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Garage Project Beer Reviews, Pt. III: Beer/Wine Hybrids, Dark Beers and Mixed Fermentation

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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 Three, I cover: Beer/Wine Hybrids, Dark Beers and Mixed Fermentation Beers.

Beer/Wine Hybrids

Rosé de la Vallée and Sauvin Nouveau

 

Rosé de la Vallée

100 points, Escarpment pinot noir/Pilsner hybrid, 9.0% ABV, 650 ml bottle

This stunning desert island beer pours the salmon color of a rosé from Provençe. Aromas are definitely more wine grape-like: strawberry, (non-angry) peach skin, coconut. The first sip begins as a creamy demi-sec rosé sparkling wine, gently presenting gorgeous strawberry, raspberry, and plum flavors, yet the mouthfeel is unlike any wine I’ve ever had: round, rich, bready, lemony, explosive, enveloping, transformative, stunning. Every sip of this beer led to me closing my eyes in amazed pleasure, wondering two things: 1) what, exactly, is the alchemy behind this magical beverage? and 2) how can I possibly get more of this? Rosé de la Vallée, in my opinion, stands proudly atop an inconceivably astonishing lineup of GP beers and is, without a doubt, the best beer I have ever tasted.

Chateau Aro*

98 points, Escarpment pinot noir/barrel-aged dark ale hybrid, 10.6% ABV, draft

The color of oxidized oloroso sherry with about as much carbonation – unlike the color of any beer I’ve seen – Chateau Aro smells like toffee, vanilla, blackberries, plums, and oak. Constructed by combining a fermented dark ale with pinot noir juice and grape skins, then aging the beer in a combination of one-, two-, and three-year old barrels from Escarpment Winery in Marlborough, it tastes more like a dark fruit North Island pinot than beer (at first, before the complexities kick in). Chateau Aro pulls together all of the goodness of oak – vanilla, tannins, caramel – with such a spherical satisfying synchronicity not seen in wine that I have to truly wonder why more fermentation specialists don’t combine beer and wine more often. Amazing.

Sauvin Nouveau

95 points, Palliser Estate sauvignon blanc/Pilsner hybrid, 8.5% ABV, 650 ml bottle

Almost impossibly golden, with bright carbonation. Aromas of honey, Sauternes, lemon bars, (non-angry) peaches, fermented gooseberry, and the big island of Hawaii. Round, almost oaky, lemon flavors are much fuller than a normal Pilsner. Chanterelle mushroom and unripe kiwi flavors fill out the mid-palate in a delicious umami fashion before Sauvin Nouveau finishes mostly dry. As it warms, a peach-raspberry Bellini sweetness, complete with Champagne-like bubbles, shows up, followed by rosemary/mint/pomegranate seeds. This was one of the few GP beers briefly available in the U.S. in 2015-2017, and we enjoyed Sauvin Nouveau multiple times preceding this ‘official’ tasting. 

Twilight of the Gods*

94 points, barrel-aged Riesling/golden ale co-fermentation, 13.6% ABV, draft

Noble rot-style Riesling aromas like ripe (non-angry) peach and citrus flowers lead to noble rot-style Riesling flavors like sweet (still non-angry) peach, apple, yellow raisins, and oak. The golden ale part of this beer is only found in the body, which is rounder and heftier than what late-harvest Riesling would taste like. Chardonnay barrels were utilized to age Twilight of the Gods, and the oak is more pronounced than expected, as if the barrels were only used at a winery for one or two years before GP got a hold of them. With a label so epic and fiery, the incongruity of the restraint and nuance of Twilight of the Gods cracked me up. I expected chaos and destruction yet received a lilting aria.

Dark Beers (plus Brightside)

 

Aro Noir

98 points, stout, 7% ABV, 330 ml can, draft, and 1.2L flagon

Brightside

86 points, strong Belgian blonde ale, 7.8% ABV, 650 ml bottle

The opposite sides of the street! Aro Noir is another ‘24 in 24’ beer GP brewed when they opened in 2011. The brewery in the old petrol station rarely sees sunlight all year, and the chocolatey, campfire in a redwood forest started by burning spare hop bines, Grape Nuts-y, perfectly charred marshmallow aromas and flavors of Aro Noir are way too delicious to have only one can on a chilly Welly or Central Otago night (which is probably why we ended up with a flagon from the GP Taproom). 

Brightside, first brewed when the GP taproom opened on the opposite, sunny side of Aro Street, had an aroma that was readily identifiable as “socks of a seven year-old boy.” In addition, the hop used (French Aramis) isn’t one I’m familiar with, and these aromas could certainly be intentional. Nevertheless, the seven year-old boy attached to said stinky socks is truly a sweetheart, plus you can’t (fully) judge a beer by its aroma, so I wasn’t going to get a little funk get in the way of trying the beer. It was enjoyable and deceptively easy to drink, with sweeter bread and riwa honey flavors that kept us coming back for more, although I will admit holding my nose once or twice when drinking.

Cockswain’s Courage*

96 points, double barrel-aged porter, 12.8% ABV, draft

Goodness gracious. It’s straight-up black with a small whitish head and strong sweet bourbon aromas that demand you to drink up. Frighteningly tasty, scrumptiously frightening, there’s chocolate, orange, bourbon, dark honey, and oak, all in perfect balance and tasting many points below the reported alcohol content. Cockswain’s Courage is another Dr. Grordborts collaboration with Greg Broadmore.

Dark Arts

95 points, coffee bock made with People’s Coffee of Wellington, 6.8% ABV, 650 ml bottle

Aromas of wet coffee grounds, tobacco, cocoa nibs, and unease float off of this somewhat hazed chocolate brown beer with a small white head. Tastes more mellow than it smells – the wicked wizard is perhaps benevolent after all – with easier-drinking strong mochaccino flavors laced significantly with really appealing bready/malty/yeasty action. A savory scone with your alcoholic mocha. I’ll try Dark Arts for breakfast the next time it magically appears.

Cereal Milk Stout*

94 points, ‘breakfast of champions!’ milk stout, 4.7% ABV, draft

Soggy Skippy cornflakes with three spoons of sugar, the milk they’re sitting in, and sneaky sips of your mom’s leftover Irish stout from the night before right before you go rushing out the door for school. That’s a universal experience, eh? Ehhh?!

Whittaker’s Creamy Milk Chocolate Beer

93 points, chocolate beer, 4.7% ABV, 330 ml (nitro) can

Whittaker’s subjectively makes the best chocolate in the known universe in Porirua, only twenty-one km northeast of GP. This “why didn’t I think of that?” coffee-colored beer retains a medium brown head after the nitro bubbles fade away. The initial aromas were strangely sour, so we set the beer aside for about fifteen minutes. Upon reconsideration, a sour smell still lingered, but it seemed more in line with the redolent aromas of vinegary cocoa beans-after-fermentation visitors used to get to sample at a larger, much more corporate, most definitely more closed chocolate factory in Dunedin. Bittersweet chocolate-vanilla and slightly roasted pecan flavors sweeten up into a Mexican hot chocolate taste, with a thinner body and a lovely, lingering chocolate aftertaste. Three hundred thirty ml was most definitely not enough of this rarity. I’ll get on a flight to Wellington immediately if GP and Whittaker’s team up to craft a beer based on their dark chocolate Ghana peppermint bar (I would have flown to NZ in November 2020 for their Whitaker’s Dark Chocolate/espresso/hazelnut/orange and White Chocolate/golden raspberry/lemon limited release…but, you know, COVID).

Baltic Porter

84 points, Baltic porter (obviously?) with beechwood-smoked malt, 8.0% ABV, draft (nitro)

Licorice – the good NZ kind like that shows up at Trader Joe’s in the states – is pretty prevalent in the aroma and initial tastes of this clear dark brown lager. There’s molasses-style sweetness and a bit of smokiness in this thin-bodied, gulpable, very clean-tasting beer (not encouraged or recommended). When it’s served on nitro, it seems like the promised chocolate and chocolate malt-type flavors disappear somewhat. A very true-to-style representation of legitimate Baltic/Russian porters sold in NZ and some U.S. grocery stores, possibly also brewed with Latvian potato and tears in the dark, so cold, Baltic Porter wouldn’t be my first recommendation for first-hand witnessing of GP brilliance, but the execution is right on.

Mixed Fermentation Beers

Petite Mort and Oh what a lovely day, let’s go out and pick some…Tarata

 

Petite Mort

97-98 points, farmhouse mixed fermentation summer session ale, 5.3% ABV, 330 ml bottle and draft 

Bottle: The “little death” pours bright blonde, at first clear but with heavy hands a large yeast layer starts to trickle out of the bottle. It smells like lemon meringue, honey, ripe pineapple, and clean straw. Are Sweet-Tart Cheerios a thing yet? If they are, that’s what Petite Mort tastes like, along with lemon knot cookies, grapefruit rind, chamomile tea, morning dew, and Sonoma County (not Marlborough) sauv blanc. Finishes like a meadow with lemon trees ready for harvest. Sweet but not too sweet, funky but not full-on Brettanomyces funky – who’s the genius that put Petite Mort in these petite bouteilles?! Give me six hundred fifty ml of this delicious nectar or give me petite mort!

Tap: cloudy yellow right away with green yuzu and other unripe citrus aromas. There’s definitely a Hardie Boys lemon ginger beer flavor going on with draft Petite Mort (Hardie Boys is a small fermentation operation in Wellington that makes amazing cloudy chunky ginger beer served at the GP taproom). Clean, citrusy, green, not particularly funky or wild-tasting – yet refreshing, slightly complex, delicious, and TOTALLY different than the bottle my brother-in-law brought back from NZ for me.

Oh what a lovely day, let’s go out and pick some…Tarata

97 points, foraged flower fermented ale, 4.6% ABV, 330 ml bottle

I had to laugh when the owner of Arrowtown Wine Store warned me that “this beer is REALLY REALLY SOUR!” (purchased at a mere $NZD6/bottle, …Tarata must have been a tough sell). I had tried this beer at the Wild Workshop out of a tank a year before and was excited to try the commercially available version. It was indeed a lovely day for me to go out and pick up this bottle of pilsner malt/wheat/rye fermented solely with microbes living on tarata (lemonwood) flowers, though, because this hazy straw-colored beer smelling like preserved lemons, margaritas, Sour Patch Kids, and farm animals plus hay in the barn over yonder was complex and wonderful. An absolutely huge body, presumably from the wheat and rye, delivers the – yes – tart wallop with lime and yuzu predominating. The full body is reminiscent of a seriously tart lemon bar recipe that utilizes an entire lemon – rind, pith, and all – with whole wheat flour and no sugar added. There wasn’t much as far as barnyard funk in the flavor, but it did show up in a couple burps. There was a big yeast layer at the bottom of the (too small) bottle, and when consumed on its own contained a cool floral leafy spiciness unique enough that it didn’t trigger any remembrances. Apparently not for everyone, but my drinking partner and I are chuffed we grabbed two of the three bottles left at AWS.

Heels to Jesus

97 points, Brettanomyces-spiked Belgian ale, 5.0% ABV, 330 ml bottle

Light amber with decent carbonation and not much in the way of head, this profane liquid pops open to the surprisingly sanctified aroma of Greek honey lemon black pepper yogurt (that’s something children of God eat, right?). Heels to Jesus gently caresses your tongue like grape must, unsweetened limeade, (angry!) peaches and their (still angry!) skin, fermented caramel, and corporeal anticipation. This beer, a standard Belgian ale spiked with Brettanomyces when bottled to create a unique yet buckwild snapshot of (yeast) reproduction when it bursts forth from the bottle, finishes with the wild stamina of a horse… hair blanket. Turns out I had to root this bottle of Heels to Jesus from the deep, dark chasm of the fridge long after its best by date (there was a gyle number on the bottle too – it was rubbed out but may have been #69). Even though some might consider it long past its prime, the Brett in this bottle of Heels to Jesus went all the way delivering its funky package. Another home run from GP!

January 29, 2024

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