Rotorua brewery in top form

Paul Croucher, the man behind Rotorua's award winning Croucher Brewing Company, Brew
Paul Croucher, the man behind Rotorua's award winning Croucher Brewing Company, Brew

For the past fortnight I've had a bad case of man flu. However, after almost two weeks of a hacking cough, frequent headaches, a permanently bunged-up nose and no sense of smell or taste, I'm glad to report I'm feeling much better.

The first inkling of things improving came last Friday afternoon as Pip and I drove north for a family get-together. After skirting Taupo, heading towards Rotorua I got my first waft of the city's familiar and unmistakable pong. Ah, Rotorua - sulphur city!

Being able to taste and smell again provided me with the perfect excuse to sneak away from the in-law's festivities for a couple of hours to sample the delights of Brew, one of Rotorua's leading craft beer bars.

Opened in May of last year by Paul Croucher, the man behind Rotorua's award winning Croucher Brewing Company, Brew is a craft beer pub and coffee roastery that offers the whole range of Croucher beers as well as several guest beers.

Located in Tutanekai St, the city's main thoroughfare for bars and eateries, Brew sums itself up as, “all about being able to enjoy the company of friends and family, where conversation is more important than being drowned out by a DJ or the distraction of tiddlywinks playing on a giant TV screen all day, every day”. It certainly sounded like my kind of place.

I wasn't disappointed. Despite the vagaries of the weather - that over the weekend oscillated between warm sunshine, howling gales, chilly, drenching showers and everything in-between - when I arrived on Saturday afternoon the sun was shining.

With a beer list comprising nine tap beers and 20 or so bottled brews - the majority of which, time permitting, I would have been very keen to try - I opted for a "tasting rack" which, for $18, included sample glasses of four of Croucher's tap beers. It proved to be a good decision.

I spurned the Croucher Lowrider IPA - which, at just 2.7 per cent, is billed as an "extraordinarily hoppy lower alcohol ale" - and started off with the Croucher Pale Ale (5 per cent). The beer list description, "fruit salad on Weetbix" accurately sums up this full-bodied, amber coloured ale; it is delightfully well balanced, with a firm, caramelised and breakfast cereal-like malt base supporting passion fruit, lychee and stone fruit flavours from the hops. Having tried this beer before, it's enormously encouraging to see just how well it has evolved and matured.

My next choice was Croucher Pilsner, (5 per cent) described as offering “dramatically more malts and hops than your standard Kiwi lager”. It's a fair call; bursting with zingy citrus notes and the distinctive herbaceous signature of Kiwi hops over a sweet, biscuity malt backbone. I was instantly reminded why this delightful golden lager is one of the definitive and most awarded examples of the modern New Zealand Pilsener style.

My third beer was completely new to me. At 6.3 per cent and emphatically hopped for bitterness, aroma and flavour, Croucher Galaxy IPA fully lives up to the India Pale Ale moniker. The generous use of Australian Galaxy hops gives this bronze coloured brew an oily, resiny mouthfeel and an overt pineapple-like fruitiness. Assertively hop dominated and with a long dry finish - just as the style demands. Aside from a hint of chalky "dry hop" astringency, I loved it.

I was just about to taste the final beer when Pip turned up to collect me. Not wishing to rush I managed to detain her with a glass of Three Boys Coconut Milk Stout, a delightful, sweetish, roast brew, which was conjured up by Christchurch brewer Ralph Bungard as a one-off for the special festive beers category at this year's New Zealand beer awards. Meanwhile, my Croucher Patriot was also on top form. Described variously as a Black IPA or American Black Ale, the beer offers plenty of smooth chocolate dark malt notes alongside a big hit of fruity American hops (Amarillo and Falconers Flight).

It's appropriate that my final beer in Rotorua was brewed in an American style, because the following day Pip dropped me off at Auckland airport for a flight to San Francisco. My next stop is Denver, Colorado, where I'll be joining the judging panel at the Great American Beer Festival. With 4500 entries, it's the world's largest ever beer contest. With such a punishing schedule ahead it's just as well I can smell and taste again!


The Marlborough Express