One of the myriad hangovers from the bad old days of the six o’clock swill when beer choices in New Zealand were limited to two kinds of near-identical amber lager – one with a lion on it and one with a horse – is our collective naivety when it comes to what beer can be. We were all tricked into thinking that beer is beer; when in reality, the brewing process is so multifactorial that the possibilities for experimentation and creativity are simply endless. Combine this freedom with the fact that brewing most beer styles takes a matter of weeks (beat that, winemakers) and the result is that our brewers can nimbly create diverse seasonal products that are made to be enjoyed for a limited time.
Just as winters are made for Syrah or Merlot, there are some beer styles that are built to be sipped in front of a roaring fire on a chilly night. Most obviously there are the traditional porters, and their bolder cousins, the stouts; but there are also the lesser-known styles, like the deliciously rich and malty Scotch Ale, and a personal favourite, Weizenbock – a style that takes the best bits of a wheat beer (the subtle banana and clove) and combines them with the sticky malt character of a Bock (a strong, dark lager).
Fortunately, here in Mahurangi, none of us need to travel far to find some absolute winter bangers: Waipu’s McLeod’s Brewery gives us the luscious Pioneer Porter, while Matakana’s Sawmill Brewery has a fresh batch of its robust Baltic Porter ready for the cooler months – and always have plenty of their strong black lager, The Doctor, available year-round. By the way, Sawmill also has a fresh batch of its sensational Weizenbock available any day now, and I plan on stalking the brewery until it is released.
When it comes to stouts, there are few in the business – nationally or internationally – who do it better than Warkworth’s own 8 Wired Brewing. First, we have the sessionable Flat White, a milk stout with a touch of sweetness, rich coffee aroma and oodles of milk chocolate. Then there’s the godfather of New Zealand Imperial Stouts: iStout, a beer which pours like motor oil but drinks like silk, and is perfect for sharing with a friend or two around a bonfire. Finally, in true 8 Wired fashion, the team has taken the best bits of both these beers and created a gorgeous lovechild: iStout Affogato, an Imperial Stout which marries the rich booziness of iStout with the milk chocolate and coffee from Flat White, with a dash of vanilla to complete the decadence – a perfect winter dessert beer, if ever there was one.
My top tip for making the most of these beers: serve them cold, but then take your time over them – they’ll open up exquisitely as they warm, both in aroma and flavour. Pour into a large red wine glass, throw another log on the fire and put your feet up.
Jason Gurney is a locally-based University of Otago researcher, and an avid beer enthusiast.