This is the second post in a series about restaurants and beer. Being about NZ beer it has a bit of a preamble about our recent time in New Zealand for the Beervana festival. You can read the first part, and more about this series here.
Somewhat of an annual pilgrimage for some Aussie beer lovers, the Beervana festival is beginning to extend scope from a two-day one-stop event to align more so with the Wellington annual food event “Wellington on a Plate“, which is a celebration of food and drink all across the city.
On our visit this year we didn’t get as much time to explore the bars and restaurants as we would’ve liked but what we did explore we loved. From gorging on shellfish and pig’s head at the pop-up “Pigfish“, to ramming pizza and sour beer down our faces at Golding’s Free Dive, it felt like everywhere we turned there was something fun to eat and something great to drink next to it.
Sure it was cold, windy and wet (apparently more so than usual) but in a city such as Wellington I feel it is all part of the charm. The CBD is close enough that a short hop between showers to find the next bar is no great struggle; and with so many good beers flowing the decision to stay for one more while the rain subsided was always an easy one.
What I love most about NZ beer is the incredible diversity. As someone who loves the interesting and unique (eg Garage Project and the Yeastie Boys), the traditional (eg Cassels and Sons or Townshends), and the Kiwi new-world (eg Liberty or Croucher); something new was never far away and a night could easily go from a barrel-aged wild ale by 8 Wired to an Oyster Stout (a fine kiwi invention) by Three Boys to a cask summer ale from Townshends.
All world-class beers and all tasting magnificent over the course of the weekend
I should also further mention the food. In addition to the pig’s head, and pizza; other highlights were the ParrotDog-beer-battered black pudding on a stick, the dumplings from House of Dumplings (both at Beervana), and the “Wellington Burger” event where restaurants across the city featured a unique burger that in many cases was paired with a can of Garage Project beer – and in some cases it was a completely one-off beer for the event.
The latter really gives me the sense that Wellington as a whole embraces beer in restaurants. Seeing mid to high-priced restaurants advertising a canned beer on their window is something I’ve not seen before and shows that the stigma of canned beer is probably not much of an issue there. I don’t think I’ve seen a good can in a non-beer restaurant in Melbourne yet and if they are, they aren’t plastered on the windows (it should be noted that the artwork and reputation of Garage Project probably helped).
Wellington during Beervana really feels like something special for beer lovers. I had so many amazing conversations with friends new and old, from around Australia and NZ.
So many amazing beers and so much delicious food that I can’t wait to go back next year. The future also looks incredibly bright for NZ beer and there were many breweries that I didn’t recognise at all, putting out really great beer.
What’s telling is that some of the beers that I wanted to feature below are also currently unavailable in Australia. Based on what we receive on this side of the ditch, most Aussie beer lovers would already count many NZ beers in their favourites – but there is so much more to beer in NZ that most of us just don’t know about yet.
That is the exciting part and just another reason why we’ll be back next year.
Before I present my list of five Kiwi beers that could be on any restaurant beer list; I should also point out the lack of photos from Beervana/Wellington in this post. The Ale of a Time official photographer (my lovely girlfriend Emma) is currently studying a Master’s degree while working full-time. She is determined to gussy up the snaps a bit before putting them on the site so I shall make that its own post. Any photos you’ve seen are from my mobile phone.
If you want to listen in to some interviews I did when over in Beervana, check out these two podcasts:
Also, check out my account of my last visit to Beervana here:
Anyhoo, my list of kiwi beers that could feature on almost any restaurant menu:
Their debut beer still holds up strong after all these years. A “hoppy porter” that straddles the line between porter and black IPA, it is one that I’m always happy to see on a menu.
To me, it’s a lovely mix of orange and cocoa flavours; smooth and gentle yet interesting enough to keep you drinking it by the gulp to try to learn more.
The ultimate pairing for me would be a well-made sugary donut and a scoop of vanilla icecream. However given its firm foot still in the porter camp you can enjoy it with oysters with fresh lime zest (or finger limes for that next level native citrus game), charred and grilled meats, or rich stews.
Playing off the orange flavours; another interesting pairing would be BBQd or roasted chicken with orange and fresh herbs.
Finally, richer fish such as salmon and swordfish also work extremely well, with enough big flavours to pair against each other.
Part of the 8 Wired “core” range which, going by early indications, is going to overshadowed by their looming barrel program (well at least to my mind as the new Rewired brett-brown and wild feijoa were stunning at Beervana) the Tall Poppy is a bit of a quiet achiever. It’s an “India Red Ale” which in this case means “red in colour, sugary toffee and caramel from the malt, a grapefruit and tropical fruits aroma with a lingering bitterness”.
To me the style is a bit of a chameleon and can work equally as well with salty dishes such as fish and chips, olive/caper/anchony laden salads, or a bull boar sausage pizza; right through to wintery roasts and casseroles. I’m thinking osso bucco, or slow roasted pork shoulder with loads of rosemary and thyme.
This one might come in a bit bitter for some palates but that just gives more opportunity to include it with spicy food to let them balance and temper each other out. Add a chili to that pizza mentioned above, or put that roasted pork shoulder in a roll with a nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) and fresh Vietnames herbs.
Ok so I’m cheating slightly with this one as I initially said that I would use beers that were readily available in Australia in reasonable supply… this beer is currently unavailable and they don’t appear to have plans to send it over any time soon.
An answer to statements such as craft brewers just load their beer with adjuncts or hops to mask brewing faults, only the big breweries can brew consistent lagers, and that a lager/pilsner needs to have something extra added in order to appeal to the shifting market; Beer is a pale lager with noble hops and a simple malt bill. It is as clean and easy drinking as any big brand can claim to be, without that dirty lingering sweetness or skunked green bottle flavour you get from most.
It really ticks all the boxes that you would expect from a pale lager called Beer and does it in spades. This is the best version you’ll get that is fresh and relatively local and will be the beer that you give to the grumpy old bloke out for dinner who can’t handle too many flavours in his drinks. It also fills that tired cliche that beer should just be a refresher during the meal rather than a partner to the food. So if you want to trot out that cliche or have something that fills that oft requested need, this is what you should use.
While this is currently unavailable in Australia, the brewery does have distribution here so I’m sure with a few choice words it could quite easily end up on a menu this side of the ditch.
If there is a better scotch ale out there, I’m yet to find it. The style normally leaves me wanting something richer or thicker and more indulgent, however I often find them often too sweet, metallic and a little bit one note.
Stonecutter has the richness – think dark toffee, raisin, caramel, aniseed and chocolate – but it also has a thick mouthfeel and a real presence about it. A beer that you want to savour and then take home and savour again, just the two of you quietly… savouring by the fire…
Foodwise you would leave this to the latter part of the meal – it might be difficult to put it with an entree but game meat (roast duck, roast venison, kangaroo), or slow cooked stews and casseroles (go on, pour a bit of the beer in. You know you want to) are this beer’s forte.
Now we’ve had our mains, look of the descriptors I used above (dark toffee, raisin, caramel, aniseed, dark chocolate) … I’m sure you can work out where this is going but just in case; think any number of cheeses, rich desserts or as a perfect side to a sherry.
So basically I’m saying a Stonecutter/Pedro Ximenez boilermaker with blue cheese and eccles cakes would probably change lives.
Where the Garage Project Beer is straightforward and classic, the Croucher version of a lager-style is as new world as it gets. Big grassy, hop forward aromas that carry mango, kiwifruit, melon and fresh pine (and for you winos, a little bit of cat pee too) through to a sharp dry finish. The kind of beer that has put Kiwi hops on the map.
This can go beautifully with spicy South-East Asian curries or coleslaws, fresh fish, fried fish, smoked meats, roasted pork belly or crispy chicken – basically anything with loads of aroma or flavour that can partner with something fresh and vibrant. It even has a clean enough finish to put it up against richer winter dishes and let it clear everything away from your palate as you eat.
If you wanted to finish your meal off with sharp cheese or tangy fruit and have your drink do the same; then this will also provide loads of interesting flavours and aromas to toy with.
What do you think? What NZ beers would you put on a beer menu given the chance? Comment on the Facebook or below.
Next: Belgium beers.