Marlborough’s Summer Beer Fest

If you know us at all by now, you know we love a beer festival. Over the past few summers we have been enjoying everything from the Sarau Festival in Upper Moutere to the Last of the Summer Fare in Richmond. This year, we are excited to explore a few new ones. On Sunday 5 Feb, we drove over the hill to Blenheim for the Drylands Winery Summer Beer Fest. We are also hoping we will make it to Christchurch for the Kiwi Beer Festival on 25 February. With 30 breweries, a day full of music, talks, and food, and around 6000 tickets already sold, that looks to be a festival to experience.

Inside the festival

Renaissance stall

Drylands at the weekend created a very different sort of event. Instigated by Dietmar Schnarre, chef of the winery’s restaurant, the goal was to provide a family day out celebrating local craft beer. For the free event, they asked just seven breweries to come along and offer samples of their beers for $2-$4. The winery offered wines and other drinks, and put on an array of small dishes. In addition, you could talk to I-n-I Brew Supply about homebrew equipment, attend a beer/wine/cheese pairing, or join a meet the brewer session. It was well organized, and well attended, with a satisfying but not overwhelming crowd of ? turning out.

We got in on the first of the cheese sessions, and found the guided tasting to be packed with interesting

Soren talks about his beer

Lisa, Geoff, and Soren

flavours and information. It was led by beer writer Geoff Griggs, with cheesemaker Lisa Harper (of Sherrington Grange) and Drylands winemaker Dave Edmonds, plus a stop in from brewer Soren Ericksen, We tasted three cheeses, each paired with a Drylands wine and then a beer from the festival.

We didn’t find much need to attend meet-the-brewers, since all but one stall were attended by their brewers for most of the afternoon. In fact, in spite of the solid crowd, we caught up with each of them, bringing home a wealth of news.

Dave Nicholls

The elusive Dave Nicholls

Dave Nicholls from Moa Brewing was keen to share a bevy of new releases with us. Some of his good news isn’t ready for print yet, but he did say that he’s set a 2012 goal of a new brew every 2 weeks, and currently he’s way ahead of schedule. He’s even already put down his “Muscle Stout,” the Marchfest “Special Ingredient” brew. We can also say to watch for a dry ginger lager, a full lambic style ale, and some big Reserves. These include a super hoppy IPA, an imperial pilsner and a whiskey bock made in a barrel that he conditioned with three bottles of Glen Fiddich! He’s brewing three times a day to keep up right now, and foresees going to 24×6 within a year. In addition, we got to sample “Special Beer A” and “Special Beer B,” the new easy drinking pale ale and Belgian styles that are yet to be named.

At the other end of the scale, Dale Holland of Dale’s Brewing Co. is anxiously awaiting his second round his Amber and Belgian, and is getting ready plans to launch a third beer in April.

We caught up with Soren Eriksen of 8 Wired while he struggled to get his taps working. As he got the foam under control we discussed his news about winning 6 of the top 10 beers in the Rate Beer annual awards and top NZ brewery. Rate Beer is a website that collects reviews by the general public, with awards weighted toward the most experienced reviewers. His comment on the difference between winning this and winning a competition was spot on “Like sport, you can be a world cup winner, and you can also have the best season average. This is much less dependent on the luck of the day.” Soren also wanted to apolgise to Nelson for not bringing a beer to Marchfest this year. He explained that he doesn’t know what he’s brewing next week, let alone for March right now, so he wasn’t able to commit to the specifics needed by the organisers. That won’t keep him away as a participant, though, and he might even join a BrewTalks panel with us.

Tracy Banner of Sprig and Fern was pouring non-stop, but we did catch up with co-owner Dave Barrett. mugging for the cameraDave gave us an update on the Wellington refit, with quite a major overhaul required to fit in handicapped toilets, etc. He also talked about their successful Brightwater Wine and Food Festival sponsorship, where he was pleased to have included Totara and Moutere Inn beers as well as Old Mout in the booth.

Andy Deuchars of Rennaisance also shared his regrets at not bringing a beer to Marchfest this year. Things are hopping at the brewery, and they just don’t have tank space for a special these days. He too, will come along, though, and might be persuaded to join a chat. His other news was the conversion of his Paradox Blonde Ale to Paradox Pilsner. In something akin to sex change operation, they have kept the same basic beer, but switched yeasts, and dropped the ferment temp. They are also emphasising Riwaka hops now.

And our last catch up of the day was with Belinda Gould of Brew Moon in Amberley outside of Christchurch. We hadn’t met her before, and learned that she’s taken over brewing from her husband. She has over 20 years in winemaking, and when her winery job ended realised she could put her fermentation skills to use relieving her overstretched husband. Asked if she has changed anything, she admits to modifying a few recipes slightly, but mostly to expanding their output so that their beers can now reach further than their own brewpub.

After all that, it was time to put down the pen, and just enjoy a lovely, if not terribly sunny, afternoon.

Afterwards we asked a delighted Geoff Griggs for his thoughts on the event: “What a fantastic day! We achieved exactly what we set out to achieve… to prove Marlborough could host a successful, family-friendly event which was focused on the appreciation and enjoyment of high quality craft beer.”

He couldn’t have said it better. We join him in thanking everyone who attended for making it a great day out.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Nelson Mail

There is a gallery of more images from the festival here.

About Fritz and Maria

Fritz and Maria have been living, drinking and brewing together for over 20 years. As beer commentators and educators they strive to create a beerocracy where people exercise their palates by voting for quality in the marketplace. Their interests include the personalities, business, and culture of craft beer worldwide. As distillers for Rough Hands, they loved being at the place where magic meets science. Fritz and Maria can be found speaking at beery events, holding guided tastings, judging competitions.

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