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Cold beer on wood table in front the sea of ThailandAs I write, the sun is finally stay­ing later and I can sit on my porch enjoy­ing a beer until past 8pm. The spring gales are dying and thoughts are turn­ing to the fest­ive sea­son. But a porch ses­sion is also a good time to remin­isce on the past year and the best beers I’ve had.

My favour­ite new brew­er­ies this year were Bay­lands and Pan­head. Both are loc­al and have put out some fant­ast­ic, per­fectly bal­anced beers. Panhead’s pale ale selec­tions (yes, there are a few) are won­der­ful without being in the ‘extreme’ cat­egory for hop­pi­ness that can turn some people off. Bay­lands star­ted with a series of well-bal­anced beers that blew us all away. The fla­vour nev­er over­powers and the alco­hol con­tent doesn’t sneak up on you either. While exper­i­ment­al beers (and I’ll get to some soon) are fant­ast­ic exper­i­ences in terms of fla­vour, the beers from Bay­lands and Pan­head are sol­id ‘I will always like these’ beers.

Moon Dog (an Aus­trali­an brew­ery) has been releas­ing some unusu­al beers with some fant­ast­ic names. The Lando Kar­dashi­an is a fruity tripel pale ale that suc­cess­fully hides its 11.5% alco­hol con­tent, while Mr Mis­tof­felees is a sour con­tain­ing mango and pas­sion-fruit pulp.

Gar­age Pro­ject delivered some great beers as per usu­al. Mon P’tit Chou (a French farm­house ale) and Lil’ Red Rye were vari­et­ies that I hap­pily drank a lot of. If I had to describe this year’s group of beers from the Aro Val­ley brew­ers, it would be… smooth. While I don’t think there is a move­ment away from the big res­iny fla­vours of Amer­ic­an hops, these new beers focus­ing on oth­er fla­vours are rap­idly becom­ing my favourites.

But 2013 was the year of bar­rel-age­ing. Gar­age Pro­ject released a num­ber of beers that they had aged in a vari­ety of bar­rels, and Par­rot­Dog bar­rel-aged their Sleuth­hound in both Syrah and Pinot bar­rels. The king of the bar­rel, how­ever, was Søren at 8‑Wired. The brewer’s Bumaye (“boom-eye-ay”) and Grand Cru were bar­rel-aged gems, then at the Pacific Beer Expo 8‑Wired released two more: Sais­on Sau­vin, aged in a Chardon­nay bar­rel, which was a sour dream; and Wild Fei­joa, a strong pale ale bar­rel-aged with fei­joas, which was cloudy, per­fumed and delicious.

But my favour­ite exper­i­ment­al beer was in a tall bottle, con­tained a num­ber of very weird ingredi­ents, and had a great name: Super Afro­dis­i­ac from Funk Estate. Although tech­nic­ally an oyster stout, the slimy shell­fish is only one of its many ingredi­ents, which include figs, cacao nibs, honey and maca root powder. It’s a won­der­ful dark beer, per­fect for late-night drinking.

This year was also a great one for fest­ivals. The new ven­ue for the Winter Ale Fest­iv­al (formerly the Matariki Beer Fest­iv­al), the Hunter Lounge, was excel­lent (des­pite the walk up the hill ). There were new fest­ivals, too, includ­ing the Great­er Wel­ling­ton Brewday, which invaded the wine ter­rit­ory of Mar­tin­bor­ough in March (next year it’s in April). And, of course, Beer­vana, was a won­der­ful end to Choice Beer Week.

Choice Beer Week and Wel­ling­ton on a Plate (with Gar­age Pro­ject front and centre) became fant­ast­ic vehicles for show­cas­ing Wellington’s brew­ing com­munity (even if they were a little bit strict about the dates). The king of the Wel­ling­ton beer events though is still Hashigo Zake. Not only a dis­trib­ut­or of beers around the coun­try, they also put on numer­ous fant­ast­ic events, from host­ing tast­ings and Craft Beer Col­lege classes, through to Big Bad Wolf beer and food match­ings and full-day fest­ivals. The Pacific Beer Expo on Labour Week­end was anoth­er tri­umph in its new St James venue.

There have also been some new addi­tions to the craft beer bar scene. These range from the awful, nev­er-go-back-there The Res­id­ence on Cour­tenay Place, to the won­der­ful, laid-back dive bars of Golding’s Free Dive and Rogue and Vag­a­bond, which now has bean­bags you can use in Glover Park this sum­mer. Cheers!

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