Why beer over any other potential blog topic?
Aside from the fact beer is delicious, I found the whole craft beer movement incredibly exciting. When I started the blog in 2011 craft beer was starting to gain serious momentum in New Zealand and a lot of today’s top craft breweries were just getting established. You could sense a revolution of sorts was underway, and yet, a lot of people didn’t really know about it (craft beer only made up tiny fraction of overall beer sales at that time). So the timing was good for writing about it, and for me it was a much more appealing subject than say, jogging, or green juices.
What was the most interesting thing you learnt about beer while writing your blog?
Probably the fact that so many diverse beer styles can be made from just water, barley, hops and yeast. They’re really incredibly basic ingredients, yet brewers can use them to produce chocolatey stouts, hoppy IPAs and everything in-between. Even before you start throwing other things like wheat or coffee or bacon into the mix, it’s just amazing how much variation is possible.
Which has been the most surprisingly flavoured beer you’ve tried?
The first time I ever tried a sour ale I was completely shocked. It was a Cantillon Kreik – a traditional Belgian lambic-style beer brewed with cherries – and I was just blown away that any beer could taste like that. Six years later I’m surprised less often, but one that did stun me recently was a Peanut Butter and Raspberry ale from Wellington brewery Choice Bros. I couldn’t believe that: a) it tasted exactly like a peanut butter and jam, and b) it was actually good.
Can you tell us a bit about your "gateway" beers?
For non-beer geeks, a ‘gateway beer’ is one that sets us off on our journey into flavourful beer. Usually it’s something that’s got a bit more going on than the big name lagers we might be used to drinking, but isn’t crazy enough to scare us off. Mine were Guinness, Mac’s Hop Rocker, and the various English and Belgian ales I tried while living in the UK. So now if I ever overdose on Barrel-Aged imperial Russian Stout, you’ll know which beers led me astray.
What would be your advice for someone wanting to learn more about craft beer?
The first thing, obviously, is to go straight to the bookstore and buy a copy of my book. Maybe two to be safe. Once you’ve done that, it’s just about trying as many different beers as possible and paying attention to what you’re tasting. Having some buddies over for a tasting session is a great way to do this — that way you can try a variety of different beers in one sitting and have a discussion about them. The main thing is that learning about beer should never feel like homework — it’s beer after all.
And what would you say to someone dead-set on never trying anything even a little adventurous?
Fine, more good beer left for me to drink!
What was the question you were asked most often while working at Brothers Beer?
Probably "Can I have the lager?". Even in a place like that where there is 200+ beers on offer, lots of people still just want something that tastes like Heineken, because that’s what they know. That’s changing as craft beer becomes more mainstream and people develop a taste for more flavourful beers, but it’d be a mistake to assume everyone these days is drinking big, hoppy IPAs or sour ales.
What’s the biggest, or most frequent, mistake people make while drinking a beer?
I don’t think there’s an ‘incorrect’ way to drink beer as such, but there are things you can do which are… Not ideal. Drinking beer too cold is a common one. Flavours get dulled at lower temperatures, so when you’re served a beer in a frosted glass you’re barely going to register anything other than wetness. Similarly, drinking beer from a bottle instead of a glass cuts out all the flavours you experience through aroma. I’m not saying to never drink beer from a bottle – it feels good and I do it myself – but if you want the full ‘surround sound’ experience, so to speak, a glass is necessary.
Do you have some hints for someone feeling overwhelmed at the choice of beer in a bar?
I do! There’s a whole chapter on this in my book, but my single best piece of advice is to ask your (hopefully knowledgeable) beer server for help. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the styles or breweries, you should be able to just give your server a word like ‘refreshing’, or ‘hoppy’ or ‘fruity’ and go from there. Also, if you’re buying on tap, try to sample the beer before you go for a whole pint. I learned that the hard way, many times over.
Where are some of your favourite places to drink beer in New Zealand?
My ideal drinking spot is anywhere that’s outside, in the sun, and preferably near a large body of water. In terms of bars/pubs: Brothers Beer, Hallertau and Galbraith’s in Auckland, Golding’s Free Dive and 91 Aro in Wellington, The Free House in Nelson and The Mussel Inn in Motueka, I could go on…
What are some of your top picks as the weather warms up?
My favourite summer beer last year was 8 Wired’s Cucumber Hippy (a hoppy, tart berliner weisse brewed with cucumber — so refreshing!) and I was thrilled to hear they’re bringing it out again this year. I’m also going to be drinking a lot of saison, which is a fruity, spicy style originally brewed to to be drunk by Belgian farmhands in the summer months. There’s a little brewery in Oamaru called Craftworks which does a great range of them. For summer picnicking, I can’t go past a big bottle of Cooper’s stout — it’s delicious, dry enough to be refreshing, and cheap!
Can you imagine ever falling out of love with beer?
Only if it did something really bad, like cheat on me. Otherwise, I’m in it for the long-haul.