Getting the facts straight

I have been chatting with Simon Gault a few times now. He has pointed out that the Nourish Group has not bought any pubs. Therefore, I would like to follow up to clarify the situation as best I can.

After a lot of publicity on social media, I tried to search the web but was unsuccessful at finding updated information. I ended up calling one of the Cock & Bull pubs and spoke with the staff. I explained what I was trying to find out and why. I was able to determine the following:

In early July when the sale became known (and yes, the beer recipes are part of the deal but C&B will discontinue these and has a contract with Lion), the new owners were identified as the Nourish Group, which Simon has denied. Since then, a new company has become incorporated on 24July, called Danny Brothers. The directors of Danny Brothers, include the Operations Manager at Nourish Group plus and one of the Directors of Nourish Group. This is the company now running C&B.  So this is an entirely separate company from Nourish, in which Simon Gault is a partner. A lot of the issues resulted from the fact that both companies had some of the same people involved.

And what about Mr. Gault?

Well, who could blame Mr Gault for being so hacked off to have his name erroneously associated with such a tragic business decision? Here is my wish, Mr Gault: Please, please, please, would some brilliant chef take advantage of the double digit growth figures for craft beer and offer Auckland the combination of amazing food + amazing craft beer? Hallertau already does this successfully but they are not exactly central CBD (love you guys, see you soon!) There are a few more great craft beer pubs in Auckland but there is room for more. The market is here and ready – just look at the massive success of Beervana in Wellington.  (by the way – post about that coming up soon). Feel free to share that business opportunity idea with any of your other chef friends if you don’t want it. You’re welcome.

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A lost potential?

Last week we discovered that the Cock & Bull chain of English style pubs in Auckland had been sold to the Nourish Group. Word on the street was that the house beers produced by Steam would be discontinued. Hearts were heavy.

In doing some research (Goggle – Nourish Group) we find that one of the owners of Nourish is Simon Gault of the fabulous restaurant Euro and star of NZ Master Chef. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Simon and the rest of Nourish group could be persuaded to embrace craft beers for the new Cock & Bull?

So being the pushy American that I used to be, I called up the person on the contact page – Phil Clarke – and left a message, thinking that I would be ignored but also hoping that since NZ is so much like a small town where everyone knows everyone else, we could get in contact with someone. Meanwhile, other clever SOBA members found email and twitter accounts for Simon Gault. The idea was to invite Simon to Beervana: Mr Amazing Chef, please meet amazing array of NZ craft beer (they fall in love, great beer gets matched with great food, and New Zealand lives happily ever after). We even had an offer from Beervana to comp tickets for him.

But I got a call today from Phil Clarke. I asked about the purchase of Cock & Bull and if it was true the beer was being discontinued (true). Mr Clarke confirmed the contract had been made with Lion. When I expressed dismay, he admitted it was about the money.

I tried to convince him what a great opportunity this could be with Simon involved and everything. Phil tried to explain that Simon had nothing to do with the pubs, only the restaurants. I will be honest, I didn’t understand how a business group could have partners involved in some aspects of a company but not others. I wanted to ask more questions but Phil had loud children in the background and I am sure he didn’t call me back to give me a business lesson.

I took to twitter to confirm to my fellow beer aficionados that the rumors were true. With one last gasp I tweeted to Simon hoping he could guide decisions towards real flavour .

Simon was none too happy in being included in the C&B issue and tweeted back for me to call him. (must suppress urge to scream like a teenage girl at a lady gaga concert).

Mr Gault was lovely even though he was a bit miffed at being included in tweets. We discussed the issue of the Nourish Group web site, how it lists him as a full partner in the business.  In reality, he has no say over any of the pubs (which in my opinion, is too bad, because they could be so much better!). I explained my viewpoint of how great an opportunity this could be: Great food + Great beer =Joy! how New Zealand is really at the beginning of a boom in craft beer. Wellington is starting to embrace food and beer matching but so far, Auckland was lagging behind.

For including Simon in my tweets about the nourish group poor business decision regarding the beer, I sincerely apologize.

To Mr Simon Gault, I look forward to discussing craft beer with you very soon. I have some great ideas for matching I hope will inspire you. (insert screaming like a teenage girl here).

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Beer tour of the North Island Part 2

So the reason this report has been so delayed, it that I wanted to include photos from the trip. Photos that I took with my fancy-smancy android smart phone. Obviously smarter than me since I can’t seem to figure out how to get the photos out of the phone onto the PC. This is the bad part of getting old, in my opinion. The technology is no longer intuitive.

Looking at the photos, now, maybe I should give up on the digital camera-phone too. Sorry they are horrible!

When we last left our story, we were leaving Napier into the so-called “weather bomb”. We were determined to get to Wellington and through the pass before things got too hairy. Things were looking rough as we stopped to see friends South of Masterton and the road to their place was a lake. Not such a great thing when you are driving

Trees in a wind break snapped in the weather bomb

a car which is very low to the ground. While we did make it to Wellington, we missed out on meeting up with the brewer of Peak, Rhys Morgan, based out of Masterton. I understand he sells his beers at the farmer’s market. (not confirmed)  Once in Wellington, we caught up with Neil Miller at the Fork & Brewer. A nice space with a beautiful curved bar featuring more taps than you can shake a spatula at – spatula being one of the clever tap handles.

A short stay in Wellington and we were off North through Whangnui which showed the real devastation of the weather bomb. Our destination was New Plymouth where we hoped to catch up with Joseph Wood, of Liberty among others. Our accommodation was a lovely cottage at the foot of the mountain, which had the added benefit of free home brew! Wassail Brauhaus (www.brauhaus.co.nz) hosted by George and Marlene Busby is highly recommended for a comfortable stay. And the home brew was good too! A room with a view

The location made it an easy drive up to the mountain or into town. We were lucky with great weather for hiking up the mountain. With our thirst built up, we were off in search of a good beer, which we found at Mike’s Organic. This brewery sits on a beautiful lifestyle block with Minorca chooks wandering the orchard. We were unable to tour the brewery as another large group of beer distributors and marketing people from Wellington had the staff quite busy. Instead we tasted each of the 8 beers available and fell in love with the Taranaki Pale Ale and the Imperial Stout. Bottled in large 2L plastic bottles, I couldn’t resist bringing some home. Joe from Liberty finally returned from Auckland where he was brewing along side Ian as part of the Galbraith’s Cask series. In catching up with him, we got a tour of his brewery (garage) with 3 shiny new 300L capacity tanks. Thanks to Joe & Christina for showing us around and sharing the C!tra (my favourite beer).

So there you are. North Island does have craft beer. We found lots and it was good.

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Beer tour of the North Island

I know what you are thinking – the South Island has way more and better craft beer than the North Island, why waste your time? Well, in fact the North Island has a lot to offer. Plus we didn’t have much time. Only a week could be spared away from our real jobs and kennel fees tend to be $$ for two big dogs.

The plan was to hit as many craft breweries as possible South of Auckland. The partner and I started on the trip at the end of February, driving to Rotorua. I was anxious to try the pub associated with Croucher, BREW (http://brewpub.co.nz/), and the plan was to eat lunch there. Alas, they are not open for lunch. One of the other attractions in this tourist town is the Luge, and fortunately the weather was beautiful to enjoy the speed while trying to not loose skin to the pavement.

Back at BREW, we found a warm and welcoming pub where we had a lovely pint. The bar manager was a wealth of information and kindly gave us directions to the brewery where Paul Coucher was brewing today. We stopped by the very small space, really not much bigger than a shed, just as Paul was pitching the yeast. Fortunate, as Paul has a rule that you can’t have a beer until you pitch the yeast. Nice timing! We got to try a brew called Galaxy. Named after a special hop from Australia, this lovely beer had an excellent aroma and well balanced malt. I highly recommend this beer. I heard recently that there is a keg at Auckland’s new fill-your-own shop, Hopscotch (http://www.hopscotch.co.nz/).

From Rotorua we drove to the East coast where we have friends near Ohope. Our next destination was Napier. I have heard people say that Napier is a bit of a waste-land when it comes to craft beer. But they do have good wine and cider. One of our favourite beers is made here too: Black Duck from Hawke’s Bay Independent Brewery. The brewery has a restaurant/pub called the Filter Room. We stopped here for a tasty lunch and managed to arrange a tour of the brewery. The brewery is no where near as large as Lion or DB but they are much larger than I had expected. At lunch we tried a tasting panel of cider and one of beer. The ciders were varied and generally nicely flavoured, not too sweet. It was very interesting tasting several beers side-by-side. After the 3rd or 4th, you start to detect a similar malt characteristic with not much to distinguish the different styles, and all were very light on hops. The tour confirmed my guess that all of the beers had the same base malt and only minor variations in speciality malts. Their main business was in the supply of kegs to local pubs and RSAs. While Black Duck and Hawke’s Bay Reserve are made as 1x batches, the other beers are made as concentrates, then diluted with water to end up at 1x. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that this is a business and remember that I really like the Black Duck Porter. But this was the first time I had seen beer brewed this way. An eye-opener to say the least.

Stay tuned for the rest of the trip…..

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Auckland does have beer!

I am a little behind in my posts, for which I apologize. I need to tell about our fabulous beer-themed trip around the North Island, Beer Tasting at Hallertau, and the NZ beer fest too.

Lets start off with the most recent first, since my memory is all fresh. Partner and I arrived within the first hour of the doors opening. Headed towards the back for no other reason except I wanted to be sure I got some of the very rare Epic Hop Zombie. I was not to be denied. Epic had only brought one case of their popular, and rare beers: Epic Portamarillo, Thornbridge Stout, and Hop Zombie. There was also secret squirrel tastings of the new beer, Zythos. I managed to get a taste of each.

Now, Zombie is probably not the best beer to start off with but since it is a favorite of mine, and it will not be made again until the hops can be obtained from the US (this may take several years, alas) I wanted to be sure to have some. I stuck to half glasses for all the beers I tried since I know I am a light-weight when it comes to alcohol. What follows is a list, as best as I can remember, what I tried and what I thought of each. I tried to stick to beers I was not familiar with so that I wasn’t filling up on beers I already have good access to.

Epic Hop Zombie – Still tasting nice, less aroma than when fresh but still a very nicely balanced drop

Mike’s Organic “Just another Pale Ale” – very malt driven beer with a nice subtle aroma. This is a nice beer of which I would happily have more.

Epic Zythos – light on malt, this beer is all about the new hop variety Zythos. Beautiful aroma and flavour.

Epic Thornbridge Stout – solid coffee flavours with a finish of dark chocolate fruit. Yum

West Coast Pale Ale – A very nice pale ale highlighting the hops from NZ. Riwaka is dominant in the nose with citrus grapefruit and mandarin flavours. A good beer

Emerson’s Bird Dog – This is a  beautiful beer. Well balanced in malt, bittering hops and aroma hops. Unusual in that the hop character in this beer is not all citrus like many are these days. Earthy and malty, this is a great, well made beer.

Yeastie Boys Digital IPA. I love the sweetness of the malt that comes off this beer. So caramel with lovely hop bitterness balance. I can only hope that my homebrew clone is close to this nice.

The cloud was a very nice venue to hold the event. Much better than the race course which hosted the previous events. My only complaint was the lack of seating or tables around which to gather with friends. But overall, a great event and so nice to see excellent representation from the Craft beers.

Cheers!

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Now it’s a lot harder to drink just regular beer

My work is done. With that group, anyway.

On Wednesday night, I had a over-sold crowd at Brewery Britomart. Twenty-two people plus two Brewery staff joined me upstairs to taste the range of beers brewed by John and Laurence.  The upstairs room is large with the same high ceilings as the main pub and gorgeous native timber floors. It was pretty steamy outside from the recent downpour – typical Auckland weather – so we had the windows open. The only down side being the outside traffic noise was hard to compete with.

I had the bright idea on this tasting event to sell the tickets online instead of at the bar. This worked out much better and I will do this from now on.

We started off with “Gold Rush”, a blonde ale which is nicely malty with low hop bitterness. This is an easy drinking, session beer at 4%. Four people voted this their favorite  of the 6 beers we tried.

The second beer was a recent addition to the Brewery Britomart lineup:”Witful”, a Belgian wit style beer. Downstairs, they serve it with a slice of lemon. I suggested everyone try it first without the lemon, then again with the lemon. I thought the two were completely different experiences. My preference was without the lemon, but only because the hop bitterness changed to a lemon pith bitterness. Overall, this is a lovely beer with corriander and orange notes. While many people thought this was a good beer, it didn’t end up as a favorite for anyone. Surprising!

Score sheets help describe what each person likes in a beer

The third beer was the IPA “Customs 69”. I am a big fan of this beer with it’s nice hop notes and solid malt balance. The next “Element 5” is an NZ Pale Ale. This beer turned out to be the favorite of the group with 9 votes. Several people thought it was the aroma that made it standout.  I have to agree. Element 5 is excellent.

Full crowd for BeerIQ tasting

The next two beers moved into the dark beer category. Old Fort, the brown ale was an eye-opener for several in the group to discover chocolate and coffee notes. And the last, Black Rose Stout, with that great stout chewy mouth feel was like a good dessert to end the evening.

I thought the evening went very well, although it was hard to keep the attention of 24 people. Several people afterwards told me they were amazed to discover the complexity of beer and they would now be more adventurous in selecting beer. This is exactly the comment I hope to hear. I want people to understand that beer does not need to be bland.  New Zealand Craft beer has an amazing array of styles and flavours to explore and enjoy.

Thanks again to John at Brewery Britomart for hosting the event. I hope to do this again soon.

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English Style versus Kiwi Ingenuity

Tuesday night, I was joined by 10 others to explore what New Zealand Craft beer could offer. The theme was English style vs Kiwi ingenuity. This was because we were at Galbraith’s Ale house, home to some of the finest English style beers in New Zealand. Not only that, but they also offer a fine selection of rotating guest beers. I took this opportunity to run a fun little competition. I had the group rate the beers using a judging sheet I adapted from the Western Home Brewers (thanks Joseph!). The group gave points for appearance, aroma, palate, flavour, and an overall score. While we were tasting, I told the group to use all of their senses to really taste the beer and explained where the different flavours come from – malt, hops, or yeast and the differences in beer styles.

We started with a classic: Bob Hudson Bitter, a session beer that is a true favorite of many (including Steve Plowman, from Hallertau in Riverhead, who claims this as his desert island beer). Bob was followed by Munich lager. For comparison, we tried our first guest beer: Croucher Pilsner. Now I will be the first to admit that I am not a big fan of lagers in general. I find most have an aroma of bananas or bubble gum that I find unappealing. But this Pilsner was a beautiful beer. Nicely balanced and malty. It was let down by the cloudy appearance but the flavour was a winner.

On to the Ales. I had wanted to serve the Liberty Mash-up which I had tried earlier that evening when I arrived to set up for the tasting. Unfortunately, between then and when we were ready to taste, it had run out! Alas! I sung the praises of Liberty beers and informed the group where they could find C!tra (Liquorland, New Market) and instead we tried Racer X IPA from Bear Republic. Okay, they are not Kiwi, but I didn’t have a guest alternative in this style and, besides, I really wanted to try it. The point was to compare this IPA to Galbraith’s IPA – Warminster, which is a special recipe available for a short time. Wow, this was a great beer. Very different from the Racer X. Warminster was, across the group, highly rated.

We finished off the tasting with something completely different: Big Smoke, the cask series ale brewed by Soren Eriksen of 8-wired brewing. (See my previous post about this beer – I happen to love it).  My point was to show that beer doesn’t have to taste like you expect beer to taste. There are styles out there that exhibit smoke or chocolate characteristics. Other beers that are almost like wine or port with the raisin or plum flavours. Some hops that are similar to Sauvignon Blanc wines in aroma. There was a wide range of reactions to this beer with a couple people loving it and a couple, well, not so much.

So what about the competition? I added up the results and got an average for each beer. Then took the average of the average for Galbraith’s house beers or the Guest beers. Results follow – out of a total of 50 possible points:

Bob Hudson = 23.6

Munich = 27.9

Croucher Pils = 31.6               English Style = 28.9

Racer X = 23.6                        Kiwi Ingenuity = 28.0

Warminster = 35.1

Big Smoke = 29

The evening was lots of fun. I had a great time being able to talk about a topic I am passionate about. I had some great feedback too with several people saying they would go the the next event.

Thanks to those who came out to the event. Thanks again to Galbraith’s for letting me do the event.

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