Is it really 2015? It seems like only yesterday I was writing these awards for 2013. Feels like all I did in between was get drunk, go to Iceland, draw some weird pictures and have all of Wellington tweet their recycling bins at me. Oh well, guess it’s lime to look back on our last trip around the Sun and arbitrarily hand out trophies.
This year I’ve brought back many of the awards of last year, and created some new ones as the vagarities of the strange beast that was 2014 demanded. As always, Caveat Lector: My opinions are my own and are meant for novelty purposes only. Alright, lets do this thing.
The Green Bottle Piss Award for Best Lager
This year has seen me step away from Pilsners that have been hopped like IPAs in search of something hop-forward, but a little different. The winner is Townshend Black Arrow. In a scene where everyone’s tried everything, I don’t know anyone else who hops their Pilsner with UK Target hops (I’m sure there are others, but what evs).
Feel Good Hit of the Summer Award for Best Light, Wheat or ‘Sessionable’ Thing
The summer of 2015 is, I’ve decided, The Summer of IPA. The reason being that at Golding’s, Hoppy Pale Ales including +7% hop bombs like Sculpin, have been pouring two-to-one with almost any lager we put on tap. Clearly, the people want more hops.
With this in mind, it would make sense for this award to go to a Session IPA, the style that became vogue in 2014.
But it isn’t, because I hate Session IPAs. Seriously, it’s an incredibly hard style to get right and many taste like bitter-hop-water. Even the good examples on the other hand, taste like ordinary Pale Ales and given that the ABVs of these so-called ‘session’ beers seem to frequently creep above 4.5%, we may as well just give up and call them what they are: over hopped slightly lower ABV Pale Ales.
The Irish Suntan Award for Paleness
Last year I gave this award to the whole Pale Ale category, because making a good beer that’s ~5%, hop driven with a decent malt backbone is the fastest way to win at beer. This year on the other hand, I’m going to almost arbitrarily give the award to Liberty Brewing Oh Brother, a Pale Ale I had the other day (for the millionth time), and massively enjoyed (for the millionth time). Keep up the good work Jo.
The Special Award for Services to My Alcoholism (A.K.A. Best Beer Bar Award)
Valhalla, is a Viking themed Punk/Metal venue in Wellington and the future of ‘craft’ beer. You see, the people behind Valhalla understand something that all the Residents, Curry Clubs and Brew on Cubas do not: don’t try and open a good beer bar. You will never compete with the likes of Hashigo and Malthouse. Instead, focus on opening a great bar with good beer.
Is Valhalla a great Viking Metal Bar? I’m not sure. Not really my area of expertise (although I do have a punk-streak). What I do know is that their beer list is legit. Not Hashigo/LBQ/Golding’s legit, but here’s what I was drinking at 1am one Sunday morning after work:
One final word on Valhalla: only go there if drinking beer in rungus company while listening to dubious music is your idea of a good time. If it’s not, and I know it isn’t for a large swathe of my readership, then stay well away.
The Stout, Porter or Other Dark Award for Beers The Same Colour As My Soul
I’m continuing trend of giving this award to flavoured dark beers. Last year it was Kereru For Great Justice Coconut Porter. This year it’s Aotearoa Breweries Mataccino. Mata is a brewery with a strange history, but one close to my heart. I’d also rate it as an emerging dark horse in the New Zealand brew scene. Mataccino is completely unlike anything they’ve done before. It’s sexy-smooth-coffee-chocolate-funtimes.
Best Beer Festival Award (Of the Festivals I Personally Attended)
This would have been the ‘The Lederhosen Free Zone Award,’ but my friend Bardecki of Wild and Woolly has ruined this for me.
Never mind. So who wins? Well I’d love to give it to The Pacific Beer Expo, which along with the Release the Kraken Wrap Party, were about as mint as beer fests get. But I have a mania for not doing the same thing two years in a row.
With that in mind, there are two other totally mint candidates: The SOBA
Matariki Winter Ale Festival and Christchurch’s Great Kiwi Beer Festival. Both are incredibly deserving, but I’m going to give the award this year to Great Kiwi, mostly because it formed part of a really outrageous bender I had in Christchurch that weekend.
The Green Bean Saison Award for Fruit/Spiced/Flavoured/Otherwise Meddled With Beer
Adding pretty much the entire contents of your spice rack to beer is now firmly a ‘thing’, much to the consternation of many traditionalists. Seems like every brewer and their dog are cramming weird things into beer. Personally, I absolutely love it.
Amongst all the crazy meddled with beers, my favourite is the rather tame Garage Project Sauvin Nouveau. It’s strong as hell, but ever so lovely.
The ‘Bad Cornish Accent’ Award for Best Cider
You know how I just said I didn’t want to give awards to the same people as last year. Well bugger that noise, cos I’m giving it to Peckham’s again.
The cider industry has shown good signs of movement in 2014. Rogues and Scoundrels put out a good contract cider (even if they completely over cooked their bottle blurb), and the highly promising Paynter’s Cider was discretely launched.
Yet still in my mind, Peckham’s still reigns supreme. My particular favourite this year is the Homeblock Blend #2 (2013), but 2014 also saw Peckham’s push the boat out (a little) with Cardamom Cider, Mulled Cider, and released late in December, Pommeau. Is it good? I have no idea. I like it, but I have no Pommeau experience whatsoever. But no one else in this country is pushing boundaries in the cider world like Peckham’s is.
The Tey-Tappers Special Award for Best Beer Writer
Hmm. Tough decision. I could quite happily give it to Jono, who was pipped at the post by the comedy option last year, but I think I have to give it to Jason Gurney of Brew Hui. And I have a suspicion that the reason Brew Hui gets it over Drinker to Brewer is that Gurney has pulled at Heath Ledger (formally known as James Dean) and bowed out before his time.
Having said that, Jason does write with passion and humor. And although his posts do frequently need a blue pencil, he gets a lot of points for taking criticism better than most professional brewers do.
The ‘Invading Russia in Winter Award’ For Best Tactical Retreat
Readers may remember I chastised Tuatara for being a dick and trying to steal Rogue’s New Zealand distribution. This year, I’m happy to award them this prize for completely changing tack. Not long long after I published, that piece, Tuatara announced they would no longer be distributing Rogue; a decision which I’m sure can from realising they were being dicks, and had absolutely nothing to do with large quantities of very cheap, out of date Rogue beer that is still appearing in supermarkets to this day…
Anywho, the real reason Tuatara gets this award is that this year they announced they would be picking up distribution for local cider maker Zeffer.
Yes. This. This is how you do business: collaborate with other companies for mutual gain. This is what we should be doing more of in this country.
The IPA Award for Services to the Hop Shortage
I can’t decide if I want to give it to Panhead The Vandal or 8 Wired Fresh Hopwired. If I give it to Vandal, I’d seem like another raving fanboy, if I choose Fresh Hopwired, I’d be guilty of the same sort of wankery I rebelled against in my Beers You Must Try column (single batch, limited release).
Bugger it, it goes to Fresh Hopwired. I’ll just have to live with myself.
The Pucker-Up Award for Best Sour Beer
I’m going with Hallertau NZ Wild Ale. Because it was lovely. And yes, I do seem to keep choosing one-off brews as my winners. Deal with it.
The Poorly Organised Orgy Award for Best Beer-Related Clusterfuck
The internet is a wonderful thing for many reasons, and a terrible thing for just as many. And one of the worst things the internet has brought to our lives is the ability to pointlessly argue with complete strangers. Then again, watching these arguments from the sidelines (or occasionally dipping in for the sake of shit-stirring) can be one of the most enjoyable pastimes afforded to us. One such incident happened this year, which I still look back on with bewildered amusement.
I am of course referring to the Dominic Kelly vs. Giovanni Tiso debacle. In brief: a local commentator made disparaging comments about Hashigo Zake, and Dom, in his classic style, took a sledgehammer issue and the whole thing blew up in grand style. It should have been a discussion on the right to criticise publicly vs. and the right to respond. Lets face it though, this was an internet debate, that was never going to happen.
For the most part, the debate was on Twitter, and not very entertaining, but the comment feed on the original blog-post of Dom’s is where the good action is at. It rolls along fairly dully with basically everyone get accused of being hipsters, until a character called Skyler, in one of the most bizarre reduction-to-Godwin’s I’ve ever seen, accuses Hashigo Zake (and presumably everyone who’s ever been there) of endorsing the Rape of Nanking. No, I’m not even remotely exaggerating. Have a read for yourself.
When the dust had settled on the bizarre affair, I was left pondering two things
1. Is there any force more annoying than white people being offended on behalf of others (to my knowledge there has only even been one comment on the matter, whereas hundreds of East and Southeast Asians have patronised the bar over the years) and,
2. Does Edmond’s get these types of complaints as well?
As a final note: look but don’t touch. If anyone even dares, just for a moment, to even think about commenting on that blog post; I will come around to your house, and beat you to death with a bottle of Baird Pale Ale.
The Bastard Upstart Award for Best New Brewery.
Again, a tough award to choose. There weren’t many great candidates this year, considering that Wild and Woolly and Tiamana haven’t officially launched, and I refuse on principle to give it to a contractor (of which Choice Bros stands out).
On reflection, I actually surprised myself by giving this award to Craftwork Brewery. I’ve kind of gone off Belgian styles in recent months, so I’m not a huge fan of their beers. But what I do love is that Craftwork know what they want to do, and do it exceedingly well. They’re modest but proud, traditional but experimental, serious but fun. They make great beer, and they’re good people. Excellent, well done.
The “Am I Drunk Yet?” Award for Best Strong/Imperial/Strong Belgian/Whatever Beer
I’ve heard it said many time that making a good strong/imperial beer is easy. ‘You just add more hops/malt/whatever’. This statement is usually espoused by a brewer who doesn’t have anything over 6% in their portfolio followed by some sort of statement to the effect that making whatever sort of beer *they* takes a lot more skill. Their lager/bitter/whatever is the beer equivalent of Paul McCartney to the IIPA’s Kanye West.
This of course is complete bullshit, as witnessed by the winner of this award: Panhead Black Sabbath.
This beer is a god-damn symphony of flavours: rich black-malts, bitter hops, chewy-funky rye, smooth oak, and over all of this, punchy alcohol. Sure, it was 11% but as Tchaikovsky new, sometimes ordinary drums won’t do. Sometimes you need a cannon to blow them away.
The ‘Equity for Skunks’ Award for Crowd-Sourcing
2014 produced a sensation late in the year, with Yeastie Boys announcing that they would seek funding through crowd-sourcing. This came on the tail of Renaissance’s immensely successful bid for peoples cash. With the public offering only days away, all indications are that Yeastie Boys will meet their target in a matter of hours. In light of this, I’ve decided to create this special award for best crowd-funder.
You may be surprised to hear that this award doesn’t go to either Renaissance or Yeastie Boys. Instead it goes to Naturale. Never heard of them? Not surprising. They went out of business in 2011. Although some of you may have heard of Tony Dapson as the guy who holds the patent No. 519778 (search here) – for adding Manuka to beer. A patent, that if ever enforced against Mussel Inn’s Captain Cooker, would result in Napier being burnt to the ground by a legion of Golden Bay residents (supported by detachments from Beer-Geek Regiments nation-wide).
Dapson also surfaced in 2013, trying to get his beer made under licence in Australia. To my knowledge, no Aussie breweries were obliging.
But lets get on track here. Naturale wins this award simply for their sheer number of crowd-funding campaigns. Kicking of with a failed Kickstarter in 2013, Naturale has run not one, but two Indiegogos that didn’t go anywhere, a failed Pledge Me, and finally a RocketHub campaign that didn’t take off.
Now you may say I’m being cruel, mocking this chap’s dreams. I disagree: I honestly do admire his tenacity. There are even signs that he might launch another campaign in February of this year. The thing is, collectively these campaigns have raised $780.36 (adjusting for exchange rates). At some point a rational voice kinda needs to say “Maybe this isn’t a goer? Time for a different approach?”
The Old-Hand Award for Best Established Brewery
I feel like this brewery came of age in 2014. They’re incredibly experimental, pushing boundaries wherever they can, but at the same time, they’re developed a rotating core range of consistently really great beers. Top it of with great branding and engagement with customers (both drinkers and bars) and you have a licence to win my heart.
I am of course, talking about Garage Project, who have been going from strength to strength this year. Please don’t ever stop.
The “Jesus-Rollerblading-Christ!” Award for Single Pint of Beer I Enjoyed The Most
The Bottleneck’s Beer of the Year 2014
Sadly, last year’s favourite, 8 Wired Rewired has gone out of permanent production. The Brown Ale seems to be an endangered species these days. Such is life.
This year the single pint of beer that I enjoyed them most also happens to be the beer I enjoyed the most consistently. And that beer is… Drumroll…
This is without a doubt one of the best, yet possibly one of the least celebrated beers of New Zealand. The name is somewhat of a hangover from when ‘IPA’ meant anything that was vaguely hoppy. Sure, this is just a 5% Pale Ale, but what a Pale Ale!
I remember the pint that clinched this award: it was late summer: we’d just closed the bar on a Friday night. I sat down with a Brew Moon Hophead. It was so good it made me want to cry. My prevailing memory was that it tasted like a miniature Sculpin IPA: full, peachy, sweet and bitter at the same time. What a beer.
Ok. Time to sign off on 2014. Happy new year, and here’s to a great 2015.