Testing a brew or two

00:57, Jan 26 2012
Sara Bunny joins a group of people keen to learn more about the amber gold.

Not one to turn down a brew, Sara Bunny enjoys a night of beer tasting at Pomeroy's.

Glass half full It's a Monday night and I'm happily supping my way through 12 different types of beer - 13, if you include the one I had with dinner before I left for the pub.

I have imbibed an Indian Pale Ale, slurped a Strongman Lager, put away a Pig & Whistle, knocked back a Ngahere Gold and consumed a Classy Red. Not bad for a school night.

Before I'm branded an alcoholic, let me be clear this is all in the name of education. My thirst for knowledge has led me to a Harrington's beer-tasting night at Pomeroy's in Kilmore St, where aficionados Craig Bowen, from Beer NZ, and Harrington's head brewer, Mark White, are on hand to guide us through some of the brewery's most popular drops.

The beer boffins in the room are a mixed bag. There are ruddy-cheeked, middle-aged blokes, 30-something hipster guys with geek-chic glasses, and about three token women, one of whom looks as if she has been dragged along as the sober driver.

For starters, Mark puts the proceedings to a vote. "More drink and less talk? Or more talk and less drink?" As hands shoot up all over the room in favour of the former, we eagerly get down to business.

To ensure everyone stays upright for the night, the beer is poured into small wine glasses for tasting. First up is the gold medal-winning Pig & Whistle dark beer.

We begin with a dark brew instead of going in the usual order of light through to dark, as mixing it up helps to reduce palate fatigue, Mark says. Hearing this makes me nervous. Too many dark beers early on could have me feeling giddy by the halfway line, but I bow to superior knowledge and hope my palate and stomach lining don't tire too easily.

Craft brewing is booming in New Zealand, and the burgeoning Christchurch craft scene is at the heart of the movement. While Mark believes brewing is still about "trial and error", serious producers are putting in a lot of research to produce increasingly sophisticated drops. "All these new brewers coming on, they're so damn good out there," he says. "You don't fall off your game. You're having a look to see what the others are doing."

In Australia, debate is raging over the true definition of a craft brewer, Craig says. "When the brewer dictates the style of beer that's produced, rather than following what the market dictates, for me that's the difference."

Next, we move through a couple of well-loved Harrington's staples, Kiwi Draught and Ngahere Gold. A cheer goes up as the infamous 7.2 per cent Ngahere lager is poured and everyone starts swapping stories of their misadventures with the potent brew.

"It has a good following, but it's not my kind of beer," Mark says. "It's quite sweet, as high-strength beers are difficult to ferment out. I don't think any of the brewers drink it."

My first foray into beer drinking involved a few hearty glugs from a crate bottle my boyfriend of the time had pinched from his dad's garage stash. The bitterness caught in my throat and made me want to gag, and my dislike for the amber liquid lingered long after the boyfriend was given the flick.

How I came to develop a thirst for something I used to loathe is still a mystery, but I'll now take a tasty craft brew over a wine any day of the week, including this Monday. It amazes me how often people seem surprised to see a woman drinking beer, and whenever I go out for a drink with my wine-quaffing partner, the waitress will always place the beer in front of him and assume the wine is for me. With tonight a wine-free zone, my partner is here on chauffeur duty.   

As darkness falls, we press on, tirelessly tackling everything from wheat beer to classic dark malts. Mark and Craig chat enthusiastically about the brewing process and encourage questions from the crowd. As my partner's eyes glaze over, the beer nerd in me comes out in full force and I scribble notes and try to soak up the lingo.

Ten brews down and a creeping fog starts to lap at the edges of my brain. We finish with two brewer's specials: one is called Anvil and the other is known as the Baltic-Ler. With hearty guffaws all round, Mark explains that "Ler" is the name of a port in the Baltic Sea.

As Mark and Craig start bringing around the "encores", we decide to call it a night. My chauffeur is getting weary and my eyes are getting bleary. Besides, with so many tasty craft brews still to sample and a beer festival on the horizon, I might as well pace myself.

Pomeroy's Historic Brewery Inn hosts regular tastings and special events. Click here for the latest events.
The Great Kiwi Beer Festival will host a range of craft brewers in Hagley Park on February 25.