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Impressions of New Zealand

by Tom Cannavan, 03/06

Although I was officially on a wine press trip, I recently travelled to New Zealand and during the course of a month found time to do a fair bit of beer "research". If there's one thing those in the wine trade like more than a fine vintage wine, it's a cold beer at the end of a long day's tasting. Who am I to argue with that?

New Zealand is 'blessed' with its fair share of average 'euro lager' and generic fizzy beer. Some of the big brands include Speights, Steinlager and Canterbury Draught, available everywhere and doing a fair enough job of slaking the thirst without any real star quality. But there is also a really thriving craft brewing scene I discovered, with micro-breweries and brew-pubs in every town of any size.

Best of the lot is a substantial independent operation called Emerson's, from way down south in Dunedin, the 'Edinburgh of the South'. Richard Emerson (right) is brewing some fantastic beers, his craft-brew operation having grown since its first commercial brews of 1993, to become the most respected name amongst Kiwi beer lovers. I tasted three of the beers, and was bowled over by the quality and complexity on offer.

Another that impressed was Limburg of Hawke's Bay on the North Isalnd, which specialises in wheat beers and matured pilsener styles. Brewer Chris O'Leary studied in Loughborough, and cites the "fresh hand pulled real ales in the Midlands country-side" as one source of inspiration.
 

Monteith's hails from Greymouth on the west coast of the South Island. I enjoyed their Black beer and Dry Kilned Celtic beer, a ruby red ale, in particular.


   I managed to visit one brewery and a couple of brew pubs, as well as seeing the organic hop farms in Nelson - that's were we get the vast majority of our organic Target hops from in this country.

Pictured left are the organic hops growing at the end of Neudorf estates's block of Pinot Noir vines, immediately behind their winery in Nelson.

Allan Scott in Marlborough, South Island, produces some of the regions best wines from their winery and vineyards immediately opposite Cloudy Bay. Head Winemaker at Allan Scott is now his rugby-playing son, Josh, who's side project for the last few years has been Moa Brewery, where he makes three fascinating Champagne-style beers.

The beers are made with Champagne yeasts and secondary fermentation in the bottle, which is a 75cl size, closed with a Champagne stopper. The Moa Pilsener is delightful, and I tasted a wheat beer and stout-like dark beer from the conditioning tanks, which both appeared to be very good, but were very sweet straight from tank (these have yet to be commercially released).

The brewery has been producing small but commercial quantities for a while and has a real following. The quality was apparantly quite patchy in the beginning, especially with Josh (inset, right) having to run it as a sideline to his 'real' job. But he has just employed a new Czech brewer who was there on my visit, helping to manhandle the new tank in the photograph (right) off of the back of a truck.
 

The Moa brewery is tucked in behind Cloudy Bay's vineyards, up a little country lane, and the only other building up there happens to be a terrific wine country restaurant, so you can combine a brewery visit with a great lunch or dinner. Moa Brewing Company, Jacksons Road, RD3 Blenheim.

Finally, I'd recommend a really nice brew-pub called Dux Deluxe in Queenstown, Central Otago, that does great food and brews about eight beers or so. I tasted a honey-flavoured beer and a Pale Ale, the latter being the better of the two. Neither was earth shattering, but they have a lovely courtyard with a roaring log fire outdoors that you can sit and have some food and a few pints in the chill of the evening (this is the southern Alps), and it is delightful. I also visited their other branch, in Canterbury, which follows much the same formula with a nice beer garden.

Beers

Emersons, 1812 India Pale Ale (New Zealand)
This Pale Ale from the Dunedin-based Emerson?s craft brewery is fined with Isinglass but not filtered, and pours a gently hazy toffee colour with a moderate to thin off-white head. It has delicious aromas of sour cherries, cooking toffee and all sorts of hessian and herbal nuances. On the palate it has a delicious complexity, with terrific sour bruised apple fruit, a touch of toffee and a fine lemony acidity that hones and lengthens the finish. There?s a lovely hoppy, oily bite too in a terrific beer with a creamy body but crisp, mouthwatering bittersweet finish that keeps it very fresh and moresih. Purchased in New Zealand 5.0% ABV, 50cl, $5.99, brewery website.
Emersons, Maris Gold (New Zealand)
This beer is brewed with Maris Otter pale malt imported from England and aromatic Saaz and Cascade hops. It pours a coppery orange colour with a good, fluffy white head. The nose offers immediate aromas of orange and caramel - in fact it is the most orangey beer I think I've ever had. On the palate it is medium bodied and refreshing, with plenty of citrussy flavours and a nice hoppy bitterness adding a herbal, nettly edge. There is malt too, and a cushion of richness emerges in the finish, but it stays clean and very drinkable. Purchased in New Zealand 4.5% ABV, 50cl, $5.99, brewery website.
Limburg, Hopsmacker Pale Ale (New Zealand)
Pours a cloudy caramel colour with a thick, creamy head. Quite a malty tone to the nose, with a creamy quality and background of toffee. Lots of fruit too, suggesting red apples and plums. On the palate this is quite crisp and refreshing, with a superb hop bitterness that races across the tongue. The mid palate has plenty of racy, citrussy fruit, and the finish reveals more of that toasty, waming malt chatracter, but this is all about mellow, bittersweet flavours in a creamy, mouthfilling beer. Purchased in New Zealand 5.0% ABV, 33cl, brewery website.
Limburg, Wheat Beer (New Zealand)
Limburg claims a "unique" yeast and finest German wheat malt for this beer, brewed with Styrian Goldings hops. Pours a lovely pale, golden yellow, cloudy colour with a thin white head that disippates quickly. Aromas of caramel and orange, with a distinct herbal character and lots of juicy, fruity aromas. Wheaty, slightly clove-tinged background. On the palate smooth and mouthfilling, with excellent grainy texture and a dry, citrus and spice fruit quality. Lovely clean finish, with crisp acidity and a mellow but effective bite of hops. Purchased in New Zealand 5.0% ABV, 33cl, brewery website.
Moa Brewing Co., Premium Lager (New Zealand)
Winemaker Josh Scott of Allan Scott winery in Marlborough takes his beer very seriously and has recently opened a commercial micro-brewery and taken on a full-time Czech brewer to consolidate his Moa brand, which started out as a hobby. These are Champagne method beers, made with Champagne yeast for secondary fermentation in bottles, in racks a la Champagne that need to be "riddled" by hand. It has a fine citrussy nose, with estery, quite herbal aromas. Fine lemony palate and terrific zest. There is a nettly quality, with quite good bitterness and late-hopping with plenty of good hop qualities and lovely long, cool finish. A little bit of sweetness comes through. 5.5% ABV, 75cl, brewery website.
Monteith's, Black Beer (New Zealand)
This beer is jet black in colour, and has a thick, dense cappuccino-coloured head. On the nose there are aromas of espresso and a dark, but quite crisp, charcoal-edged black chocolate. On the palate it is smooth and thick-textured, with a very nice black chocolate and chicory-tinged bitterness. It has hints of sweetness in the initial attack, but the mid-palate and finish stay very savoury, and really quite crisp, with touches of liquorice and charcoal biscuit, and really quite a long finish. A nice beer: much lighter than a stout, but with good dark flavours. 5.2% ABV, 33cl, ?2.00, brewery website.
Monteith's, Dry Kilned Celtic Beer (New Zealand)
This beer from Monteith's is claimed to be an ?Irish-style ale?. It has a ruby red with colour with tan hues and quite a fine head, that disippates quite quickly. Lovely malty, lightly spicy aromas. Fine mouthfeel, with good weight and a bitterness coming through with good green, leafy hop flavours and that undercurrent of caramel and plummy, rich, quite berry-like fruit. An enjoyable beer this. Purchased in New Zealand. 4.4% ABV, 33cl, brewery website.
Monteith's, Radler Bier (New Zealand)
Labeled as a ?Zesty Bier?, this beer is brewed to full strength then has natural lemon juice added before bottling. It pours a pale to medium gold colour, with a thin white head. The nose is unfortunately very shandy-like, with a dominant lemon aroma and just a background of hoppy, nettly notes. On the palate it has real zest and a very tangy, intense lemony streak that somewhat overpowers the beer. There is a hint of sweetening malt, and a streak of green, herbal hop character that adds definite interest, but this is a beer in a distinct style that some will like more than others. Purchased in New Zealand. 4.5% ABV, 33cl, $2.50, brewery website.
Speight's, Old Dark Malt Ale (New Zealand)
This beer pours a very dark chocolate brown colour with a thick, milky, toffee-coloured head. On the nose notes of liquorice and roasted coffee, with a touch of malted biscuit and fudge. On the palate it is the creamy, chocolate and sweet fudge notes that immediately dominate, with a sweet, thick texture flooding the palate. Bitter espresso and chicory notes start to emerge, and there is a warmth and richness about this that sits nicely with the sweetening malt and nice burnt and background hop character to make for a rounded, well-balanced stout-style beer. 4.0% ABV, 33cl, $2.00, brewery website.
Wards, Canterbury Draught (New Zealand)
This beer is brewed in New Zealand, though Wards brewery is no more, and this is now a brand of the giant Lion-Nathan group from Australia. It pours quite a deep, rich golden colour with a moderate white head. It has some nutty, toasty notes on top of crisp hops and a slightly sweetcorn aroma. There is a fruitiness too, in an not unattractive profile. On the palate it is malty and quite rich, with a nice hint of sweetness and full body, with creamy, mouthfilling flavours and a long, smooth finish with red fruits, moderate hoppy bite and plenty of sweet malt. Purchased in New Zealand. 4.0% ABV, 33cl, $2.00, brewery website.
  

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