Craft beer-mania takes hold in New Zealand

Simon Wood continues his column, Wood on Wine and Beer.
Rexine Hawes

Simon Wood continues his column, Wood on Wine and Beer.

Some may remember the column Wood on Wine from a number of Waikato publications. Originally written by Hugh Wood, the baton was passed to his wife Bev, and now on to their son, Simon Wood, in his column, Wood on Wine and Beer.

Opinion: One of my major concerns when we were planning to return to New Zealand from London a few years ago, was the lack of genuine craft beer makers.

When we left the country originally, the only readily available craft makers were Monteiths, Macs, Emersons from Dunedin, and the sadly defunct Mikes from Taranaki.

Imagine my sheer delight when I discovered that in my absence, the entire country had been overtaken by a movement away from the usual mass produced offerings, and that it appeared that every shed, hut or lean-to in the country harboured a brewer with a sense of adventure, as well as a sense of fun.

I was lucky enough to be given a few interesting New Zealand craft beers for my birthday recently.

Garage Project is, surprisingly enough, based in an old petrol station in Wellington. Their beers tend towards the weird, but also the wonderful. Cookies and Cream is sweetish, spicy, chocolaty and malty – quite unlike anything you will ever have tried. It's a big filling beasty of a drop, not exactly suitable as a session beer, but certainly good fun to try.

Garage Project also make the decidedly oddball Lola Cherry Cola beer, which tastes quite like Royal Crown cola. It's not obviously heavily cherry dominated, but has a definite cola edge.  

It comes in a cool 80s/90s retro can (yes, a can!), and is fantastically off the wall. I suspect Garage Project's only truly conventional beer is the one they call "beer", which comes in an ordinary looking white can, at a decently ordinary price, and is a good, honest, tasty ordinary session beer. I urge you to choose one of their beers at random, if you don't like it, try another of their mind-bogglingly large range. They are true innovators, and make terrifically interesting things!

Behemoth Brewing Company from Warkworth make the absolutely delicious Triple Chocolate Milk Stout, it was described by the beer merchant (yes they're a thing) as tasting like Primo (chocolate milk). It does, and I loved it. A big, powerful, muscular beast of a beer, I have tasted the future and the future is good.

These beers can be found at the Hamilton Beer and Wine Company on Victoria Street, Hamilton – charming, friendly, knowledgeable staff and a fantastic range of wine, beer, spirits and other cool stuff.

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Many people tend to turn towards Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris as the weather heats up, I usually head towards Riesling.

Despite it being one of the great varieties, with a history going back many hundreds of years, it is a sadly underestimated variety in New Zealand.

Riesling can go from bone dry to lusciously sweet, and can be fresh and zingy, grunty and mouth filling, or succulent and subdued.

Good examples can cellar for decades, generating beeswax, honey, and kerosene notes. Giesen from Marlborough have always made delicious Rieslings that pick up many accolades, and their 2015 vintage is no exception.

Made by three brothers, it is a charmingly light, fruity and slightly sweet blend of Marlborough and Waipara fruit, and at under $15 it is a stunning bargain.  

Another Riesling I have recently tried is Kairos Waipara Dry Riesling 2011, which I tried at the gorgeous Falls Retreat in the Karangahake Gorge.

Intense, concentrated, powerful yet delicate, it is possibly one of the finest NZ Rieslings I have ever tried, and at $20 from Finer Wines in Katikati it is a truly phenomenal deal. I have no idea if Kairos still exist, as they don't seem to have much of an online presence, but based on their Riesling, they're well worth seeking out.

 - Stuff

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