Monday, 4 March 2013

The Pathway to Hoppiness

Special guest post from the wifey!

As a birthday my dearest husband paid for me to attend 'Pathway to Hoppiness', a tasting session dedicated to all things hoppy run by local outfit Craft Beer College. I am writing this blog a fair few months later, and got a little merry on the day, so the interpretations of my hand written scrawls may seem a little out there! The session was held at legendary Wellington craft beer purveyors, Hashigo Zake, a Japanese themed 'cult beer bar' in the heart of Wellington selling a range of interesting beers both on tap and in bottles. We sat at shared tables and it seemed that most people were, like me, attending on their own, so we quickly got chatting and exchanging thoughts on the beer. Eight beers down the line (I should add, they were small samples of each of course!) I had befriended someone who had played a dwarf in the second Hobbit film and a fellow female beer devotee. Fun times indeed.

A very quaffable pilsner at 5.5%, with New Zealand Riwaka hops providing grapefruity notes and Motueka hops adding a bit of lemon and lime. Our 'teacher' also detected a diesel aroma from the hops, which proved to be a bit of a theme. She seemed to have diesel on the brain! Although it did seem to have a bit of a mineral edge, and was perhaps more well rounded and less crisp than a typical European Pilsner.

A staple Kiwi session beer, this 3.7% bitter is something that would probably be acceptable to all different kinds of beer drinkers and ages. I can imagine this would be right up my Dad's street; not too strong but still flavoursome, a session ale yet still robust. Again Riwaka hops are used for flavour and aroma, and this time NZ Fuggles (different to UK Fuggles apparently) hops are used to add a bit of bitterness to contrast with the rich maltiness.  The NZ Fuggles hops are being used more often as the UK Fuggles are becoming prone to disease, and therefore harder to get hold of in large quantities. This beer was initially brewed as a 'one-off' for a Victoria festival in 1996, and was so successful it was subsequently entered into the NZ beer awards and received silver from the late, great Michael Jackson. A classic.

An IPA all the way from Suffolk, with a cool medicine style bottle. Brewed with all First Gold hops to provide the flavour, aroma, and bitterness, this had a really sweet, toffeeish nose and yet a real bitterness on the palate.  There was something almost herbal or woody about it, and a definite Turkish Delight edge. The malts provided a rich biscuit flavour and our hosts conceded that some of the fresh hop flavours would have disappeared on the long journey from the UK. At 5.5% it was another drinkable beer (in NZ terms at least - the trend is for stronger beers in smaller measures, a 'pint' being only 440ml) and something I would definitely be keen to drink again back home.

A 7% US IPA with very hoppy aromas, and something quite minerally on the nose. It had a sweet caramel edge to it, but not as malty as the St Peter's. It was heralded as a typical example a US IPA, similar to the UK style, the main difference being it also it hopped to high heaven. As is typical in this kind of beer, Colombus and Centennial hops are used, as well as some Cascade thrown in for good measure. The palette has some noticeable medicinal, resin/piney notes, as well as some floral flavours. It was 75 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) which is pretty darned high, but was served too cold for my liking (said like a true Brit!). I definitely preferred it as it warmed up a little, and some of the malts were able to shine through.

A NZ IPA at 7.3%, sniffing this is like receiving a punch in the face with a fist full of hops. A great example of the typical flavours of NZ hops, the Nelson Sauvin provides some lovely gooseberry characteristics, and the beer had a great grapefruit and passion fruit zing. They also bring a grassy note and (dare I say?) a bit of a sweaty armpit flavour, in a rich, earthy kind of way. We had had this beer before, and we've had it since, and it absolutely rocks my socks every time. Go NZ hops!

Another NZ beer, this time a hoppy, dark, American-style Porter. It is so rich with nutty and coffee notes, as to be almost chewable! Clocking in at 6% with Nelson Sauvin, US Cascade and Slovenian Styrian Goldings hops, when this was first brewed the Yeastie Boys constantly changed the recipe and so it was quite different batch-to-batch. They've now settled on a recipe which results in more of a hoppy porter style than the black IPA it started life as. Unfortunately this beer just didn't stand up to the hops of some of the earlier beers, which was a shame as I have had it before and since, and know it is a really great beer.

We were now into the big boy's territory with this 9.2% Belgian IPA offering from Green Flash. The nose was almost wheat like, provided by the Belgian yeast. It is a hybrid of a Belgian Trippel and an American IPA which results in a sweet, rounded yet hoppy beer. Hops used included Nugget hops for bitterness, Summit hops for aroma, and it's dry hopped with US Amarillo hops to add a bit of stone fruit and citrus notes. The beer apparently has an IBU of 101! It's a pretty powerful and perfumed beer and one to not consume many of, but well worthwhile if you ever get the opportunity!

This Imperial IPA at 9.7% was (sadly at the time, luckily in retrospect) the last beer of the afternoon. After the power of the previous beer there didn't seem to be much to this beer in terms of smell, but the palate was a great balance of hop and malt.  It didn't taste it's strength at the time (although this may have been due to me now being suitably merry).  Again, that grassy, sweaty armpit definitely shone through, with a slightly medicinal aftertaste. The hops used are Simco and Centennial, and it's dry hopped with Cascade and Amarillo (and possibly another... at this point my handwriting is fairly difficult to decipher...!).

And with that, the session was over, and along with my new friends we stumbled to another bar for yet more beer. If I were to rank the beers, my top 3 would be 8 Wired Hopwired, St Peter's IPA, and Green Flash Le Freak.  All quite different from each other but still really great beers in their own right. Despite only living in New Zealand for 5 months at this point, I still had a feeling of pride and loyalty to 8 Wired, they're that good! Hopwired is so fresh, pungent and in your face, I will definitely be making the most of it while we are here!