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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.


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