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Garage Project Beer Reviews, Pt. II: IPAs

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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.  

In Part Two, I cover IPAs.

IPAs

From L to R: Block Party (Block 19); Centennial and Yuzu Rising Sun; Pernicious Weed; Pernicious Yuzu Weed (bottle sample); Nectarivore; Aro Street; Los Lobos; No Dreams Til Brooklyn

 

Boss Level

99 points, ‘ultra’ IPA, 8.5% ABV, draft in 1.2 L flagon, 440 ml can

Whoa. Boss Level is touted as a tribute to U.S. IPAs using five different U.S. hops and an IBU calculation of over one hundred, suggesting the drinker is in for some of that piney, bitter west coast flavor. GP is so talented that they somehow managed to invent a new beer style with Boss Level: a double east/west coast hybrid IPA. Tropical fruit, mango, grapefruit juice, and a turgid east coast haze synergize perfectly with Centennial west coast hop bitterness, plus a huge, creamy mouthfeel that must include oats or wheat or something outside malted barley. This had just gone on tap at Arrowtown Wine Store in 2018, and our (trusty GP plastic) flagon was reportedly the second fill. 1200 ml was a perfect amount for the evening. Another flabbergastingly outstanding beer.

FRESH JUN

98 points, fresh hazy IPA, 7% ABV, 440 ml can

Since August 2018, GP has been releasing a one-off hazy IPA at the beginning of each month, only available at its three Wellington and one Auckland locations. Meant to be consumed when fresh (… obviously…), each release so far – named for the three-letter abbreviation of the month it was released – has had different malt bills, hops, yeast, and ace label art. The FRESH JUN (2019) version contained Halcyon malt, oats, and rye, plus Citra, Strata, and Riwaka hops and a newer Wyeast yeast strain called London III. FRESH JUN smelled like tropical fruit Fruit Stripe bubble gum might smell on somebody’s breath right after they downed some strongly fermented papaya and passionfruit juice. The mouthfeel was thick, spicy, and just plain amazing, with swirling, spot-on flavors of the same fermented tropical fruit juices, preserved lemon, rye, and bubble gum. FRESH JUN is my current apex of hazy IPAs against which all other contenders to the throne will be measured.

Block Party Pick of the Crop

98 points, single-origin NZ-hopped IPA, 6.6% ABV, 1.2 L flagon

In collaboration with the Upper Moutere’s Freestyle Hop Farm between Motueka and Nelson, GP started the Block Party series in 2018 as a continuing series of IPAs hopped with beer drinkers’ favorite flowers picked from a single block of the farm to examine hop terroir. Pick of the Crop was an entrant in the 2019 NZ IPA Challenge that takes place every winter at Smith’s in Queenstown (Arrowtown’s The Fork and Tap was also a host in 2017 and 2018, but not since).

Pick of the Crop is a west coast-style IPA (supremely bitter, pine, forest, grass, eucalyptus) with east coast flavors (mango, pineapple) and an orange/lime citrus bite inextricably linking the two smack dab in the middle – so in, let’s say, Lebanon, Kansas? The great people at Arrowtown Wine Store filled our GP flagon with this absolute gem of masterful brewing that utilized Motueka, Pacifica, and Riwaka from three different blocks of the Freestyle Farm. A brilliant, confident, gorgeous, fresh, joyous beer.

Block Party (Block 19)

98 points, single-origin NZ-hopped IPA, 6.5% ABV, 440 ml can

Gold-orange with slight haze and a large white head, the Nelson Sauvin and Rakau from Block 19 of Freestyle Hop Farm contribute honeydew, grapefruit, sorrel, and orange aromas with a habanero-type citrusy heat tucked away in the corner of the nostril. Huge orange-grapefruit flavors dominate, with a solid bready background and added complexity that brings to mind floral honey, cocoa, and a deserted forest after a rainstorm. There’s a fairly high hop bitterness present – definitely not created in the hazy style, these Block Party beers! – with equal parts orange peel and piney goodness. The aftertaste lasts forever. Truly delicious.

Moore Wilson’s Centennial with Habanero

97 points, double IPA with habanero peppers, 9.0% ABV, draft

Tasting notes, verbatim: “exactly what it sounds like. Heavy on the habanero. Piney west coast Centennial hops almost poke through the HOT habanero… I’m sweating and it’s not because I’m nervous to meet Jos. Malt base bready and assertive. Not nearly as assertive as the habanero though. Holy cow, this is delicious. Also hot.”

Pernicious Weed

97 points, IPA, 8.0% ABV, 330 ml can

Pernicious Weed was one of the original 24 beers in 24 weeks brewed at Garage Project (reportedly around the second beer brewed) and should be described as a Motueka-style IPA. Up on the northern tip of the South Island – and just a twenty-minute-ish windy flight from Wellington – Nelson, Golden Bay, and especially the small town of Motueka make up possibly the most exciting hop-growing area in the world today. The tropical fruit east coast juicy style of IPA continues to owe a great debt to New Zealand hop varietals grown in this area. 

Pernicious Weed combines the mango, passionfruit, wild thyme, freshly mown hay characteristics of Nelson Sauvin and Rakau hops grown here, fuses them with aromas of tramping six hours around Abel Tasman National Park, and finishes off with orange peel and chewing on wild mint. Another one of the few GP beers that was briefly available in the US.

Pernicious Yuzu Weed

97 points, west coast IPA with yuzu, 8.0% ABV, draft (and 1.2 L flagon)

High level tartness from yuzu perfectly complements the Rakau and Nelson Sauvin hop bitterness and spiciness. Satsuma and tangerine aromas and tartness on top of the grassy, full-bodied, bitter parent beer makes what Jos described as ‘GP’s answer to Grapefruit Sculpin.’ Yuzu Weed is (in my opinion) a much, much superior beer to the San Diego model and a perfectly balanced, equal-but-totally-different, beer when compared and contrasted with normal Pernicious Weed.

Zeppelin Bend (Hāpi Sessions, Volume Four)

97 points, west coast IPA, 8.5% ABV, draft (and 1.2 L flagon)

Inglewood, CA’s Three Weavers appears to have gotten looped into the GP microverse without a hitch. Unabashedly west coast in appearance, aroma, and flavor, Zeppelin Bend might be intimately tied into Three Weavers’ Knotty DIPA, as they share an ABV and a general stevedorian outlook on hop utilization: more is better. Piney. Sticky. Caramel. Mint. Grapefruit. Orange peel. Incredible mouthfeel. Also, like many a seafarer, it’s strong. Be sure to check your knots before imbibing.

Nectarivore

96 points, organic hibiscus and pineapple sage IPA, 6.0% ABV, 650 ml bottle

Unique overripe green melon, lemon pepper, and alpine herb aromas lead to orange melon, pure guava, and coconut flavors. There’s a huge floral, spicy, herbal bitterness that might come from hibiscus or the sage but probably isn’t hop-based. Nectarivore has a terrific mouthfeel, like chewing on an odd yet alluring combination of nasturtiums, rata honey, orange blossoms, sweet oatmeal, and rye bread. One of the beers my brother-in-law brought back from NZ to share with us.

Aro Street (Hāpi Sessions, Volume One)

96 points, east coast IPA, 7.2% ABV, draft and 440 ml can

Jos recommended their collaboration with Boston-area hazy IPA masters Trillium just slightly more than the other OG Hāpi Sessions quartet. Hazy orange juice-colored with a pretty large white head (even taller in the canned version), Aro Street delivered with tropical papaya and passionfruit aromas Motueka and Mosaic hops are known to add. Once the beer warms a little, there’s a sweet transition from equator island tree fruits towards an herbal minty hop feeling on the tongue along with a subtle but totally real shift towards the forty-degree latitude orchard and garden fruits like pear, nectarine, and a totally appealing strawberry-orange cream sweetness. Draft and can tasting notes were similar outside of the head and the difference between somehow being the only patrons in the crazy comfortable, friendly, welcoming GP Taproom on a winter solstice festival Saturday night for the draft version, versus our boring room in the States with the telly for the can (we did watch a Brokenwood Mysteries while drinking, though).

Los Lobos

97 points, Golden State IPA, 8% ABV, 440 ml can

How will this wolf survive? Boozy caramel aromas explode out of the can, and once it’s poured, this intensely deep orange-colored beer also smells like eucalyptus, mature mint with the stems on top, oranges, and marijuana. Dark bittersweet caramel flavors reign at first, with strong herbal/piney/bitter flavors that stick around a while. Bitterness remains as it warms, with (mildly angry) peach and bittersweet chocolate orange peel (seriously) in there too. It’s not necessarily flashy, but this delicious, reliable, intense, no-nonsense, tastes-well-below-its-ABV beer solves problems… just like Winston Wolf, the cleaner in ‘Pulp Fiction’ that Los Lobos (the beer and obviously the band from East Los Angeles) is probably not named after.

Loral Royale

95 points, IPA, 5.6% ABV, draft

Clear orange with big apricot, plum, and orange aromas. Stone fruit and citrus flavors overshadowed some herbal chili pepper seed sensations that popped in once it warmed. My guess is these weird yet accurate and quite lovely (to me, anyway) descriptors define my take on the new-ish Loral hop varietal. Really full-bodied, gulpable, and insanely appealing, most of our Loral Royale disappeared into my drinking partner’s gullet before I could get my hands on it.

No Dreams Til Brooklyn (Hāpi Sessions, Volume Three)

95 points, imperial east coast IPA, 8.5% ABV, draft and 440 ml can

Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing Company helped make this utterly tropical juicy lactose and ‘oat cream’ double IPA (… that doesn’t have oats listed as an ingredient?). Pouring hazy medium yellow, NDTB blasts forth with Citra/Nelson Sauvin aromas of unripe mango and overripe, fermented papayas and pineapples. Sassy Key lime, giant wads of tropical bubble gum, orange peel, and the above tropical fruits blend into a dreamsicle smoothie-type beverage, with a huge, dense, lactose-y mouthfeel that surprisingly lacks the milk sugar sweetness a jaded east coaster might expect. Naturally, the flavor profile changes as it warms towards creamy mint, (not angry) peaches, eucalyptus, and lime. Might NDTB be related to the Other Half beer named Double Motueka Daydream? Perhaps. I’d love to try it someday. Stay wild, moon children.

From L to R: Unconditional Love; Block Party (Block 15); DFA; FRESH; Easy As (Is Pretty Sweet); VPA; Party and Bullshit; We Are Family

 

Unconditional Love

95 points, west coast IPA, 7.5% ABV, 440 ml can

This beer had the unfortunate luck to get sampled directly after the revolutionary, mind-melting, and, uh…strong Boss Level. Unconditional Love is, as advertised, a piney, bitter, bready, citrusy IPA that – when judging the beer alone – tastes better than probably ninety-five percent of the IPAs available on the west coast of the U.S. today. If you take the art on the can into consideration – the cassette tape spooling out of the fragile case with the beer info listed as tracks on both the A and B sides – it would be the best IPA available on American shores. Yet, just as the (presumably made-up) John Lennon quote about Ringo not being the best drummer in the world as he wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles, there must be quite an internal fight to be the best GP IPA. You will always be in my heart, Unconditional Love.

 Block Party (Block 15)

94 points, single-block NZ-hopped IPA, 6.5% ABV, draft and 440 ml can

The first in the Block Party series, Block 15 pours orange-gold with a slight haze. Orange, lime, and miso aromas lead to sharp piney bitterness and floral spice underlined by medium caramel maltiness. As it warms, the bitterness shifts a bit towards orange peel, with flavors from bread made from spent malt. Grassy, lemon-lime flavors and a return of piney dryness complete the finish. Dr Rudi hops from Block 15 were used as the bittering hop, and Taiheke (NZ Cascade) was used for finish  and aroma. 

DFA

93 points, chili/mango/lime/mint IPA, 7.5% ABV, 330 ml can

Initially brewed in 2013, the initial iteration of DFA was discontinued four years later due to legitimate concern about the label art and what the initial three-letter acronym stood for in the minds of many people around the world. Pete Gillespie responded with a thoughtful post explaining that GP would stop brewing DFA for the near future in November 2017.

Eight months later, DFA returned with a slightly new recipe and the same TLA (well, what the ‘Three-Letter Acronym’ now stood for, though, was radically altered). ‘Demus Favorem Amori’ – Latin for ‘we choose to stand for love’ – also featured the hop helicopter from the original art with its wings tucked in, now creating a huge hop heart in the center of the label.

DFA Mach Two pours a deep caramel orange and smells like caramel, mango, and papaya. Mint and eucalyptus, absent in the aroma, are first on the tongue, followed by New Orleans chicory coffee and a full, spicy sweetness. DFA finishes bitter, a combination of hops and a clean wood tannic structure (no wood is used for DFA as far as I can tell). Fruit is definitely muted by the richness and power of everything else, and the obvious fruits (to me) are orange and pineapple versus the mango and lime actually added to the beer. The quintessential floral Centennial hop flavor comes to the fore as DFA warms.

In my opinion, the manner in which GP dealt with the DFA controversy was mature and responsible. As one of the most visible NZ brewers worldwide, GP is bound to draw attention. I’m not at all worried about it, but let’s hope that GP continues to “choose love” as more and more people find out about their fermented and social goodness.

It’s as good a time as any to mention that Jos’ feelings and opinions towards corporate ownership and venture capital in relation to independent craft breweries  significantly changed my thinking and attitude about this all-too common aspect of the industry. Beavertown Brewery was purchased by a large brewing conglomerate two days before we spoke in 2018, and a quick mention of this led us down a long conversational path that, even more than five years later, continues to influence my beliefs and attitudes about brewery independence, ownership, transparency, and ethics. 

FRESH (reissue of FRESH FEB for New World’s Best 30 competition)

93 points, fresh hazy IPA, 7.0% ABV, 440 ml can

The February 2019 version of GP’s fresh hazy IPA was declared one of the best 30 beers (out of 630 entered) by New Zealand’s New World grocery store chain in June 2019. There was a catch to receiving this accolade – awarded breweries had to produce enough of the awarded beer to be sold in EVERY SINGLE New World across NZ. That’s a tough order for a one-off beer made with Strata hops, a Wyeast East Coast IPA yeast, and ale and toffee malts plus rolled oats originally brewed for the three GP locations plus very few select accounts! 

I can’t speak for the original FEB, but the reissue, repressed on 180g murky orange vinyl, carries all the guava, lychee, and mango notes you’d expect, plus unexpected lingering herbal minty tangerine lemon feedback. It’s the rare reunion tour that delivers to the unlucky ones left out on the first go-around, and FRESH (with its older and wiser original members) does just that.

Easy As (Is Pretty Sweet)

92 points, hazy IPA, 6.7% ABV, 473 ml can

Crazy hazy! The (North American) summer 2019 GP/Modern Times collaboration utilized cryogenically prepared Mosaic and Citra (along with normal Citra and NZ Nelson (Sauvin?)) hops to intensify the tropical trip through IPA-land. Overripe pineapple, mango, and lime aromas dominate and represent well in the taste profile too. A lovely grassy, floral bitterness is how Easy As leaves your tastebuds – contributed, in my mind, from the Golden Bay-grown (?) Nelson – along with the dense, enveloping, über-appealing mouthfeel courtesy of oats and flaked wheat. It was tough to determine what it tasted like warm, because (two cans?!) disappeared rather quickly between my drinking partner and me. Sweet as!

VPA (Venusian Pale Ale)

91 points, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, and grapefruit peel IPA, 7.5% ABV, 650 ml bottle

The lunch beer of my drinking partner at the wonderful Riverstone Kitchen, north of Ōamaru. Smells as I would imagine a restaurant in a rainforest in southeast Asia might smell – green chewy leaves, definitely lemongrass, lemons and limes. Lots of floral hoppy spices (or maybe it’s the ‘Venusian spear fungus’ referred to on the bottle?) and grapefruit citrus with a thinner body matched wonderfully with a beet(root) salad. VPA is a collaboration with Wellington-based artist and designer Greg Broadmore, introducing drinkers to his alternative world of Dr. Grordborts, fantastical rayguns, and motley characters battling on Venus one hundred years ago in graphic novels (there are a few of these in the GP Taproom, by the way).

Party and Bullshit

89 points, hazy IPA, 6.2% ABV, 440 ml can

Mango juice, fresh squeezed on a desert island or a tropical island or possibly the southeastern portion of the North Island. East coast, west coast, it’s [just past] twenty twenty/Juicy, Party and Bullshit, it’ll give you good and plenty.

We Are Family

89 points, whole-cone hop and hemp seed extract IPA, 7.0% ABV, 440 ml can

Pours deep orange with, hmm… a bunch of dark gray chunks? The crazy intense spicy hop cooler aroma immediately bursts out of the can, then fades remarkably quickly to citrus peel. Tastes oily – the hemp extract? – and bitter with sour pink grapefruit flesh and pith and a slight vegetal hoppy bitterness. There’s also a rosemary/mint/thyme herb garden thing going on, too. We Are Family is another 2018 collaboration brew with San Diego’s Modern Times and is probably a (blatantly obvious with the can art)(non-naughty) double entendre referring to both hops and hemp being in the Cannabaceae family. I certainly enjoyed it, chunks and all, but it might be a level below other GP and MT IPA collaborations.

FRESH JUL

Incomplete points, fresh hazy IPA, 7.0% ABV, 30-ish ml ‘sampler’ at Arrowtown’s Slow Cuts

When I learned that one of the very few NZ locations FRESH JUL (2019) would be on tap was the fantastic Arrowtown restaurant Slow Cuts – where we were planning to eat lunch on our last day in the Shaky Isles – I was beyond psyched! Yet, Dear Reader, imagine my crushing disappointment when I learned their bar was having carbonation line issues that wouldn’t be repaired until we were on an aeroplane back to Auckland. A little sweet-talking can go a long way, though (or, much more likely, I’m just annoying as hell), so Slow Cuts poured a wee taste for me that came out mostly bubbles. Still, the intensely appealing tropical fruit aromas were impossible to miss, but the beer tasted a bit like swirling up three-quarters papaya juice and one-quarter white flour. I can’t imagine that’s what it was supposed to taste like, so ignore all of the previous beer review and make sure you go to Slow Cuts and its sister restaurant La Rumbla through the alley (Palos Verdes native Jay Sherwood’s Lake and Wood Brewery is now set up and installed inside the Slow Cuts space, returning an active brewery/restaurant to lovely Arrowtown after Arrow Brewing closed in the same space in 2012). Also (…obviously…) hunt down GP’s FRESH series!

January 29, 2024

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