic lager in front of them.

A restaurant (-ish) we went to on the waterfront in the recently redeveloped Wynyard Quarter had a few interesting craft beers – but they were Australian. Then further along the quay, a nominal brewpub just had Mac’s on tap. Now Mac’s was indeed the very beer that taught a teetotalling 24-year-old that beer could be delicious. The Mac’s brand was named after former All Black Terry McCashin, who founded a brewery in Nelson, in the north of the South Island, in 1980, in a former cider factory. McCashin’s a figure comparable to Italy’s Theo Musso of Baladin, in that he was at the forefront a nation’s new wave of real brewing establishments.

I was living not far from Nelson in 1994, and gallon jugs of Black Mac, filled from the tap in the nearest pub (15km away) introduced me to beer that could… gosh… taste nice, and be interesting – unlike all the foul filthy lagers that had been available to me as a teenager growing up in 1980s Britain, and put me off the whole concept of beer and booze.

Like so many interesting brews, though, the Mac’s brand was bought out by Lion Nathan (a part of Kirin, itself a part of Mitsubishi) and, really, the quality deteriorated, while the availability increased. Indeed, it reached a point where Mac’s was no longer brewed at the original McCashin’s brewery. Hence my lack of interest in the aforementioned brewpub. Mac’s tipped too far from craft into conglomerate-industrial for my liking.

I was starting to despair of Auckland being a washout for craft beer. Despite the rest of the country’s international fame for its hops, its array of craft beers, and some, like the Epic I mentioned in the last post, being made right in Auckland, it seemed the city itself didn’t have that many, if any, decent brewpubs or craft beer bars.

I’d really expected to see at least a couple on the Ponsonby Road, with its slew of cafés and eateries of varying degrees of poncyness. But nope. One promising looking place that called itself a “tap house and eatery” on the sign looked rather defunct, and another cool place we’d read about, well… it was too well stashed for our jetlagged selves to find the first time we walked past. In our defence, most of the block it sits in is being redeveloped, it’s got no sign, the address is on one road but the entrance is round the corner, and even that entrance has no sign or name. We found it yesterday though. And very nice it is too.

Hallertau taps at the Golden Dawn, Ponsonby, Auckland

It’s the Golden Dawn (134 Ponsonby Road – but entrance on Richmond Road). It’s got an atmospheric bare brick wall bar, and a fairly large courtyard, with another bar. It’s a gig venue; it does food that sounded intriguing (we didn’t eat); and it has a pretty extensive wine menu. It also had a reasonable amount of bottled craft beers, and five taps, with beer from Hallertau, a microbrewery in Riverhead, northwest of Auckland. (Warning – if, like my mum and my wife, the use of the word “pop”, in the sense of visit spontaneously, annoys you, don’t read the copy on the homepage of the brewery’s site.) The barman was friendly, and we even discussed Mac’s – apparently the McCashin’s are brewing again in their original brewery. Their whole story is available as a book, but it might be easier to just visit their new brand’s site.

As for beers at the Golden Dawn, Fran had a Hallertau #4 Deception Schwarzbier, which looks and tastes like certain porters: it’s very black, has a smell of dark berries and taste of charcoal and chocolate, but it’s actually bottom fermented, that is a black lager. I had one of Hallertau’s seasonal beers, a KomissionA NZ Pale Ale, which was a fruity, sweet, crisp ale, quite carbonated and bitterly hoppy only in a fairly mild-mannered sense. A mellow, easy-drinking beer, good for a summer’s evening. (Swapping hemispheres is odd. My body is confused.)

Hallertau pints, Golden Dawn

Anyway, we’ve only been in Auckland three days, so I know there will be more better beer bars out there somewhere. It’s such a sprawly city (1.5 million, but the size of LA – one of the least densely populated cities in the world), it’s hard to cover the ground by shank’s pony, the mode of transport I’m really preferring to stick to given my current unfitness.

For example, wandering around Grey Lynn earlier, I did spy Malt (442 Richmond Road). This looked like a place to check out… I restrained myself, and looking now, it’s branded as a Monteith’s bar. Monteith’s was another of NZ’s smaller scale breweries, based on the West Coast of the South Island – and like Mac’s, it was bought out, in this case by DB Breweries, one of the two big, internationally owned NZ beer brands. It’s a Dutch-Singaporean conglomerate these days. (The other big NZ beer brand, Lion, is also owned by Kirin/Mitsubishi.) So that kinda put me off, except that Malt at least had guest craft beers.

If I was here longer, I’d check out a few more places, like brewpub Galbraith’s, Three Lamps (also in Ponsonby – but we keep walking in the opposite direction, so I only just discovered it), Deep Creek (in Browns Bay, northeast Auckland) and others.

At least we’ve fitted in some cultcha, with a visit to the beautifully refurbished Auckland Art Gallery, and the Auckland Museum, which since my last visit a decade or so ago has also had some handsome new additions. Its curation leaves a little to be desired though – more contextualisation please!

Anyway, tomorrow we’re off down to Wellington. NZ’s capital is a great little town and one that, I read somewhere, has more cafés per square km than Manhattan. So hopefully some of them will also be craft beer bars. Certainly the last few years Wellington has started claiming to be the “craft beer capital of NZ”, vying with Nelson.

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A few of my favourite things

Thirteen hours of sleepless trans-Pacific flight; a Monday 11 November that, mind-bogglingly, didn’t exist; a lively early morning meet-up with some old Auckland friends, some of their kids, their parrot, their amiable chihuahua and not so friendly Staffy mutt; a pleasing discovery of how much the New Zealand artisan cheese scene has progressed in the half-decade or so since our last visit, and ensuing silly spend… and exhaustion caught us up; I had promised myself NO BEER today so I’d sleep better tonight and get in sync with the new time zone more swiftly but wandering a bottle shop, how could I resist these? Products that encapsulate three of my favourite things: real beer, NZ itself, and the apocalypse.

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They’re from Epic Brewing Company, a brand currently contract brewed out of the Steam Brewing Company facilities, right here in Auckland. And not to be confused with the Utah brewery of the same name.

Currently drinking the Hop Zombie, while really feeling like a bit of a jetlagged zombie. It’s a serious hoppy hit with a scent that’s floral, fruity (grapefruit, passionfruit) and salty-sweaty (ok, even cheesy-feety) and a taste that’s bitterly crisp, sweetly dry and a little salty. It’s strong too, at 8.5%. And, as we’re back in the modern metricated world, it comes in 500ml bottles.

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Delicious, but I’m not sure I’ll last much longer today with jetlag and such strong ale.

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Go west, middle-aged man!

Done so much, seen so much, eaten so much, drunk so much since last post, hard to know where to start.

How about some of the amazing wildlife we’ve seen?

So, in vaguely chronological order: mule deer and a bald eagle, from the window of the California Zephyr, the train that took us on an amazing 25 hour journey from Denver, through the snowy Rockies and mud deserts of Utah, to Truckee; en route I enjoyed Pale Ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, the Californian operation that’s one of the US’s biggest craft brewers.

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A red-tailed hawk skimming low over our heads in a frosty meadow in south Tahoe; we saw bear prints in the woods nearby, before arriving back at our friend Cameron’s street to see a black bear and her cub just over the street. In Tahoe, I drank Moose Drool from Montana.
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Then Great Basin’s Icky IPA, named after Nevada’s official state fossil the ichthyosaur (delicious, but served too cold as usual, so I had to warm it in the sun); “Distinct not extinct”.
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We also visited The Brewery at Lake Tahoe brewpub and sampling all nine of their delicious wares.
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I also ate a serious cinnamon bun from Sugar Pine Bakery to give me a sugary-carb hit before we went and lost money on the blackjack (aka 21) tables in a casino over the Nevada state line and got our money’s worth from a House of the Dead III machine.

Lake to sea
After a few fabulous days in Tahoe, we continued our westward journey, towards the California coast. As Cameron drove us towards her hometown of Carmel, we saw our first coyotes. I know these are pretty common in the western US, and considered a nuisance by many, but Brits like me get excited about such large fauna as we killed off such impressive animals as bears, wolves and lynx centuries ago. Plus, well, I love foxes, and coyotes are their big canine cousins: real survivors.

In Carmel we saw hundreds of cormorants and pelicans (again, common there but pretty exotic for us), as well as my first ever (sea) otters, all during a walk on the glorious Point Lobos. The latter were especially engaging – six or so, all snoozing in the kelp beds, floating on their backs and holding hands.

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In Carmel, I drank sundry beers, including Laguinitas Little Sumpin’ Wild Ale, which was strong (8.8%) and pleasingly, crisply bitter; Brother Thelonius from North Coast Brewing, a strong (9.4%) dark ale, reminiscent of slightly charred toffee apples; and Devotion Ale from The Lost Abbey, a sweet blonde; amongst others.
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We also tried to visit Post No Bills in Sand City, but were too early. Phooey, thwarted!

Big Surring
Somewhere we did visit, however, was Big Sur. This is a really special area that reminded me a bit of one of my fave places: the north of New Zealand’s South Island. Both have a rugged beauty, partially shaped by humanity but mostly defined by ocean and forest. On a hike in Andrew Molera State Park we saw more red-tailed hawks as well as another iconic American raptor, the turkey vulture.

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Beforehand, I’d fuelled up with the biggest, most amorphous almond croissant ever, from Big Sur Bakery. It was mighty good with a filling that was more crunchy than the usual almond paste.

Afterwards we had lunch at Nepenthe, a restaurant in a location once fleetingly owned by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth that has incredible views but food that needs a bit of an injection of energy.

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They had some great beers though, including the wonderfully named Eye of the Hawk from Mendocino brewing, another strong (8%) ale, this time coppery and warmly malty.

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Later on, we even fitted in a quick visit to Big Sur Taphouse, in the same stretch as the bakery.
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Pictures on the walls and a flag were Italian, but we drank local beers before buying some bottles from the amazing selection in the general store next door. Jeez, I wish British corner shops had such enthusiasm with their beer stock.

Oh, and I know I’m straying even further from my remit, but an honorable mention to Lula’s Chocolates for their Dark California Toffee: toffee, coated in dark choc, sprinkled with almonds. Best chocolate we had, and we we’ve been sampling a lot.

A bigger city
We’re now back in the big city, San Francisco, having said goodbye to Cameron, our ever-generous California host, on Wednesday night. We drove up via Santa Cruz, having a quick stop at the likeable Companion Bakeshop (handsome piles of breads, cookie far too earnest and 1980s-Cranks, tomato and onion tartlet underseasoned and soggy bottomed).

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As Cameron and I met at the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome, it was fitting that our final dinner together was at Chez Panisse, the restaurant founded by Alice Waters, who also set up the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the Academy.

I must admit the food couldn’t quite live up to the hype (things rarely do), but I did have an excellent beer as an aperitivo: Proportional Response from The Rare Barrel. This brewery – also in Berkeley, like the restaurant – specialises in oak-aged sour beers. I usually loathe oakiness in wine, but this stuff was great – smoothly sharp, acidly mellow.

Having seen a few photos recently in which my 40-something-not-getting-enough-exercise-belly is coming along nicely (tall skinny man with a beergut – never a good look), I managed to go a day with our bread, cakes or ale yesterday (almost – had a cookie), but we did have a great walk around the city.

I’m loving California, but I do struggle with a car-oriented lifestyle; I just love to walk around and SF is a perfect place to do that. Cameron’s mum had kindly given us tickets for the de Young Museum’s David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition. The show was largely about Hockney returning to his native Yorkshire after 25 years living in California and as such provided a perfect connection between dear, soggy, verdant old England and this magnificent state.

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We’ve got a few more days in SF now, before heading to NZ. I meant to get up early this morning and go to the much-praised Tartine, but I suspect we’re too late now as I’ve been doing this blog, having the usual fight juggling three devices and trying to sort all the pics and links.

We’ll see what the next few days hold. Sadly, I was way too late to get on a tour at Anchor Steam Brewery (thwarted again). Shame really, as I’m really keen to ask a US craft brewer about the whole issue of serving their brews at fridge temperature (4C, or 39F) compared to “cellar temperature” (8-10C, 46-50F).

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Down from the mountain

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We left Estes Park, and the elk, busy rutting by the road and slightly nonplussed when we slowed the enormous Dodge beside them to take photos, yesterday morning. The sun faded away behind a wall of cloud and drizzle as we got back to Boulder – itself still a mile (1600m) above sea level. It was flippin’ cold. Seriously, after two years in Rome we’re totally de-acclimatised to anything even vaguely near freezing.

Another immediately bizzarro comparison with Rome arose when we entered a café – and found everyone sitting in silence, on laptops. In Rome, people, you know, talk to each other in cafés. Still, the beer bars are decidedly more sociable – indeed, we’ve just been to Falling Rock Tap House in Denver and a note on the back of the menus scolds people for being on their phones.

Yesterday’s lunch was sociable too – we were still with Fran’s bro and family, though the Mountain Sun (1535 Pearl Street) was very welcoming to us all, including slumbering Angry Girl (19 months, in giant buggy) and hungry Brisket Boy (aka British Captain America, aged five). It was a really great spot, where the waiters were enamored of Brisket Boy’s accent and eager to please the slightly older beer drinkers among us by providing a superb selection of samples before we chose our pints.

These beer bars all have a serious emphasis on fried food though so we really enjoyed finding Bones in Denver today. This isn’t just an excellent fusionish noodle bar, with some splendid suckling pig steamed buns.

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They even had a few craft beers. Served far too cold (a bit of an issue here in the US methinks), but we still enjoyed our dark ales – especially my Ellie’s Brown Ale. It not only tasted good but it was named after a chocolate Labrador, reminiscent of the in-laws’ dog, Baxter, who we said goodbye to last week.

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After a bit of cultcha at the Denver Art Museum (Impressionism, US landscape art, the generation and consolidation of the myths of the American West, a giant dustpan and brush; not as cool as the giant blue bear though), we went to the Falling Rock. Where the serve beer at the right temperature, have an impressive selection, but slightly undermine the whole “no-phones-they-distract-from-the-beer”- ethos with bloody great screens. Still, at least it was basketball (Miami Heat beating Chicago Bulls), the most fluid, dynamic and engaging of the US’s three major sport obsessions.

Tomorrow may well be a craft beer-free day as we’re re-ascending the Rockies, this time by train, overnighting on the Amtrak California Zephyr before meeting our chum Cameron at Lake Tahoe.

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