Garage Project – Masters of the double IPA somersault

Long the people’s choice as New Zealand’s best brewery, Garage Project have negotiated the bureaucracy of beer to be the establishment’s No 1.

The Wellington outfit, which started with just two people six years ago, founders Jos Ruffell and Pete Gillespie, now employs over 40. They won Champion Brewery at the Brewers Guild Awards in Christchurch last weekend. It was a tightly fought battle for the title with Sawmill from Matakana, Lion and McLeod’s from Waipu all contending. That quartet won four golds apiece but Garage Project had more silvers (9) than Lion (6), Sawmill (3) and McLeod’s (0).

In their short history Garage Project have not put much emphasis on medals and trophies. In fact, they have a rubbish bin in the brewery where the awards are ceremoniously dumped.

Partly it’s to do with the fact their multi-dimensional beers are hard to classify within the relatively narrow confines of beer judging where “style” parameters matter. They are like an Olympic diver who, instead of doing a double somersault, throws in a juggling routine with lemons. If you’re asked to judge just the double somersault, you deduct points for the juggling routine, no matter how much it adds to the experience.

And they also care more for what their horde of fans think than brewing beers to win awards. Hearts and minds matter more than silverware.

Finally, though, fans and judges are aligned.

The other Garage Project trademark is that beers come and go – space restrictions in their Aro St brewery and a commitment to continuously following of a Star Trek mantra of boldly going where no brewer has gone before makes that a necessity,

Right now, two of their gold medal winners are out of stock. But when they come back – as surely they will – they are worth pursuing.

Cabbages and Kings is an Imperial Oyster Stout with horopito. It comes at a price but it’s worth the investment for a luscious sea-meets-bush experience. It’s got dark fruity malts, salted chocolate and a late heat from the horopito. Seriously, it’s a meal in a glass.

In contrast to that complexity, Sung, an Irish stout, has simplicity of structure but is no less rewarding. The name says it all. Look for it next winter.

Two of their other gold medal winners are available. If you haven’t tried Party & Bullshit, you need to get some in you now.  It’s named after a 1993 song by rapper The Notorious B.I.G. who helped pit America’s rising East Coast rap scene against the establishment of the West Coast in the 1990s. The beer name references the rise of East Coast (or New England, or Vermont) IPA against the established West Coast IPA style as perfected in New Zealand by breweries such as Liberty and Epic. In short, East Coast IPA is haziness in look versus clarity; tropical fruit hop aromas and flavours as opposed to pine, citrus and stonefruit; soft bitterness instead of tongue-buzzing bite.

Party & Bullshit started life as something of a gimmick – a rogue entry against style in the annual West Coast IPA Challenge at Wellington bar The Malthouse. It has evolved into one of the best beers in the country.

The other GP gold medallist was Pernicious Yuzu Weed, a double IPA made with Yuzu zest, a Japanese citrus fruit that puts a lemon racing stripe on what is already a grunt machine of beer.