As 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!