Hamilton’s first ever (as far as I am aware) real beer fest was awesome, and disappointing at the same time. I’ll start with why it was awesome.
A big thumbs up to Norm and the rest of the Lions. The event was VERY well organised – everyone was in place and ready to go, the glasses and funny-money were prepared, and the venue was well set up.
The layout was great. All the brewers arrayed around the outside of the events centre, with a large collection of tables and chairs in the middle. This was great, as you could base yourself at a table with a bunch of friends, and make regular beer forays out to the stand of your choice. It made for a very fun and sociable afternoon. There were two music stages, one at each end, so the music was continuous, and VERY eclectic – Jazz, Country, Blues, Big Brass, and a bunch of Celtic styled hippies that I enjoyed far more than I thought I would.
Now for the disappointments… I’m sorry this is the larger section, but it’s all intended as constructive.
Some of the advertised breweries never turned up – Rennaissance, Sawmill, Brewers Bar, and Independent Liquor were all AWOL. Annoying as I’ve not tried any of them except IL’s Bowmans range and was looking forward to some of the others. Of the breweries which were new to me, very few had what I’d consider to be great craft beer. I don’t want to name names, but one particular brewery had beer which was so bad I honestly questioned why they got into brewing to begin with, as it certainly wasn’t for the love of good craft beer. Sadly there were at least three breweries present to whom this description could apply.
As some of you who know me realise, I am all about focusing on the positive aspects of promoting craft beer, but I think that some bashing needs to be done here. As I said, I’m not going to name any names, but the breweries involved should really be tasting some of the better product out there and comparing their own beers to these with a far more critical eye. It saddens me when I think that for some people, their first exposure to non-mainstream beers might drive them right back to their Lion Red.
Back to the positive…
Crouchers, the new brewery in Rotorua was awesome. Their pale ale was nothing new or mindblowing, but I’d quite happily drink it all night – lots of juicy malt, with a really good floral and slightly spicy hop aroma. The bitterness hits late and hard, and does this odd cumulative thing where you think it’s not bitter at all, but by the end it’s really built up. Their hefeweizen was great. It’s called “The Hef” and they are justifiably proud of it. Supping on The Hef is like eating a banana split, with a little cinnamon. It won’t win any style competitions, as the hopping rate is way too high for a hefe, but I love it and would pick it for a standard summer beer. It has me inspired to try and brew one now.
Moa had a wheat beer that I hadn’t tried in addition to their Schwarzbier (“Noir”) and Lager. I’ve not been a huge fan of the other two despite rave reviews, but their Wheat beer was very interesting, with lots of orangey-citrus character. I went back for more!
Hallertau had their Luxe kolsch on. So light, spritzy, and refreshing, with plenty of fruityness. I’m not often in the mood for that sort of beer, but respect to Stephen for brewing NZ’s only (as far as I know) Kolsch. The best of all was the Stuntman. It’s a totally different beer since I last tried it at BrewNZ. It’s lost all the medicinal herbal character that I initially tasted. It was being served by running it through a “hop transducer” (like a hopback on the serving line). the hop variety in the transducer was being changed semi-regularly (initially Cascade, then NZ Saaz, then Goldings) and the beer would change dramatically at each pour. A smart gimmick, as all three were delicious, and it kept me and those I was with going back for more – dangerous at 9.5%! Lucky we were only drinking quarter pints! Anyway, it’s now quite dry and resinous. Really mouthfilling, with the “stickiest” body of any IPA I’ve ever had. The hop transducer added so much aromatic complexity that it took a while for all our noses to recover!
Steam Brewing had Epic in bottles and Blue Goose lager on. I didn’t try these since I drink so much at the Cock and Bull, but by all accounts they were up to their usual excellent standard.
I think the saddest part of BEER X was the turnout. Approximately 550 people came through the door. That really is pathetic. Hamilton is rapidly developing a reputation as the apathy capital of New Zealand, and the turnout at BEER X did little to dispel that myth. I would suggest to the organisers that the next time they focus on better advertising leading up to the event. Nobody I spoke to knew it was on.
So, in conclusion, I had a very enjoyable day. It was marred only by my disappointment in some of the breweries, and also in the apathy of Hamiltonians for not getting in there and supporting it.