NEIL MILLER was tempted to drink too damn much at the latest virtual beer festival. Well, who wouldn’t?
It was not a difficult decision to sign up to the latest Canapalooza virtual beer festival. This is the fourth iteration (also known earlier as BubbleFest) where the organisers send you a box of craft beer cans, then you log onto Zoom at the specified time where you are joined by the brewers and a couple of hundred punters for an online interactive beer tasting. The format worked well in previous versions and they largely stuck with the tried and true this time.
What made it an absolute no-brainer was the beer theme – Fresh Hopped IPAs. This is probably my favourite style of beer along with American Pale Ale, but because they can only be made once a year directly after the hop harvest, there is the appeal of scarcity and limited editions.
Would you like to support our mission to bring intelligence, insight and great writing to entertainment journalism? Help to pay for the coffee that keeps our brains working and fingers typing just for you. Witchdoctor, entertainment for grownups. Your one-off (or monthly) $5 or $10 donation will support Witchdoctor.co.nz. and help us keep producing quality content. It’s really easy to donate, just click the ‘Become a supporter’ button below.
Early on in my beer writing career, I “helped” make one of New Zealand’s first commercial fresh-hopped beers – Mac’s Brewjolais, which was sold in magnums. I was involved in the hop harvest, rapid transport to Wellington’s waterfront, and the brewing (all largely in reporting roles which was probably just as well). The beer was an absolute revelation – resinous, sticky, fruity, so bitter – but sadly became dumbed down over the years as the accountants got more involved, then faded away. Shame.
If there was a downside of Canapalooza 4 it was my beloved beer tasting life partner Taz constantly commenting about how hot host Abe (Bassline Brewery) was. I pointed out 1) I was right there and 2) he was still wearing “that hat”, but she would not be swayed by reason. Before things get awkward turtle, on to the beers:
Hop Federation Green Limousine, Fresh Hop IPA, 6%, Nelson Sauvin
Simon and his team grow eight varieties of hops on their farm, meaning it is 3-5 minutes from the vine to the brewery. He believes the weather, including hail, has had an impact on the hops which he described as more balanced this year. Abe agreed, saying they were more oily and bitter last year. They made five batches of this beer over the course of a “pretty long day”, but the results were worth it, building to bitter snap of a finish.
I asked about the Green Limousine name. Hop Federation was quite open it was a marijuana reference. There is even an image of a stretch tractor on the label which suddenly made a lot more sense after that explanation.
Baylands Brewery Hazy Hop Bomb, Fresh Hop IPA, 5.5%, Nectaron
Fear not, Nectaron hops were new to me too but their big grapefruit and peach notes made an instant believer of me. This was probably my favourite beer of the afternoon with a mild but firm bitterness, and oily notes of passionfruit, grapefruit and pineapple.
I first visited Baylands when they were brewing in a home garage. They quickly moved to bigger premises and are now expanding again. They are building an on-license next door and a 50-person function room. Asked about the ideal brewery size, Aidan replied “starting up, whatever your brewery size, the next day you want a bigger one.”
Bassline Brewing Highway to Haze, Fresh Hop IPA, 6.5%, Home Grown Hops
Before Abe and Jase, the brewers get going, the heavenly aroma of this beer hits my olfactory sensors. Basically, it smells delicious, so I start drinking before they start talking. I regret nothing about this life choice.
The hops are grown on Abe’s family home in Nelson. They dug up the vines by hand during the harvest because “we forgot to bring a spade.” Jase thinks the hops have matured over recent years and the flavours have changed. He thinks they are really shining through in this fruity, balanced drop.
I am torn about their upcoming lemongrass beer. Stay tuned for details.
Sawmill Fresh Hop Hazy, Fresh Hop IPA, 6%, Nelson Sauvin
Brewer Brendon confirms they are back in their own brewery after a fire. His philosophy is to brew approachable but interesting beers. Although they are based up north, it takes longer to get craft beer into the Auckland market. In Wellington, more people are actively looking for craft beers. I think that is a fair assessment though the gap is closing.
Sawmill is the only Kiwi brewery to have B-Corp certification. This is based on them continually demonstrating a commitment to a sustainable and environmental brewing ethos. To keep certification, they must improve each year.
There are notes of grapefruit, passionfruit, and orange peel. This combination is described by the lovely Taz as “like jumping into a ball pit of hops and citrus.” This review is used with approval from the author.
Behemoth Brewing Company Cheech and Chong, Fresh Hop IPA, 6.5%, Nectaron and Nelson Sauvin
Andrew Child’s presentation is initially plagued with some technical difficulties with the live stream image freezing. He quipped: “At least I am frozen with a beer in my hand.” It did look very natural for the big guy. It was not the only technical issue to hit this beer. During brewing, Behemoth was hit by an unfortunate power cut. Andrew reports the power came back on “just five minutes before we were going to have to dump it.”
The beer is described as “hazy as hell”, with a strong malt backbone, and juicy hop monkeys gleefully swinging along it. Originally a blend of Cheech IPA and Chong IPA, Andrew said it was really annoying so they just blatantly stopped blending and did one beer over a long brew day for the team.
Waitoa Emperor, Fresh Imperial IPA, 8.5%, Nelson Sauvin
Using fresh Nelson Sauvin, brewer Tommy says, “there’s something fun about brewing with fresh hops, but they are a pain in the arse.” This big brew also contains pelletised Nectaron, Riwaka, and Taiheke hops which were presumably less of a pain in his posterior…
It is the strongest beer of the line-up and also the dankest. Dankness is an excellent quality for hoppy (especially fresh hoppy) IPA, not so much in a bathroom. The initial hit is sweet malt, quickly followed by dark stone fruit, then a lovely bitter finish. While a few tasters were gasping at the flavour hit and power, I could have happily gone for more hops. It is an Imperial IPA, and it should act like the tyrannical ruler we all secretly want.
Another great festival. Well done and Abe and his team (apart from “that hat”, obviously). We took a different pouring approach this time, ordering two packs but splitting the beers during the tasting. I know that sounds out of character, but it really worked well (and we always had emergency bridging beers to hand). It also meant we had full cans of everything to revisit our favourites at a later day.
Next time, we do a “real” beer column (publisher’s words – not mine) covering the basics of beer styles… with a Witchdoctor twist of course!