Monday, 14 April 2014

Craft Beer: The 100 Best Breweries in the World

I really enjoyed reading Craig Heap and Chris Hall's first bookazine (a hybrid term I'm not entirely comfortable with) 'Craft Beer: The 365 Best Beers in the World' so when they emailed me to tell me they'd been commissioned for a second issue and they wanted me to be involved it took me a nanosecond to respond with a resounding HELL YES. 

Total Ales was coming up to its second birthday, the thought of writing professionally was a pipe dream and yet here was an offer in my inbox to do just that. It was only after the adrenaline had left my system that I realised I had to write around 20000 words in just over a month on top of my full time job. I thought at the time that it didn't seem like too much work, after all my blog posts regularly exceed 1500 words. Luckily I had two weeks off over the Christmas break to really knuckle down and try and produce some of the best beer writing I was able to. At this point I really had no idea of the enormity of the task in hand.

Chris and Craig had also recruited fellow beer writers Ruari O'Toole and Leigh Linley. A year ago I had already met Chris a couple of times before as he also lives in London but we cemented our friendship at the 2013 European Beer Bloggers Conference where I had also met Craig and Leigh for the first time. I shall never forget that sweltering night in the Hanging Bat when the four of us and fellow attendee Gavin Frost could take no more beer and so were skulling ice cold gin and tonics in an effort to subdue the heat. Little did I know the future importance of that drunken evening in Edinburgh.

Planning started with a series of Skype meetings, first we hashed out the 100 breweries that would earn the 'best' title and make it into the mag. We could quite easily do another edition called 'The 100 Best Breweries' with a totally different set of 100 brewers but after much debate the final one hundred were chosen and locked in. We wanted the mag to provide a broad view of brewing around the world and not focus too heavily on one country, we also wanted it to be accessible and appeal to newcomers and hardened beer geeks alike and so we tailored the list in an attempt to create a universal appeal. The bulk of the mag would be split between what we saw as the five major brewing nations, Chris took Belgium, Craig the Czech Republic, Ruari got Germany and I got the USA. We had split the UK between the five of us with Leigh presiding over his area of expertise, Yorkshire. We then divided the rest of the world between us and I notably took on the task of tackling Mikkeller amongst others.

Each major section would showcase 16 breweries and choosing just 16 was almost impossible. I feel that the breweries we chose for each country are those that best represent their nation at this very point in time but there are many others I would of liked to have included. Breweries such as Crooked Stave, Hair of the Dog, Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, Three Floyds and New Belgium are some notable absentees in the US section but I wanted to choose breweries that for the most part are accessible and with an exception being Russian River, have beers that are at least occasionally obtainable in the UK. I worried that we'd gone for too many Californian brewers and not enough from the North West or East Coast. I thought that Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn and Anchor had been done to death and didn't need another article telling their story but after my research I realised that no list of the 100 greatest breweries in the world would be complete without them and their incredible stories.

I started close to home with my article on Beavertown, a brewery I felt I already knew inside out and could recall the taste of their beers instantly. Then it dawned on me that I couldn't afford to make a single mistake and so every fact was painstakingly researched and checked. I was restricted to 300 words per brewery bar a couple chosen for longer features and this was another challenge entirely. I'm used to writing lengthy, stream-of-consciousness style blog posts but now I had to be sharper and more succinct than I'd ever been. 300 words felt like 3000 with two thirds of the time spent on each piece allocated to research and editing.

This would be fine, I thought, I had those two weeks off over Christmas but what I didn't realise at the time was that Christmas would get in the way of having any spare time to write. I was back at work on the second of January with much of the writing still to be done so essentially I was working two full time jobs at this point. It was challenging, exhausting but also exhilarating, I relished the challenge and spending so much time on a subject I loved. Eventually the January 11th deadline approached with a handful of articles still to have the finishing touches administered but thankfully we were not put under any pressure from the publisher and so had a couple more days to finish getting everything done.

Then was the waiting game. I had poured my heart and soul into around 30 articles that I felt were very different to my blog. I was constantly worried they would be rejected and that my writing was not good enough as we hardly heard from the publisher. We had no control over the layout or look of the finished product, we just sent words into the ether, hoping they'd come out on the other side looking half decent.

Then we reached the 27th of March, the date the magazine was due to hit the shops and... nothing. By this point I had convinced myself that it would never see the light of day but then I flicked on to Instagram only to see someone had the mag and had tagged me in the photo they'd taken of their copy. The magazine was out! I couldn't believe it, I was desperate to pick up a copy and see how it looked but it was days before I was able to find one. Eventually, I wandered into W.H. Smith in Kings Cross station and saw it on the shelf, I bought it, wandered out into the Station and felt a little like Charlie Bucket as he was about to open a Wonka Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow delight, praying that a golden ticket was inside the wrapper.

My hands were physically shaking with anticipation, I opened the cover and saw our five grinning faces on the first page. Then I delved deeper and discovered a beautifully laid out, easy to read beer magazine that I become increasingly proud of each time I flick through it. I genuinely think, despite similar style beer publications being available, that this is something both new and old fans of our favourite drink will enjoy. I particularly enjoyed reading the German and Czech sections as this is a real beery blind spot for me and I found it easy to navigate and very informative. I also like that because it's the work of five different authors each section has its own unique flavour so it doesn't become stagnant or boring. A tenner might seem steep for a magazine but it's pretty much ad free bar a couple of pages pushing other bookazines from Future, our publisher so it's a full on 168 page romp through some of the best breweries in the world.

If you've managed to pick up a copy, I'd love to hear what you think! Do you agree with the breweries we've chosen? If not who would you have like to have seen included instead? Either way I hope you enjoy reading it, it was a real pleasure having a hand in its creation and I hope it's something I can do again soon.

You can find the magazine in good newsagents and large supermarkets, or order it online with free shipping here:

Original photography by Dianne Tanner. For those curious, the beer in the glass is Camden Town Brewery Hells Lager.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


We had totally underestimated the distance of the walk back from Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium to the centre of town. Auckland's distinctive skyline looks beautiful from a distance and we had plenty of time to appreciate it as we made our way back from the famous attraction to Queens Street. 

I enjoyed Kelly Tarlton's, the highlight being when a huge Stingray stuck an almighty fin out of an open topped tank and gave us all a good soaking as it slapped the surface of the water. For Dianne though, it had lost the magic that captivated her when she was young (despite enjoying the bit with the penguins) so hopefully lunch at her favourite restaurant Rakino's would brighten her mood a little. We would have no such luck. When we arrived at the restaurant entrance it was padlocked shut with a notice of eviction stuck to the door. We wandered onwards, worn out and hungry for what seemed like minutes before we stumbled upon the aptly named Vultures Lane pub on nearby Vulcan Lane.

Dianne sat outside and I strolled in, I then strolled out with a huge smile on my face and a pint of 8 Wired Saison Sauvin clutched in my clammy little hands. Fate, it seemed, had steered us in the direction of a neat new bar that had a superb range of beer on tap and in bottle with a great menu to boot. We sat there and I supped my beer as I devoured some spicy shrimp tacos. This was one of those eureka moments you've read about, the prickly, grassy, gooseberry character of the Nelson Sauvin hops intermingled with the hay bale, ester rich melange created by the saison yeast together producing something quite magnificent. This is a hop that's MADE for saison, even if this is not your favourite style of beer I still urge to to try this one from 8 Wired. Tart, dry and deliciously drinkable, this may have been the best use of this particular Kiwi hop I have ever experienced, the exception perhaps being the excellent Mikkeller Nelson Sauvignon. 

We wiled away an hour or so at this great bar, I had another 8 Wired beer, a red IPA called Tall Poppy which was another delight full of grassy, citrus rich hops and chewy caramel malts. I inquired at the bar where was the best place to find a good selection of bottles to take home with me and they simply pointed to their fridges, I left Vultures Lane with a lighter wallet, a much heavier rucksack and a big smile on my face.

We then headed to the nearby Brothers Beer Tap Room to meet Dianne's old friends Bernie and Brad. They'd picked this venue with me in mind and they had done very well indeed. One wall was lined with fermentation vessels, another with a fridge full of bottles I peered at excitedly and another with around twenty different taps serving their own beer and plenty of guests. This was the first of a number of new businesses that had moved into this re-purposed industrial estate which was now overflowing with street food vans, quirky restaurants and this great little tap room which had people spilling out into the street as they arrived for a post work pint.

I got into a couple of Brothers Beers right away, a fruity Kolsch which was packed with zesty lemon and tart red berry flavours and yet another decent NZ pale ale loaded with flavours of tropical fruit. Then I had a couple of back-to-back belters, Mini Matta from Yeastie Boys was a lower ABV version of their Gunnamatta Tea Leaf IPA (a cask version of this, brewed by Yeastie Boys at Adnams is currently being served at the Wetherspoon International Beer Festival) and it was a beer I could have drank all day long, the bitter citrus being washed away by the drying effect of the tea which made it almost impossible to put down. BitterBitch from Parrot Dog was another blinder, I know this because I said so on my Untappd check in, without which I wouldn't have really remembered what anything tasted like at this point. Another total fact about Parrot Dog is that the three owners are all called Matt which earns them bonus points from me.

I left Brothers tap room with an even bigger smile on my face, further burdened by the weight of some more exciting looking bottles and we made our way to the bus stop sound tracked by a gentle clinking. I first visited Auckland three years ago and in that short time it has evolved quickly to meet the needs of the people seeking better, more exciting food and drink. The vibe and atmosphere of the city reminds me strongly of Portland, Oregon which is no bad thing as that's one of my favourite cities in the world. Auckland is a simply a must visit destination for a beer geek, if only it wasn't so bloody far away.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

In Hot Water

I was standing ankle deep in what felt like near boiling water that was being produced by the hot springs beneath the sands at Hot Water Beach. I was contemplating two things, the first was that I was potentially standing on the mouth of an underwater volcano that could very well erupt at anytime and engulf me within its magma-caked maw. The second was that I'd seen a sign pointing to a brewery a few miles up the road and that I'd really like to investigate whether or not they were any kop.

After whiling away a couple of hours on the beach, soaking in the New Zealand sun Dianne, her family and myself hopped in the car and headed towards the small town of Whenuakite, home of Hot Water Brewing Co, the latest addition to a small holiday camp that opened in 2006. My first thought when pulling up to the modestly sized taproom was how much it resembled those of the breweries in Fort Collins, Colorado that made me fall in love with beer in the first place. We were in a location that felt to me like the middle of nowhere so to come across this little brewpub was a little like discovering a verdant oasis in the middle of a dry and dusty desert.

They had several beers on tap including four of their own and a few guests. I immediately tucked in to some samplers including the pleasantly refreshing Golden Steamer Ale and the robust yet drinkable Walker's Porter. The beer of theirs that really piqued my interest however was the delightful Kauri Falls Pale Ale. Hot Water Brewing choose cans over bottles for their off sales and feel so passionately about this particular receptacle that even their branded glassware is shaped like a beer can. My pint of pale ale produced aromas of kiwi fruit, limes, gooseberries and passion fruit. New Zealand hops can range from being juicy and tropical through to being grassy and a little prickly and this particular beer combined these different flavour profiles to great effect.

Flavours of sweet, smooth passion fruit, mango and spiky gooseberries fill the mouth as the bitterness builds over a backbone of malts that feel like they aren't quite sweet enough to support these big hop flavours. Then just as quickly as it builds this bitterness washes away leaving you longing for another sip and at a sensible 5.2% ABV it's a beer that demands that you have another after you've finished your first. I left with a six pack of this beer but not before I'd tried a few others that were on tap.

I'd heard a lot about Hamilton's Good George brewery mostly thanks to the fact that they co-produced one of my favourite beers of 2013, the stunning Shnoodlepip which was brewed along with Burning Sky Brewery at the Wild Beer Co in Somerset. Their signature IPA was pouring today and again it was another NZ hopped, well balanced beauty of a beer that had a certain tang to it that strongly reminded me of some of the best Kernel beers I've had. This was a 5.4% ABV beer which by my own standards isn't that strong but it went down like a four percent-er and I could have sat around drinking it all afternoon but shadows were starting to lengthen and so we retired back to our campsite in the small seaside town of Hahei where we were staying that weekend.

It was our last night in the gorgeous Coromandel region of New Zealand's North Island and we were heading for dinner at a nearby restaurant called the Church. I was pleasantly surprised by the range of beers that had taken up residence at the foot of their wine list with bottles on offer from the likes of 8 Wired and Epic breweries. Earlier in the day at Hot Water Brewing I had been impressed by a beer from a brewery called Liberty which from my short time in NZ seemed to be the one brewery that was on every beer geeks lips. That beer was their C!tra Junior pale ale, the juicy, citrus heavy American hops shining like a grapefruit-shaped beacon in the sea of New Zealand hops that surrounded me and now I was drinking their Sauvignon Bomb, a homage to the beautiful Nelson Sauvin hop. This beer had a huge malt platform of bread and caramel flavours to support the immensely bitter quality of this revered hop. Eventually, after I had taken the time to work out this beer I was getting lime juice and gooseberries in spades, the vinous quality helped cut through the fat of the chorizo I was eating and the light fruitiness mingled beautifully with the accompanying clams. 

My thoughts drifted back to Hot Water Brewery and then to this restuarant in its remote location and I thought again of my oasis in a desert analogy. This was so very wrong. I had wanted and hoped to find good beer when I was in New Zealand and here I had found several breweries producing world class pale ales without much effort. It turns out that I wasn't lost in a beer desert at all but was in fact happily wandering around a lush, sub-tropical rainforest with rich pickings hanging low for beer lovers like me.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Why I'm going to #EBBC14

The 27th and 28th of June will see the fourth annual European Beer Bloggers Conference which this year is taking place in Dublin, Ireland. A quick look at this years registered list of attendees shows me that, disappointingly there are currently less than half as many people attending this years conference than there were at last years fantastic event in Edinburgh.

I can understand that travel and hotel costs as well as the 95.00 Euro (refundable) fee to attend the conference might make this tough for some to get to but I want to take an opportunity to try and convince as many of my fellow bloggers to attend as possible. Last years conference was a total hoot, I made a lot of new friends, ate some fantastic food and drank a metric shit-ton of beer. Importantly the conference seminars were incredibly useful and I came away from Edinburgh feeling both enthused and refreshed. Then, using the knowledge I'd gleaned I went on to double the number of hits my blog was getting over the past twelve months. It's an incredible opportunity to meet and befriend like minded people who you may already talk to regularly via channels such as Twitter but that's not the same as getting shitfaced with them in a great pub in an unfamiliar town, that builds a special kind of camaraderie

Some of you may be put off by the fact that this event is sponsored by two of brewing's corporate giants, Guinness and Molson Coors but I say to you; put your prejudices to one side, give them a chance to show you what they do and afterwards if you're still not convinced, use your blog and the knowledge gained to educate and inform your readers. I, for one am incredibly excited about having dinner in St. James' Gate, I'm not a Guinness drinker but this is a brewery steeped with history and to have a dinner there should be an unforgettable experience. 

This years Beer Bloggers Conference promises to be a festival of great beer, good food, informative, useful content and new friends. I had my doubts about attending too but when I sat and thought about last years event I decided I had to be there. If you register before the 31st of March then you pay a discounted registration fee of 95.00 Euro which is refunded when you get there* (* The refunds are first come first served, by my calculation there are about 30 stipends left). You are required to write two blog posts about the conference but the organisers haven't stated a required length or subject for these posts so even a photo of me unconscious after having fallen into a maturation tank full of Guinness would probably suffice for one of those. Plus you get to take part in one of my favourite events, a live blogging session which is a special kind of frantic fun.

I'll say this again, do not let your opinions of the event sponsors prevent you from experiencing what should be a fantastic weekend. 

If I have changed your mind then check out this post for advice on hotels and travel from local Reuben Grey and be sure to take an empty suitcase with you as attendees are lavished with plenty of samples to take home and review. I look forward to seeing you there!

Please note neither the event organisers or the sponsors put me up to this, I am simply expressing my genuine opinion. Come!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Dr. Gonzo visits the Coromandel

It takes me a few seconds to register the voice talking at me through the megaphone, especially with the noise of the waves crashing against the beach but I soon realise what's happening. I turn around and see the police car and the officer repeats himself "Can you come here please Sir." I turn away from the roaring Pacific and head towards the car with my head hung in shame, a bottle of cheap Canadian whisky in one hand and a bottle of Tuatara APA in the other. 

We had arrived in the beautiful Coromandel peninsula region of New Zealand's North Island two days earlier. We were staying in town of Whangamata (which I'm told is not named after Manchester United attacking midfielder Juan Mata despite my protests that it was) where in a couple of days time my girlfriend Dianne's uncle, Warren would be getting married. The day before the wedding Dianne and I were ambling around the small seaside town in the blazing sunshine. We had cast away the British shackles of trousers and socks instead replacing them with garments known as 'shorts' and footwear known as 'Jandals' (flip-flops to you and me.) I wanted some beers and strolled into a local chain store called Super Liquor hoping that I'd find something pale and hoppy.

The Kiwi's know how they like their beer; cold and wet and I was constantly reminded by the locals that all British beer is warm and flat (the locals are wrong, of course.) The result of this is that all specialist bottle shops, regardless of size have a walk in fridge where beers and pre-mixed drinks are stacked high on shelves ready for immediate consumption. This is great for the craft beer movement as all of the beers people like me love that are packed with volatile hop oils are kept in the best possible way for maximum flavour preservation. I scan the shelves and there's not much to excite me, it's mostly Kiwi common beers but then I spy a shelf containing a few beers from Wellington's Tuatara Brewery and pick up a six pack of their APA. You'd expect APA to mean American Pale Ale but in this case the first A stands for 'Aotearoa' which is a Maori name for New Zealand (it literally translates to 'Land of the Long White Cloud'.) That, coupled with an ABV of almost 6% told me that this might just be the kind of beer I was looking for.

The beer was elegantly packaged in a bright, attractive six pack holder but the effort that had gone into the design of this beers packaging didn't stop there. A Tuatara is a species of lizard that is endemic to New Zealand and the neck of the bottle had been designed to look like the distinctive spiny back of this creature. In a final twist the bottle cap was made to look like the eye of a lizard, it's the kind of design and manufacturing expense that many UK breweries balk at the cost of but Tuatara had gone all out to make their beer stand out in a crowded marketplace. I couldn't wait to crack one open so as they were already nice and cold I did as soon as got home. Passion fruit and mango aromas jumped out at me as I poured the amber beer into a glass. The tropical fruit flavours were clean and defined, the quality and elegance reminded me of Thornbridge beers, quite simply it was stunning. The finish was dry and left a pleasing bitterness despite being perhaps the tiniest bit astringent. It was a real gem of a beer, one of the finest I drank during my entire trip.

We wiled away the day waiting for the wedding to come around, Dianne's Mum had bought me a mixed six pack of beers from Harrington's Brewery in Christchurch. These were elegantly packaged like miniature bottles of wine, resplendent with green glass bottles and smart labels. They were nice beers, not all of them terribly exciting but a couple of them made me stand up and take notice. The Rogue Hop is a pilsner finished off with New Zealand hops and these lent it a gooseberry and citrus Sauvignon Blanc character that prickled the tongue. Perhaps the most surprising of the small selection was a dark mild called the Pig and Whistle. This beer was brewed with native Riwaka hops and for me Kiwi hops leave an unmistakable signature in the brews they are used in. They can range from brash and spiky to mellow and tropical but they are always unmistakably New Zealand and the tiny flash of tropical fruit that they lent to this accomplished dark beer was very satisfying indeed. They may not have all been beers to write home about, they were certainly a long way from the shining brilliance of Tuatara APA but these two of the six I tried were most enjoyable.

Soon it was time to suit up, I had a wedding to attend and it was my favourite kind of wedding, one with a free bar. A cocktail of Speights, Lion Red and Steinlager (which I'm convinced is actually Heineken that's had a different label stuck on the bottle) was washed down with lashings of decent Kiwi Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. After talking to many of the wedding guests I found it interesting how much almost everyone I spoke to understood about wine. New Zealand is a big wine producer, many vineyards exist solely to pump Sauv Blanc into the export market but the good shit that they keep for themselves is both affordable and accessible with none of the pretentiousness I associate with old world wine. The result of this is that the average Kiwi seems to grasp the basics of wine more than the average Brit. This same attitude hasn't yet transferred to beer but there are signs to suggest that this is changing rapidly. Older NZ breweries have reacted by either launching a 'craft' range or are using a marketing campaign that takes a pop at flavourful brews. Tui's billboards that read "Fancy beers are fine but would you order a floral scented pie?" are a prime example of this and to me this says that the big breweries are scared of the craft scene and how much business it could potentially take away from them. Kiwi's aren't like us Brits, they aren't weighed down with the stigma of history and it's their nature to find something good and to embrace it. Craft beer will be mainstream here long before it is in the UK.

We finally arrive back at the house after the wedding reception, bottles are being opened, people are laughing, cheering, there are no signs of the party slowing down. I change out of my suit, grab a bottle of whisky, fill my pockets with bottles of Mac's Hop Rocker and more delicious Tuatara APA before a small group of us heads to the beach. It's a beautiful night, the arm of the Milky Way streaks through the sky above us and I stare at it in awe. Dianne disappears into the darkness of the beach and then there are murmurs of trouble from a local youth who's hunting down a gang that have stolen his Dads car. I send Dianne's cousins who'd joined us at the beach home in case there is trouble and stay behind to try and locate where she'd wandered of to. Truth be told, I could barely stand and yet I still kept swigging away at this awful bottle of Canadian Whisky which looked so enticing on the shelves of the duty free store in Vancouver airport. 

"Don't drink on the beach, it's illegal here." Warren had warned me earlier but I had dismissed this thinking what could happen in a sleepy seaside town such as this? Then there was the voice in the megaphone, then I was standing in front of the police car, its lights flashing at me as if to mock my drunken stupor. "Please, I'm sorry, I'm a Pom on tour and I've no idea what I'm doing!" The words leap out of my mouth before I even know what I'm saying. "Can I take a look at that bottle please sir?" The officer asks "Yes, I bought it in Vancouver Airport, it's not very nice." To my surprise he hands the bottle back to me and says "Do you realise that drinking in public is against the law in this town?" I pause for thought "I had no idea." 

As it turns out he was in fact looking for a band of car thieves and as I was clearly not one of them he thankfully decides to take my details and let me go home. At this very moment Dianne emerges from the darkness of the beach, the officer leaves us in peace and we hobble home, both of us having had our pride badly bruised by booze.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Long White Cloud

It's 6.30 in the morning and I've just stepped outside the terminal building at Auckland International Airport after completing the 28 hour journey from the UK to New Zealand. I feel unusual, despite my love of travelling I don't fly well and somehow I need to stay awake for the next 16 hours in a dire effort to adjust my body clock thirteen hours ahead. The beer on the first flight was average, Air Canada offered me the choice of Budweiser, Heineken or Molson Canadian and as I hadn't had it before I plumped for the latter. Think sparkling water, a little bread, a little sweetcorn and not much else, not great, not unpleasant but it helped me get some sleep thanks to it at least being alcoholic. A brief stopover at Vancouver airport provided me with an opportunity to try the locally brewed English Bay Pale Ale from Molson Coors subsidiary Granville Island Brewing. Again, it was ok, sitting at the terminals only bar helped me kill an hour but I couldn't help thinking that what should've been a fairly decent pale ale had become stale and sweet from sitting in its keg for far too long. On the Air New Zealand flight I switched to wine, I was nearly asleep and I needed something stronger to help me slip off to lala land.

I was travelling to New Zealand with my girlfriend Dianne who was born here, we were going to be staying with her folks at their farm about an hours drive north of Auckland but were also going to be doing a bit of travelling around the North Island. This was never going to be a beer holiday but when I made the same trip back in 2011 when I was in the embryonic stages of my beer geekery and this blog was a mere glint in my eye I was pleasantly surprised by a brewery called Epic (not to be confused with the Utah brewery of the same name) and their pale ale which strongly reminded me of Brewdog Punk IPA in its pomp. It's because of this and the extensive research I had been doing for several months that I knew I was in beer country and that there were hoppy pale ales out their awaiting to be demolished by this somewhat over-enthusiastic Pom.

We were collected at the airport by our friend Steph, another Kiwi ex-pat living in London who was also out here visiting friends and family. After a second breakfast in Mount Eden (we had our first on the plane) we made our way north and said our goodbyes to simple pleasures such as Wi-Fi and a phone signal. The day grinded on as we fought our jetlag and eventually we turned to drink. Mac's Hop Rocker Pilsner was something I drank a lot of on this trip, think Camden USA hells but instead of the smooth, subtle bite of citrus you instead get a prickle of passion fruit and elderflower. With the majority of the beers I would be drinking using mainly New Zealand hop varieties this would become a recurring theme. 

Mac's isn't a brewery that beer geeks get excited about which is a shame as their beers although not terribly interesting are really well made and provide an excellent gateway for the less adventurous beer drinker. Like many things in New Zealand Mac's was founded by a former All Black, in this case one Terry McCashin back in 1981 and although their beers are a long way from the flavour bombs being brewed in New Zealand at the moment they might have gone a long way towards kick starting the Kiwi brewing revolution. These days Mac's are owned by Australasian drinks giant Lion Nathan which also own the brewery that brew my next beer, Speight's Gold Medal Ale.

Speight's brewery was founded in the town of Dunedin on the south island way back in 1876. As well as the brewery in Dunedin which was at one point New Zealand's largest they also have a second facility in Auckland to keep up with demand. At the moment Speight's are going through something of a transitional phase with a new 'Craft Range' joining their more familiar line up. When looking at their new beers such as Triple Hop Pilsner and Golden Pale Ale (not to be confused with their Gold Medal Ale) I quickly drew parallels with British breweries such as Brains and Batemans who are also desperately trying to find their footing in a rapidly changing beer landscape. It was a relief to see that this situation is not confined to the UK.

Gold Medal Ale is crisp, refreshing, very dry and incredibly boring. It's cold, brown and wet which to be honest is still the kind of beer that most Kiwi's want but the sales and popularity of modern beer styles are increasing rapidly. Even major supermarkets are now stocking an incredibly large range of beers from smaller New Zealand breweries as well as craft offerings from the USA such as Rogue and Bear Republic. I asked a few Kiwi's what style of beer they thought Speight's was and many replied that it was a lager. It's not, it's an ale but its light body and incredibly dry finish suggests that it was fermented at lower, lager temperatures so I can see where they get this idea. The great thing about Kiwi beers like Speights, Lion Red and Tui, the latter calling itself an India Pale Ale (it's most definitely not one) is that on a hot day it's really enjoyable to drink a lot of them, they're ideal for the sub-tropical climate. They belong to a family of beers which all taste remarkably similar which I started referring to as 'NZ Common' as they reminded me a little of the easy drinking steam beers of California.

Thankfully after a few beers and a good feed I got a great nights sleep which set me up perfectly for the two weeks that were ahead of me. I barely had time to catch my breath though before we loaded up the car and headed east towards the Coromandel Peninsula for a wedding, some incredible scenery and a very close call with an officer of the law...

Friday, 21 February 2014

Get £10 Discount off your first order with!

I was recently contacted by the kind folks at to see if I'd like to give one of their monthly beer packages a try* and well, you all know how much I love beer so naturally I grasped at the chance with my clammy little beer geek hands. 

Beer52 is part of a growing number of beer subscription services that give you the chance to try a wide range of new and exciting brews in the comfort of your own home. Each month you pay £24 including delivery and you get eight different beers to try and there's no contract so you can end your subscription at any time should you wish. This months package had some familiar beers from Norfolk's Grain Brewery and the delectable Citra from Peterborough's Oakham as well as some beers I'd never tried before, I'm particularly excited about the Dubbel from Tickety Brew and Top Out Staple pale ale. The package also comes with well presented tasting notes for each beer as well as some information about the brewery and some recommended food pairings. There's something here for experienced beer geeks like myself and people who are completely new to tasting beer.

If you want to get involved with make sure you stick TOTALALES10 in before you pay and save yourself a tenner off your first order!

*Disclaimer: I was sent these beers for free by the nice people at Beer52 but I don't think that will influence my opinion of them. Thanks to James from Beer52 for the package.