Yes, it's that time again when we look start to look back at the year that's been and, if we haven't drunk enough to forget most of them -- and as Humphrey Bogart used to say, the trouble with the world is that everyone is just one drink behind -- we begin to gather from the tangled skeins of this year's memories some sort of order. The task this year, beer-wise at least, falls to SOBA's Stus, who's drunk enough to know what's what, and just enough to remember. Herewith Stu's beer awards for 2007:
NZ beer of the year:
Invercargill's Smokin' Bishop. In a craft beer market so dominated by hoppy pale ales and lagers, it's fantastic to see the little brewery differentiating themselves with something completely different. Smokin' Bishop is a strong, rich and malty red lager with a whiff of manuka-fired billy-tea. A splendidly moreish drop that beat off some extremely stiff competition to win the specialty section at BrewNZ 2007.
Emerson's of Dunedin continue to amaze and astound with a wide range of year-'round beers and a fantastic range of annual seasonals (think 'Taieri George', 'APA' and this year's new addition 'JP'). Not only is Richard Emerson the most passionate brewer in New Zealand, he's now employing one of the other most awarded and passionate brewers -- Chris O'Leary, the man whose Limburg range taught New Zealanders about wheat beers.
Auckland's 'Galbraith's Ale House' takes out a hotly contested fight - reminiscent of a classic Ranfurly Shield battle - against New Zealand's only other real ale bar: Christchurch's 'The Twisted Hop.' These two bars are so completely different from each other, yet are both so similarly welcoming and beer-centric. Great beer, great food, great wine, great service, great times. Galbraith's wins by a nose because of it's slightly wider variety of beer (note also that Galbraith's still remains New Zealand's best - and possibly only - example of a genuine ale house in an ex-country-and-western nightclub).
Best bottle store:
Wellington's Regional Wines and Spirits. Is there any other? Well, yes, there are a couple worth looking for: Wellington's Rumble's and the Island Bay New World; Christchurch's Beer Emporium; and, I'm hearing good things about Auckland city's Victoria Park New World. The strength of Regional's, besides their amazing drink selection and fantastic staff, is that anyone in the country can purchase from them via mail order system.
Best beer list:
The Malthouse, Wellington, beats off some solid competition from Hallertau Brew Bar in Riverhead, the best supporter of local craft beer. The Malthouse beer list, which numbers well over 100, covers off every occasion - and every type of beer drinker - with beers ranging from Heineken, Sol and Corona, through all the best NZ craft beers, to exquisite sipping ales like Rodenbach Grand Cru and Samuel Adam's implausible Utopias (26%!!!). When are New Zealand's restaurants going to take our amazing product seriously and arrive on the 'beer list' scene.
www.malthouse.co.nz (note: don't be scared off by the Scotsman's nostrils).
After a bit of a shaky start, Australian magazine 'Beer and Brewer' is really starting to hit it's straps. With more than half of the articles in the last issue being written by New Zealanders, or about our beer, we lovers of kiwi beer hope they continue to improve and receive support. Look out for the magazine at your local newsagent.
Best beer judge:
Blenheim-based beer writer Geoff Griggs is tireless in his judging commitments this year. Added to his usual judging tally (NZ International Beer Awards, BrewNZ, Consumer Magazine and The Capital Times Beer Survey) was the inaugral SOBA National Homebrew Championships (145 entries, and Geoff tasted every single one of them over two days). Geoff's certainly tasted more beers than anyone has had hot dinners! And he's doing most of that for little more than "thanks Geoff." Top bloke.
Best local beer blog:
Wellington cheesemonger, homebrewer and beer judge Kieran Haslett-Moore has arrived on the blogging scene with his thoughtful blog: 'Beer from the Motherland'. It's the first local beer blog since RealBeer that has caught my eye, and it'll be interesting to see how it develops over the next year. Cheese lovers would be advised to keep an eye on this blog also. www.themothersmilk.blogspot.com
This highly sought award will be announced this Sunday, at the awards party for SOBA's National Homebrew Championships. Come along to the Boatshed, on Wellington's waterfront, to find out (and taste )a wide selection of home - and commercial - craft brewed beer. Some of my own beers will even be making a rare (and probably brief) public appearance.
Feel free to let us all know your own "Bests" in the comments. And keep on drinking great beer!
Slainte mhath, Stu