Beervana: Inventive, unusual and delicious
Fri, 24 Aug 2012 5:26p.m.
By Laura Vincent
Ah, Beervana. They already capture my interest for not calling it 'Beer Day Out' or 'Big Day Beer' or something (and what was with that event-naming trend, anyway?) but can it really live up to the nirvana implied? Well, it's certainly a good time - and the thousands of people it attracts over one weekend would seem to agree.
Beervana is a celebration of craft beer, which continues to grow in popularity and visibility. As well as gathering many of the nation's best breweries to offer tastings of their goods, cafes and restaurants like Arbitrageur and Martin Bosley’s participate to serve their excellent food to the increasingly hopped-up punters, and there are seminars available for those who want to increase their knowledge further. The stadium is not my favourite place - it's always cold, and it reminds me of sports - but it makes sense, as it's so huge and within easy distance of town, trains, busses and taxis. While I have little doubt that some significant intoxication ensues, the crowd is by and large friendly and having a great time, from those studiously taking notes after each sip to those merely wanting to pursue a hefty quantity of beer.
I for one love craft beer. It's not mere affectation – I mean I'll happily drink a Double Brown on a hot day. It's just it's fantastic to discover smaller breweries giving their all to create inventive, unusual, and - importantly - really delicious beer. Companies like the Garage Project, operating out in Wellington's Aro Valley, who produce small batches of incredible beer - and once the batch is done, it's done. They move on. I derived particular enjoyment from leaving the crowds to do their thing and instead setting up residence in the seminar room. It was nothing fancy – just a bunch of chairs and a microphone – but it was incredibly interesting. Session the first covered the Sutton Group Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards 2012 Festive Brews – this year a ‘Fruit and Veg’ theme steered the creations. Samples were poured into the small beer glasses we received at the door, while each brewer talked about the process of getting it from an idea to what we were currently drinking. We’re a little late, so the Funk Estate Jack Amber pumpkin ale was our introduction – sweet and with definite pumpkin flavour. It was certainly gratifying to taste it and whisper, “hmmm, nutmeg” to my partner Tim, and then immediately hear Shiggy of Funk Estate say there were strong notes of nutmeg present. Other flavours that came through were molasses-dark muscovado sugar and a little cinnamon. Just like a pumpkin pie should. A very young brewery, Funk Estate most definitely has got the goods. We then tried the aforementioned Garage Project’s offering, called ‘Ziggy’s Carrot Cake’ from his mother’s recipe of the same name. Peter Gillespie took us the particular details of how it was made – soaking the carrots in hot water; using crystalised ginger instead of fresh. A strong aroma of orange gave way, after the first sip, to pure carrot flavour, a little nutty, quite sweet, mildly spiced. An intriguingly excellent beer – and because I stuck around afterwards, I got to have a top-up from what remained in the bottle.
The following session was hosted by the ebullient Yvonne Lorkin, drinks writer for Dish magazine. We were handed plates with an oyster, a square of pate, and a mini Whittaker’s chocolate bar on them. She explained that she loved beer, but was “not a technical purist”. She treats it like wine, evaluating it on aroma, colour, mouthfeel and so on. We began with the oyster and an Emerson’s Pilsner. Lorkin advised us to have a sip of the pilsner, then tip the oyster into our mouth, swallow, and follow up with another sip. Look, I don’t get what the big deal is with oysters – they’re expensive, you eat them really fast, and they tend to taste more fishy than most of the sea’s offerings – but I admit the lemony herbal pilsner really wrapped itself around the oyster pleasingly. At this point Lorkin divulged one of her favourite tips – if ever asked to describe a champagne, mention its minerality. People will think you’re smarter than you are. Duck Terrine (“Ponsonby Pate”, Lorkin referred to it as, since apparently everyone’s calling dowdy old pate ‘terrine’ now) was paired with Yeastie Boys Gunnamata – made with Earl Gray tea rather than hops. It’s an intense brew, with the clean, floral astringency of tea shining through and ably standing up to the rich, fat-strewn terrine. Finally Whittaker’s chocolate was matched with Invercargill Brewery’s Pitch Black Boysenberry Stout. I loved this beer and the way it intensified the chocolate, making it seem creamier, fruitier and smokier all at once. Lorkin was a treat – she knew her stuff inside out, was highly engaging, and introduced me to some new favourite beers.
Once out amongst the crowds again Tim and I used our remaining tokens (which you purchase to use as payment throughout the day) to sample as many beers as possible. Spoiler alert – we didn’t have many tokens – but we managed to take in a few. We had just been drinking some distinctly punchy beers so the Townshend Sutton Hoo with it’s appealing name came across a little weak. Dogg, from Parrotdog was dark and strong with cocoa notes. Green Man Brewery’s Tequila Beer surprisingly worked – the freshness of the lime flavour and the sweet bite of tequila tempered by the bitter beer. And, we went back for some more Boysenberry Stout, still as bewitching as it was first go around. We would’ve supped on some more Garage Project, but the queues were huge – good for them though, and we bore no grudge since we’d been able to try the carrot cake beer earlier on.
Whether you were or weren’t one of the many who traversed the concrete disc that is the stadium, the message is clear – there are so many craft beers out there worthy of your attention, being made by passionate people. Why not bust out of your comfort zone and try something new next time you're about to hand money over to a bartender? If you can't decide, my technique is to go for whichever title strikes me as particularly droll - 8 Wired Brewing's 'Superconductor'; Epic's 'Hop Zombie'; Tuatara's 'Double Trouble' - or ParrotDog's succinctly named BitterBitch.
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