Fritz and Maria's Beer Column
While recently in Blenheim, we made our habitual stop into the New World, because they've long had the best beer selection in the Top of the South. As usual, the Belgian range is unrivalled, but we realised while browsing that Fresh Choice Richmond might have overtaken them.
When we got home, we went out to Richmond to confirm our suspicions. Hands down, it is the more impressive craft beer store. Our pricing spot check found that Richmond was in most cases a bit higher, and the European imports weren't necessarily broader. However, the New Zealand, Australian and American selections of beer and cider filled about four metres each of chiller and shelf space.
When we last did a supermarket review, Fresh Choice Nelson was dominant, with Fresh Choice Richmond clearly preparing to ramp up, and Nelson New World not too far behind. Even Fresh Choice Takaka wasn't bad.
Over Christmas, we were sad to see that the Takaka store seemed to have given up, with just a handful of craft selections. Fresh Choice Nelson is still clearly committed to craft and imported beer, though a proportion of imports have been squeezed out by local rigger volumes. Nelson New World hasn't changed much, though they have also upped their riggers, and sadly have bumped a number of New Zealand craft brands from the singles to make way for the "craft" offering from the big guys.
But let's go back to Richmond. While not comprehensively covering local producers, the shelves bristle with tags indicating new products from New Zealand, the US and Australia. It was nice to see a broad Mike's range, including the Strawberry Sour created for Beervana in August. Other New Zealand rarities included Remash, a collaborative rebrew of the Epic-produced Mash Up Pale Ale, and even a sample of products from recently launched Queenstown Brewers.
But the recent addition of American and Australian products imported by cult beerologist Dominic Kelly, of Hashigo Zake, have really taken Richmond Fresh Choice over the line. The stable of offerings from San Diego brewers like Coronado, Green Flash and Ballast Point represent the big bold styles typical of the West Coast scene.
One we had to try was from Southern Tier, from New York. They make a creme brulee stout that is legendary - not everyone likes it, but everyone wonders how they do it. We had to settle for the 2XIPA, a light bodied, pale coloured, hop cocktail. At 8.2 per cent abv, having some wheat malt adds drinkability. A moderate honeyed sweetness tempers the citrus and pine and lingering bitter finish.
Another new score for us was Moon Dog, an edgy Melbourne based brewery with surreal cartoonish labels and style-defying brews. Their Wet Nurse Tonic Milk Stout (7.3 per cent abv) was a gusher, an unfortunate consequence of an aggressive Belgian yeast attacking the "honey lactose sugar" proudly listed on the label. After it settled down, it became the sweetest sour beer we have ever tasted, cream coffee with raspberry or cherry syrup. Intriguing enough that we will try more.
On first try, the alcohol and punchy flavours of these big beers can be overwhelming.
We like to have one as a starter or discussion piece, often sharing a bottle. Though pricey, they can be very good value.
BEER NEWS The former Nelson Hotel on Bridge and Collingwood is back to being the Royal, with new management again committing to local craft beer. Richard Smith says he will aim for keeping around half of his 11 taps locally made, starting with Mussel Inn, Lighthouse and Moa. Keen to avoid the fate of the last six owners, he will be listening carefully to input from customers. -