Garage Project API IPA

Inverting this tap badge reveals a hidden satanic message.

Inverting this tap badge reveals a hidden satanic message.

Beer: Garage Project ‘API IPA’
ABV: 6.7%
From: Hashigo Zake
Date: 12/02/2013

This is perhaps one of my less timely reviews: API was released in time for Webstock 2013, which was a while ago.  But it’s also the first beer off Garage Project’s bottling line, so there’s a high chance readers will see this beer further afield than the usual Wellington beer-spots.

First thing to note about API is that its a concept beer.  I love concept beers, but they don’t always work out.  Phil from the Garage pitched it to me one rather slow Saturday shift.  “It’s like an IPA, but backwards.”
“So you… reverse the hop schedule?” I asked.
“Exactly.”  (Ha! +1 to Beer Geek ability).  “We used an aroma hop for bittering and a bittering hop for flavour.”
“What’d you use?  Super-Alpha?”  I asked.
“Yeah, actually.”  Woo!  Another +1 to Beer Geek ability.  It would be +2 if I’d used the proper name for the hop.  Super-Alpha, or as it should now be known, Dr Rudi, is a New Zealand grown hop grown to have a high (or ‘super’) alpha acid content.  Alpha acids are chemicals which give beer it’s bitterness.  

My lucky guess isn’t that surprising.  I’ve known a couple of home-brewers that have used Dr Rudi for flavour and aroma, as well as a brew by ePICO, which was written about here.

The Beer
API is IPA backwards!

Hidden message: API is IPA backwards!

It’s cloudy, pale orange.  Smells leafy-green and kind of lemony.  The flavour is very bitter, but the body is full which counter-points it nicely.  The over-all hop character is peppery, with hints of lemon.

It’s a nice beer, balanced and all that bollocks.  So why do I suggest in my second paragraph that I’m a bit luke-warm about it?  Well, because the conclusion I reached after my first pint was that API isn’t much fun.  Garage Project are nothing if not masters of making hoppy beers that reach down your trousers and tug on your fun bits (metaphorically speaking, of course).  API just doesn’t do that.  It’s a pint of perfectly acceptable hoppy beer, nothing more, nothing less.

Annoyingly I think this beer could be made fantastic very easily: just a wee dash more flavour hops.  Just a smidgeon of Sauvin, a pinch of Motueka, a drizzle of Riwaka, and this beer would pop!  It would be a fun-tastic IPA.  But therein lies the problem.  You’d be using flavour hop for flavour, which would defeat the entire concept of the beer.  That’s what I thought after my first pint.

But I had to be sure.  I wasn’t thrilled by my first pint, so I had a second.  And a third.  And a fourth.  In fact, this beer was on tap during the entire week of Webstock and I had a pint of it for my staffie every single day.  And a few more pints on top of those.  In short, I drank a metric shit-load of API.1  And I will drink a lot more (I might even be drinking one as you read this).

Photo courtesy of Garage Project.

Photo courtesy of Hashigo Zake/Garage Project.

And that I think, is really the point I’m trying to get at.  It’s a pint of perfectly acceptable hoppy beer, nothing more, but certainly nothing less.  I could drink it all night and while it will might not set me aflame, I’ll never tire of it either.  And that perhaps, is one of the biggest endorsements I can give a beer.  It might not tickle my fun-bits, but hey, it’s still bloody good and you should definitely have one.2  Or two.  Or six.  Just to be sure.  

  1. Which is smaller than an imperial shit-load and uses base-ten.
  2. Although it is a little grainy, Pete.

Three Men Walk into a Bar

As a barman, I meet all sorts.  Customers are strange creatures, and recently I met a trio that inspired a fair deal of ambivalence in me.  I’m not sure how best to explain the encounter, so I’m just going to take you thorough it as it happened.

So three men walk into a bar: an Englishman, an Englishman and an Englishman (sorry).  They walk up to the bartender (me) and pull out a piece of paper.

“Hi there, we’re looking for some hard to find beers; thought this might be the place to find them,” said their spokesman.  Certainly, said I.  What are you after?

He consulted his list.  “12 Gauge” (a strong lager from Leigh Sawmill Brewery).  No, we don’t have it.  Meow Cafe might have bottles of it.  My mind races for an alternative New Zealand beer: tap pilsner?  Liberty Alpha Dog?

He consults the list again.  “Mammoth?”  (Pink Elephant’s strong ale).  Sorry, we don’t have that either.  Hmm, Liberty High-Carb?  I mentally store that recommendation away for the moment.

“Got any Engima?”  Ah, Twisted Hop’s Barleywine!  It hasn’t been brewed since the earthquake.  We had a lot of the Red Zone version of it at one stage, but we sold out a while back.  That beer’s extinct in the wild as it were.  I know of a couple of bottles in captivity (private cellars), but none for sale.  I explain all of this whilst digging around in my brain for a recommendation. Renaissance Tribute Barleywine.  That’ll be perfect!

I’m about to recommend a Tribute, when he speaks again: “Emerson’s Old 95?”  Ha.  I should have seen that coming.  That’s another extinct beer.  Again, I know there are still bottles in captivity, but that hasn’t been brewed in almost two years.  As I explain this, a thought occurs to me.

Where did you get this list I asked?  It turns out he’d copied it out of the book 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die.  Now things are starting to make sense.  That book was published in early 2010.  Most of the writing was probably done in 2009 and the research for it as early as 2007-2008.  Now that’s not long ago in the scheme of things, but with the radical growth of beer in New Zealand, five years ago was practically the Dark Ages.

Don’t believe me?  Winter 2008 was the year Yeastie Boys launched with a single batch of Pot Kettle Black.  They only did four releases in the year following, the second and third being Golden Boy and Kid Chocolate.  The fourth was the second vintage (that’s right, vintage, it started as an annual release) of PKB.

Need more perspective?  Late 2009  was the year 8 Wired launched, with a beer called “All of the Above.” Never heard of it?  It was later re-named ReWired.  I suspect the book would have been nearing completion at that stage, and no one who worked on it had ever heard of the virtuoso Dane, brewing in small-town New Zealand.

Anyway, so now I know what I’m dealing with.  What else is on the list?  Invercargill Smokin’ Bishop.  Well, that’s a winter release.  You’ll be lucky to find it this time of year.  We have no other New Zealand equivalent, but maybe a Rex Attitude?  Harrington’s Big John Special Reserve.  Ah!  If only we had some Double-Barrelled Cockswain’s on tap!  Never mind, an 8 Wired Batch 18 will blow their minds, I think.

Look mate, I say, that book’s pretty out of date.  Let me recommend some New Zealand beers I think should be in that book.   “No thanks,” he says.  “I’ll just have a look through your menu.”  The three of them bury their heads in the bottle-list.

Ok, that’s odd.  Well, clearly they’re experienced beer-hunters, so they know what they’re doing.  Since I wasn’t busy, I grabbed the bar computer and had a quick dig.  Hey mate, I said, it looks like Regional Wines and Spirits have bottles of Smokin’ Bish’ and Big John.  They’re an awesome bottle shop not far from here, I can give you directions if you like.

He looks up.  “No thanks.  The rule is we have to drink them in an on-licence.”  Um… What?  Now I know it’s fun to make make arbitrary rules for simple tasks to make them more challenging; like say only stepping on black tiles when walking across a chequer-board floor.  However to me, what he said was utterly-nutterly-butterly insane.  Isn’t the point of beer-hunting that you go you go out of your way to try beers no matter how you get your hands on them?  I have a friend who once on a trip to Germany, went out of her way to go to Bamberg, just because she liked Rauchbiers.  Personally, I’ll walk across broken glass if I want a beer bad enough.  It’s about the beer, not the method of acquisition: the why matters, not the how.

I was still digesting this revelation when he finally ordered beers: three Rising Sun Pale Ales.  Um, wait, what the fuck?  These guys have come all the way around the world hunting specific New Zealand beers, to probably the best beer-bar in the country.  When they can’t find them what do they do?  Drink imports.  From snatches of their conversation, I gathered at least one of them had already had Baird beer before, in Japan!  Hashigo is probably the only bar in the country that still has Batch 18, but you’re drinking imported beer you’ve had before?

Ok, chill out.  I begrudge no one their tasty beverage.  Clearly these guys know what they like and like good beer.  Except…

They came back the next day and drank Chimay and Rochefort.  What?  Really?  Two (admittedly beautiful) Trappist beers that can be found in almost any beer-bar world-wide?

Alright, fine.  So you know what you want (god-bless you for that).  But readers might see why I’m a little perplexed here.  The point of international beer-hunting is that you go to a place and seek-out the beers that come from there.  Heavens knows I flout the ‘drink local’ ethos almost daily, but if I’m travelling somewhere, I want to try the beers I can’t get anywhere else.

I can’t help feeling like these chaps have lost sight of the wood because of all the pesky trees that keep getting in the way.  They came all this way to not try local beers because they weren’t on an obsolete list?   I suspect a Pokemon1 mentality has take over here: the act of collecting, the ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ has become more important than the actual thing you’re collecting.

I’m going to finish by saying two things:

First of all, I like your style.  The enthusiasm and dedication of going around the world trying beers everywhere is something I applaud.  But also keep in mind that beer is a fluid thing (literally and metaphorically): breweries fail and change hands, new beers are created and new breweries start-up.  Books don’t change though.  The 1001 is fixed in history, so you’re doomed to failure.  You will probably never taste Old 95.  With that in mind, don’t lose sight of what beer-hunting should be about: enjoying good beer, in good places, with good people.

So yeah, keep that in mind.  And god-speed, you mad bastards.

  1. For those mature readers unfamiliar with Pokemon, it was a cartoon/trading card/videogame series where people imprison animals in ludicrously small cages and then sic them on random strangers.  Imagine a blend of stamp-collecting and dog-fighting and you’re pretty much there.  

Hophugger Pilsner

Pretty much all these photos are taken at my desk.

Pretty much all these photos are taken at my desk.

Beer: Hophugger Pilsner
 Pilsner (?)
ABV: 5%
From: My secret supply
Date: 25/01/2013

Now this is going to be a bit of an odd review: I’m going to say quite a few negative things.  But I’m also going to say some positive things, and because I don’t trust the anti-beer-snob Mafia to finish reading this post before they come around to my house and break my kneecaps (or at least send me angry comments and emails), I’m going to put the positives at the start, before I dish out the criticism.  And as always, caveat lector.

Hophugger is a totally decent beer, that I enjoyed, and you might too.  Is that clear?  Everyone got that?  Good.

Now some negative: the bottle label is awful.  So is the name.  Neither of these should ever be a deal-breaker, but as someone who sells beer, trust me: these things matter.  Frequently people will buy a beer because the label looks cool or it has a clever name.  I don’t consider that to be a good thing, but it’s a reality, and this beer fails on both those counts.1  I know they take their name from a Timaru-based organics company (contracted at Invercargill, I believe), but I think they should have given it more thought.

Anyway, lets not judge books by their terrible cover-design.  How was the beer?  Well I poured out a glass, and my immediate thought was: gosh, that’s dark for a pilsner.  It’s a funny thing to notice, but I’m not joking when I say it really was too dark to be a pilsner.

Is that dark for a pils?  Che thinks so.

Is that dark for a pils? Che thinks so.

BJCP guidelines suggest a pils should be around 2-6 SRM (standard reference method).  I pulled up a comparison chart, and Hophugger seemed to be somewhere around 9 or 10 SRM.  Again, appearance should never be a deal-breaker in a beer.  I’ve never been one to send back a beer because it doesn’t look right, and I hate people that do.2  The reason I mention this though, is that it was kind of a warning, because…

It smells lovely, but it doesn’t really smell like a pilsner either.  The main aroma is classic New Zealand hops: purple fruit, citrus peel and a bit of dirt; but underneath it all, there’s a big caramel character.  Caramel in a pilsner?  That’s a bit weird.  Again it’s not a deal-breaker, but…

It tastes more or less exactly like it smells.  The body is full and rich (for a pale beer) and the flavour is sweet and caramelly.  It’s hop character was again, classically New Zealand and the bitterness was pleasantly high.  However the body was full and round and a little fat.

Now don’t get me wrong, the flavour was quite nice, but you might see where I’m going here.  My benchmark  pilsners (but not my favourite, mind) are Pilsner Urquel (Czech), Waldhaus Diplom (German) and Emerson’s (New Zealand).  If I had to say what was the defining character of all those beers it’s a refreshing dryness, a snap-and-crackle that makes the beer stand to attention on your tongue.3  

And that’s what’s missing here.  Hophugger does not have the essential snap of a pilsner.  It’s too soft and round and sweet.  If you gave it to me blind, I’d guess something like a Blonde Ale, or maybe a very light Pale Ale.  There might be a lager sub-category that it fits into better, like New Zealand-hopped Helles Bock or something silly like that, but I simply suspect that this is a beer that doesn’t fit well into any category.  One thing is clear though: it’s not a classic pilsner.

Interestingly, a couple of people threw around the ‘D’ word: diacetyl.  I disagree but I think it might be indicative: I think what’s going on here is an excess of speciality malt (caramel or crystal maybe).  This would make a lot of sense:  It’s kind of like a pils, but quite full and sweet.  And you know what?  That’s fine: it’s a nice beer.  Spend your money on it and you won’t be ripped off.

So what’s my gripe then?  Well, it’s classic case of failing to do what it says on the tin.  Hardcore pilsner drinkers are picky bastards (I’m not one of them).  This beer promises a pilsner, but delivers something different.  And I guess that’s the crux of my consumer advice: this is a nice beer, but don’t expect a classic pilsner.

Did I mention it’s a nice beer and I like it?  Please don’t break my kneecaps…

  1. That’s why I swear I’m going to write those naming guidelines one day.
  2. And believe me, they do.  The majority of them have been CAMRA members.
  3. Notice how hard I’m trying to avoid the word ‘crisp’, because I’m bloody sick of it.  Feel free to insert that word if you like.

My Alcoholic Kitchen: Beer Bunny

I’m no chef, but if there’s one thing I love to do it’s drink cook.  Were I ever to found a culinary school, it would have a unique philosophy: needs more booze!  Past alcoholic  experiments include: pork and cider-gravy, stout-stroganoff, Laphroaig Bolognese, rum-glazed drunken devils-on-horseback, and whiskey jam.  In French cuisine there are the five mother sauces.  In my cuisine there are the five mother boozes: beer, cider, wine, dark spirits and light spirits.

Some weeks back I was trawling the wild game section of Moore Wilson’s, when I noticed they had whole rabbits.  I love rabbit.  I first tried it in Switzerland when I was eight, but you almost never see it here.

A tableau.

The first rabbit I cooked I shared with Dave from Hashigo.  We named it Sir Charles Johnson and slow-cooked it in home made cider.   It was pretty good, but I felt a more solid booze-base would be even better.  So when another friend of mine, Hannah, heard about and demanded her own rabbit-feast, I decided that this time around it was ‘go big or go home!’  And big I went, with La Trappe Dubbel.1

I chose this strong Belgian dark ale (7%) because I felt the robust banana, spice and caramel flavours (with a hint of chocolate) would stand up well to a three-hour braising.  Also because it was cheap.  Seriously cheap.  Like $7 from chaffer’s New World.  What a  steal!

This rabbit we dubbed Edwin Pemberton (The First) and because Edwin was rather small in life, I also picked up a leg of wild hare from Moore Wilson’s (also because I’ve never eaten hare before).

The Dish

Down to business then.  This is what I used:

Hare is apparently a red meat.

Hare is apparently a red meat.

  • 1 whole rabbit
  • 1 leg of hare
  • 250g bacon pieces
  • 1 bulb of garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • a handful of green beans, chopped
  • a few mushrooms, sliced
  • a large sprig of thyme
  • 50g butter
  • 750 ml bottle of La Trappe Dubble

To start I crisped the bacon in a pan.  Then I seasoned the leporidae with salt and pepper, and seared them in the bacon fat.  “Seared in bacon fat.”  Now those are some beautiful words right there.  Food poetry!  

This is art.

This is art.

Next, I took all the ingredients  threw them in the slow cooker, poured over the Dubble, turned it to high and left it.  No need to make things complicated after all.  After it reached a simmer, I took the lid off and stuck my nose in.  I was damn nearly decked by  the cloud of booze vapour that erupted out of the pot!  Pemberton was getting tender.

I pulled him out after about three hours.  In pieces, because he was so tender he was falling apart.  I shredded the flesh and pulled out all the bones, or at least as many as I could find.  Rabbits are full of sharp little ribs and vertebrae which are not pleasant to chew on.  The rabbit meat I put back in to the pot.  Interestingly the leg of hare didn’t fall apart.  If anything, it was a little tougher than when I started.

Everything in the slow cooker.

Everything in the slow cooker.

I served the unthickened soup-like broth in bowls over pasta (except for the hare, which we elected to eat neolithic style, with hands and teeth).  The broth was very rich, with the dominant flavours being beer and bacon.  The sweet caramel and booze of the dubbel especially came through.  The rabbit still managed to be slightly dry but had a lovely flavour, like rather ferric turkey.2  The hare was tough, but tasted good: like a subtle farmed venison.

So overall, rabbit was definitely a success.  Now that I’ve slow cooked a couple, I’d be keen to try a few different preparation methods.  And I’ve also got to plan my next food adventure.  I did spot some Guinea Fowl in the fridge at Moore Wilson’s the other day…

Hannah, demonstrating correct the neolithic technique.

Hannah, demonstrating the correct neolithic eating technique.

  1. I have a fondness for La Trappe, ever since Steve from Hashigo and I had a ‘Trappist Lunch’, where we toured all the La Trappe beers we could get hold of.  We started mid-afternoon and finished around 2 am.  I can report: the beers were good and we were drunk.
  2. Although the left-overs, devoured the next day, were much less dry.  An overnight soaking in the broth seemed to do the trick.

New Release Tuesday: Garage Project Rye Chai IPA

DSC_0672Beer: Garage Project ‘Rye Chai IPA’
 Spiced Rye IPA
ABV: 7.5%
From: Hashigo Zake
Date: 22/01/2013

When starting this whole writing shindig I realised pretty quickly that first impressions are the most valuable (and frequently funniest) asset to reviewing a beer.  As such  New Release Tuesdays at work are a godsend: every week a new beer I’ve (probably) never had before.

The problem is though, that NRTs usually are one keg only (sometimes as little as 10 litres only). By the time I post it and you read it, the beer will be probably be long gone.1  So in writing about NRTs, particularly Garage Project ones, I’m being a bit of an [insert preferred genitals here] tease.  That’s certainly the case here: the Rye Chai lasted until 10 pm.  I have no idea if it will ever be brewed again either, so sorry if you’re reading this and missed out on Rye Chai, because I’m now going to tell you how nice it was.2

The Beer

That said, at first I didn’t like it.  I grabbed a quick taster before the beer went live at 5 pm (perks of the job) and I found it really overbearing on the spice character.  Forget rye or IPA, this one was all chai spice dominant, with the major character being clove.  Also, being a cloudy brown-amber (I have no photos unfortunately), it certainly didn’t look like any IPA I know of.  So I more or less dismissed it as a one note song and left it at that.

But then a bit later on in the evening we had to change to the second keg of Rye Chai, which meant running through a jug of foam, which settled down to about a pint of beer.  Now we can’t let good beer go to waste and I was about to knock off, so I valiantly volunteered to drink it (more perks of the job).

What I essentially got was flatter, slight warmer Rye Chai and I have to say I found it really quite lovely.  There was still spices all up in the whole thing but the malt body was so much fuller and richer.  I can’t say I got much rye character, but it probably contributed to the body and mouth-feel.3  

What really took me by surprise though was the hop character.  Rye Chai was dosed with the classic Simcoe/Amarillo combination that so many American IPAs use.  On my first taste I remember thinking ‘what waste of good US hops’.  However having the beer flat and warm brought out both a pleasant bitterness in the beer but also surprisingly, a zesty citrus-hop character!  It was so noticeable that I went to check and see if chai had bergamot in it like Earl Grey tea.  It doesn’t.

So all in all, Rye Chai IPA was an interesting and pleasant beer, as well as a fascinating example of what different temperatures/carbonation levels can do to flavour.  Also, maybe next time, we could try a little of it on hand-pump?  Just say’in…

  1. Usually a keg lasts a few days at Hashigo, but some last a matter of hours.  At the hight of the 24/24, beers like Day of the Dead lasted only minutes.  45 minutes to be exact.
  2. Aside from the usual criticism: it was a bit grainy, Pete.
  3. As a total aside, Pete has gone a little rye crazy lately (or should I say crazy from rye).  I like it.  Also I was there when he did his first rye beer.  That too was a bastard.

Moon Dog Henry Ford’s Girthsome Fjord

MDHFGF in my Baird Boston with my trusty Fish-Pen.

MDHFGF in my Baird Boston with my trusty Fish-Pen.

Beer: Moon Dog ‘Henry Ford’s Girthsome Fjord’
  Hybrid Belgian/American Imperial Brown Ale
ABV: 8.9%
From: Hashigo Zake
Date: 22/01/2013

One day I’m going to write a set of guidelines on how to name beers and when I do, Moon Dog are going be mentioned at least twice.  Firstly for having Dog in their name, and secondly for breaking all the rules (that I haven’t written yet) but still making it work.  Seriously, ‘Henry Ford’s Girthsome Fjord’?  That’s a terrible name for a beer!  It makes no sense and tell and tells you nothing about the beer.1 But still I love it.  Probably because the words are full of O’s and R’s, which makes them round and delicious to say and also because ‘girthsome’ and ‘fjord’ are words I find inherently funny.

Anyway.  People who know me know that I have a mania for good brown ale.  So of all the Moon Dog beers Hashigo is now distributing, Henry Fjord’s Girthsome Ford was the one I was most keen to get into.

The Beer

It hissed and gushed at me when I capped it and when poured it gave me a big fluffy brown head.  Smelling it, it was hoppy, sweet and caramelly but also had a strong hint of tartness.  I began to suspect infection, but then checked the bottle.  It apparently uses three yeast strains: Trappist, American Ale and Whitbread Ale.  Presumably the Trappist strain is giving the beer a slightly Orval-like character?2

Chunky bits!

Chunky bits!

I was about to take a sip when I noticed what looked to be an insect wing floating on the head.  On closer inspection it turned out to be a chunk of hop cone.  Bloody hell, I know Australians like cloudy beer (don’t we all), but that’s a bit far isn’t it?  No matter.

The flavour was a combination of fruity hop character, slightly tart yeast and a big toasty caramel malt finish.  Oh and plenty of booze on top of all that.  Now those are all really good characters that I like a lot but to be honest, I felt like they were a bit jumbled up together.  If I had to describe it I wouldn’t say ‘integrated’ so much as ‘a party in your mouth’.  But at the same time, I also kinda dig that.  Certainly the label with its rather suspect collage (see below), promises a side helping of crazy with the beer and that’s kinda what I got.  I also have to admit that as I got further through the beer it smoothed out, and I found it quite easy drinking.  At 8.9%, this is bit of dangerous thing.

"Lets put a horse on the label!""Um, why?""No idea!  Also, it needs a hat!"

“Lets put a horse on the label!”
“Um, why?”
“No idea! Also, it needs a hat!”

Overall I’d say I enjoyed Girthsome Henry’s Ford Fjord and it’s definitely well worth ago.  As an aside, I found out recently that Josh and Karl from Moon Dog are going to be at Hashigo this Saturday night (2/2/13).  Despite the 7’s it should be pretty relaxed down there, so if you want to meet them, head on down.

  1. Well, they sorta justify it on the bottle.  A bit.
  2. Although I may revisit that infection theory, depending on how the beer develops.