Colonial Upstarts!

It may seem churlish to gatecrash Her Maj’s birthday by comparing British Pale Ales with their brash colonialist knock-offs. But there was no gong in my mail this morning, so churlish I’m going to be.

Late last month Geoff Griggs and Regional Wines and Spirits hosted an IPA vs. APA tasting. Like every Regional beer tasting, it sold out quickly – if you get a chance to go to one of these, grab it.

Geoff introduced us to a range of British, American and New Zealand pales. The most obvious contrast was the different national hop characteristics, with three very different aroma/flavour experiences.

We started with Greene King Export IPA, which was out of contention here despite the Export IPA title. It’s a good example of an English bitter, with a mineral dryness followed by a lingering fruity maltiness.

Next up came Three Boys IPA from Christchurch, and Tuatara APA from Kapiti. Three Boys IPA has gentle fruity, bisciuty malts on the nose and a light carbonation on the tongue. Malts and hops balance each other with a residual bitterness. Tuatara APA is much more overt on the nose – its US hops are volatile with pine, fruit salad and even marmalade notes, and the cushioning malt balance makes this the bigger beer.

Staying in New Zealand, the next contender was Townshend JC IPA. This was carbonated off the tap – it’s also available off hand pumps in the finer sort of establishment. This one came as a surprise to me as I was expecting something more English. Instead it is a combination of imported UK Challenge hops and NZ Styrian Golding. The aroma is fruity and yeasty, and the flavour is crisp, dry and bitter. It was my revelation for the night and one of my top two for the session.

The first US offering was Anchor Liberty, and those US hops were back in a big way. Anchor Liberty is the benchmark for APAs. It was a pioneering example, and is continually referenced by craft brewers in the US and elsewhere. While the night was all about hops, this introduced the US malt characteristics. Geoff described them as ‘cracker dry, rather than biscuity’ and he was dead right. The US Cascade hop brought everything it should – a fruity apricot flavour on top of pine, bitterness and some late citrus. Fullers IPA made the trans-Atlantic contrast, with British malt flavours and metallic grapefruit notes from the Goldings hop.

The night finished with three big beers. Ballast Point Big Eye, with 6.8% alcohol and a hefty, hefty 85 IBU is imported to New Zealand by Hashigo Zake. You get the volatile hops before you get near the glass, and the flavour has the distinctive US apricot and bitter hops. It’s a thumping great Harley of an IPA – big but balanced.

New Zealand hops made their presence felt in a big way for the last two beers of the night. 8 Wired’s Hop Wired IPA raised the stakes with 7.3% alc and 70 IBU, and the New Zealand Southern Cross, Motueka and Sauvin hops brought a distinctly sweaty, herbal, passionfruit presence. With four different malts in the grist, the balance is there with this one and I’ve enjoyed several pints in succession.

It’s the same with the last beer of the night. Epic Hop Zombie Double IPA should be a big, bitter, acquired taste. But despite its 8.5% alc and 80 IBU, it is a masterpiece of balance and flavour, and is dangerously drinkable. The NZ hops are there on the nose (I’m picking Sauvin), the flavour is full of citrusy, marmalade bitterness, and the mouthfeel is sublime. Hop Zombie is a remarkable beer and one that marks one of the rare epiphanies of my beer-tasting career.

All up, nine beers in three and a half hours. My favourites were Townsend JC IPA and Epic Hop Zombie. JC IPA is available now but Hop Zombie seems to have shuffled off. Chaffers New World had some last week, so try your luck. I’m enjoying one right now. Happy birthday Queen.

The big lesson for me was being reminded just how distinctive each region’s hops can be. There’s no mistaking them, and I’m pleased to be able to enjoy my share of the local production. As Fred Dagg put it so well, we don’t know how lucky we are.

© Martin Craig, June 2011
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6 Responses to “Colonial Upstarts!”

  1. The Hop Zombie will be back in July. The first batch sold out of the brewery waaaay faster than we could have foreseen.

    (tip: NZ Thorndon has a heap of it)


  2. Glad you enjoyed it!

    funily enougth I was struck by just how English JCIPA tasted! Our votes were very nearly the same however I ended up voting JCIPA and Fullers, Hop Zombie would have been my third vote.

    This month was the first Thursday Regional tasting in about 8 years that I have missed (due to being a soft retailer who played at being a brewer for a couple of days!) and it”s always interesting how thing taste different across the 2 sessions. Apparently JCIPA was tasting alot better on day 2 (it was tasting fantastic!) and Fullers IPA was tasting the best I have ever tasted it.


  3. oh and Hop Zombie currently on the fyo at Regional :-)


  4. Wasn’t at either :( but I can’t let the chance to rave about the JCIPA pass.

    Absolutely love it, one of the best beers i’ve tasted this year.


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