The First Rule of Hopstock

I’ve got to say it: there seems a weird sort of snobbery around the IPA.

There’s a whole faction of brewers and drinkers (this is definitely an issue that goes both ways) who seem weirdly proud of how the beers they brew/drink aren’t hop bombs, as if that somehow makes them a better, more distinguished class of brewer/drinker. Kind of like this guy:

This cartoon was inspired by an actual rant I was given by a New Zealand brewer.

This cartoon was inspired by an actual rant I once heard from a New Zealand brewer.

My theory is that this mindset comes from the misconception that throwing enough hops into any beer will cover any multitude of brewing sins. I can come up with many reasons and examples of why this isn’t true, but I digress (that’s for another post). I’m bringing this up because of Hopstock.

Hopstock, for those not in New Zealand/Wellington, is our annual wet-hop festival, where each of the beer bars gets to host a beer (or two) from a different local brewery. This year it was massive. I mean absolutely huge. Every bar was packing out, and a lot of beer was sold.


Now as I see it, Hopstock is a festival to celebrate the hop harvest, and as such, the first rule of Hopstock, and in fact possibly the only rule of Hopstock is:

Thou shalt make a hoppy beer. 

Like all of god’s commandments, this one often gets mis-interpreted. You see, what people (both drinkers and brewers) think this means is that every beer should be an IPA. Preferably a IIPA, perhaps even a IIIPA. This is not the case.

As I see it, there’s only one deadly sin at Hopstock, which is making a beer with absolutely no hop character. And I can name two beers that committed that very sin this year: Mike’s Hopstock and Two Smoking Barrels and Hallertau Bier das Schwarz Massive (BDSM for short… low-hanging fruit there Steve). Now the reason I can single out both those beers, is that although they broke the first rule of Hopstock they were both deliciously, fantastically awesome; so I guess they get a free-pass on that one.

N.B. there has been some debate about the hop character of BDSM. Some reckoned it was very hoppy; I found it comparatively not so. I must try it again with fresh eyes/taste buds. Anyway, let’s get back on track.

So if you don’t have to make an IPA, what sort of beer should you be making for Hopstock?

The simple answer is: anything.

You can make a Pale Ale. You can make a Golden Lager. You can make a Saison. You can make a Stout. You can make an Imperial Pilsner, an ESB, a Golden Ale, an India Pale Lager, Red Ale, a Hopfen-Weisse, even (if you’re bloody mad) a Black IPA. In short, you can brew anything as long as it has a perceptible hop character. Whether it be in-your-face-bitter-and-angry, or a soft, gentle floralness, cushioned by malt, then that justifies using fresh hops.

In fact, this year, Hopstock had some good diversity of styles. Besides the aforementioned Barrel Aged Sour and Imperial Schwarz, we also had a Berliner Weisse, a Märzen, an Imperial Red Lager, a Special Bitter, a Rye Black IPA, a good ol’ fashioned NZ Pilsner, and of course, more Pale Ales, IPA’s and IIPA’s than you could shake a mash paddle at. That’s pretty great diversity for a festival that people write off as just an IPA-fight.

This all links back to one of my larger bugbears, which is people complaining that every beer is too hoppy these days. Frankly, we have more diversity in beer styles available now than probably at any other point in New Zealand history. But whatever (again, that’s for another post). If you take away two things from this post, I’d like them to be:

1. It’s perfectly OK to not like massive hop monsters. No one should ever look down on you. You’re allowed to like what you like and not have to justify it to anyone else.

As long as….

2. You don’t look down on others for making or liking the big IPAs. There’s room for all tastes.

Being a good Beer Geek and citizen of the ‘craft’ beer community means making room for all types of drinker, whether they want a finely balanced ESB, the lightest Golden Lager, or the hoppiest, booziest, highest-IBU-perceptible-to-the-human-tongue IPA.


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.

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.

Second Chance Beer: Ben Middlemiss Brewing Hodgson IPA

Hodgson IPA

Hodgson IPA seen here with my Marchfest Che Glass and Gordon Freeman

Beer: Ben Middlemiss Brewing ‘Hodgeson IPA’
IPA (?)
ABV: 8.8%
From: Regional Wines and Spirits
Date: 17/01/2013

I’m a sporting chap.  I like to give a beer an honest chance. And if I don’t like them, such is life.  But every now and again I like to give a beer a second chance.  With this in mind I swung by Regional on my day off and I grabbed a couple of bottles, including this little suspect.

I’ve had Hodgson IPA before during a trip to Christchurch (ostensibly to get some practical brewing experience at Three Boy’s brewery).  As you might have guessed I wasn’t a fan: I found it fat and flabby.  The massive sweet-caramel malt body made it cloying and gave it a character similar to oxidation.  This may have been the point as the bottle blurb suggested it was reminiscent of actual IPA that had crossed the ocean but to me it just tasted old.1

I had several reasons to give this beer a second chance.  Firstly, I like Ben Middlemiss.2 Secondly, his Nota Bene abbey ale is excellent.  Most interestingly though, I heard (from Ben himself) that this batch was brewed at Tuatara, using his house blend yeast, the same one that gives Nota Bene it’s wonderful funk.  It also greatly helped that it now came in a 330ml bottle.  At 8.8% this made it less intimidating than the big 500ml bottles and if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be stuck with it for too long.

The Beer

As I remember from last time, it was brown-orange colour with an off-white head.  As soon as I got my nose near it though, I knew something was different.  There’s a distinct funk to this beer this beer that I didn’t find in the last one I drank.  Hello there, Nota Bene Yeast.

The taste was pretty different too.  If last time I found the beer fat and slow, this bottle was much, well… faster.  The malt body seemed not so much lighter but less encumbered, like it had had an engine upgrade to give it a better power-to-weight ratio.  There was also a pronounced sweatiness that comes from the yeast and a lively hop character that over all made it quite a complex and enjoyable beer.

So it seems that this was a good choice for a second chance beer.  But it does come with a warning: it’s not in any modern or contemporary sense of the term, an India Pale Ale.  For starters it’s 8.8%.  In modern beer style terms that make it an Imperial IPA.  The closest comparison I can make is to a fuller-bodied and hopped up Nota Bene, or perhaps a maltier Green Flash Rayon Vert.  The funkiness  integrates quite well with hop character, but is pretty out of place in an IPA.

You might consider this to be failing the “does what it says on the tin” test.  But then again, I might be missing the point.  The stated goal of the beer is to replicate an IPA of the 1700’s.  And maybe a beer shipped across the ocean in a none-too-clean barrel would develop a pronounced yeast funk.  I don’t know, I was too young to legally drink back then.

My point is, this is an interesting beer and well worth trying.  Just don’t expect your classic IPA.

My other second chance beer was Moa Breakfast.  No comment.

Addendum 3/02/13

A brief online exchange between myself, Kieran from Regional and Ben Middlemiss has brought something to light: the bottles currently on sale at Regional are not brewed at Tuatara, but come from an older batch at Harrington’s (as did the one I had in Christchurch).

Now this is interesting because my journal from Christchurch describes a completely different beer from my blog notes.  What’s changed between the two bottles?  Possibly it was a contextual thing: I was just in the wrong mood to enjoy the beer the first-time around.  The explanation I’m more tempted by though, it that I simply had an off bottle for some unknown reason: possibly handling or storage, it might have gotten over-heated or whatever.  It’s unusual, but not unheard of.

Either way, it makes me all the more glad I gave Hodgsons another go.

  1. I’ve been reflecting on this.  The bottle was purchased some months after Hodgson was first released.  On second thoughts, it may actually have been the case that the bottle had been mis-handled or perhaps had some other issue with it.  All the more reason to give it a second chance.
  2. At Beervana 2011 he was the only Brewer seen consistently hanging around where his beer was being poured, which earned him a lot of points in my book.  He’s also a nice chap.