Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
It's 6.30 in the morning and I've just stepped outside the terminal building at Auckland International Airport after completing the 28 hour journey from the UK to New Zealand. I feel unusual, despite my love of travelling I don't fly well and somehow I need to stay awake for the next 16 hours in a dire effort to adjust my body clock thirteen hours ahead. The beer on the first flight was average, Air Canada offered me the choice of Budweiser, Heineken or Molson Canadian and as I hadn't had it before I plumped for the latter. Think sparkling water, a little bread, a little sweetcorn and not much else, not great, not unpleasant but it helped me get some sleep thanks to it at least being alcoholic. A brief stopover at Vancouver airport provided me with an opportunity to try the locally brewed English Bay Pale Ale from Molson Coors subsidiary Granville Island Brewing. Again, it was ok, sitting at the terminals only bar helped me kill an hour but I couldn't help thinking that what should've been a fairly decent pale ale had become stale and sweet from sitting in its keg for far too long.
On the Air New Zealand flight I switched to wine, I was nearly asleep and I needed something stronger to help me slip off to lala land. I was travelling to New Zealand with my girlfriend Dianne who was born here, we were going to be staying with her folks at their farm about an hours drive north of Auckland but were also going to be doing a bit of travelling around the North Island. This was never going to be a beer holiday but when I made the same trip back in 2011 when I was in the embryonic stages of my beer geekery and this blog was a mere glint in my eye I was pleasantly surprised by a brewery called Epic (not to be confused with the Utah brewery of the same name) and their pale ale which strongly reminded me of Brewdog Punk IPA in its pomp. It's because of this and the extensive research I had been doing for several months that I knew I was in beer country and that there were hoppy pale ales out their awaiting to be demolished by this somewhat over-enthusiastic Pom.
We were collected at the airport by our friend Steph, another Kiwi ex-pat living in London who was also out here visiting friends and family. After a second breakfast in Mount Eden (we had our first on the plane) we made our way north and said our goodbyes to simple pleasures such as Wi-Fi and a phone signal. The day grinded on as we fought our jetlag and eventually we turned to drink.
Mac's Hop Rocker Pilsner was something I drank a lot of on this trip, think Camden USA hells but instead of the smooth, subtle bite of citrus you instead get a prickle of passion fruit and elderflower. With the majority of the beers I would be drinking using mainly New Zealand hop varieties this would become a recurring theme.
Mac's isn't a brewery that beer geeks get excited about which is a shame as their beers although not terribly interesting are really well made and provide an excellent gateway for the less adventurous beer drinker. Like many things in New Zealand Mac's was founded by a former All Black, in this case one Terry McCashin back in 1981 and although their beers are a long way from the flavour bombs being brewed in New Zealand at the moment they might have gone a long way towards kick starting the Kiwi brewing revolution. These days Mac's are owned by Australasian drinks giant Lion Nathan which also own the brewery that brew my next beer, Speight's Gold Medal Ale.
Speight's brewery was founded in the town of Dunedin on the south island way back in 1876. As well as the brewery in Dunedin which was at one point New Zealand's largest they also have a second facility in Auckland to keep up with demand. At the moment Speight's are going through something of a transitional phase with a new 'Craft Range' joining their more familiar line up. When looking at their new beers such as Triple Hop Pilsner and Golden Pale Ale (not to be confused with their Gold Medal Ale) I quickly drew parallels with British breweries such as Brains and Batemans who are also desperately trying to find their footing in a rapidly changing beer landscape. It was a relief to see that this situation is not confined to the UK.
Gold Medal Ale is crisp, refreshing, very dry and incredibly boring. It's cold, brown and wet which to be honest is still the kind of beer that most Kiwi's want but the sales and popularity of modern beer styles are increasing rapidly. Even major supermarkets are now stocking an incredibly large range of beers from smaller New Zealand breweries as well as craft offerings from the USA such as Rogue and Bear Republic.
The great thing about Kiwi beers like Speights, Lion Red and Tui, the latter calling itself an India Pale Ale (it's most definitely not one) is that on a hot day it's really enjoyable to drink a lot of them, they're ideal for the sub-tropical climate. They belong to a family of beers which all taste remarkably similar which I started referring to as 'NZ Common' as they reminded me a little of the easy drinking steam beers of California.
Thankfully after a few beers and a good feed I got a great nights sleep which set me up perfectly for the two weeks that were ahead of me. I barely had time to catch my breath though before we loaded up the car and headed east towards the Coromandel Peninsula for a wedding, some incredible scenery and a very close call with an officer of the law...