Lager Roundup Vol. 2: Contraband

One of the most frustrating thing working in a beer bar, or any bar for the matter, is annoying shit-heads sneaking in their own alcohol. It bugs the hell out of me: you spend a lot of time and money building a nice bar, you stock it full of wonderful beer; then some cretinous spanner with a bag full of Corona comes and takes up space that could be occupied by customers who actually understand what we’re all about and, you know, spends money.

And it is always Corona too; or one of its equally cheap and crappy siblings. No one ever sneaks a bottle of Panhead The Vandal into a good bar. You know the best beer I’ve ever caught someone sneaking into the bar was? A Cooper’s Pale Ale. And I’m damn sure they chose it because it’s dirt cheap here, not because they actually appreciate it’s subtle nuances.

Having said all this, we don’t actually get a lot of people sneaking alcohol into Golding’s. Our ‘customer base’ (nebulously defined as it is) are not the sort of people that sneak shit beers into good bars. Further more it’s even rarer that we catch any of them. So it came as a surprise that I managed to confiscate two unopened bottles of beer less than a month apart.

Now normally, I wouldn’t bother reviewing beers like these. It’s not sporting, you know? Like shooting low-hanging fruit in a barrel. But I don’t know, something about drinking shitty beer that we took off absolute munters appeals to me on aesthetic level: fate brought these beer to me. I’m meant to review them.

Then again, it could just be schadenfreude.

Beer 1: Flame

Yup, straight in with the good stuff: pure bogan juice. This particular bottle was confiscated during the Wellington Sevens, or as it’s colloquially known, ‘Munter’s Halloween’.


Best enjoyed from a Framboise glass.

We cracked this bottle after our not particularly busy Sevens Saturday shift.

Aroma: N/A.
Appearance: Pleasantly golden.
Favour: Blearg
Over all notes: poor.

One of my colleagues summed it up nicely: “This tastes like someone poured brown sugar on wet cardboard”.

Hmm. Wet cardboard… That’s a sign of oxidation. I have no idea what conditions this bottle has been stored in. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that this bottle has been stored in less that optimal conditions (and possibly someone’s pants, to get it past the security gates of the Sevens Street party).

Moving on.

Beer 2: Tui

Alright, this shit just got real. This particular bottle was confiscated off a guy on a stag do pub-crawl. Any seasoned bartender knows that guys on stag dos are trouble. Usually more trouble than they’re worth. And if they’re in drag, it’s even worse (incidentally, this is why Hashigo has a blanket ban on men in drag, excluding performance artists and the legitimately transgendered). This guy wasn’t in drag; he was one worse still. He was wearing a unitard.

Anyone wearing a unitard to a pub is guaranteed to be a A-grade, certified cock.


Aroma: Bugger all.
Appearance: Pleasantly amber
Favour: Meh
Over all notes: You know what? Tui starts of pretty good. It’s got some mildly inoffensive nutty amber flavours, but just as they reach your tongue, they just sort of trail off into nothing. Again, one of my colleague’s summarised it nicely as having ‘the ghosts of flavours’.

You know I can’t grab your ghost-beer. Lets move on.

Bonus Beer Beverage 3: Wolf Blass Yellow Label Pinot Noir

Umm, do I have to?

Umm, do I have to?

Now I spied someone stashing these two bottles after closing, in an alcove outside Golding’s before heading of towards Hope Bros. My guess it that they’d been drinking one of them on the way into town and would’ve picked them up on the way home.

Silly person.

The one on the left was unopened, so I figured I wouldn’t catch some disfiguring disease from it. So, yeah… Lets review it….

Bugger this, I can’t do this any more. I think I’ve shot my quota of Barrel Fish, so here’s an actual piece of consumer advice:

Beer 4: Mussel Inn Golden Goose

Taken in the dying days of Summer...

Taken in the dying days of Summer. Paired here with a nice fresh Gerald Sandwich. 

Golden Goose has been described as “the Thinking Drinker’s golden lager.” For years it’s sat in the fridge at Hashigo as the ‘craft’ alternative to green bottle shite.

I love Golden Goose. It’s head and shoulders above corporate lagers, because it has that rare, almost-mystical thing that the corporate brewers like to claim their beer’s have: a full malt body. It’s light, but it’s full and well-rounded.

Alright we’re done here.

Lager Roundup

I said a while back in my review of Gizzy Gold that the brewery had sold up and a new batch of rather nebulously defined owners were moving in. Since then I’ve heard rumours of changes at the brewery. Most notably new bottle labels and a new recipe. As we’ve been working through the backlog of bottles at Regional though, the change hasn’t come into effect until recently, when the new bottles arrived at Golding’s. So I decided I’d better see what shape the old girl is in.

Here’s the new bottle:


First of all, it’s in a brown bottle, which I approve of. However, my initial impression is that I don’t like it. This reaction is though I suspect just the knee-jerk everyone gets when someone moves their cheese, so I thought about it a little deeper. The new label is certainly slicker, but somehow it lacks the rustic charm of the old label.

Gizzy bottle

Old Gizzy. Very rustic.

I wasn’t the only one who thought this. “It’s a bit of a font-circus,” said one of my colleagues. “It feels like some design student did it for a school project.” Fair point, it kind of does. There are lots of little do-dads on the label that a designer would think is ‘neat’, but as a consumer, I find them confusing and superfluous. And what’s with this neck label? Neck labels are a terrible idea. It’s hard to get them to line up, stick properly or stop them falling off. If you look closely, the one here is off-centre and has folded in on itself in the top right corner.

I do like that it still says “Natural All Malt Lager,” like that still means anything, but the bottle blurb feels like it was written by a marketing monkey:


Click to enlarge.

I have no idea if Geoff Logan or anyone else at Sunshine Brewery surfed at all, but somehow it just all seems less authentic than the old label.

[UPDATE] – According to Twitter and the comments at the end of this post, Geoff was indeed a keen surfer. Neato. I still think that “a lightly toasted maltiness” is an inaccurate description, and a “hop back-bone” that is simultaneously “solid” yet “hovers” is rather silly and a little nonsensical.

I know it seems like I’m ripping on it unnecessarily, but there genuinely is a reason: the old label made Gizzy look like a local Heineken knock-off, which well, it kinda was. The old label felt safe. Stella-Suits that come into Golding’s would frequently pick it out of the fridge because it looked familiar. In the weird and confusing world that is the modern beer bar, The old Gizzy label promised them something safe and familiar that they could hold onto. And it delivered on that promise with the mild and inoffensive beer inside the bottle. And I can’t help feeling like they’ve departed from that with their new packaging.

But all this is so much hot air, relative to how the beer tastes. So how does this new recipe (if it is one) shape up?

Pretty good actually. It’s still an inoffensive lagery thing, but new Gizzy seems to have a little more zip than the old one. It’s hard to tell if this is a new recipe and they’ve bumped up the hops a fraction, or if it’s just a matter of freshness. Alternatively it could also be a matter of that most nebulous of influences: context.

The last Gizzy I drank was at the start of a big evening, which may have muddied my memory. On the other hand, this one I drank at the end of a busy shift, a time when even a pint of plain old tap water can taste like distilled rainbows. Admittedly both are pretty good contexts, but new Gizzy may have the advantage.

Either way, it still delivers the same pleasantly inoffensive beer (without the whiff of corporate tait) that we’ve come to love and adore. So for all my petty label-gipes, Gizzy still deserves it’s place in Golding’s fridge. Moving on.

Now I know to my regular readers (apprently I actually have those) this is going to sound absolutely bananas coming from me, but has anyone tried Singha recently?  It’s surprisingly good.

You see I have an obsession with noodle soups, and a little while ago I decided I needed some Pho Bo and a beer for lunch. My local Vietnamese joint had a rather sad beer-list, consisting of Mac Black and three different pale lagers (no Gizzy), so I chose Singha for reasons of authenticity. I was initially rather tickled that it turned up in a Magners glass.

I'm a big fan of glasphemy.

I’m a big fan of glasphemy.

I did however, find myself really rather enjoying the beer. The body is thin, almost anorexically so, but still there, and it has a slight lemony character that I found rather pleasing. It doesn’t go fantastically with noodle soup, it being only slightly more beer-flavoured than the broth in my Pho, but I do find myself revisiting this combo every time I’m in Little Hanoi.

I suspect the reason I like it so much and why I’m recommending it here is a matter of mathematics:

Low Expectations X Unexpected Quality = Positive Review.

The fact that I supposed Singha to be bloody awful and it was in fact pretty ok, means that it gets a big thumbs up from me. And it totally has nothing to do with me using this blog post years down the line as insurance against accusations of beer snobbery. Regardless of this, I can say with utter confidence that Singha is the best shitty Asian Lager I’ve ever had and if you find yourself at your favourite noodle house, you could do a hell of a lot worse than ordering one of these.

Now that’s what I call consumer advice.

Retro Review: Gizzy Gold

The other day, I was faced with a conundrum: find a beer that’ll appeal to the Heineken crowd, but that I was still proud to put in Golding’s very small fridge. You see, when you run a high-end beer bar, you still need to have something that you can give to the folks who just want a Corona. I call it Snob Insurance, because having an easy, mainstream-style option prevents a beer bar from being called elitist snobs. Well, most of the time, anyway.

So for assorted reasons, we needed a new easy lager to put in our fridge. Now if a large group of lager drinking Suits people comes in, they can demolish a 24 pack in a night easy. So we needed a lager that we could order overnight from a local distributor and have it turn up the next day. Now that cuts out at least half the bottled lagers brewed in NZ because they don’t have reliable distribution in Wellington.

The leading candidate was Tuatara Helles. It fit the style, it was affordable and easily available. But it seemed, I don’t know, too easy I guess. We were considering Epic Lager; a good little beer with fantastic brand visibility. Unfortunately it came at shall we say, a premium price point. Then Sean made a suggestion: what about Gisborne Gold? Suddenly the heavens parted and rays of Sunshine (Brewery) fell upon us.

Ah Gizzy Gold! That reliable old workhorse. My student beer. Back when no one made good beer, there was Terry McCashin, there was Richard Emerson, there was Roger Pink, and there was Ben Middlemiss. But there was another name, which doesn’t get mentioned a lot these days: Geoff Logan and Sunshine Brewery.

For a more complete history of Sunshine Brewery, I recommend reading Michael Donaldson’s Beer Nation, which has most of a chapter devoted to the brewery. As far as my history with Gizzy goes, five years ago, when I was a penniless student, I drank a lot of it. I drank a lot of it because it was cheap, good, and plentiful. It really was everywhere in Wellington at the time. I even remember the first one I drank. It was at the Film Archive, whilst watching a 16mm print of The Woman of the Dunes. Gizzy was a fixture on the FYO at Regional Wines and Spirits and even the named sponsor of the annual Beer Options competition.

The Gisborne Gold sign at Regional proclaims it to be 'All Malt', harkening back to a time when that actually meant something.

The Gisborne Gold sign at Regional proclaims it to be ‘All Malt’, harkening back to a time when that actually meant something.

Five years later though, and things have kind of changed. I can’t remember the last time I saw Gizzy in a bar, let alone drank one. I fear sunshine brewing has, like a handful of other small breweries fallen behind the times (cough *Founders* cough) . They make pretty much the exact same beers they’ve always made. And lets face it, the market has changed. People want excitement and variety.

Of course lagers will always sell well, but Gizzy doesn’t have the brand muscle to make a dent in Stella sales, but isn’t quite exciting enough as a beer to cut it with today’s Pilsner crowd. And that’s kind of why I’m excited to have it in our fridge. Because it’s a slice New Zealand brewing history, as well as a piece of my own personal beer journey. It’s also a damn good lager and we’ve been selling a metric shit-load of it.

I reckon it’s time for a Gizzy come-back tour, and that might just be on the cards. My sly mention of Founder was pertinent, because just like Founders, Sunshine Brewery has been sold. Not long after we got it in, I learned that Hancock’s, liquor distribution company and very new (despite what they say) contract brewing company, Correction, my network was wrong: a group with ties to liquor distribution company Vintners, has bought the brewery. The sale will become official in 2 days time (30/09/2013). Whether this is a good or bad thing, only time will tell. I hope it will re-invigorate a brewery that has basically, not shifted much in over a decade. We shall see.

I was going to do a normal review of Gizzy, but frankly when I drank one, it bored my trousers off. It’s not the beer that’s changed. It’s me. So instead, I’m going to review it through the persona of 19 year old Dylan. Beardless and a bit skinnier, here I go:

Gizzy bottle

Gizzy Gold. My old friend.

Beer: Sunshine Brewery ‘Gisborne Gold’
 Pale Lager
ABV: 4%
From: Golding’s Free Dive
Date: 21/09/2013

Gizzy Gold: F*** Yeah! I love this beer. Lovely golden colour with a white head. Solid lager-malt body with a slight hoppy bitter finish. Head and shoulders above such brews as Macs Gold. For about $10 for a 2L rigger from Regionals, how can you go wrong?