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Great Beer: Garage Project Hops on Pointe



Price Range : $6 - 13

$12.99/650 ml bottle Brewed in: Aro Valley, Wellington, New Zealand Format: 650 ml bottles, on tap (rare in USA), 330 ml can (NZ) ABV: 6.7% Availability: rare in USA; brewed year-round in NZ

I love this imported German beer
(They know how to make it over there)
The bird returns to soothe my ear
I love this imported German beer
–The Verlaines, “Bird-dog”¹

John talked about pilsners in his review of Pizza Port’s Pick Six a few months ago. Generally lighter in style, with varying degrees of bitterness that (arguably) increase the farther west you go from Plsen in the Czech Republic, pilsners were (arguably) initially pioneered in Bavaria. Bavarian brewers started using a different yeast strain than what was commonly used at the turn of the 19th century, one that fermented sugars at lower temperatures and needed to be stored (or ‘lager’ed, to portmanteau Deutsch und English) in caves and other cool places during its longer fermentation in the pre-keg fridge days²

Wellington, the capitol of New Zealand, is a pretty cool place—windy, too—also cool in degrees Celsius—and is the original location of Garage Project, (arguably) New Zealand’s most exciting brewery at the present moment (Garage Project will soon be opening a second brewery in Napier, Hawke’s Bay). Garage Project’s range of beers is mind-boggling in both number and quality, although for a brewery that produced twenty-four different beers in the first twenty-four weeks of being open to the public, this probably goes without saying. 

Brewer Pete Gillespie initially designed Hops on Pointe as cross-promotion for the Royal New Zealand Ballet (plus the name’s punny!). Members of the RNZB also helped brew a batch of the beer, as can be seen in this fantastic video:  

Hops on Pointe pours a rocky head with some haze, and smells bready—almost sharp, like whole wheat or rye, although neither were used in the brew. Hops on Pointe also smells like gorgeous citrus blooms, and, indeed, lemon and tangerine are what I first noticed when I finally had a drink. Mango and passionfruit showed up immediately after. This was the point where my partner stole my glass in a classic pas de deux, tasted it, and said “ripe honeydew.” 

I didn’t hear her at first, though, because that first taste was a bit confusing. First, Hops on Pointe felt thicker and creamier than expected, and there was very little malt sweetness—like a dense stout or a dry Gewürztraminer (more on this later). Second, there seemed to be no bitterness present. I stole the beer back, agreed with her on the ripe honeydew part, and looked for hop bitterness again.  Nope, just delicious hop flavor and aroma. 

As you’ve already watched the video linked above, you know that the Nelson Sauvin hops³ used in the brew were added at the end of the boil only. This allows the aroma and flavor compounds in the hop to stick around in the beer, yet prohibits the hop bittering acids from being pulled out during an hour-plus boil. Cool! 

Finishing a 650 ml beer before the kids’ bedtime on a weekday isn’t the easiest task, though, so our Hops on Pointe sat at room temp for about an hour until we finally finished recounting the continuing misery of the Baudelaire orphans. We got back to the drinking at hand by assuming first position and giving the glass a quick pirouette, just to see if it was still alive. If anything, warm Hops on Pointe was even more tropical-fruity-delicious—and still well-carbonated. 

This could (arguably) be due to Garage Project’s use of Champagne yeast to “finish” the beer. Champagne yeast chews up some fermentable sugars that beer yeasts don’t eat (a phrase which here means “the beer becomes drier”) and (arguably) creates a tiny bubbles-type situation to keep it fresh during brushing teeth and the retelling of Count Olaf’s dastardly deeds. 

Johannes suggested that New Zealand is kicking our ass on the wine-end of things in his review of Kumeu Village Chardonnay. As a proud card-carrying Kiwiphile, I’d steal his assessment and apply it to the NZ beer world as well, with one caveat. Similar to the Kiwi wine industry, NZ brewers have come incredibly far in very little time. 2017 New Zealand is rich with outstanding independent breweries (Kereru, Altitude, Townshend’s, 8 Wired, Cassels and Sons, etc., etc.), but ten to fifteen years ago, good NZ beer choices were few and far between (footnote-mentioned Emerson’s, Mussel Inn, Croucher, Twisted Hop). 

So what’s the caveat for you, the discerning beer drinker? NZ beers are expensive. Will you get more reward with a 650 ml bottle of a Garage Project beer that’s tough to locate or a twelve-pack of Racer 5? That’s up to you, tiny dancer, but it’s definitely worth it to me. Keep in mind that NZ beers are expensive in Aotearoa too. I just wish that Hops on Pointe was, as stated on the bottle’s copy, always “available at all good [American] barres.”  

I love this imported Kiwi beer
(They know how to make it over there)
The barre returns to soothe my ear
I love this imported Kiwi beer



¹Confusing things right from the get-go here: Dunedin, NZ’s The Verlaines’ song ‘Bird Dog’ also lends its name to a classic New Zealand IPA from Dunedin city mates Emerson’s Brewery—a brewery that will certainly be discussed in the future, along with fractious and thorny stories about brewery ownership, the concept of ‘selling out,’ and the constant peril of self-identity in the modern world (oof, that’s heavy, man).

²Saccharomyces pastorianus is the bottom-fermenting lager yeast strain, named after Louis Pasteur (not after Jaco Pastorius, silly). S. cerevisiae is the top-fermenting ale yeast strain, named after the Latin word for beer (That’s a mouthful just to say ‘beer,’ Romans!). The more you know!

³Grown in the northwest corner of the South Island, just a very choppy thirty-minute flight from Wellington, some people think Nelson Sauvin has similar aromatics to New Zealand-grown Sauvignon Blanc (hence ‘Sauvin’), although to me the hop has more of an aromatics profile (Gewürz, Riesling). It’s also a low-acid bittering hop if it’s used in the bittering process at the beginning of the boil, so if used as a bittering hop, it’s going to be softer than high-acid American hops like Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus.


Find this beer at a store near you or online:

May 23, 2017