The seemingly obvious relationship between craft beer drinking males and facial hair has proved to be probably the most popular and controversial theme raised by this humble blogger in 2014.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 10:41

Stone Brewing Company - The OG of Craft Beer

Last week’s blog ended with the bombshell revelation that I almost electrocuted myself by drooling on my laptop’s keyboard after reading the extensive beer list for a then classified event on 13 March 2014. I’d like to thank everyone who wrote in expressing concern for my safety. [1]

I’m now able to reveal details of said event as the Cone of Silence has officially been lifted by Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor. On 13 March 2014, legendary American craft brewery Stone will initiate what I believe to be the biggest tap takeover in New Zealand history when over 40 of their beers go on tap at two bars (Malthouse and the Fork & Brewer) on the same day. 

Founder and owner Greg Koch, currently on a sabbatical from his American duties, will likely be present to assist customers with their beer selections. [2] The event has been dubbed The City Tap Takeover (Twitter: #citytaptakeover). It should be noted that there could be as little as one keg of some of the rarer beers.

I’m going to discuss some of the beers which will be available in this week’s blog and also in next week’s edition. However, I won’t even come close to listing them all. Additionally, Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor will not tell even me which beers will be at which bar seemingly in order to ensure I must get some exercise travelling between the bars in order to search out the very hoppiest drops. [3]

Stone Brewing Company was founded in 1996 and is based in Escondido, California. It is one of the larger American craft breweries (#10 in 2012) and they export limited amounts of their characterful and often high-octane beers. They are probably best known for hoppy, West Coast pale ales though they actually make a wide range of styles. Stone has been rated as a "world class brewery" by RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. In fact, readers of BeerAdvocate voted Stone as the #1 "All Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth" – quite an honour. [4]

I’ve actually been there and I have to say that it is really quite beautiful and easily the cleanest facility I’ve seen. Certainly their brewery was cleaner than any hospital I’ve ever been in. I went there for a World Beer Cup event which was held at their new brewery which was built on a newly created street. The invite was literally covered in warnings telling people not to follow their GPS instructions as they would be directed to the wrong location. Honestly, I though the number of warnings was excessive and patronising.

I was wrong. [5] Fully one third of the guests were up to 90 minutes late, all frantically blaming their GPS systems for taking them on a wild goose chase. Instead of being sympathetic, I got a head start eating BBQ ribs and drinking Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale

In addition to their highly regarded beers, Stone is known for their in-your-face and off-the-wall marketing. The fact that their flagship beer is called Arrogant Bastard Ale tends to support that theory. On every bottle of Arrogant Bastard is the text - “This is an aggressive beer.  You probably won't like it.  It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth”. That lends further credence to the thesis. Oh, Stone also call mainstream beer drinkers “fizzy yellow beer drinking ninnies” which just about cinches it.

In their “The World Atlas of Beer”, noted beer writers Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb described Stone as “attitudinal.” [6] In their later book, “The 2014 Pocket Beer Book,” they describe Stone as a “mini-empire.”  I characterise Stone Brewery as the “Original Gangster” of the craft beer world. These guys have been talking smack about their competitor’s beers, their customer’s taste buds, their own beers and international free trade for decades. It is basically the brewery that BrewDog wants to become when it grows up

Beaumont and Webb wrote about Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2%) that “Stone Brewing has built a large degree of the brewery’s success on the back of this strong dark, and aggressively hopped ale, bracing in its bitterness with fruity caramelly malt to match.” 

However, they rate Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2%) even highly and so do I. It is the classic Stone Arrogant Bastard Strong Ale which has been aged on oak chips. It is a hefty 7.2% alcohol by volume and while the hops and IBU (International Bitterness Units) are “classified” like most Stone brews, I have tried this beer at the brewery and it has bold notes of caramel, oak and dark fruits before a hefty blast of citrus hops. The beer boasts that it is “hated by many, loved by few, you are not worthy.” [7]

There are four also versions of Stone’s Double Bastard Strong Ale - 2009 Double Bastard Ale (10.5%), 2010 Double Bastard Ale with Chipotle Peppers (11.2%), 2012 Double Bastard Ale with Toasted Oak (11.2%) and 2013 Double Bastard Ale (11.2%). The base Double Bastard is an American Strong Ale which pours a burnt orange colour with an off-white head. There are notes of grapefruit, orange, sweet caramel, brown sugar and raisins before an intense bitter finish. The mouthfeel is thick, almost oily, and the high alcohol is evident on the palate. Obviously the chipotle and oak will bring in additional flavour dimensions to their respective vintages.

Continuing the “abuse the potential customer” theme, Stone say Double Bastard is “one lacerative muther of an ale.  It is unequivocally certain that your feeble palate is grossly inadequate and thus undeserving of this liquid glory... and those around you would have little desire to listen to your resultant whimpering.”

In the next issue, I will cover half a dozen or so more Stone beers which will be in the City Tap Takeover, including at least two which are not Pale Ales. I will also reveal how I might have inadvertently contributed to New Zealand getting threatened with legal action by Stone Brewing Company some years ago. 

Next time, we drink to Canadian hockey for providing the only real reason to watch the Winter Olympics. Well done to their men’s and women’s team for winning gold and bringing their “eh” game.  They still have to atone for producing Justin Bieber and Celine Dion though…

[1] That thank you correspondence will not take long as no-one – including my mother – expressed any such concern. I expected at least a couple of messages, mainly from brewers, bar owners and their accountants fearing for their financial futures.

[2] Greg Koch the beer guy should not be mistaken for Greg Koch “the unsung guitar hero from Milwaukee, Wisconsin”. A lot of my working day was spent watching YouTube guitar solos waiting for the guy to talk about hops and malt. He never did. However, he did perform songs titled “The Love Contractor”, “Spank It” and “Your Face”.

[3] This is likely the closest I will ever come to doing the Round the Bays “fun” run.

[4] I’d definitely put that on everyone’s business card.

[5] I’ve been asked by several fans to produce “Neil Miller was wrong” t-shirts. I think they would sell well. I know I’d wear one (but I probably wouldn’t pay for it).

[6] “Attitudinal” is pretty strong language from a polite Canadian and even politer Briton.

[7] I love it but I agree I’m probably not worthy.


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Thursday, 23 January 2014 18:35

Malthouse Presents: Ciderhouse Round II

Ciderhouse, which we ran in early December last year, was a tap-takeover showcase of New Zealand's best ciders.

The event was such a huge hit that we've decided to run it again for those who missed out, or are keen for another crack at the best range of NZ ciders under one roof.

If you're not a cider drinker don't fret! Our 28 taps allow us to do a decent cider expose without ruining anyone's plans for a good tap beer, not to mention our giant bottled beer fridge.

10 ciders will be pouring on tap for a week from 3rd-10th February, including the most popular from December (Good George, Peckhams, & Weka), and even a few that weren't featured last time. So there's plenty of cider to try and and plenty of time to do so!

The Malthouse Crew 


Thursday, 19 December 2013 20:56

Neil Miller’s Top Ten Kiwi Beers of 2013

Christmas trees are popping up all over, tinsel sales are through the roof and every store seems to have Snoopy’s Freaking Christmas on endless loop.

Wednesday, 04 December 2013 15:01

Malthouse Becomes Ciderhouse 7th- 14th December

Malthouse becomes Ciderhouse – should have become Roadhouse

Perhaps the most terrifying phrase a professional writer can ever hear from a client is “I know you are going to hate me for this but it’s got to be done…”  Those were the words recently uttered to me by Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor of Malthouse. [1] He wanted – nay, required – me to write another article all about cider. [2] 

The topic is Malthouse becomes Ciderhouse – a week-long cider celebration event (7-14 December) featuring a cider tap takeover (around ten at any given time).  Featured ciders will be detailed at the end of this post but first it is necessary to cover up my lack of knowledge and appreciation of cider with some history and literary references. 

In Tom Hickman’s authoritative book “Drink – A User’s Guide,” he traces the rise of cider, a fermented alcoholic beverage made from fruit, in this case usually apples.  He described cider as being “unique… neither wine (though made like wine) nor beer (though drunk like beer) and produced in as wide a variety of styles as either.”

Hickman believes the ancient Egyptians may have been the first to drink cider. He argues “they grew apple trees along the Nile delta after all.  There’s no direct evidence but it would be injudicious to assume they didn’t – they thought of pretty much everything else.”

Certainly the English Saxons in Kent were enjoying many a pint of cider as early as 55BC when the Romans arrived.  Hickman describes the Romans as the Johnny Appleseeds’ of the ancient world” who introduced the drink across their global empire.  “Julius Caesar was such an enthusiast that he had cider-apple tree seeds and saplings taken to Rome, though not much came of it.”

By the 19th century, he writes that “the cider drinkers were mostly in the Euro belt between the grape growing south and the grain growing north, on a diagonal from Bavaria to Somerset in the toe of England, with a detour into northern Spain.” 

Surprisingly, cider was once the most abundant and the cheapest fluid” in the fledgling colony of America.  The revolutionaries who committed the Boston Tea Party actually boarded a second English ship carrying cider.  However, rather than tipping the cider into the sea, that precious cargo was taken home to drink.  Even in the 20th century, temperance activists chopped down whole orchards because virtually all apples were being turned into cider. 

As noted many times, it is a matter of public record [3] that I am not a cider drinker.  As I do in most areas of life, I tend follow the approach of my literary and drinking hero Sir Kingsley Amis whose numerous tomes and columns on the joys and perils of drink contained virtually no mention of cider.  Today, I found out why.  The answer was contained a review of Kingsley Amis’ famous tone “On Drink” written by Alexander Waugh, grandson of Evelyn Waugh. 

Waugh wrote that, in his early years, Amis’ thirst far exceeded his means and so he was forced to maximise the impact of his intake.  He said Young Amis discovered for himself that for twenty-five old pennies he could get himself plastered on three barley wines, a pint of rough cider and a small whisky. [4] As his means improved, he moved on to beer as his daily tipple and from beer advanced to Scotch whisky, of which he drank so much that by the late '70s, his monthly bill for the stuff was one thousand pounds.” [5]

This could explain why cider never really appeared in his later writings.  Whisky was Amis’ dessert island (and daily) drink, he wrote extensively about wine while acknowledging he preferred quantity over quality, [6] he popularised any number of cocktails, concoctions or punch, and was a long-time beer imbiber.

In the collection of his alcohol works - “Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis” - cider does not appear in the index.  To put that in context, here is a short selection of drinks which get more mentions: Yugoslavian Scotch, Shandy, Veuve de Vemay, Cock Ale, Swiss Wine, Salty Dog, Hot Buttered Rum, Polish Bison, Amontillado sherry and Careful Man’s Peachy Punch.

Modern writers are increasingly taking a different view, including Pete Brown from England who has been championing the rise of artisan cider for several years and who has just published a book on the subject.  In his article “Traditional cider polishes its apples” [7] Brown writes:

“Three centuries ago it was "English champagne".  A couple of decades ago it was better known as the stuff drunk on park benches.  Today, cider's star is on the rise - sales are booming (pub cider sales last year were up 1.6%, beer and wine down around 4%, and in supermarkets sales were up £84m to £822m).  And while most supermarkets and pubs doggedly push major brands to the fore, the real boom is among smaller producers using traditional methods and a higher apple juice content.”

Now that we have balanced the ledger somewhat, here is final lineup [8] for Malthouse becomes Ciderhouse.  I’ve listed the ciders with my comments (where I have any):

Good George Cider 5.0%
Good George Drop Hop Cider 5.0% (Invented by Kelly Ryan, this innovative drop made with hops is also the current Champion Cider of New Zealand)
Hallertau Granny Smith's Cider (4%)
Fork & Brewer Bandwagon 5.8% (Named by Colin THYSSSP because “everyone was making cider, so we might as well get on the bandwagon”)
Fork &Brewer Berried Alive 5.8% (Also includes berries)
Peckham’s English Cider 5.6% (Don’t let the name fool you – it’s a Kiwi cider)
Peckham’s Elderflower Cider 5.6% (Also includes elderflowers)
Townshend's Sitbee Cider 5.8% (Got to be Cockney Rhyming Slang…)
Townshend's Laurie Lee Cider 5.0% (He was a writer – got that one)
KJD Eve's Cider 5.0%
Moa Weka Cider 4.0%
Zeffer Apple Cider 5.0%
Zeffer Slack ma Girdle 6.9% (Highly regarded and the alcohol content makes some people laugh) [9]

 Finally, there is a beer in the cider celebration but for very good reason.  Liberty How do you like dem Apples? (9.9%) is a (very strong) beer made with apple juice.  It was brewed for the last Beer Awards Festive Beer category which challenged brewers to make a beer which did not use one of the four traditional ingredients.  In this case, Joe Wood decided to replace water with apple juice…

 Next time we drink to the Calgary Hitmen second tier ice hockey team which, for the 19th year, ran their annual Teddy Bear Toss for charity.  Fans spent 11 minutes throwing over 26,000 teddy bears onto the ice.  The bears were gathered up (it took an army of volunteers over half an hour) and the toys will go to charities for the run-up to Christmas.  I’ve linked to a two-minute fan video below – it’s awesome, eh.

[1] I’ve taken the liberty of translating them into English.

[2] In February 2013 I wrote of my “abiding suspicion that Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor makes me do columns about cider every year or so just to mess with me.”  Looking at my calendar, I may have misunderestimated his mean streak. 

[3] Google and the Library of Congress.  Mainly Google…

[4] Compared to the modern equivalent of bus-stop lagers, wine in a box or pink alcopops, this selection appears relatively classy.

[5] To put that in context, the average British house price in 1978 was a little over fifteen thousand pounds. 

[6] Waugh mocks him saying “Amis freely admits in all three books that he knows very little about wine, the reason given that his father, a clerk at the Colman's Mustard factory, was not rich enough to give him good wine as a boy.  Nevertheless, he blithely recommends Hock and Moselle over white Burgundy, while enjoining his readers to drink huge amounts of cheap table wine from France, Spain, Portugal, or Austria — the better it is the worse the hangover.”

[7] A much more balanced title than the one I rejected for the February post which was “Cider: Fizzy apple juice – I just don’t see the attraction”.

[8] “Final” almost never means final when it comes to hospitality events.

[9] Not me of course – far too mature for that.


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Thursday, 14 November 2013 15:54

Malthouse Becomes Ciderhouse (for a week)

Malthouse Ciderhouse brings you a week-long showcase of the best craft ciders on tap from around NZ, including offerings from:

Fork & Brewer
Good George
Old Mout
...and more
So head down to Malthouse Ciderhouse during the week of the 7th December 4pm - 14th December 4pm to ensconce yourself in BIG JUICY APPLES!

Facebook Event:

The Malthouse Ciderhouse Crew