Weeks to enjoy US craft beers
I apologise in advance if my next few columns end up like a travelogue, but I'm heading to the United States West Coast for three weeks and I'm excited about it.
For most of the time, I'll be travelling with my beer-loving mate and noted brewer, Graeme Mahy, and his partner, Di.
Graeme was the first brewer for Moa, where he designed the Blenheim brewery's inaugural beer, which evolved into Moa Methode, before he hopped across the Tasman to work at another startup brewery, Murray's Craft Brewing.
After returning to New Zealand, Graeme created his own range of beers under the 666 Brewing brand, and these days, he brews small batches at the tiny Shunters Yard brewery in Matangi, near Hamilton. Much-admired, but always hard-to-find, the 666 beers are now rarely seen outside Waikato and Wellington.
Although the primary reason for our US trip is for Graeme and I to attend this year's World Beer Cup in San Diego, where we're both judging, Graeme has also arranged to brew a special collaboration beer with the award-winning Pelican Pub and Brewery in Oregon.
Having stumped up for the flights, it seemed only sensible to allow ourselves some extra time exploring a part of the world which most craft beer lovers regard as a mecca, so during the next few weeks, I'll be reporting back from Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Phoenix and San Francisco.
But thinking about writing my weekly columns, I foresaw a potential problem: I am very aware that most of the beers I'll be sampling over the next few weeks will never make it to New Zealand, so should I write about them?
No matter how good they are, are they relevant to the Kiwi reader if he or she can't try them?
Having taken some high-level advice (thanks, Mr Mason), the verdict is that I should go ahead and spill the beans. I think it's the right decision, for in so many things, especially in the case of craft brewing, where the US leads, the rest of the world follows.
With the recent explosion of uber-hopped pale ales, barley wines, imperial stouts, soured and barrel-aged beers, New Zealand's craft brewers are doing a great job of echoing trends in the US.
Ironically, while the three of us are gallivanting around the US's western seaboard, an award-winning craft brewer from the US deep south will be flying in the opposite direction to create a range of new beers for New Zealand.
On May 8, Brian "Spike" Buckowski, brew master and co-founder of the Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, Georgia, will arrive in the country to spend a month brewing three special beers for the Kiwi market.
This admirable project is the brainchild of The Boundary Road Brewery, the brewing arm of the Japanese-owned Independent Liquor group. Having invited skilled brewers to apply to travel here on a month-long sabbatical to create an all new craft beer range, the company said Spike's experience and credentials stood out from more than 80 international applicants.
Spike says he can't wait to arrive in New Zealand and get stuck into the craft beer scene.
"Craft beer is massive in the US. We brew any style of craft beer imaginable and have more breweries than any other country in the world. Craft beer is my passion, and I'm excited to bring some American flair to the Kiwi brewing scene, as well as experiment with New Zealand hops, which are world-renowned.
"I've never travelled Down Under before and I hear it's a spectacular place, so as well as trying some of the craft beer available, I'm looking forward to travelling around to check out what New Zealand has to offer."
Spike's beers will be called The Resident and will be released starting in July. Having been smart enough to see the potential in creating beers with a strong American craft-brewing influence I sincerely hope the powers that be at Boundary Road give Spike free licence to create the beers he wants to brew. If they do, the new range could well turn out to be something very special.
Fingers crossed. Go, Spike!
The Marlborough Express