The official blogger for Grill Meats Beer

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It seems that beer lists are in vogue at the moment. So what better way to start 2017 than to give you my favourite beers of last year.

I had just paid off the last of my debt (before a wedding, other expenses, and then being the victim of fraud put me back in). It was a lovely sunny day. The cat was lolling about on the concrete at my feet. I had a nice cold Steinlager and enjoyed every drop.

our wedding beersThe three beers we made (and had made) for our wedding. Garage Project were lovely enough to make us a beer that was light and made for toasting. I worked with ParrotDog on a version of Bloodhound that was dry hopped with Riwaka, Enigma, and Chinook. And Narelle brewed a full batch of raspberry gose with Tiamana that they called Blushing Brew (and that some of you may have had at the Pacific Beer Expo). Blushing Brew was one of those magical endless kegs that didn’t run out despite everyone drinking it.

Every beer I had with my best friend, and Best Man, on the Monday night before the wedding. We got pretty drunk that night and he left his bag at a bar downtown, but it was great. I forget all the beers and all the bars but it was one of those amazing nights where the hangover the next day is balanced by fun you had the night before. (See also my “stag night” on Hopstock weekend).

The myriad of beers that I’ve introduced to friends and family over the year. Nothing better than seeing the look on someone’s face when they like something. You feel good for introducing them to what might be their favourite tiple. And if they don’t like it, there’s the adventure of trying more.

Two bottles of Feral Hop Hog on Melbourne Cup day, in Sydney, in a packed bar at the top of the Shangri La hotel looking out over a beautiful view. I was on a business trip and beers were bought by the company who flew me over. It was a perfect moment after a long day of travelling. (And then we went out and I ate Wagyu steak.)

A tin of Garage Project Beer on the beach in Rarotonga, on honeymoon, watching the sunset with my wife.

Beer is just a drink. It’s the time and the place that make a beer good or bad. Who cares which exact brands and beers I liked? Moments in time can elevate any beer to perfection. Here’s to the moments of 2017!

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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