Memories of bitter defeat and bitter beers
June 6 2017
OK - we need a story to kick start the message board. Here's one I made earlier (12 years earlier) when I was lucky enough to get to Auckland for the third Lions Test. It covers the beer available then, if anyone has updates they're welcome to comment.
Drowning Sorrows in New Zealand
(or how to make a poor performance better) New Zealand is by no means a desert for decent beer. With only a week to collect a statistically significant sampling of New Zealand beers, heroic efforts at sampling a large quantity were required.
Before going to New Zealand the only beer I knew they produced was Steinlager. It’s a pleasant enough lager, but in a crowded market place no better or worse than many others. Most anywhere overseas has never heard of bitter, stout, porter, IPA, ale or bitter – only lager. So I was not sanguine of my chances of finding anything but lager for a week. (That’s not to say I would have suffered, I often use the Fosters vendors rather than queue in the bar).
So, I limbered up with a couple of pints of draft Singha beer in Bangkok airport (see www.boonrawd.co.th). These were followed by a couple more of Tiger beer (www.tigerbeer.co.uk) after I had spotted this other bar showing the first Australia vs France game. Did you know that only 10 people in the world know the formula/process of making Tiger beer and they’re not allowed to travel together? Amazing what you learn from a beer mat. And my wife thinks I just waste my time in bars!
Anyway, that’s just to show I’m not prejudiced against lager. I just prefer real beer to chemical muck, that’s all. So, I landed in New Zealand and the first serious sampling of beer took place at Eden Park for the Auckland game. In the South Stand of Eden Park behind the seats of the bottom tier is a wide concrete walkway. There were little bars selling beer and food (reminiscent of those at Wembley Arena) and vendors walking round with 4 plastic bottles of beer to sell at a time. The beer was Tui East India Pale Ale, which was a welcome surprise. It actually claims to be New Zealand's most popular mainstream beer and is drinkable. A little bit fizzy and not very hoppy would be my summary for that. Sort of like bottled Youngs bitter, you’d drink it if you had to but hope they had something else. Might actually have tasted better cold I decided. Anyway, I had four of them to ensure we had a statistically significant sample.
Wandering up Queen’s Street after the game happened into one of those mock Irish bars. Can’t remember what its name was which is a shame, because the name was the most Irish thing about it. They actually had an English bitter on tap. I can’t remember what it was however, but it was one of those nondescript ones you wouldn’t drink in England given the choice. Can’t remember what I drank there, some lager type thing I think. You can see the place and the beer left a deep impression on me!
Wandering on from there I embarked on a mammoth walk to the Barmy Army HQ. From Queen Street there’s either the short way round over a bridge in the harbour, or the long way round which diverts you at least a mile out of your way to avoid local residents suffering unwanted noise. Guess which one I picked? Anyway, BA HQ was rocking when I got there. There were loads of pre-poured pints of black stuff, brown stuff and yellow stuff. The yellow stuff was Export Gold I think (www.exportgold.com). A lager, what can I say? Tasted OK and I could have drunk it if forced. The black stuff I’ve no idea, I don’t think it was Guinness. The brown stuff however was Speight’s or Speight's Gold Medal Ale to be precise (www.speights.co.nz). The Speight’s brewery is in Dunedin although the bottling plant for stubbies is in Auckland – there’s an interesting fact! Speight’s is a tasty beer; I could detect none of the claimed “grassy undertones” but it seemed a nice enough bitter. It was tasty but light, so it didn’t fill you up too much.
They had an interesting method of buying drinks at the BA HQ. Not sure it would work at the Stoop, but basically you bought 4 or 8 drink tokens from a place away from the bar. Then each drink was one token! Speeded up drink service immensely. I polished off my 4 tokens and was ready to call it quits, got talking to some Kiwi rugby fan who decided he was going home and he obviously had bought a rack of eight tokens he hadn’t all used, and so he gave the remainder to me, another 4! Well, when I woke up next morning there was only 1 token left, so after a reasonable night on Speight’s I was muzzy and dehydrated but not hung over.
Wednesday I found myself in Westfield St Lukes Shopping Centre sometime after lunch. Some friends had dropped me off and I found myself with time to kill before they picked me up again. Sooooo….the only bar there was called Moa's Nest Restaurant. It was really a bar that serves food, but it had this great array of draft beers from Monteith’s brewery (www.dbbreweries.co.nz). I started with the darkest Monteith’s Black, which is a Guinness-like beer. Very nice, not quite Guinness in the same way Murphy’s isn’t, if you follow me. Followed up by Monteith's Celtic Red Beer an “Irish-style ale” in the style of beers of a burnt red colour supposedly brewed in Ireland. It was quite malty and very tasty. So good I gave up the chance of trying the Monteith’s Pilsner for another pint of Red. Unfortunately I was drinking quite slowly for some reason, so ran out of time to experiment further.
Friday was a day for “brew your own” pubs. After my adventures up the Skytower I chanced on The Shakespeare Brewery and Hotel (www.shakespearehotel.co.nz), claimed to be New Zealand’s first brewpub. To doubly encourage me to stay a long time there, it was showing highlights of the Second Test. I tried the MacBeth's Red Ale (4.0%) which was a really tasty bitter and tempted me to stay on it, Falstaff's Real Ale (4.5%) was more like London Pride and I really didn’t want to leave this except for the Pistol's Old Soldier Ale (6.3%) which was as smooth, tasty and dangerous as a pint of E.S.B. (Yes. You noticed I was going up the race card in increasing order of strength). This being lunchtime I stopped well before the Grand Cru Belgian Elixir (11.1%) although I wouldn’t have minded a little taste! With the aid of some truly excellent beer, I have to say I realised how much rugby we played in the Second Test and this helped convince me we must have a chance tomorrow in the Third Test.
That night some friends and I went out for a very nice meal, and followed that off with a visit to their local brewpub Galbraith’s (http://alehouse.co.nz/funnel#). Galbraith's Alehouse is in a 1912 public library building in the inner-city neighbourhood of Mount Eden, so close to Eden Park. This could be guessed by the fact the Friday night we went it seemed to have been completely taken over by Northampton supporters. They must have started there pretty early because some of them were in fine voice. The beer we had was Bellringer’s. a bitter that wouldn’t have been out of place anywhere in the South of England. It was quite hoppy with a smooth clean taste. We’d already had wine with our meal so I wasn’t quite as investigative as I might have been. Two pints was all I managed.
Saturday night started around 17:30 when I rocked up to Eden Park for hospitality tent Rugby Club I. There was free beer just flying off the serving hatches as everyone looked for a warm glow before the match. There was Tui’s, Export Gold, Heineken and maybe a couple of others (as well as soft drinks, wine, etc…) I stuck to the Tui’s. After the game it was more of the same, then off to the Barmy Army HQ for some more Speight’s. That finished at around 03:00 by which time I could definitely verify that Speight’s is both drinkable and passable.
Funnily enough I can’t think of anything alcoholic drunk on Sunday, then Monday was the start of the long trip back to the UK (small cans of Singha beer on Thai Airlines). I had conclusively proved to my own satisfaction that New Zealand is not a desert of lager, lager and lager. Indeed the one beer I was unaware of seeing all the time I was there was Steinlager. Maybe it’s literally brewed for export!pqs: qs:
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