New Zealand on my mind
Where there were only 10 small breweries now there are 60
A beer-lover named Jim Sepiol, who was blind, guided me round Boston on my first visit there many years ago, jumping on and off the subway with a dexterity that alarmed me. "Watch where you are going!" he admonished. To mock one's own misfortunes suggests a very robust spirit.
Jim worked as a consultant appraising flavors and fragrances. I asked him whether he thought that the serious impairment of his eyesight heightened his other senses. He said he did not know -- I suspect he had heard that question more often than he cared. Jim died a while back, but he will never depart my memory.
It sounds Reader's Digest-ish to say that such encounters are humbling, but there is no escaping that feeling. In the Pacific Northwest, I once encountered a homebrew club for the hearing-impaired. It was called The Grateful Deaf.
Having had the most minor problems with my own hearing, I cannot imagine how anyone copes with deafness. Brewer Richard Emerson was born almost completely deaf because his mother had rubella. "When I meet a nice girl, I tell her I have aids," he jokes, blackly. "But I explain that I take them out when I go to bed".
Friends mention that Richard has a very good nose, and is (as I heard for myself) very fluent in descriptors. He, too, is probably tired of being asked about that.
No one wants to be defined by a handicap -- or, for that matter, some supposed advantage. Richard Emerson is a brewer, in his native New Zealand. He makes the best range of beers that I tasted on a recent tour in his country.
Richard lives in Dunedin, on the south island of New Zealand. That city's name is an older form of "Edinburgh". When he was about 18 (legal drinking age there), Richard visited Edinburgh, Scotland. He discovered British beer, and decided he wanted to be a brewer.
He first got a job in the lab of a malt-extract company, was made redundant, then trained for a while at the Matilda Bay brewery, in Australia. "I offered to work for nothing, but they insisted on paying me".
At the time, there were only three brewing companies in the whole of New Zealand. He first got a job in the lab of a malt-extract company, was made redundant, then trained for a while at the Matilda Bay brewery, in Australia. "I offered to work for nothing, but they insisted on paying me". He also returned to Europe, to visit the German brewing cities of Cologne, Dusseldorf and Bamberg.
Four years ago, he started his own brewery in a former shoe warehouse in Dunedin. His initial equipment was the pilot plant from the malt-extract company. Finance came from family and friends.
I met Richard at the New Zealand Brewersfest, where he won no fewer than four medals. There was a silver for his fruity, winey, Bookbinder Bitter, and astonishing three golds, for: 1812 IPA, very English-tasting, refreshing and spicily hoppy, with beautifully combined flavours; a Weissbier (made with a Weihenstephan yeast), offering notes of sherbert, banana, apple and clove; and a Dunkelweizen, soft, spicy and full of ripe banana flavors. Not surprisingly, he emerged as supreme champion.
I was asked to hand out the awards, and I invited each winner to say a few words. When it came to Richard, I shamefully hesitated. His deafness also affects his speech; would he wish to address an audience? Magically, the mike found its way into his hands, and he eloquently expressed his delight.
Elsewhere on the south island, I found more British-style ales, made by Roger Pink, who originates from the hop-growing county of Kent, England. He grew up with the "Elephant" ales of the long-gone Fremlin's brewery. Now, he wittily uses the brand-name Pink Elephant. One of his products is Pachyderm (Porter? No, he calls it a stout), firm and toasty, with a crisp bitterness. Another is the hefty Mammoth (5.6 alcohol by weight; 7.0 by volume), full of peppery feistiness. Roger is building a new brewery and tasting room in an orchard, among the famous vineyards just outside the town of Blenheim, in the Marlborough region.
All of this brewery's products seem to be fermented at similar temperatures to San Francisco's Anchor Steam, though not in the shallow vessels of Potrero Hill.
In Blenheim itself, the Marlborough micro uses the brand-name Steam for a pleasantly perfumy brew. All of this brewery's products seem to be fermented at similar temperatures to San Francisco's Anchor Steam, though not in the shallow vessels of Potrero Hill. Marlborough boss Peter Baker ducks arguments over the beer style. He prefers to observe that the brewery stands on the Opawa river, at a point where up to the early 1960s, steamboats arrived from the capital Wellington, on the north island.
In Wellington, where the Brewersfest took place I enjoyed sampling from the selection of around 30 beers at The Malthouse (a bar, not a brewpub), though they were served very cold.
Near Wellington, in the suburban Lower Hutt Valley, the Parrot and Jigger offers an excellent range, including a beautifully-balanced mild called Stoker Dark. The name hints at the brewpub's location: on the Lower Hutt railway station.
While in Lower Hutt, I also visited a bar called The Big Chill, to taste the malty range made by the Polar micro. The brewery itself is in a veterans' club. Also in the Wellington area, at Petone, I sampled a creamy, dark "ale" called Owd Jim, made by German lager-brewer Manfred Graff.
Also on the north island, I enjoyed: a fresh, smooth, fruity, Best Bitter from the Kahikatea micro, of Hamilton (brewer Alan Knight is an Englishman who worked in micros in Canada); the roasty but smooth Mike's Mil, from the Whie Cliffs Brewery, of Urenui, near New Plymouth; and a stout called Black Magic (tasting of chocolate pralines), from the Sunshine brewery, of Gisborne.
Last time I was in New Zealand, there were about ten small new breweries fighting the duopoly of the giants, Dominion and Lion. Five years later, there are about 60.
In Auckland, Galbraith's Alehouse is in a 1912 public library building in the inner-city neighbourhood of Mount Eden, where Morris Dancers alarm the local volcano at winter solstice.
The library still looks the part, with glass partitions and ceiling mouldings, but now dispenses volumes of a dry-hopped Kentish Ale, the Goldings-accented Bob Hudson's Bitter (named after a brewer at Larkin's, in Kent, England), the flowery Bellringer's Best and a coffeeish, rounded Porter.
The library still looks the part, with glass partitions and ceiling mouldings, but now dispenses volumes of a dry-hopped Kentish Ale, the Goldings-accented Bob Hudson's Bitter (named after a brewer at Larkin's, in Kent, England), the flowery Bellringer's Best and a coffeeish, rounded Porter. Brewer Keith Galbraith is a New Zealander, who worked for a time at Larkin's.
These beers are very British-tasting, though hoppier than some of their inspirations. They are fermented with Brakspear's yeast, tank-conditioned, and served by hand-pump.
In the city centre, I made a return visit to the longer-established Shakespeare brewpub, now owned by ex All Black Ron Urlich, I was pleased to find its Falstaff Ale hoppier than ever. On the quayside, The Loaded Hog brewpub has a refreshing Weiss (made with an ale yeast), but the beers are more mainstream at the Malt House, Amazulu (despite its African theme) and Rangitoto (on the north shore).
It is worth a trip to the suburb of Pakuranga to the Cock & Bull pub and Steam Brewing Company, which has a wide range of beers. A beer called simply Steam, fermented with a lager yeast at ale-ish temperatures, is distinctly fruity, with a good crystal malt character. Ben's Best Bitter, served from the tank by hand-pump, is malty but well-balanced. This beer is named after partner Ben Middlemiss (the original the brewer also of Marlborough Steam). He adopted his forename name to honour British pioneering homebrewer Ben Turner. Middlemiss' original name is Steve.
Published Online: SEPT 12, 2000
Published in Print: JULY 1, 1997
In: All About Beer
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