This year I went to Beervana for the first time. I really don't know why it took me this long: I'm a beer drinker, a craft beer enthusiast, a fan of all things Wellington, so it should've been at the top of the list. But for whatever reason, when Beervana came around each year, I gave it a miss. Too far away, I thought; I'll spend too much money, I already drink enough craft beer anyway, how different would it be from just popping down to one of Wellington's many craft beer bars?
How wrong I was.
Too far away? Nah - I mean, yes, Westpac Stadium is on the opposite end of town to where I usually hang out, but for the truly lazy, pretty much all buses end up at the Railway Station and it's only a short walk from there.
I'll spend too much money? Far from it. $40 gets you admission to the event and your first four tokens; additional tokens are $2 each. If you're just tasting beer, each 75ml taste costs either one or two tokens, depending on how high in alcohol the beer is. So $20 worth of tokens will get you between 10-20 tasters of beer, which is plenty. Food is reasonable too, at two to five tokens per dish.
I already drink enough craft beer anyway? This might be true. But the thing I didn't count on was the sheer variety of beer available at Beervana. All of my favourite breweries, plus ones I hadn't heard of before, all offering their standard brews plus special, limited-edition beer that you're unlikely to see elsewhere. 271 kinds of beer. All under one roof. It was, in no uncertain terms, beer heaven.
For those who haven't been to Beervana, I highly encourage you to get along next year. For those who've already been, well, you know what I'm talking about. Here are some handy tips that, in my opinion, will help you make the most of Beervana:
- Go in a group. Preferably a group of friends with whom you don't mind sharing saliva. If you work as a team, you'll end up tasting a much greater variety of beer than you would on your own. For example, I went in a group of four girl friends (none of whom had the flu). Every time we tried a beer, we'd all try something different, and pass our tasting glasses around. Over the course of the day, I worked out that we would've tried maybe thirty or forty beers between us - not a bad effort.
- Line your stomach, often. Okay, so it's a beer festival, and I'm sure most people don't go to Beervana with the intention of staying completely sober. But you don't want to be that fool who's spewing in the toilets a couple hours into a session you've paid $40 to attend. (Actually, I didn't see any outlandishly drunk people, but I was pretty busy paying attention to the beer, not the other people there...)
Luckily the organisers of Beervana are more than responsible hosts and have a really, really decent variety of food on offer. It's no surprise, given that Martin Bosley is Beervana's food director, that the restaurants serving up pies and sandwiches and other beer-friendly food were all top-notch: to name a few: Boulcott Street Bistro, Arbitrageur, Wakelin House pies, Martin Bosley's, the Hop Garden, the Dumpling House. Most of the food was priced between 2 and 5 tokens. Totally reasonable.
- Get to the Festive Brews bar. The way Beervana is set up is this: many breweries have their own stalls where they're pouring their usual offerings, maybe one or two other special brews. But if you really want to make the most of the variety available at Beervana, go to the Festive Brews bar, where you'll find a range of beer you're unlikely to see anywhere else.
This year's Festive Brew theme was 'Fruit & Veg' - some of my favourites included the Three Boys Coconut-Milk Stout (a twist on the classic milk stout, with more than a hint of toasted coconut coming through), Renaissance Great Pumpkin (a medium-brown brew that reminded me of spiced pumpkin pie), Twisted Hop Marmalale (a strong, citrusy, caramelly ale, pictured below)
- Look out for unfamiliar breweries. These are the ones you're less likely to see on tap at your local craft beer bar. The best way of doing this is to head over to one of the regional bars, where you'll find a lot of the smaller breweries from around New Zealand and Australia.
At the Top of the South Brewery, for example, I ended up talking to Dale of Dale's Brewing Company (who turns out to be a friend of a friend - small world), and trying his bright, bubble-gummy Belgian Ale. Really good, and I never would've tried it (and other beers like it) if I hadn't stopped by the regional bars.
- Don't be shy about queuing up. Chances are, if a bunch of beer nerds are lining up at a particular stall, they've got something really good on offer. Take the Garage Project stall for example: it was packed the entire time. I almost thought, "I've just been to a dinner at Garage Project, I've tasted a lot of their beers, I could be trying other offerings instead of standing in this line.
Luckily a friend told me about Garage Project's Ziggy's Carrot Cake Ale - a trophy winner at the recent Brewers Guild awards - and I managed to get in line for a taste of what can only be described as carrot cake in liquid form (with a spritz of orange oil as "icing" - YES). And I didn't regret spending a few extra minutes in line. Look how happy I was afterwards:
- Get along to a beer & food matching session. This, unsurprisingly, was probably the highlight of my day. There were a few different beer/food-themed sessions open to the general public, including a beer & cheese matching demonstration, a gastropub cooking presentation, an introductory "Beer & Food 101" class.
And then, for those with enough foresight to pre-book a Beer & Food ticket ($64 instead of the usual $40), there were exclusive beer & food matching sessions presented by beer writer Neil Miller and some of Wellington's top chefs, including Rex Morgan (Boulcott Street Bistro), Martin Bosley and Shaun Clouston (Logan Brown).
I went along to Shaun Clouston's session on Saturday night. He paired Emerson's 'Taieri Gorge' spiced ale, more commonly associated with the sweet, gentle spice of a hot cross bun, with a savoury Nepali lamb curry. Some lucky audience members got up on stage to taste the food, Richard Emerson himself was there to explain the beer, it all smelled incredible.
The dish I was definitely inspired to try, though, was Shaun's recipe for butter & wheat beer-poached tuatua with basil and chilli. It's a simple dish, quick and easy to make - he cooked it before our eyes as we sat sipping the citrusy wheat beer, inhaling the sweet, briny aroma of the tuatuas as they cooked.
I never think of myself as much of a wheat beer fan, but after seeing it used in this dish I think I could be convinced to buy it every now and then. I haven't tried making it myself yet, but here's the recipe in case you want to give it a go:
(recipe reproduced with permission of Beervana)
150ml chicken stock
100ml Three Boys wheat beer
1 long red chilli (finely sliced)
2 garlic cloves (finely sliced)10 large basil leaves
10 parsley leaves
150g diced butter
Bring chicken stock, beer and garlic to a simmer. Add tuatua, cover, and gently cook until just open. Before serving, stir in the diced butter, chilli and herbs.