Canapalooza 2021 – in your house

March 7, 2021
A moment in time from Canapalooza (Zoom-style) 2021

It’s the latest greatest beer fest. Witchdoctor’s beer guru NEIL MILLER gets his virtual tent and heads for Canapalooza 2021.

A moment with Abe from Canapalooza (Zoom-style) 2021

On 13 February I took part in my third virtual beer tasting – a concept I was unaware of before the unwelcome arrival of Covid-19.

While we were trapped in our “bubbles” during the first and hardest lockdown in New Zealand, Abe Guyer, brewer at Wellington’s Bassline Brewery, developed the concept of selling tickets to an on-line tasting, sending participants a box of beers, then organising a mass Zoom meeting where the respective brewers could talk “attendees” through their beer as it was supped at home, and answer questions in real-time.

“It was so good that the second Bubble Fest was held by popular demand even when we were out of the bubble.”

It was called Bubble Fest and was straight-up genius on stilts. It was so good that the second Bubble Fest was held by popular demand even when we were out of the bubble. This year, the concept remained the same, but the event became Canapalooza. Abe decided to make it a can-only event because cans are cool and much easier to ship. I would add they are easier to make beer pyramids with than bottles, but this approach is not endorsed by the organisers.


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As if I needed any prompting to purchase the reasonably priced tickets on-line, the theme of this virtual tasting was single-hop brews. There were five single hopped beers from five craft breweries and one festival beer that used all five showcased hops.

Work of art by the author. Offers?

Canapalooza 2021 was an entertaining and informative combination of live streaming, live tasting, and next-level trolling (okay – that last one was mainly me). Abe was an excellent host – engaging, moving things along smoothly, and dealing with technology that just scares me. I am even willing to forgive his jaunty hat-brim tilted up like a skater boi and roguish moustache. Yes – he was that good.

“They [cans] are easier to make beer pyramids with than bottles, but this approach is not endorsed by the organisers.”

In an attempt to preserve my tenuous claim to being a New Zealand Beer Writer of Note, I took some notes.

Sunshine Pilsner, 5% – Sunshine has been around for 31 years while Dave has been brewing there for two-and-a-half years. He started by saying, “I’m glad I am the first beer this time,” which turned out to be sage advice as the afternoon wore on. This is their first canned beer off their new canning line. Asked about the brewing philosophy behind this beer, he said, “Just fuck it, I’m going to make a single hop.” Sometimes, the simple ways are best. Made with Riwaka hops, it is crisp, dry, a little fruity – perfect start and great on a hot day.

Bassline Banned in DC Hazy IPA – Abe and Jase have been brewing together for 10 years. Jase, the self-proclaimed Gizzy half of the brewery, talked about how they were one of the first to use NZL60 hops, a trial hop from Freestyle Hop Farms. It is so new it does not have a proper name yet. NZL60 hops are not actually banned in any jurisdiction, the beer was named after a Jamaican punk band. It was juicy and fruity. My tasting and life companion Taz said it was “a little more stripped back than the standard version – more like an acoustic cover.” She modestly describes herself as my “muse”. I had to go look up “muse”…

Another scene from Canapalooza (by way of Zoom)

Hop Federation Rakau IPA, 5.7% – Simon introduced this Rakau hopped beer which was actually one of their first seasonals at Marchfest 2014. Hop Federation has undergone quite a change after being bought by Konu, a major iwi business. The aim is to push their beers further afield than Nelson. Pouring out of the new and sexy blacktopped 440ml can, Rakau IPA has a whiff of freshly chopped trees, a real forestry nose. In the glass, there are notes of apricot, peach, and tropical fruit salad. There is a solid malt depth which means the beer feels more English IPA than American APA.

Baylands Brewery India Pale Lager – While brewer Aidan has been on all the virtual tastings, he was the first to host a live crowd in his brewery. They seemed to be enjoying this strong lager made with Nelson Sauvin hops. There is a pleasing kick of grapefruit in there along with the more familiar Sauvin profile. Baylands are moving soon to a bigger brewery with restaurant and store. Quite a leap for a brewery started in a suburban garage.

On a personal note, I tried so hard to troll Aidan through the questions section of this tasting. It was like bowling to Sir Geoffrey Boycott at his prime. Everything was dead batted back to you, until, unexpectedly, your question was flicked away to the boundary. Masterclass.

“Waitoa Hazy was described by someone in my household (not me) as the “Ed Sheeran of NZ craft beer”.”

Waitoa Hazy IPA, 7% – Waitoa has been canning for the last six months and plans to have a mixed six-pack out in March. Brewer Tommy said not a lot of people know it is 7% because it is so well integrated. He uses “flaked wheat, a lot of it,” which is why it is so hazy. I dubbed it “murky as” because it really is. To everyone else, the Motueka hopped beer was juicy and fresh. Abe somehow got notes of peanut butter. No more 7% beers for that man! Waitoa Hazy was described by someone in my household (not me) as the “Ed Sheeran of NZ craft beer.” I can see that one sticking…

Canapalooza Hop Can Session IPA, 4% – This beer used all five hops in the beers above. As a session IPA, it was a lot lighter in colour, strength, and punch. There was a spirited debate between those who thought this should have gone first or at least near the top, and those who liked starting and finishing with lower alcohol ales. This was a new and interesting concept for me. At the moment, I am still in the “start light, finish strong” school but then I doubted hazy pale ales too.


Overall, a strong selection based on a great theme, lots of information, and plenty of banter – all from the comfort of your couch or designated drinking venue. There were some technical difficulties, but not more than you would expect in any Zoom meeting of more than 2 people (based on my personal experience anyway.)

I heartily recommend Canapalooza which it was confirmed will be coming back, this time with fresh hopped beer.

Shut up and take my money!

Next time, I extoll the virtues of fruit beers. It is a very short column…

  • The next Canapalooza will be on Saturday 8 May 2021, and will focus on a tasting of six fresh hop beers. Fresh hop beers are super special. Brewers use hops picked fresh straight from the bine within hours of harvest: they’re not dried out or compressed into pallets. This imparts a fresh,  unique flavour to the beer. Fresh hop beers are only available once a year, so their availability has been aligned with this event.To grab tickets and find out more go to the website here.


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Neil has been writing for well over 20 years on beer, politics, books, pro-wrestling, education, and retail. An NZ Beer Writer Of The Year, he’s written for several beer-dedicated magazines, contributed to our leading dailies and is probably best known for the epic Malthouse Blog, which showcased the beer knowledge and quirky sense of humour he’s looking to bring to the mighty Witchdoctor!

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