As Munich's famous Oktoberfest cranks up to a climax this coming weekend, kegs of beer from the city's famous state-owned Hofbrau brewery have also begun pouring in Marlborough.
While the world's most famous beer festival attracts somewhere in the region of six million visitors, who over 16 days of revelry will account for some seven million litres of beer, Blenheim's appreciation of the Munich brewer's craft will be on a somewhat more modest scale.
After a four-month hiatus the old malthouse on Dodson Street - a popular Blenheim watering hole adjacent to Lansdowne Park and Renaissance brewery - reopened for business last Saturday lunchtime with two Hofbrau beers complementing a range of locally brewed craft beers.
Known variously as Dodson's, Black Creek, The Olde Malthouse and now simply Dodson Street, the building and beer garden - the latter, potentially Blenheim's best - have been given a serious spruce up by their new owner, popular local restaurateur Dietmar Schnarre.
Dietmar has a long history in the hospitality industry. Having grown up in Osnabruck, near Bremen, in northern Germany, he poured his first beer - a Krefelder, he recalls - in 1977, at the tender age of 15. After working at restaurants in Germany and Switzerland he came to New Zealand in 1997 and arrived in Marlborough in 2000 following his appointment as food and beverage manager at the new Montana winery in Riverlands. Four years later he bought Blenheim's Bellafico restaurant and soon found himself also running a private catering business out of Wither Hills winery. Since 2007 he has run the restaurant at the Drylands winery in Rapaura. He now plans to run Drylands and Dodson Street in tandem.
After extensive rewiring and redecorating at Dodson Street the entrance area is now brightly lit with a welcoming new bar area which accommodates the lofty Hofbrau beer font. To the right the restaurant area has been opened up for everyday use, while to the left the main bar and pizza oven remain downstairs in the old malting floor area, adjacent to the Renaissance brewhouse and with access to the beer garden.
Under glorious skies Dietmar and his team served more than 120 lunches on Saturday and from what I observed during a brief visit early that evening, the locals were giving the place a big thumbs up. I saw young couples sipping on steins of golden German lager while groups of older men chatted over ales from Renaissance, Dale's, Emerson's, Harrington's and The Mussel Inn. As the sun went down for the last time before the clocks changed it was great to see families and friends lingering in the garden and enjoying the live music from local band Chilli Dogs.
Constructed in 1858 for local brewer Henry Dodson, the building was home to malting and beer-making for almost a century. Since then Marlborough's oldest surviving commercial building has accommodated an ice cream factory, a food distribution business and two well-known local wineries (Grove Mill and Whitehaven), before reconnecting with its original craft.
Evidence of the building's original use is obvious from the malting floor below ground level which was a base for a fire for kilning, and the brick arches in the walls which gave access to a suspended floor (at ground level) on which the barley was roused and cured.
I'm particularly impressed that Dietmar has opted to serve his beers in appropriate glassware. The Hofbrau Original, a typically malt-accented, Munich-style ‘helles' (pale) golden lager is presented in chunky, half-litre glass steins, while the Hofbrau Weissbier, a hazy, spicy-tasting wheat beer, is served in tall, narrow, vase-shaped glasses.
Meanwhile the New Zealand beers - six from neighbours Renaissance and four from other Kiwi craft brewers - are offered in tulip-shaped, stemmed glasses in either 200ml or 400ml servings. The option of the smaller pours is designed to encourage visitors to sample a range of beers, perhaps with several different dishes. On the subject of food, previous customers will be pleased to know that pizzas remain a mainstay on the menu at Dodson Street, while a selection of classic German dishes has also been added.
The choice of the two German beers seems to have been a particularly smart one; both offer an easy-drinking, sweetish maltiness and neither is particularly bitter, meaning they're not overly challenging to those more familiar with mainstream Kiwi beers. In a delightful turn of phrase, the beer menu describes Hofbrau Original as “a minimally invasive and well-crafted lager”. And they're already proving popular. With great beer and food, welcoming, professional staff and Dietmar's seemingly limitless energy, Dodson Street deserves to be a roaring success. Marlburians are very lucky to have it.
- The Marlborough Express