Beervana: a one-stop shop for everything beery
Beervana showcases better than any other festival how craft beer has well and truly moved on from faddism, Jono Galuszka discovers.
A hotel minibar can tell you a lot about trends.
While fashion trends in food, drink and clothes wax and wane, the small fridges in most New Zealand hotels are the epitome of consistency.
Which is why the appearance of bottles of Panhead Supercharger - an American pale ale once described by a bartender as Wellington beer nerds' equivalent of crack cocaine - in the minibars of a certain Wellington hotel is an interesting development.
Craft beer has moved beyond a fad to being a normal part of life. But for those that are yet to dip their toes into the beery pool, Beervana is a necessary stop.
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The annual Wellington-based festival has long been considered by many as the best beer festival in New Zealand.
Beervana manager Beth Brash says part of the appeal is in how it draws people who have no idea what craft beer is.
People often talk about their 'gateway beer' - a beer that opens them up to trying a wider range of varieties.
Beervana, Brash says, is a bit of a gateway festival.
"This 'craft beer community' gets misunderstood a bit as being this exclusive club, but we are all there with open arms saying 'come here, check it out, it's cool'.
"What's happening with beer is that it's moving out of this kind of niche, geeky thing. People are starting to realise beer is fun."
Beervana is aiming to embrace that fun, with Brash confessing to be "fizzing at the whole thing".
"I'm fizzing about how excited everyone is. There's this real excitement from everyone."
"It feels like a collective feeling of 'let's make this freaking crazy'."
Take Tuatara Brewing for example. Six-packs of their beer can be found in almost every supermarket in the country, and their large brewery in Paraparaumu is worlds away from many people's ideas of a pokey craft brewery.
And while many of Tuatara's core beers are a great starting point for people exploring beer, head brewer Rick Valentine says they are taking a different approach to Beervana.
"In past years we've just done our stock-standard core range. This year we're trying to do big, bold beers. We're taking a lot of experimental stuff."
Showing off the brewery's more experimental side at Beervana will hopefully also make a point to some drinkers, Valentine says.
"People seem to clump us in with the 'big guys', but we are not the big guys.
"People [at Beervana] can say they can get Tuatara in the supermarket, but we are still here, still passionate about it and still wanting to make great beers."
Some of those experiments will be the result of team-building exercises, where different teams of staff take turns to make beers on the company's 50-litre pilot brewery.
A black salted sour beer and a heather ale - featuring kawakawa, kanuka, heather and elderflower - are just some of the concoctions cooked up by the different teams.
Tuatara has also worked with Whanganui's Bloom Theory to make crackers out of the leftover grains from the brewing process, and plans to serve crackers made from the heather ale grains with the beer at Beervana.
But Beervana has much, much more than crackers for those wanting to get their teeth into quality kai.
Each of the restaurants exhibiting at the festival will be paired with a brewery, with every bit of food getting a beer match to ensure punter's tastebuds are all kinds of excited.
Shaun Clouston has been at the forefront of beer and food matching in New Zealand for years, thanks to his own love for a few brews and being a chef and partner at Logan Brown.
But it is his newer venture, Grill Meets Beer, that will team up with Northland's McLeod's Brewery to deliver the gastronomic goods at Beervana.
The matches go from the seemingly logical (banh mi with lager) to the experimental (fish curry with hibiscus and lime sour) to the downright crazy (a dessert with a sour smoked imperial black Scotch ale).
The restaurant is also getting in on the party early as part of the festival's 'Road to Beervana' events, transforming on the Wednesday of Beervana week into a Japanese yakitori bar - chicken hearts and gizzards, anyone? - complete with Japanese craft beers.
But for those heading south along State Highway 1 to Beervana later in the week, a stop by The Salt and Wood Collective in Waikanae would be a great way to get the belly ready.
Found just off the main drag, the American barbecue restaurant is the place to get North End Brewing's beers at their freshest, thanks to the fact they share a space.
Head brewer Kieran Haslett-Moore makes an Inda pale ale (IPA) and pilsner just as tasty as any other you can find, and will be taking an imperial IPA to Beervana, but is well-known for his love of European ales.
The irony of making European beers in the shadow of an American barbecue joint is not lost on him, but he says the pairing works wonderfully well, pointing out that the jowl from a whole smoked pig goes wonderfully with his Oud Bruin - a beer packed with the flavour of dried dark fruits and a moreishly tart finish.
Words like 'tart' and 'sour' wouldn't have been associated with Kiwi beers five years ago, but they are the flavour of the month in the craft beer world.
The sour beer craze has become so big, Beervana will have a bar dedicated to the style. Dubbed 'The Think Tank', people will get detailed descriptions of the beers and their ingredients to ensure they get a grasp on what sour beer is all about.
Haslett-Moore says he is leaving his core range behind when he makes the drive to Beervana, instead taking things like a sour blackberry saison, Oud Bruin and a beer totally fermented with wild yeasts captured from the air inside the brewery.
Pictures accompanying some advertisements for sour beer will show people's faces seemingly in the process of turning into raisins, such is the alleged mouth-puckering qualities of said beers, but Haslett-Moore says that does not need to be the case.
"It shouldn't be painful to drink. It's about trying to have some sort of balance."
Trying to find the fault in sour beers like gose and Berliner Weisse can be tricky, but a drinker new to the style should simply follow their nose.
"There are some flavours you probably want, like farmhouse and horse blanket...but not many people will enjoy baby vomit," Haslett-Moore says.
Black Dog's top dog Adrian Klemp is more than proud to say they were likely the first brewery in New Zealand to release a Berlinner Weisse, which is now one of the most common sour styles in the country.
The brewery is planning on taking many of its limited release beers to Beervana, including a beer which really gets Klemp excited.
Double Barrel is a 6 per cent ABV beer that was soured, then fermented in two barrels - one containing a sour yeast culture, the other a mix of yeasts - that were then blended together.
Klemp is also excited about the Road to Beervana events the brewery is putting on at it's adjoining tasting room, such as a barbecue lunch featuring food provided by the brewery's staff and brewing a beer to celebrate the 10th birthday of consumer group Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA).
They are also teaming up with House of Dumplings to create Doghouse Dumplings, where people can have dumplings matched with Black Dog beers.
"It is a week you really want to have all your guns out, all your best beers out - all your crowd pleasers," Klemp says.
Another Road to Beervana event worth checking out is the Sour Symposium at Wellington brewpub Fork and Brewer, featuring four brewers discussing their takes on sour beers.
One of the speakers is Kelly Ryan, the man who runs the brewpub's beer production arm, Fork Brewing.
The man is a walking, talking Wikipedia of brewing. You can see him scrolling pages and clicking links in his head as he looks for the right words and numbers to describe exactly what a beer is, why it is like that, and how he has gone about achieving results.
"It is a good time to brew beer, with all this data there to compute and learn from," he says.
Fork Brewing's plan for Beervana is to take 20 beers, even though they will not have enough taps to have them all on at once.
"It's a lucky dip. If one goes, it might be gone, but something will replace it.
"It's what we do here [at Fork and Brewer], so why not show that at Beervana?
"It's the fun part of brewing in a brew pub, I can just let my beer brain go crazy."
The 70 beers he has made in nearly two years at the helm of Fork Brewing range from the award-winning Godzone Beat pale ale to a range of sours. Even his 9 per cent imperial stout Skywalker is extremely easy to drink.
"You are not here to get people drunk, but to get people to enjoy the beer they spend their hard-earned money on."
One company at Beervana will be hoping people will part with their hard-earned money for more than beer, though - they're wanting help building a new brewery.
ParrotDog's Matt Warner says the festival is special for the Wellington brewery. They effectively launched there five years ago with their highly hopped BitterBitch IPA, which was voted the people's choice at the festival.
Now, they are hoping people will give more than votes. The brewery will launch a crowdfunding campaign around the same time as Beervana, hoping to get some help from the public in moving from its Vivian St location to a new complex in Lyall Bay.
But it will be more than business for ParrotDog. They plan to base their stand at the festival around their two new series - Rarebird and Flora - which matches New Zealand's birdlife and plant species to beers through stunning label art, transforming it into a kind of tramping hut.
Beervana has been known for breweries building amazing stands, with pop-up tattoo parlours and a petrol station forecourt some of the more memorable.
But not all breweries have the number of beers, let alone the money, to be so elaborate. Which is why Beervana has started encouraging smaller breweries to band together for joint stands.
Duncan's will be doing just that, teaming up with Lord Almighty at Beervana.
George Duncan, who brews his Duncan's beers at other breweries when he is not working in construction, says the arrangement works well with his brewing philosophy - sharing.
"I'm into making things and sharing them with friends. [Duncan's] is about sharing with family and friends.
"It's about community."
*Beervana is held on August 12 and 13 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington. For more information and tickets, see beervana.co.nz. The writer travelled to Wellington courtesy of Beervana.