The official blogger for Grill Meats Beer

Month: August 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Shook up world

This is story of Lola and me. The beer, named after a cat, has gone through a lot of changes before it reaching it’s current state, accompanying burgers all over Wellington.


Beervana used to have something called “media brews”. This was where members of the media were paired up with brewers to create a special beer for the festival as part of a “friendly” competition.

In my second year I was teamed with a still relatively new brewery called Garage Project. This was a Garage Project hot off their 24 beers in 24 weeks and in the middle of their first expansion. They were also, like me, looking to bounce back after their media brew the previous year had come in second to last. As such they were stoked to be paired with me, whose beer was the only one they had beaten.

At this point I turn the story over to past-me, as I wrote it up at the time. Let’s travel back to 2012:

… we started exchanging ideas and brainstorming. In his first email to me about the brew, Pete Gillespie, GP’s head brewer, said “Nothing too experimental though”. This from the brewer who made a Rum & Raisin Triple and was entering a carrot cake beer into the Brewer’s Guild awards.

I walked into the brewery with its big new stainless steel equipment on the first day with a number of ideas. Some definitely in the “too experimental” zone. A friend of mine works in media at the zoo and I had enquired if there was anything edible that we could use from there. Porcupine quills and ostrich eggs were offered and when I mentioned them I saw fire in Pete’s eyes.

It is amazing to watch a brewer in creation mode. With a brewer like Pete, you can see the ingredients and flavours whizzing around his head making connections or being rejected. Sadly the zoo idea was one of the rejects; while initially exciting there was no way to make it work.

I want to interrupt myself here to point out that Garage Project are sponges. Everything you say to Ian, Pete or Jos stays with them, they absorb it all. And while I am 100% confident that GP’s 2015 Wellington Zoo beer happened with absolutely no influence from me, I just know that inside Pete’s brain is a file with every conversation he’s ever had where the creative spark has fired. Keeping them saved up for when he needs new ideas.

Back to the story!

I got talking about the impending brew with Joseph Slater from Six Barrel Soda. That when I realised we had to get these two great brewers together: soda and beer. After settling on the kola nut we thought that the syrup might be enough, added to the end of the ferment of a black lager (a dunkel in this case), but then Pete started asking Joe about what ingredients went into the soda syrup. Ground kola nut obviously, but also orange and lemon powder and cinnamon. All of this would end up in the boil along with some fresh lemon and orange zest.

Into the boil we added the dried ingredients. I was surprised how it took the addition of the cinnamon and citrus before it really started to smell like a cola. We used nice citrusy hops too (whose names escape me now). When we tasted the wort, pre-fermented beer straight from the kettle, it tasted like …really sour, disgusting, Horlicks. Pete said it tasted really good and was his usual incredibly upbeat self.

When I checked back near the end of the fermentation it was much better. If you closed your eyes and smelled it, Kola Collab [which is what we called it] really was a cola. Swishing it around your mouth it was too bitter to be a soft drink like Coke, but more like Italian Chinotto with cola and cinnamon.

We came in sixth, but considering that this was the first beer I had ever physically brewed (the Croucher beer is a long story for another time), I was bloody proud.

Kola Collab made it’s way to Joe Slater’s bar Monterey in Newtown and, I believe, a keg went down to Christchurch too. And that was it, for me at least.

jacked up in newtown, kola collab at Monteray

A few moths later, in October 2012, Lola was born.

This is definitely one of our more playful beers. The base is our Bastard Rye, which had its debut at Hashi a couple of weeks ago and will appear in a number of forms over the months ahead. This particular batch was soured up and has been resting on cherries. We were having a taste of it to see how it was getting on when Jos just happened to play Lola by the Kinks, with that classic opening line.

“I met her in a club down in old Soho Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry-cola”

The next thing you know our sour cherry rye is getting a dose of Six Barrel Cola syrup. The result is a bright cherry red beer with sour cherry palate and a whimsical cola finish.

Bastard Rye was named because of the pain of brewing a rye beer. The sticky glutenous mass it creates can result in a gummed up mash tun. I was present when Garage Project brewed their first rye beer, also a collaboration, Summer Sommer (you can even see my Dad in the video).

That day I interviewed Nøgne Ø’s head brewer, Kjetil Jikiun, and he told me a story of a 24 hour run-off. Standing, helpless as the wort slowly trickled out. This would be a prophetic story for Bastard Rye’s 13 hour run off.

But back to Lola. She was born as a rye blonde, aged over cherries and with a sour kick before having cola syrup added. I’m pretty sure I didn’t try this beer and Phil Cook filled me in on this part of the history, which was during his tenure in Aro St,  including his part in choosing the name Lola: after Aro Park’s iconic cat.

Phil and Hadyn looking exactly the same

Phil and Hadyn maintain that this was a coincidence (it wasn’t). Photo credit: Tim Noble

And then Lola is lost.

The cherries remain though, and Cherry Bomb (first made earlier in 2012) becomes a seasonal success.

Flash forward to 2016, Lola is released again for Wellington on a Plate and has been going perfectly with so many Burger Welly entries. On her return Lola is now a dunkel (a black lager).

Spiked with citrus, spices, cola nuts, vanilla and whole sour cherries, the result is a rich dark brown, effervescent and refreshing brew somewhere ambiguously between beer and a classic soda.

Lola has kept the cherries from her first iteration but the base beer is now Kola Collab. Or at least a new version of Kola Collab. For example, Lola’s kola nut’s are 100% ethically sourced, fair trade, from Karma Cola.

And there we are.

I didn’t tell this story to imply that I had any influence in the creation of Lola. I told it because we often see these beers as instantly coming into existence. They don’t. there’s an initial idea often followed by a long process of experimenting, recipe writing, trial and error. And sometimes the stories are interesting.

I said in a column years ago: No one cares about the director’s commentary on a terrible film. The corollary is also true: the director’s commentary on a great film is often amazing.

Nothing comes fully-formed from the ether. Everything is a remix. All things are built on top of others. And this is where Lola came from. From a master brewer, a soda maker, an experiment, a happenchance, a cat and, a writer.

Some notes:

I won’t often do this but I really feel like I need to mention some trivia about the song Lola.

  • The original song didn’t actually mention “cherry cola”, that was added later so the song could be played on the BBC. At the time the song came out the BBC had a policy about product placement and wouldn’t allow the original line of “tastes just like Coca Cola”.
  • The song is fairly pro-trans and was banned in Australia because of it (in New Zealand it was #1). I’m not saying it’s perfect, but considering the time it came out (1970) it could be much worse.
  • The band also seem to have been fairly liberal; given they were called The Kinks, they’d have to be. Drummer Mick Avory, has said he used to frequent bars in Soho that fit the description in Lola perfectly.

One for the road

It was that week again. The Road to Bankruptcy week. The middle of August hits my bank account like a high-powered vacuum cleaner.

It’s also The Road to FOMO and trying not to be hungover at work the next day.  There’s so much to eat and drink, that kuidaore (食い倒れ, the Japanese idea to ruin oneself by extravagance in food) is a serious possibility.

It is, of course, the week leading up to Beervana, New Zealand’s biggest beer festival. A glittering prize, like the fabled Emerald City of Oz, sitting at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. For years this “road” was underutilised: a week that featured at best a trade event and maybe a few tap takeovers. But in recent years, it’s been given new life.

It’s now called the “Road to Beervana” and has grown into a series of events that are well worth putting yourself into debt for. I’m telling you about them after the fact for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it feels dumb preemptively writing about food and secondly, to prepare you for next year. It feels like to fully appreciate the Road to Beervana you need to start saving now.

I couldn’t go to many of the events due to budget constraints. But I did manage a few.

The first was Kushi. It was a Japanese themed night at Grill Meats Beer (where thankfully, I eat for free). Kushiage skewers done on the grill and served alongside Baird Beer.

I visited Bryan Baird back in 2010 at his Numazu brewery and in 2012 I held a Yeastie Boys tasting at the Baird Nakameguro Taproom. Bryan’s a tough nut to crack, but he’s passionate about beer. He has strong views about the Japanese brewing industry, mostly negative ones about the organisation and positive ones about the breweries. He would certainly hate that I put BABYMETAL in this post.

Bryan’s an American making American-style beer in Japan, a country where beer sales are trending downwards and most beers are German-style lagers. But Baird is making a solid stance. Last time I was in Tokyo, Baird had three taprooms (not including the one near the brewery on the Numazu waterfront): Nakameguro, Yokohama, and Harajuku.

The Harajuku was the first Baird bar I went to. I had gyoza (ギョウザ) and a Baird NZ IPA. While I was focused on what hops were in the beer I should’ve paid more attention to the fried dumpling. The chef in the Harajuku taproom was (and possibly still is) striving to make the most perfect gyoza. A truly noble goal.

Back in the bar, my partner and I were sitting with Fritz and Maria, beer writers and gin makers from Nelson, and Dominic Kelly, of Beer without Borders who import Baird Beer. We were happily making our way through the menu.

I said the Baird makes American-style beers, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong Japanese influence.

I, somewhat rashly, ordered the Tale Ale because it was the first on the list. The beer that arrived was opaque and weird. But good weird. Based on an ume plum sour, the beer was tart and light. After hearing the ume description I could pick out the flavour but before that I thought it tasted like a peach yoghurt a day after its use-by date, but without the creaminess.

I dubbed it a Japanese Gose.

I’ll be honest, I could’ve happily made my way through the entire beer list if it wasn’t for two things: beer writing doesn’t pay that well and I had to drive. but I did have a Teikoku IPA and I was so glad I did.

It was, for me, the perfect beer to go with skewers. A beer that doesn’t mess around (like its creator) and hits you with the hop flavour but without resin and without an accumulation of acid at the back of your throat.

Panhead whitewall with Twisty dusted popcorn junk food degustation platter

The other event we got to was the Panhead Junk Food matching at Golding’s Free Dive. It blew my mind.

The matches were: Whitewall with Twistie-dusted popcorn (I can’t eat Twisties and dislike Belgian beers but loved this match); Supercharger with a potato-top savory drizzled with tomato sauce and pork rinds; Big Yank with a chili-dog, cheese sauce (made from cheese slices) and crushed pretzels; and lastly Hardtail Henry with a Eskimo Pie dusted with pop-rocks and Nerds.

You haven’t lived until you have a mouthful of barrel-aged stout and pop-rocks.

But this is exactly the kind of madness I love about the Road to Beervana! Like it’s Australian cousin “Good Beer Week” in Melbourne, the Road is about adventure and pushing the boundaries of beer with food. Good matches, weird matches, awful experiments and flat out stomach-satisfying, Instagram-perfect, food with mind-expanding, palate-tingling beer.

[Update: I called Whitewall “Belgian”, thinking it was a Belgian wheat. It’s not. It’s also not an American Wheat. It is actually “just a pale ale that uses a shed ton of wheat”, so says Mike Neilson, the brewer.]

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