Free House and Mussel Inn (Happy Jackal)

On our recent trip to NZ, we didn’t make it to all the breweries we would have liked but one bar almost compensated for all of that. On a hot sunny day in Nelson, after 2 days kayaking and one day walking, we stopped in to the Free House. A bar housed in an old church with a yurt in the front yard… it definitely has a strangely NZ quality about it; although that might just be the dub reggae playing from inside the yurt… I have a friend who has a theory that the NZ Government pipes dub reggae through the country to keep the population placated, but that is a story for another time.

The Free House

The Free House is a beautiful place. Lovely small old cottage style church and a lot of lawn to stretch out on. A very eclectic mix of over 60s, travellers, families, and young hip youths dot the landscape. It makes for a relaxing place to spend an afternoon and evening. As you know however, this blog is not about ambiance and clientele; it is about the beers. And the beers are what the Free House does.

They have 10 regular taps and 3 handpumps. While we were there, the beers were from Mussel Inn, Townshends, 8 Wired, and a few more. They also have their own brews, Dead Good, brewed by previously featured brewery West Coast Brewery. While there weren’t any bottled beers, the range of taps and handpumps is more than enough to satisfy any beer-geeks needs for at least an evening.

In addition to the beers they have some very basic food, but allow you to bring in takeaway food from neighbouring restaurants. One thing to note, one menu on the bar is for a fish and chip shop that is next door to the Sprig and Fern. That is not, I repeat, NOT, the Sprig and Fern that is round the corner, but rather the one a kilometer or so away… not that we found that out the hard way.

To be honest, I don’t remember every beer I drank there, as it’s almost two months since I visited (slack) so I can’t give details, but two standouts were an elderflower Cider from Peckhams and the beer that I really want to talk about today, Mussel Inn’s Happy Jackal.

Mussel Inn – Happy Jackal

Mussel Inn is a small brewpub right at the top of the South Island. We didn’t make it that far on this visit but were lucky enough to try a few of their beers at various places along the way. All of them are superb. Their Captain Cooker Manuka Beer is one of NZ’s great beers and their Golden Goose Lager is everything a lager should be.

However the one that took us completely by surprise was the Happy Jackal. It was going to be our last pint of the evening when we bought it, but we stayed for two or three more just to keep enjoying the beer. Let me tell you about it.

The Basics

I won’t pretend I’m an expert on pumpkin beers. They aren’t the most common thing down this hemisphere so it’s hard to know what to expect. This is a 5.5% Pumpkin Ale. After our visit to the Free House, my brother-in-law happened to get some in at his supermarket so I made sure he snared me a bottle as a gift for Lady Ale (such a caring boyfriend, I got her just what I wanted!).

The beers are bottled in 1.3litre plastic PET bottles. This one was bottled in November and is a seasonal, so I can’t imagine there is too much around NZ until next Octoberish.

How does it look?

It’s quite clear but deep orange in the glass with a small head that sits around a little but doesn’t make its presence known. It looks just like I imagine a pumpkin beer should. I’ve included a pumpkin in the photos just so you can compare (I honestly was cutting a pumpkin at the time I was drinking this, it was not set up… it was soup).

How does it smell/taste?

This may shock you, but it smells and tastes like pumpkin (OMG!) –  Sweet roasted pumpkin. Deliciously creamy but still crisp and refreshing. It’s quite remarkable in that characteristic. There is a hint of cinnamon and maybe chocolate and just enough hop bitterness to balance all the sweet. There isn’t really too much more to it than that, but there doesn’t need to be. It’s right on the money.

When should I drink it?

This would be perfect with lemon and garlic roast chicken and roasted vege. You could take it to desert and have it with a chocolate brownie and cream, but I still can’t associate pumpkin with dessert so if you’re like me, keep it to the main course

The Verdict

Both the beer and the Free House were quick to cement themselves amongst my favourite Kiwi things (it’s a long list). Exactly what I want them to be and they really say something about beer in NZ and NZ as a whole. A small city of around 50,000 which boasts local farmers markets, breweries and wineries, a pub that boasts local NZ beers (including three handpumps) and a beer from a brewery that uses a lot of native ingredients.

Can’t wait to visit the Mussel Inn itself next time we go back. In the mean time, they’ll be represented at the Great Australian Beer Spectapular in May with a Smoked Manuka Ale. You can bet that’ll be one of the first beers I go for:

Anyway, that’s the last of my three NZ posts. It’s always good to go home, but after 3 different visits in three months, I’m broke and out of annual leave, so normal service resumes (and hopefully more frequent posts).

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  1. Kris Marris says:

    The mussel inn is full of characters mate,hard case and a bit strange its not far from where we go fishing each year.Howd do find the boundary road?

    • I left it in my parents fridge when I left Westport. Had three big nights in a row (starting that Friday) and completely forgot about it when I left Monday morning. Had planned to drink that and some British beer with my old man on Sunday night… but was way too far gone by the time I got home.

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