A beery good time at Monteiths
The Monteith's Brewing Company is about as West Coast as it gets.
Its roots go back as far as 1868 when Stewart Monteith bought into the old Phoenix Brewery in Reefton.
Like many coasters, Stewart was a savvy, resourceful sort of bloke. He survived the up and down fortunes of the early 1900s mining days by joining up with four other West Coast breweries to form Westland Brewing Co. in 1920.
Since 1969, the operation has been owned by Dominion Breweries, which renamed it Monteith's in 1990.
But all the while, the various incarnations of Monteith's have kept churning out barrel after barrel of no-nonsense bitter beers to keep those hearty coasters well-watered and satisfied.
At least, that was until Shane and I showed up in Greymouth a few months ago.
If you're lucky enough to be at the Beervana festival in Wellington today, you might notice a curious pink concoction we whipped up with Monteith's for the media brew competition.
What you'll be looking at is actually a raspberry wheat beer we (Shane, below) designed to look like a Lamington.
And if that hasn't got you shaking your head, guess what? We're serving it in glasses rimmed with coconut.
Suffice to say, it's unlikely Monteith's would have made such a departure from the rugged traditions that have served them so well if it wasn't for Shane and I - well known in Wellington circles for our love of silk pajamas and rhythmic gymnastics.
But before you report us to the police for crimes against alcohol, I'd like to point out a dessert ale is not quite as stupid as it sounds.
Last year, we paired with Panhead Custom Ales to create a green Kiwifruit Pavlova beer, served with cream and chocolate on top, which went down a treat with the punters.
The judges didn't mind either. We came second in the media brew behind an IPA that had jet plane lollies in it.
But back to our creatively-named Raspberry Lamington Wheat Beer, which we wanted to call ''Sweet As!'' but forgot to fill out the paperwork in time.
Monteith's head brewer Tony Mercer and his right-hand-man Les, better known as Pixie (above, right), were pretty excited about the idea when we linked up with them.
I was a little surprised by that given DB doesn't have much of a reputation in craft beer circles for being creative.
But as we found out, Tony, Pixie and Paul (who wasn't around that day) have been largely left to tinker like mad scientists in Greymouth while the bulk of Monteith's production takes place in Auckland.
Tony freely admits Montheith's aren't as edgy as some of the niche micro breweries that have popped up and are churning out 12% hop monsters.
But that's largely because the bulk of Kiwi drinkers haven't plucked up the courage to make those beers their regular staple.
And while Montheith's are happy for their boys to tinker, they also want to sell large quantities of whatever they invent.
But if there's one thing I took away from our visit to the coast it's that Monteith's shift towards the craft end of the beer spectrum is more genuine than what we've seen from other big breweries.
Tony and his crew are by no means tamed brewers, being told to produce non-offensive swill for the great unwashed.
In recent times the Monteith's Brewer's Series has turned out some decent beers.The 6.5% porter aged in American oak pinot noir barrels and a 5% festive fruit ale brewed with dried fruit and Nelson Sauvin hops are well made. The American
Pale Ale probably isn't bold enough yet to fit the mould of American-style beer but it's got promise.
>Tony cracked the top off a few bottles of Velvet Stout after we'd finished our little brewing experiment. It's a 4.9% beer with plenty of chocolate and roasted-malt notes that turned out to be the perfect warm antidote to the driving rain Greymouth turned on that day.
Monteith's certainly play things a lot safer than the Parrotdogs, Panheads and Martin Townshends of this world (who, incidentally, was named New Zealand's Champion Brewer last night).
But it's nice to see the coasters aren't so stuck in their ways that they can't have a decent crack at this craft beer hooley.
And who knows? Maybe this raspberry wheat beer thing will be a hit and take DB in a whole new direction.You can make it happen, people. Just get down to Beervana and vote for it!
The Dominion Post