The Kiwis Are Coming
In a remarkable feat of crowdfunding last month, New Zealand brewery Yeastie Boys raised half a million dollars in just thirty minutes as the look to expand not only themselves but other Kiwi brewers into the thirsty British market. And with this week being London Beer Week, there is no better time for five of them to make a splash this side of the globe, which I why I find myself in the superlative Hop Burns & Black bottle shop tasting a range of beers from Yeastie Boys, Tuatara, Renaissance, Three Boys and 8 Wired whilst having a good natter with Stu and Richard from the first pair respectively. Bringing a good variety of styles, there is still a common thread running through them all as the distinctive native hops add, to varying degrees, tropical fruit hints to just about all we get to sample tonight, a signature often associated with their wines but now also becoming indelibly links with the beers too.
It is very much Yeastie Boys taking the lead on this, so I will begin with them. Two beers have really made these guys a much sought after brewery in recent times: the tea leaf IPA Gunnamatta with heaps of Earl Grey added; and the mixed up Pot Kettle Black, which is somewhere between a malty black IPA and a super hoppy porter. The former is an absolute treat for someone like myself who is an avid Earl Grey drinker, the bergamot and citrus coming through magnificently. The latter is certainly an odd one, dark and rich but with a bucket load of hops that are both fruity and dry. Pot Kettle Black Remix is a batch aged in pinot noir red wine barrels, and the added tannins as well as dark berries coming through strong enough to tip the balance in my preferred direction towards the porter end of the beer, undoubtedly helped by the diminished hop flavours from the time spent in the oak.
The first thing you notice about Tuatara are the beautiful bottles. Named after a cute reptile from New Zealand, the bottles are sculpted with scales and spikes just like the eponymous creature, with a rather creepy eye on the cap to represent the creature's third, parietal, eye. The clear standout here is their London Porter, a very fine example of the style brimming with bitter chocolate silkiness and undercurrents of roasted coffee. The APA (here standing for Aotearoa) is also an impressive brew, pitting the tropical fruits against a big malty base; it has the nose of a classic West Coast pale, and ends up closer to India, taking in everything between. Personally I am not a fan of pilsners in general, but the consensus appears to be that the Bohemian Pilsner is a great example, full of the classic crispness, bolstered by a more exotic edge courtesy of the local hops.
Saison too is another that I have a patchy relationship with, but 8 Wired have conjured something incredible with Saison Sauvin. Quite possibly my favourite example to date, it smells and tastes like a great Kiwi white wine with passion fruit, apple, peach and mango in abundance. This has the depth too to support such big flavours, a backbone to carry them all the way through from nose to finish. The India red ale Tall Poppy is big on burnt caramel – think sweet IPA – leaving it a little one dimensional yet highly satisfying if, like to me, that sounds utterly delicious. This brewery's finest remains the iStout, a wickedly decadent imperial stout that is so thick and chocolaty; not just a pudding beer, but a complete pudding.
I came across the Renaissance scotch ale Stonecutter only last month, and it immediately wowed me with its wood smoke and whisky flavours that envelope and tease the tastebuds as it eases round the mouth. The Voyager IPA does not quite live up to this high watermark, though it is far from disappointing. Much earthier and more malty than similar on show here, it is the closest to what we are more used to over here. The only completely new brewery to me here is Three Boys, but much like their companions they impress. The IPA is a very drinkable version, a flavoursome beer that is most definitely Kiwi, although not as brash or as bitter as others. The Oyster Stout is a lovely drop, brewed with local Bluff oysters that add a more savoury richness over other stouts. There is the merest hint of saltiness too in the aftertaste, but not enough to put most off.
So there we have it, five New Zealand breweries that thankfully we should be seeing a lot more of in the near future thanks to the wonders of modern financing. Yeastie Boys have set in place a plan to brew under contract with BrewDog, so that should ensure both a quality product nice and fresh but also one readily available too.
You can find out more about the Kiwi expansion on Yeastie Boys' PledgeMe page here.