Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I was standing ankle deep in what felt like near boiling water that was being produced by the hot springs beneath the sands at Hot Water Beach. I was contemplating two things, the first was that I was potentially standing on the mouth of an underwater volcano that could very well erupt at anytime and engulf me within its magma-caked maw. The second was that I'd seen a sign pointing to a brewery a few miles up the road and that I'd really like to investigate whether or not they were any kop.
After whiling away a couple of hours on the beach, soaking in the New Zealand sun Dianne, her family and myself hopped in the car and headed towards the small town of Whenuakite, home of Hot Water Brewing Co, the latest addition to a small holiday camp that opened in 2006. My first thought when pulling up to the modestly sized taproom was how much it resembled those of the breweries in Fort Collins, Colorado that made me fall in love with beer in the first place. We were in a location that felt to me like the middle of nowhere so to come across this little brewpub was a little like discovering a verdant oasis in the middle of a dry and dusty desert.
They had several beers on tap including four of their own and a few guests. I immediately tucked in to some samplers including the pleasantly refreshing Golden Steamer Ale and the robust yet drinkable Walker's Porter. The beer of theirs that really piqued my interest however was the delightful Kauri Falls Pale Ale. Hot Water Brewing choose cans over bottles for their off sales and feel so passionately about this particular receptacle that even their branded glassware is shaped like a beer can. My pint of pale ale produced aromas of kiwi fruit, limes, gooseberries and passion fruit. New Zealand hops can range from being juicy and tropical through to being grassy and a little prickly and this particular beer combined these different flavour profiles to great effect.
Flavours of sweet, smooth passion fruit, mango and spiky gooseberries fill the mouth as the bitterness builds over a backbone of malts that feel like they aren't quite sweet enough to support these big hop flavours. Then just as quickly as it builds this bitterness washes away leaving you longing for another sip and at a sensible 5.2% ABV it's a beer that demands that you have another after you've finished your first. I left with a six pack of this beer but not before I'd tried a few others that were on tap.
I'd heard a lot about Hamilton's Good George brewery mostly thanks to the fact that they co-produced one of my favourite beers of 2013, the stunning Shnoodlepip which was brewed along with Burning Sky Brewery at the Wild Beer Co in Somerset. Their signature IPA was pouring today and again it was another NZ hopped, well balanced beauty of a beer that had a certain tang to it that strongly reminded me of some of the best Kernel beers I've had. This was a 5.4% ABV beer which by my own standards isn't that strong but it went down like a four percent-er and I could have sat around drinking it all afternoon but shadows were starting to lengthen and so we retired back to our campsite in the small seaside town of Hahei where we were staying that weekend.
It was our last night in the gorgeous Coromandel region of New Zealand's North Island and we were heading for dinner at a nearby restaurant called the Church. I was pleasantly surprised by the range of beers that had taken up residence at the foot of their wine list with bottles on offer from the likes of 8 Wired and Epic breweries. Earlier in the day at Hot Water Brewing I had been impressed by a beer from a brewery called Liberty which from my short time in NZ seemed to be the one brewery that was on every beer geeks lips. That beer was their C!tra Junior pale ale, the juicy, citrus heavy American hops shining like a grapefruit-shaped beacon in the sea of New Zealand hops that surrounded me and now I was drinking their Sauvignon Bomb, a homage to the beautiful Nelson Sauvin hop. This beer had a huge malt platform of bread and caramel flavours to support the immensely bitter quality of this revered hop. Eventually, after I had taken the time to work out this beer I was getting lime juice and gooseberries in spades, the vinous quality helped cut through the fat of the chorizo I was eating and the light fruitiness mingled beautifully with the accompanying clams.
My thoughts drifted back to Hot Water Brewery and then to this restaurant in its remote location and I thought again of my oasis in a desert analogy. This was so very wrong. I had wanted and hoped to find good beer when I was in New Zealand and here I had found several breweries producing world class pale ales without much effort. It turns out that I wasn't lost in a beer desert at all but was in fact happily wandering around a lush, sub-tropical rainforest with rich pickings hanging low for beer lovers like me.