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Garage Project Beer Reviews, Pt. I: Sours, Pilsners, Hoppy and Golden Ales, Saison and Farmhouse

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The following reviews are meant to complement our Garage Project feature. Beers were mainly consumed in Wellington and other lovely locations around New Zealand, and a few beers might have made it back to U.S. shores packed in luggage. Although fifty-three beers are reviewed in total, this seemingly large number still represents a fraction of Garage Project’s full production of more than 700 unique beers since 2011 (in other words, ‘try something new’).

Except for Yuzu Rising Sun (and maybe Moore Wilson’s Centennial with Habanero), all beers are (or were) available in bottles or cans, as well as draft. The method of tasting for these reviews is noted. Beers with an asterisk* next to their name were tasted on draft at the GP Taproom in Wellington in an approximately 90 ml sampler that was paid for by Jos Ruffell, the co-founder of Garage Project. In addition, the can of Whittaker’s Creamy Milk Chocolate Beer was a gift from Jos — it was not commercially available at the time of our visit. All other beers were purchased by me. Ratings were not influenced by the hospitality shown to me by Jos and GP. 

In Part One, I cover: Sours, Pilsners, Hoppy Ales, Golden(ish) Ales, and Saison and Farmhouse Ales.

Sours

Strange Ways and White Mischief

 

Beyond the Pale: Strange Ways

98 points, raspberry, tomato, and basil kettle sour, 4.4% ABV, 330 ml can

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: how does this fermented beverage work? Beyond the Pale: Strange Ways is a bright pink distillation of tart heirloom tomatoes picked at peak ripeness with a tiny dash of salt, followed immediately by walking into a raspberry bush and eating the smallest, reddest berries you can find. Wine drinkers – it tastes like wild-fermented rosé of pinot noir around four percent alcohol that was grown in an herb garden. Not surprisingly, this matches perfectly with caprese salad using summer tomatoes . It was so delicious that I drank one, it became four, and when I fell on the floor I drank more. Beer reviewer in a coma. I know. It’s serious!

Golden Age

97 points, barrel-aged sour with golden kiwi, mango, and passionfruit, 7.0% ABV, draft 

An absolutely exquisite orange juice-colored cloudy sour crafted by combining multiple Wild Workshop barrel-aged ales, then aging the blend on golden kiwi, mango, and passionfruit (in stainless, I think). The aroma consists of quite subtle tropical fruits, but the perfect combination of oak, a bit of kiwi, some pink grapefruit plus yuzu, and the best white and red wine plus Balsamic barrel-aged vinegars you’ve ever put in your mouth is the most delicious reward. The decision to put Golden Age in wine-sized bottles is perfect for two reasons; first, that overused complaint about sours (‘it’s fine, but I wouldn’t want a whole glass/bottle/flagon’) is moot here. Second, the gorgeous label, a collaboration by Wellington-based women’s fashion designers twenty-seven names, deserves to be on the largest format possible.

Yuzukoshō*

97 points, kettle-soured Pilsner with green yuzu, habanero, and salt, 4.3% ABV, draft (2018 and 2019 versions)

2018 version: in a nod to the eponymous Japanese fermented condiment, GP sourced not-quite-ripe yuzu and habaneros from local farmers and added them to a Gose-type kettle sour that was fermented with lager yeast. It initially smells and tastes like lime-champagne vinegar, then fades into a mellow spiciness, green papaya, lime and lemon pith, and Sour Patch Kid. The saltiness was pretty subdued and added to the perception of Yuzukoshō being the best limeade ever. 

Notes on the 2019 version are similar to the 2018 – perhaps a little less pronounced spice in 2019 – and were collected during our week in Arrowtown when my drinking partner attempted to single-handedly drain The Fork and Tap’s Yuzokoshō keg. She neither succeeded nor died trying, but she was pretty happy.

White Mischief

95 points, kettle soured Gose with white peaches, 2.6% ABV, 330 ml can

Perfectly crafted Gose that’s slyly subtle about everything: white (non-angry) peaches contribute to the crunchy firmness of the beer versus sweetness, Lactobacillus add more of a creaminess than tartness, salt brings flavors together as opposed to salinity, and the artwork… pretty sneaky!

Yuzu Rising Sun

94 points, layered kettle yuzu sour/raspberry sour, 4.4% ABV, draft only

Premiered at the 2017 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival (and repeated at the 2018 FWIBF, where GP won the People’s Choice Award), Yuzu Rising Sun is a yuzu sour with a sweet-sour raspberry beer layered on top. Obvious visual appeal aside, it’s essentially candy in a glass with an orange and lemon peel aroma and flavors of those ultra-rare yuzu Chewy Sweet Tarts you’d eat before a junior high track meet. My drinking partner drank most of this one.

Wabi Sabi Sour*

92 points, honeydew/yuzu sour (natural Lactobacillus souring), 8.0% ABV, draft

Imperfection. Transience. Simplicity. Riesling aromas, intense lemony sourness, zest of lemon and spice of pepper. The Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi is too complex to be summed up in three words or phrases, as is this beer. A gorgeous wine-like beer, made with the Jos-described ‘one flaw’ theory of sourness, I actually adored the sourness aspect but felt like Wabi Sabi (the beer) could have used a little more carbonation. What a dumb criticism. Excellent with soft cheese.

Pilsners

Pils ‘n’ Thrills

96 points, Bohemian Pilsner, 5.5% ABV, 330 ml can

Lemon. Also lemon! Plus more lemon. Rye bread aroma promises a dry crispness, but to me Pils ‘n’ Thrills comes out a little rounder via lemon bar and guava flavors on the initial sip than promised on the can. It finishes super crisp with pretty intense passionfruit and pine resin aftertastes that last a while. It’s an outstanding, delicious Pilsner example without the bellyaches experienced on non-happy Mondays.

Riwaka Express (Hāpi Sessions, Volume Two)

93 points, NZ Pilsner-style lager, 5.3% ABV, draft (reviewed) and 440 ml can

All about the lemons in this post-Hāpi Festival collaboration with Firestone Walker! Grapefruit and lemon aromas completely dominate your noseholes, and an ultra-long lemon aftertaste remains as you ponder what kind of voodoo the Riwaka hop must possess to overwhelm a lager (in a good way). Pilsner fresh bread tastes are there even if Pilsner crispness isn’t quite, but you already know judging a beer by its purported style is for squares. A delicious one-off (maybe?) that’s bound to be overshadowed by its Hāpi Sessions IPA siblings.

Hoppy (non-IPA) Ales

L’il Red Rye and Hapi Daze

 

L’il Red Rye

97 points, red rye ale, 6.5% ABV, 650 ml bottle, draft, and 1.2 L flagon

Quite simply the best amber beer I’ve ever tasted. Toffee, spice, rye bread, bitter hops, caramel, clean, assertive, confident – more like the wolf at the beginning of the fable. L’il Red Rye would probably push out butter and possibly even eggs as a staple in my fridge if I had access to this beer on any sort of a regular basis.

Fuzz Box*

95 points, east coast pale ale, 5.8% ABV, draft

Unappealingly hazy – or ‘fuzzy ugly’ as GP states on the can – Fuzz Box is essentially an alcoholic mango/passionfruit smoothie made from the ripest, just-picked fruits. Lemon and orange bitterness cut through a little bit, but this combination of Galaxy, Mosaic, and Nelson Sauvin hops are a perfect trio for this style of beer. It was gone before we knew it. Jos said that it’s almost “cheating” to make a beer this good. A liquid ode to your favorite distortion pedal.

Angry Peaches (nitro)

87 points, American pale ale, 6.8% ABV, draft (reviewed) and 650 ml bottles

One of the greatest beer names ever coined by one of the best beer writers ever, Angry Peaches is the way former Wellingtonian/now Melburnian Phil Cook described the aggressive stone fruit aroma and taste of the Amarillo hop. Served on nitro at the GP Taproom, Angry Peaches smelled and tasted a little more like Mellow Plums: muted caramel, sweeter ripe plum, ethereal redwood pine, a slightly riled-up British mild. In 2014 or 2016, I tried Angry Peaches in the bottle and remember thinking the name was mostly apropos, with a Furious Pine running partner for good measure. Hopefully they won’t get in trouble for this, but the (absolutely accommodating and amazing) GP Taproom staff repeatedly (yet gently and politely, in the traditional Kiwi manner) tried to steer me away from ordering this. I blame the nitro?

Hāpi Daze

86 points, all NZ hops/malt pale ale, 4.6% ABV, 330 ml can

Citrusy and sharp aromas, like kabinett Riesling from the Mosel. Orange and juicy green apple flavors make this all-NZ ingredient pale ale an easy, uncomplicated beer that might go better with barbecue than the Whittaker’s dark chocolate mint bar I had. Note: the first can I tried of Hāpi Daze was the only odd-flavored GP beer I tried while in (or out of) NZ– broccoli, vegetal, homebrewy – but the second can (purchased from the same New World in Warkworth) was spot-on.

Golden(ish) Ales

La Calavera Catrina

96 points, habanero, maize, watermelon, and rose water golden ale, 6.9% ABV, 650 ml bottle

An appetizer beer before lunch with Brussel sprouts at Riverstone Kitchen, Ōamaru, La Calavera Catrina kind of smells and tastes exactly as you’d expect after reading what’s in it. Aromas were mainly citrus-orange peel and there’s not much weight to the mouthfeel – more a delivery system of the bright orange peel/semi-intense habanero burn in a clean, slightly sweetened watermelon agua fresca.

Cat’s Pajamas

91 points, vanilla cream ale, 5.3% ABV, 650 ml bottle

Lemon cream soda with a bit of apricot, Cat’s Pajamas is unfussy and tasty. There’s a bit of oaky aroma that might come from the vanilla, although I was hard-pressed to find actual vanilla aromas or flavors until the beer warmed up a little. The presence of lactose wasn’t obvious, although even the mention of milk sugar raises the hair on my back. Mee-yow! Cat’s Pajamas is a beer my brother-in-law brought back from NZ to generously share with us.

Saison and Farmhouse Ales

Bière de Garage and Persephone

 

Bière de Garage

99 points, tart cherry farmhouse ale, 7.1% ABV, 650 ml bottle

A huge rocky white head crowns another stunningly scrumptious GP beer that, on first glance, looks like a plain ol’ amber ale. It is assuredly not. Bière de Garage, another one of the original 24/24 beers, smells and tastes like a barrel room – if that barrel room also contained a fair amount of amaretto undergoing a secondary fermentation with funky Belgian yeast plus some cocoa truffles on the lab bench. Gorgeous sour cherry flavors appear after a few minutes. This beer is all about balance – balance between tartness/sweetness, Oud Bruin/fresh bread flavors, bubbly carbonation/mellow spirits. Did this beer come out tasting anywhere similar on the 50L kit back in 2011? It’s a masterpiece.

Persephone

97 points, balsamic vinegar reduction, pomegranate molasses, and citrus saison, 6.6% ABV, 330 ml can

Wild yeast and sour Asian citrus aromas greet my nose as I’m waiting for my breakfast to arrive at Rhubarb in the Dunedin suburb of Roslyn. Trying to type-type-type some nonsense adjectives before the cauliflower and corn fritters show up, I’m both impressed and confused by the gigantic tart mouthfeel that just seems thicker than a normal beer deceptively hidden in this seemingly innocent yellow-gold saison. The viscosity implied by ‘balsamic reduction’ on the can seems apt, yet I don’t taste any balsamic vinegar. Funky citrus, ripe (kinda-angry) peach and nectarine, ripe red pomegranate seeds (none of the weird brown ones), and an almost imperial saison-like spiciness all over the place that isn’t exactly red pepper spicy but is wild and crazy. There was very little carbonation, but no bubbles added more to the complexity than it detracted. Persephone was a fantastic match for my breakfast, and the last warm sips tasted like tart citrus zest custard. Outstanding.

When I went looking for more rare GP beers at Rhubarb in June 2019, all I could see in the cooler were four cans of Whattaker’s Creamy Milk Chocolate Beer. Excited to get a second chance to try it, I asked for one. Initially they told me there weren’t any GP beers back there, then they said the stuff tucked in the back of the cooler was off-limits. Denied!

Hunnybee

95 points, honey wheat farmhouse ale collaboration with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, 5% ABV, 440 ml can

I’m only floating on the breeze
Wheat lemons falling from the trees
I’m on my knees
Capsicum and coriander are the keys
One at a time – Hunnybees!

I’m tasting lemon through the night
I’m getting honey, but it’s slight.
Farmhouse yeast bite. I’m tasting almonds, the mouthfeel’s right!
One at a time – out of sight!

(Ruban Nielson lyrics butchered without permission)

January 29, 2024

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