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No beer-loving visitor to Auckland should miss Galbraith's Alehouse

"American critic praises New Zealand Beer," headlined one of that country's major daily newspapers. I was the critic and, as I often do, I was speaking from a podium in the United States -- but my passport still accurately identifies me as a citizen of the United Kingdom.

The New Zealand news story derived from my much-vaunted tenth annual series of tutored tastings at the University of Philadelphia, at which I presented a selection of the most interesting beers to have emerged over the past decade.

I did, indeed, single out one particular New Zealand brewer. I was introduced to his beers last year, at a brewpub called Galbraith's Alehouse, in Auckland, the country's biggest city. No beer-loving visitor to Auckland should miss this pub, which is in a 1912 public library building, at Mount Eden Road in the inner-city neighbourhood of Grafton.

The library still looks the part, with glass partitions and ceiling mouldings. I first visited in 1997, and was greatly impressed by the range of cask-conditioned draft ales, under the Galbraith name. Brewer Keith Galbraith is a New Zealander, who worked for a time at the Larkin's micro, in hop-growing county of Kent, England

On my more recent visit, I found the Bob Hudson's dry but beautifully rounded; the Bellringer's creamy, with a big, long, hit of bitterness; and the Porter more nutty.

That year, I tasted the Goldings-accented Bob Hudson's Bitter (named after a brewer at Larkin's), the flowery Bellringer's Best and a coffeeish, rounded Porter. On my more recent visit, I found the Bob Hudson's dry but beautifully rounded; the Bellringer's creamy, with a big, long, hit of bitterness; and the Porter more nutty.

This time at Galbraith's I also encountered an old acquaintance: Steve "Ben" Middlemiss, a young veteran of brewpubs and micros in both New Zealand and Australia. Middlemiss once told me that, as a 14-year-old homebrewer he hitched 200 miles to buy ingredients, and sold beer to his schoolmates. He recalled that his school won a celebrated victory at cricket after he had entertained the opposition with his product. He adopted his middle name to honor British pioneering homebrewer Ben Turner.

In partnership with Keith Galbraith, the tireless Middlemiss is producing a range of bottle-conditioned beers under the brand-name Australis (Latin for a Southern place). I suspect that the method of production strongly resembles that used a century or two ago; that probably goes for the aroma and flavour, too. These are immensely spicy-tasting, complex, beers.

After a conventional regime of brewing and fermentation, they are first cask-conditioned for four months (at just under 55F), then racked into a bright tank, re-seeded with the original yeast, primed with white sugar, and bottle-conditioned at 44-60F for four months.

The London brewer George Hodgson who first produced a pale ale, in the 1700s, is honored in one of the beers' names. Australis Hodgson India Pale Ale has an earthy, oily, orange-zest, aroma (the hops are New Zealand Goldings); a malt background that is textured and nutty (Maris Otter, from Yorkshire, England), with hints of vanilla pod; and a rooty, peppery finish. With its fresh, assertive, flavours and soft but beautifully balanced carbonation, it drinks remarkably like a cask-conditioned draught, despite a hefty alcohol content of 5.0 per cent by weight, 6.3 by volume.

The beer's orangey colour is reminiscent of the Trappist classic Orval. So is its woody aroma, though Benediction's bouquet is more cedary and aniseed-like.

My choice for Philadelphia was Australis Benediction. The name is a play on "Ben's Addiction," though it suits a beer in the Belgian abbey style. The beer's orangey colour is reminiscent of the Trappist classic Orval. So is its woody aroma, though Benediction's bouquet is more cedary and aniseed-like. Its palate - medicinal, spicy, herbal, winey - is reminiscent of another Belgian classic, Chimay Cinq Cents. Indeed, a yeast believed to have originated at Chimay is used. Benediction (7.0w; 8.7abv) has a malt and candy-sugar richness, but finishes bone dry.

The third in the range is in the style of a Baltic or Russian Imperial Stout, under the name Romanov. It has the aroma and flavour of strong mocha coffee (actually deriving from a high percentage of roast barley and crystal malt). Is the coffee laced with Polish bison-grass vodka, Slivovitz plum brandy, or rum? None of the three, but these flavours are suggested by its powerful alcohol and natural spiciness. One warming flavour glows after the next. The body is tar-like, the finish as smooth as dark treacle-toffee.

By one means or another, I hope these beers will be available in the United States before long.

Among the other highly-distinctive beers in the tastings was a newish product from Seiichiro Uehara's Echigo brewpub, in Japan. Echigo is the old name of the district where this establishment stands (looking rather like a modern church). It is in Makimachi, in the prefecture of Niigata, a sake region in the Northwest of the main island. Owner Uehara once worked as an actor and director in Italy's commedia dell'arte. His German wife helped further his beery interests, and the family's sake business gave him a taste for brewing.

The brewery supplied a Belgian-style Grand Cru for the tastings in Philadelphia. It arrived at the last minute, and somehow the technical specification did not coincide. Its slightly lipstick-like flavours made me speculate that a sake yeast might have been used, but this seems not to have been the case. The beer was brewed predominantly from German Pilsner malt, with some U.S. two-row, and hopped with German Perle and Spalt. It had a starting gravity of 1091, and finished with an alcohol content in the range of 6.4-7.2 by weight; 8.0-9.0 by volume.

It is now eight or nine months old, and has evolved considerably in the bottle. It has a golden colour, a syrupy texture, lemon and orange flavors, and a very perfumy finish, followed by a surge of warming alcohol.

In the matter of strong and outrageous brews, the United States was not to be outdone. Sam Calagione's Dogfish Head brewery, in Lewes, Delaware, offered its World Wide Stout, at an astonishing (14.4; 18.0). The malt in this brew are pale, carapils, chocolate, black, roasted barley, rolled oats and rice hulls. The hops are Northern Brewer, Chinook and Columbus, in four additions. American, British and Belgian yeasts and a Champagne culture were among the seven strains used, in an eight-month series of fermentations. "I wanted to make an extremely strong brew that still tasted like beer," explained Sam. If beer can taste like a creamy cheese with a large glass of port, followed by coffee and cognac, I guess he succeeded.

The list in full

Hoepfner Kräusenbier, U.S./Germany; Mortimer Pure Malt, France; Ebulum Elderberry Ale, Scotland; St Peter's (Millennium) Nettle Ale, England; Don De Dieu (wheat beer at Triple strength), Canada; Melbourn Brothers Apricot, England; Cantillon Apricot, Belgium; Porter House Oyster Stout, Ireland; Alaskan Smoked Porter, U.S; Echigo Grand Cru, Japan; Australis Benediction, New Zealand; Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, U.S. Not all beers were served at each tasting.

Published Online: AUG 23, 2000
Published in Print: JUNE 1, 2000
In: Ale Street News

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