The fifth annual Hopstock Festival was held in Wellington over six days in late April.
Organised by the Craft Beer Capital people, this is a celebration of fresh (or green) hops with 22 brewers making festival beers from fresh-harvested Nelson hops. Each beer is hosted at a different craft beer venue around Wellington central, so to try them all you had to visit 22 venues. To help you in this task there was a trail card and to be in to win prizes you simply had to collect a stamp at each venue.
This was essentially beer rogaining and I was up for it. Even better, I had recently agreed I was “taking it easy on the beers”, so there was a ‘secret mission’ element to it too. So I made my itinerary and away I went – four venues a day, lunchtimes and evenings. In an effort to taste them all and preserve my health, I had the sample glass at each bar which varied in size (averaging around 175ml) with prices ranging from $4.50 to $6.00.
The most popular hop by far was Nelson Sauvin – used in 16 of the 22 beers, and exclusively in nine. Next most popular were Taiheke and Motueka – both used in six beers – and then Riwaka in three. All these hop styles are suited to the new-world beer styles such as American Pale Ale and IPA. So it should come as no surprise that only six of the beers on show were not IPAs or bitters – three pilsners, two red ales and one schwarzbier.
With so many IPAs they became a bit samey after a while, i.e. just another lean malt delivery vehicle for the hops. Moreover, I prefer some malt character in my IPAs to balance out the hops and bigger beers make bigger statements, so they caught my attention.
My favourite beer was Panhead’s CH3NO2 at Bebemos & in Newtown. It had been recommended by a couple of fellow Hopstock drinkers before I got to it and it was easy to see why. Described by its brewers as “hop fuel”, it was the classic festival beer: 8.7% of raw power and punchy, grapefruity bitterness. Named after the chemical description of drag car fuel, this had a ‘big as’ citrus hop aroma, and a grapefruity, bitter-orange sweetness that carried the big Nelson Sauvin hop package well.
Two other big hitter IPAs hit the mark with me. One was 8 Wired’s Fresh Hop IPA on at Little Beer Quarter. Made using a mix of three hops, it had a sweet berry note in the aroma, full malt body and a good malt-hop balance for its 7.3%. The other was Renaissance Grandmaster Imperial IPA. It was 8% and it also had a sweet malty, berry note in the aroma. However, it also had a bitter-sweet vinous taste that hinted at rosé wine. Integrated and full, this beer made a statement I liked.
North End’s Forty South IPA at the Rogue and Vagabond also impressed. True to its ‘Reimagined English IPA’ description, it was smooth, balanced, with good malt sweetness and a substantial, but not an OTT bitterness. At 7% it was more in the traditional export English IPA style, not the lighter, modern pub version.
Another well balanced, but lighter English Bitter was Kereru’s Fresh Hop Specialty Bitter on the handpump at Goldings Freedive. Soft and quaffable, its bitterness was at first subtle, but built up in the finish.
Of the pilsners, Grazzle Dazzle from Te Aro Brewing on tap at D4 on Featherston Street was the one I preferred. An aroma of citrus and tropical fruit (feijoa maybe) from the Motueka and Nelson Sauvin hops was matched to a pleasant, softish lager body. Well-made and easily sessionable.
The same could be said for Cone in the Bavarian from the Fork & Brewer, a fresh hopped schwarzbier. Dark chocolate notes up front, creamy mouthfeel and a well-integrated bitterness meant a few pints of this wouldn’t go amiss. Hopstock was good fun and I went to some of Wellington’s craft beer venues I hadn’t got around to visiting before. I also kept running into the Craft Beer College Hopstock tours, including one punter who had missed the bus, and Steph and Jonny trying to ‘herd the cats’ from venue to venue.
Would I do it all again? 22 beers in six days!
In a heartbeat.