Well, ladies and gentlemen, the first Pomeroy's Tasting evening is in the books. Kicking things off with the esteemed Yeastie Boys as we did in 2011, 85 people poured into Pom's for an evening full of genre-bending flavors, distributor jibes, peat monsters and houndstooth pants.
I've written enough about these chaps previously (and not enough about everyone else I know), so for history and the like perhaps reading last year's tasting recollection may be apt. This year though let's focus on the matters at hand, which kicked off with flagship Pot Kettle Black.
Indeed, a chronological tasting order gave plenty of insight into the little post-modern craft brewery that started with nothing fixed, but instead has grown into one of the country's most expressive voices in the "craft" - if we may indeed be able to use that word - village that is NZ.
PKB started as a home brew that Stu thought was good enough to go commercial; became a commercial brew that was like the home brew but not quite; and has gradually come back closer to the original recipe. I've always loved PKB, as has the general public, and even though the boys themselves admit that it's no longer the lone hybrid black beer in the market, it's still a pretty high benchmark for others to aspire.
It's probably only the Yeastie Boys who could bemoan success. PKB became in demand… Stu calls this a "depressing thought". So they mess with it on a yearly basis, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
We jump into Hud'A'Wa strong as the chaps discuss their "business model". Hud' or "Hold The Wall" is a reference to Stu's great-great grandfather and a tribute brew - a hoppy red ale that as it turns out history has shown to be typical of the turn of the century Scottish ales according to Stu, which is a "lucky coincidence".
Stu confesses that Hud has the potential to be his favorite brew ever… but not just yet. Stu says it's his "difficult child".
There's quite a few starters at Pom's tonight, and I wonder how many are prepare for Rex Attitude. I think it's, well, not normal but definitely and eminently drinkable. Many others disagree. It doesn't help when your distributor introduces it as such - "I absolutely _______ hate this beer", but it does allow people to laugh as they contemplate what exactly is in their glass.
"It's the most beautiful thing I've created", says Stu. My table agrees, but we're biased beyond belief. We digress into a discussion around names (pop culture, Laurent Garnier - see last year's post) as Craig mixes his Rex with Coke and tries his best to finish it.
Yakima Warrior is up next, a collab with Liberty Jo. This winter release has a twin, Motueka Monster, with the recipes being identical bar the hops - one US, one NZ. Stu talks of exploring hops - being the dominant force in NZ over the last while - and we segue into Digital, a bottled and kegged ancestor of Yakima.
We could talk about hops at this point. We won't. It's just easier that way. "It's hard to deny what the public wants", says Sam, which is about as astute as you can get.
So we talk of collaboration, or as the night would have it - spooning. The room guffaws. Digital though, is a serious thing. Big hops, high IBUs, cool label*, Joy Division referenced and Jo Liberty inspired, it's proof the Yeastie's can do whatever they want, including the "in demand", and in my mind better than most. Naturally they are reluctant to keep making it. I can almost see Mr Beer NZ start sweating, obviously the thought of a best selling beer being discontinued but Rex in full production being something he's struggling to comprehend!**
There's a discussion of "open source" brewing, as the Digital recipe is available here. People in the room have even brewed it! Stu and Sam don't mind in the slightest, even encourage it. So onto Weemix…
Each year the Yeasties mess with PKB once in a limited release. The reason? "[Brewing] PKB year round is a depressing thought", conceded Stu. So… they tinker. There's been a Stout, a US hopped version and then recently a 3.6% Weemix.
As a personal aside I talk to craft beer people a lot and they all say the same thing about being craft aficionados dedicated to taste and blah blah blah. But Weemix didn't sell vast quantities and the reason is clear - people who want a delicious session beer are in the minority - people want an abv to match the price as a general rule. More fool them, but the public have spoken and Weemix was too challenging - mentally it would seem in this case.***
Onwards to Red Rackham, a Belgian referencing (something about movies and Miramar? Or is that Miramax?) case of serendipity. The chaps point out that it doesn't happen too often, but a batch of Hud met a pitch of wrong yeast and… well… it tasted great. So much so that there's a great deal of demand for this release, the problem being that recreating "that fateful moment" may be harder than thought.****
There's a digression about the fresh is best "debate", but Rackham is an example of a beer that had time to grow into itself as opposed to the commercial reality of getting things into bottle as quickly as possible.***** There's also some talk of the Yeastie's historical love of red ales and the possibility that a past release could return one day.
His Majesty appears next, the distinctive 750ml bottles impressing all comers. As an annual release (paired with a Her Majesty) that varies according to whim, Stu does believe that His releases emphasise hops, whereas Her releases bring malts and spiciness to the fore. When I say whim, I should say that's it's an educated whim. Stu and Sam have tried a lot of beers, "style geeks" that use their beer experience to figure out why there aren't other styles…
This HM is based on Burton Bridge Empire, a historic IPA which displays a funky, saison-like yeast character… it's malty, yeasty, strong and really, really good. "Beer styles cross like music genres" says Stu. Sam more worried about the cost of the bottle. It brings questions on the 330mls that the Yeasties use, as opposed to a trend to 500mls. Simple really. Invercargill do 330mls and they like the idea of big beers in smaller bottles.
So we move to a big beer to test the theory. XeRRex (just say X-Rex for ease) is a 10% celebration batch of "Imperial Rex" brewed to celebrate their Morton Coutt's Trophy For Innovation prize at the Brewers Guild Awards last August. It's another polarizing drop, but strangely seems smoother and easier to drink than Rex - the abv balancing the peat. I'll guesstimate that the room is divided - half that agree with Craig's thoughts above and half that love peat - a quarter that prefers Rex, and a quarter that prefers xeRRex. Either way, peat seems to have a place in the permanent YB line up so at least try it with an open mind!
The night comes to a close with a Yeastie tradition - something new. A pilot batch that answers questions Stu always gets - "Do you homebrew" and "Do you make beer that you don't like". This, it seems is an answer to both. Yes. It's odd to be sure, the product of a three hour boil (anywhere between 1.5 - 2 hours longer than then norm) which has made the yeast sluggish. It will be something one day, but not tonight.
We're about to leave but there's another Yeastie tradition. Something borrowed. 8 Wired's Søren Eriksen is in town******, so he's dragged on stage and we are faced with a most special beer - Batch 18. The camaraderie between all is an example of the community spirit that presides over the NZ craft community, the generosity of the Yeastie Boys cementing them as some of my favorite gentlemen.
Batch 18, a barrel aged imperial stout at 12.5%, is a huge beer that resonates long after the glass is emptied. It's an audacious drop, superbly executed and it can only get better with age if you had the self control to leave one for six months.
Then the tasting is over. I hope we can start every year in this fashion. Thanks to the Yeasties, BeerNZ and Pomeroy's for another brilliant journey through the best beer has to offer…
Self Indulgent Side Notes
* Disclaimer: Deflux - where I work - designed this so yes I'm biased. It's a great label though!
** 90% of the room would be on Craig's side. Me? Rex all the way!
*** Call BeerNZ if you want a bag for your handpump!
**** No-one knows which Belgian yeast was used. I'll offer my services to test as many batches as the YB's want to make.
***** Another stellar example being Twisted Hop's Red Zone Enigma which had "enforced" cordon conditioning.
****** NZ Champion Brewery, Rate Beer Top 100 Breweries of the Year, Rate Beer Top NZ Brewer, Brewery and Beer of the Year etc.