I visited Blenheim, as a youth, to play rugby. I don’t really remember too much about it… we probably got beaten, it was probably cold… I do vaguely remember getting billeted with a family that all wore their socks inside out…
Since then Blenheim and the surrounding towns have gone crazy with wine.
Marlborough Saviougn Blanc is one of the world’s heavy-wine-hitters. Being a beer blog, I was more interested in some local brews, and Blenheim has a couple. The quirky and somewhat mythical Pink Elephant, the incredibly unquirky but wish they were Moa, consistent and tasty Renaissance; which also houses 8wired – NZ and Australia’s only top 100 brewery in the Ratebeer rankings 2012.
Four Breweries and a buttload of wineries. Based on all that, you probably think Blenheim is a wonderland… and you would be right, it is.
However, it’s all not as simple as that. Let me break it down:
Pink Elephant and Renaissance/8Wired don’t do any sort of brewery tours or “cellar doors” . There is a bar next door to Renaissance/8Wired called Ye Olde Malthouse (I did find that the bar name varied according to what map or book you read, but it’s on Dodsons street and it seemed the locals called it Dodson’s St Bistro, so say that if you get lost). Knowing we could try some of the local beers on draught there, we jumped in a cab and paid a visit… it was closed for Christmas and New Years; until January 10.
Now I don’t run a successful beer bar in a global tourist hotspot, so I don’t claim to be an expert on the matter… but isn’t the middle of summer holiday period likely to be when you make a lot of cash and get loads of free advertising by word of mouth travelers? I’m not crazy in thinking that right? Also, if you have a website for a successful beer bar in a global tourist hotspot, maybe you should make mention that you are closed for a couple of weeks in the middle of summer. Just a note on the front page. “We close over Christmas and New Years – Thanks”. Not a difficult thing to do. Whatever – I’m sure it’s a lovely place.
I shot Pink Elephant an email, in the vague hope I would get a chance to visit. I’ve heard some curious things about the brewery, and two of their beers are featured in an edition of Michael Jackson’s (the beer writer, not the singer) Great Beer Guide. But alas, the old ‘I’m a blogger’ card failed yet again and I got no response to the emails I sent. One day it will work, and my blogger bretheren and I will be free to demand free stuff because we know how to set up a WordPress account. Anyway, no dice on the visit, and not one of their beers to be found in a local restaurant.
So where did I go then? Was any of it a success?
Moa aren’t exactly the darlings of the ‘craft beer’ movement. Us beer people really dislike marketing that distracts from the beer and Moa have this in spades. I can’t remember the marketing for some of the beers and don’t care enough to look them up, but I do remember one of them is a vaguely racist joke about Will Smith being black like one of their beers… uhhhhh… Whatever, I’m there for the beers (it should be noted, the marketing is done by the people involved with 42 Below, the Kiwi vodka that you see in movies and stuff).
The brewery has been around since 2003 and uses natural spring water from the site. As soon as we got in, we were greeted by the bar lady and were offered some (paid for) tastings, which we naturally had. I’m not going to go through all the beers, but I will say that they are enjoyable. Their ‘Blanc’ is a decent Belgian white ale and I really enjoyed the Methode, Imperial stout, and Five Hop Ale.
I also tried their much hyped and marketed ‘Breakfast Beer’. The beer that got them all over the news in New Zealand. Oh boy, it. is. shit. What a rubbish beer. It just tasted like cherry extract and watery beer. Not a pleasant experience at all. It has a decent score on ratebeer and positive comments around the internet, and usually I would say ‘well you might like it because of blah’ but in this case, if you like it, you are horribly wrong. It was a real mess. I may be willing to concede that it may have been too fresh and could have done with some age behind it to mellow the harsh extract taste, but I can only judge what they served me.
On the plus side, the Five Hop Ale went great with the charcuetire platter we had for lunch. Superb in fact. Lovely mix of cheese, sausage, pickled things, bread, olives. All lovely with the nice hoppy and bitter ale. Also, the outside area is nice and quiet, green and a great place to rest your weary legs.
However, I’m not done whinging.
It’s a brewery, home of their beer, riding the craft beer crest, one of the best locations in the world, then why isn’t it better? It’s all just a little… bland. I don’t feel like I left with any more affinity with the beer than I went in with. Maybe even less. As any fan of beer will tell you, there is a soft spot in your heart for the breweries you visit, no matter how good or bad they may be. I left not really caring either way. I don’t feel like I even visited a brewery. I glimpsed a pack of yeast (For the beer nerds: Wyeast, didn’t see the strain) in an office and a little of the brewery setup through a small window in the bar, but that’s about it. I did see a bunch of posters advertising their beers. Too late guys, I’m in the brewery.
Moa, decent beer, but the rest of it can go jump in a lake.
We had planned to spend a boozy new year’s afternoon at Ye Olde Malthouse, but due to aforementioned summer closure we had to change our plans. So we hopped on our bikes and headed to a couple of wineries for tastings and some lunch. We ended up at Dryland’s Estate.
The winery is responsible for a few different but quite well known wines. I can’t pretend to be a wine expert so I’ll stick to pretending to be a beer expert, and wont dive into finer wine details. “Then why the hell do you bring it up?” I hear you ask… bear with me.
We were quite hungry at this stage, so we decided to eat lunch in the fairly uninteresting looking restaurant. It turns out the restaurant is leased to none other than local beer enthusiast, Dietmar Schnarre (I love that name). As we perused the menu, we noticed the beers were a cut above any other place we had been to, and they featured at the start of the menu, not tucked away at the back as though embarrassed by the fact that they dare to be on the same menu as wine.
8 Wired and Renaissance were both there, along with some fine Belgians and Germans. The most exciting thing for us was a Duchesse De Burgogne, a sour Flanders Red Ale. One of the true icons of sour beer. One that I hadn’t tried. One of the last things I expect to see on any beer list, particularly in an unassuming looking restaurant attached to a winery.
We ate schnitzel and crumbed fish, had a glass of riesling (when in Blenheim) and then tucked in to some cheese and Duchesse De Burgogne. Now I’m not sure if you’ve lived, but if you haven’t tried that beer with some blue cheese and quince paste, then chances are you haven’t. Chances are you don’t even understand life. I understand life and I can tell you that it is biking to a couple of wineries, eating schnitzel, tasting wines then drinking one of the world’s great beers with fine blue cheese.
Dietmar also organises a local beer festival, that you’ve probably missed, but it might be on next year? He suggests it is a good family friendly alternative to the traditionally boozy Blues Brews and BBQs. Both were on the same weekend this year, so keep an eye out in 2013. Would be a great weekend in Blenheim.
We loved Blenheim. The weather was uncharacteristically terrible and it wasn’t as beery as we hoped, but it’s a beautiful area and a great place to spend a few lazy and indulgent days. One thing to be wary of is, we couldn’t find a winery opened past 5pm, so don’t plan to go to one for dinner. It may have something to do with licensing laws, but I’m not sure.It is what it is.
Here are some things other things that we loved.
Strawberry Farm – We did a little tour, learned about bees, and then ate fresh strawberry icecream.
Wine tour with Na Chlachan – The hosts were super nice and happy to tailor your trip to your tastebuds. At the end they even dropped us off at the supermarket, then came back and took us home!
Allan Scott Winery – Some really great food coming out of the kitchen and some pretty good wines coming out of the winery. Great stuff – again not open past 5pm, so book for lunch.
St Leonards Vineyards Cottages – Just out of town, nestled amongst the wineries. It’s nice and quiet, really well priced (we paid $110 a night). Fresh laid eggs to cook for breakfast, petanque, tennis court, swimming pool, complimentary bike usage, BBQ area with each cottage, and really lovely hosts. You can’t go wrong.
All in all, a fantastic stay in Blenheim and it’s surrounds. Sure there were some let downs on the beer and weather side, but not enough to tarnish a relaxing visit.
Keep it up Blenheim!
These places will also serve your beer needs. Unfortunately I discovered them too late to be included: