Beer o’clock

“85% of taste is smell, so I want you to stop drinking beer and taste
your beer…” we were just wrapping up a brewery tour at Speight’s
Brewery in Dunedin, NZ, and getting a little coaching before being
unleashed on the self-pour beer tasting station set up for us. We were
going to be tasting 5 beers and 1 cider: Speight’s gold medal ale, a
dark lager called, “distinction,” and, well before I get too far in
let me back up and explain how I happened to be beer tasting in the
ground floor of this old brick brewery.
As soon as you get on the highway out of Picton, driving away from the
harbor that has welcomed you to the South Island of New Zealand (via
ferry from the North Island), you begin to see signs that these south
islanders appreciate their beer. Billboards start appearing touting
the excellence of a particular beer: “Speight’s,” they read, “Pride of
The South!” Indeed this appears to be true, or at least that’s what
they want you to think, because every little town we drove through
found the bars and corner pubs flying banners with the Speight’s name
emblazoned on the signature orange and navy backing.

I have been slowly learning about the New Zealand drinking culture,
mostly in the North Island where I’ve been travelling, and I think I
can say pretty confidently: Kiwis like their beer. It is not uncommon,
even, to hear about guys or girls getting pissed about every weekend.
Not getting angry, getting pissed means to get drunk (also popular to
hear is that someone is, “on the piss” –drunk, or “going on the piss”
–going drinking. They also consume beer by the box, not like us
civilized Americans who drink it by the 6-pack. To be honest, though,
I’m not even sure how many beers come in a box, let’s assume it’s a
lot. Kiwis can be just as loyal about the beer they drink, however,
and one guy (before offering to “shout me a beer” —buy me a beer)
expressed his obvious disdain for Speight’s by saying it was really an
acronym for “Some People Enjoy It God Hates The Stuff.” Nice! Who was
I to trust, the advertising proclaiming it’s excellence or some dude
in a pub? I tried a pint and have to say I agree with the former–I
really like the taste of Speight’s.
Now, I consider myself kind of a finicky drinker. I don’t like
drinking just to drink, or get pissed. Unless the situation is just
right, you won’t find me drinking a generic beer. The exception to
this is when the stars align so that you just know that can of Bud
light is going to taste amazing–kind of like the hot dog at a
baseball game phenomenon. So, I was kind of surprised, shocked really
that I liked Speight’s (a seemingly commercial, nothing fancy beer).
This is also why the idea of going on a brewery tour, where a good
part of the enjoyment is the tasting, has had me waiting to go to a
small, unique brewery. Just as much as I’ve embraced the ideals and
superior taste of food grown on a smaller scale and with care, I
appreciate beverages that aren’t just mass produced with cheap
ingredients.

Dunedin was the perfect place for me to finally get an insight into
the workings of a small brewery. With 4 breweries in the city:
Speight’s, Emerson, McDuff, and Green Man Brewery, 3 are small craft
breweries and 1 was even an organic brewery. Awesome, that had me
hooked and I set out to go to the Green Man Brewery for some Organic
beer goodness. I ran into a slight problem, however, because it was
Sunday and as luck would have it all three of the small breweries,
including Green Man, were closed on Sundays. My choice of 4 got
narrowed to 1 and I resigned myself to the fact that it would have to
be a Speight’s tour for me (The stubborn 5 year old inside of me said
I couldn’t possibly change my plans and go another day). I’ll admit I
was a bit dissappointed, but thought I would at least learn a lot
about the brewing process if nothing else.

The Speight’s tour exceeded my expectations. It turns out that most of Speight’s beer is actually brewed in Auckland in the North Island (ironic that their slogan is “Pride of the South). The brewery that I was touring still cranked out a lot of brew skies, but it was quite a bit smaller and had the intrigue of the original brick building of the brewery that has been absorbed into the current group of brewery buildings. The brewery also prides itself on brewing craft style beers and sourcing all of their hops and malt barley from New Zealand. Couple that with sourcing their water for brewing from a local spring and my local/organic-food &drink snobbery was pretty well satisfied. Our lively tour guide, Graeme, also explained that the brewery was gravity fed (bonus points for sustainability) with the spring water and other raw ingredients entering at the top floor and traveling down a level with each successive stage of brewing. Our small tour followed this process from top to bottom, inhaling the rich aromas of malted barley and fermentation in progress and marveling in turn at the huge wooden gyres (fermentation tanks) and gleaming copper brew kettles. Graeme told me that copper was used because it heats up quickly and holds heat well (also why chefs like copper bottom pans).

Finally, what we had all been waiting for- the final product! We were whisked into the small bar room to taste the 5 beers and 1 cider they had on tap for us. As old Speight’s ads played on the TV screens above our heads we poured ourselves tasting glasses of the various beers–taking Graeme’s advice to savor the different flavors and to start with the lightest beers and progress to darker beers. Just like the satisfaction of knowing a vegetable from field to plate, the insight of the brew process made this beer tasting something special. If you want to go grab a beer, I’ll shout you a Speight’s!

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. crashson
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 04:35:48

    Leda,

    I am green with envy! We’re glad you have enjoyed your trip over there! Please remember to return to the homeland as we would all miss you if you choose not to return! 🙂

    Life is GOOD!

    Best rdegards,
    Dave & Lauren

    Like

    Reply

  2. Don
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 11:20:43

    Great read, Leda!

    Like

    Reply

  3. Andi
    Feb 15, 2012 @ 02:24:02

    Old Republic should be open by the time you get back….you’ll have to show off your beer tasting skills.

    Like

    Reply

  4. Leslie
    Feb 29, 2012 @ 02:24:53

    Hey Leda,
    It’s fun reading about your travels! Glad you’re having such a good time. Travel is such a great way to broaden horizons. Im interested in how you find the New Zealanders as a people and culture. It seems like a complex place.

    I do have to say… I kind of disagree with your comment about a sound mind being only in a sound body. I do see lots of unstable people in very fit bodies and exercise can become an addictive behavior, an unhealthy behavior, as you know, and also a psychological defense. Also, there are many sound people in unsound bodies such as disabled people, people with severe injuries, neurologic problems, who may have become very healthy and flexible people, or people who don’t take the time to “work out” for various reasons. I think it is more of a cultural/personal issue. I do prefer exercising in the contact of work or natural outdoor beauty. Of course, there is evidence that exercise helps with anxiety and depression, but not with many other psychiatric problems such as schizophrenia etc. So I would very much qualify your statement.

    Please keep us posted on your travels!

    Love from,
    Leslie & Keith

    Like

    Reply

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