Week 5: My Dimly-Lit Hostel Epiphany

Dates:   29th July – 4th August, 2013

Bottle shop: New World Thorndon, Wellington

Beer(s): Mix6, by Tuatara (6-pack, one of each in the Tuatara 330ml range, $21.99)

Total: $21.99

My first weeks living in Wellington were a lonely affair: it was December 2010, and much too close to Christmas holidays to go to the hassle of shifting my little Team down from Auckland.  So, being a boy – and therefore (erroneously) assuming I wouldn’t care where I slept, as long as it was On A Bed – I went for the accommodation option which would punch me in the wallet most softly: Riddiford Street hostel, that shining beacon to Soviet-era building design, right next door to my work at the med school.

"So I will be a hostel one day?"  "Da, Comrade."

The building which became Riddiford Street Hostel.  Da.

Exciting hostel features included: Strange Guy Who Walks Up and Down the Corridor At Night; Showers So Hot they Leave a Mark; and the unforgettable Communal Television Stuck On Ear-Bleeding Volume (And TV One).  But the most important feature of the hostel was its solitude – no-one around to mock/judge/divorce me when I arrived back from New World Newtown with a bag full of beer and bad food.

It was as fitting a location as any to have a Beer Epiphany – that glowing moment where you realise that beer can actually taste amazing, and you’ve wasted a substantial proportion of your life (and money) drinking pint after pint of meh.  Many beer lovers can remember the exact beer they were drinking when they had that special moment – for me, my epiphany wasn’t over one single beer, but rather a range: Tuatara’s, to be precise.

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Having no fridge in my room, I was forced to buy beer every night (either that or *shudder* not spend my evenings drinking alone in a dimly-lit tiny hostel room).  I only needed enough to get me through the long-and-lonely school nights, so single bottles beckoned: and my only options (other than those shiny cans usually found empty in bus shelters) were the Tuatara beers.  I settled into a nightly routine of wandering up to Newtown, grabbing a couple of different Tuatara’s to match my haute cuisine of warmer-rack chicken nibbles, and then consuming both on my rock-hard hostel bed.

It’s funny how much my beer palate has evolved: I remember thinking that the Helles Lager was the standout performer of the bunch, which makes total sense – since before shifting to Welly I was a Generic Pale Lager kind of guy.  Helles was familiar and approachable – but above all, it was outstandingly made.  Having had the enviable privilege of spending some time in Bavaria, I can hand-on-heart say that this beer is absolutely bang-on true-to-style.  I’m not a huge fan anymore – but I can certainly appreciate Helles’ place as an important soft pair of hands to guide green bottle guzzlers (like my former self) down a path towards beer enlightenment.

In contrast, the beer which I enjoyed the least in that hostel room – the Porter – has become almost my favourite.  I think I’m getting better at appreciating the non-beery qualities of beer: I get lots of chocolate and coffee from Porter, and this time around I absolutely loved those elements.

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Hefe only requires a very short review – it’s the most outstanding, true-to-style and good-value wheat beer I’ve ever had.  It’s constantly taking out the wheat beer gong at the Brewer’s Guild Awards, and it matches (if not overtakes) anything I had the pleasure of enjoying in Hefe’s homeland.  As for the Pilsner, just think Emersons Pilsner and you’re 95% there – which doesn’t mean it’s 95% as good as Emersons; it’s just 5% different, which is a good thing…because if I want Emersons Pilsner, I’ll buy Emersons Pilsner.  The tag line on Tuatara’s Pilsner says ‘Snap, Crackle, Hops’…which is an apt description of the clean, crisp, hoppy (but not pungently so) flavour of this delicious beer.

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I saved the India Pale Ale and APA (Aotearoa Pale Ale) until last – and I wasn’t disappointed with either: in both cases, the brewers have managed to achieve a superb balance between hop flavour, malty character and bang-on bitterness.  A(otearoa)PA was developed as a response to the Great American Hop Shortage of a few-years-back, and is Tuatara’s statement of self-sufficiency: anything America can do, we can do better.  With such an impeccably-made beer range, I for one am not going to argue with them.

One parting (and slightly personal) thought – I have to admit that having only 6x330mls of beer this week was a little, shall we say, unusual (read: f**king hard at times).  Booze-free school nights are pretty easy, but what is it with weekends and needing more than one or two beers to be satisfied?

Either I need to evolve as a beer drinker and be content with quality rather than quantity – or Tuatara need to start making their outstanding beer for half what it currently costs them.

Your move, Tuatara.

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