Our natural bias is to think of Marchfest as a beer festival. To be fair to ourselves, it has called itself a “hip harvest hop festival.” One would be forgiven this year, however, for missing the beer connection altogether. The organisers admit that they stretched the budget bringing in Alabama Three and John Cooper Clarke for their little beer fest in Nelson. This has drawn the marketing and the crowd focus toward the entertainment elements, happily with a positive impact on ticket pre-sales.
Fortunately for us, though, the original heart is still there. It is still an autumn festival coinciding with the hop and apple harvests. They have maintained the original “unique and local” focus that invites every local brewery and cider maker to bring a never before sold beer or cider. And they have intensified the challenge a little this year by adding a few more constraints.
Before we discuss the beers, let’s go back to the apples. The Cider Showcase just held at the Moutere Inn was a good reminder for us how ciders can also be unique, distinctive products. Doug Donelan of NZ Hops says he will slay us if we talk about cider being “brewed,” and we agree that the process is much closer to wine making than brewing. But more than grape wines, fruit wines and ciders encompass a wide range of possible flavours and styles, production techniques and ingredient blending.
Case in point would be the mind blowing Boysenberry Cider from Peckham’s Cider in the Moutere. The Peckhams are traditional cider makers, using heritage apples that they grow and crush. They don’t use sugar, and instead use blending. They use traditional blends of the tart, bitter and aromatic apples, and in this case 120 grams of fresh boysenberries per pint! All four of us tasting at the Moutere Inn thought we knew what to expect, and were stunned by the fresh picked flavours they managed to keep in the keg.
Each of the other five selections was notably distinct, with the group quite divided on our favourites. The lightest in colour, flavour and alcohol (5% abv) was the Berriman’s from Arrowtown. Crisp and almost pear-like, this was dubbed a “lunchtime cider.”
At the other end of the spectrum was the big 7.5 % abv Invercargill Heritage Cider. It used windfall apples, champagne yeast, traditional rack and cloth pressing and was aged 30 months. This was deemed a bloke’s cider, ranking highest overall for the guys, and lowest for the girls. The pungent brettanomyces barnyard and astringent aromas and flavours, yet low acidity, was quite polarising.
Of course none of these will be at Marchfest. But Peckham’s and Redwood Cellars will both be making something special to send along. We’ve been hired by Marchfest to run a series of panel discussions, and we look forward to learning more on this topic in our Cider talk.
At the past two Marchfests, we have talked with the brewers about their special Marchfest brews. This year, we’ve been thrown a loop, since the beers will all contain a secret ingredient. But brewer notes have been posted on the Marchfest website, and are full of hints.
As usual there is a wide range of beer styles, even before the secret twists are applied. Much to Maria’s delight there are three dark ales, along with the lagers and an assortment of shades of ale. Some beers will be subtle, while others more heavily modified.
Again this year there will be a special “hooter” beer available once an hour. This time it is from Sprig and Fern, is barrel aged, and the supply is limited. Also back is a wet hop beer from the hop farmers of Totara Brewing. There seem to be a vast range of spices involved in the brews as well.
Events like this, presenting unknown beers, can be a bit intimidating or frustrating for people who have specific tastes. Our suggestion is to think about what you like, and ask around to see if you can find suggestions from folks with similar tastes. In the end, it is about exploring new flavours and having fun.
Originally published in the Nelson Mail.