Sunday, August 21

Hippy Hoppy Heaven

Two days after escaping New Zealand's worst winter blizzard in 50 years, I find myself (sorry, the 22-hour flight via Sydney, Auckland, and Los Angeles is a total blur) at the idyllic Goschie Hop Farm in Oregon, about an hour's drive from Portland. The annual hop harvest is in full swing and the air is thick with the sweet aroma of freshly-picked organic hops. Huge sheaths of the greener-than-green hop flowers are being fed into a giant processing machine. My companions seem equally blown away by the scene. Some wear garlands of fresh hops around their necks like latter-day Roman Emperors. Others thrust the sappy flowers into their nostrils as though they have just discovered a sacred elixir . Elsewhere farm staff are setting up a beer-friendly feast under some shady trees. The trestle tables are laden with bowls of sauerkraut, potato salad, plump blueberries and fresh dark rye rolls; aromatic sausages are already grilling on the barbecue. And, of course, there are plenty of beers on tap from breweries in Portland and nearby Eugene -- plus some dangerous-looking Hop Hash Browns. The Friday afternoon rush-hour was eased by some coach-based beer tasting which featured (if I remember) product from Ninkasi, Breakside, Rogue, Widmer and Full Sail – just a sample of the 156 breweries, brew pubs and brewery restaurants in the state of Oregon.

Perhaps I should explain that I'm not here entirely by some strange quirk of fate; although that's how it feels most of the time. I'm actually in Portland to attend the Second International Beer Bloggers Conference (August 18-21) which is being hosted by the Oregon Brewers Guild at the Doubletree Portland hotel. Organisers tell me that there are 91 delegates at the conference, a mixture of "citizen bloggers", lifestyle journalists, craft brewers and marketing types employed by the breweries. To my surprise about a third are women, many of the Gen Y persuasion. Oddly enough for an international event I am the only non-American in the room. "We were expecting a delegate from Brazil, but in the end no-one showed up," BBC organizer Allan Wright told me. The absence of UK-based delegates (the biggest beer blogging community outside North America) is understandable given the parlous state of that country's economy.

Apart from reinforcing Oregon's reputation as the powerhouse of US craft brewing this visit has already highlighted the huge gulf that separates Australia from the rest of the craft beer world.  While the beer blogging sector here is still in its infancy the level of dialogue between beer bloggers and the brewers is impressive. They often work very closely together on seasonal beers, gastronomic events and beer-themed festivals. If the North American experience is anything to go by Australian beer drinkers have an exciting decade to look forward to. Welcome to the (craft beer) revolution!

Yours in beer
Mark Chipperfield

Sunday, August 14

Another face of Christchurch: Dux de Lux

A few days ago I was taken to see the infamous Red Zone in Christchurch -- the central business precinct worst hit by the monstrous earthquake which shook the city in February. Since I've been coming to Christchurch off-and-on for 30 years I was in no rush to see the devastation, but pleased I did. Despite the passage of time and waning international media interest, these scenes are still shocking and a little surreal. But what the images don't convey is the sense of normality and determination that still reigns in this city. "Just you watch," said an elderly gent who collared me in the street. "We'll rebuild Christchurch again -- and she'll be better than before."
There's no better symbol of this spirit than the impromptu wailing wall (pictured above) that has blossomed on the corner of Hereford and Montreal streets. As the heartfelt signs pinned to the fence outside clearly indicate the Dux was a cornerstone of city life -- part brewery, part pub, part restaurant, part live music venue. Funny, irreverent, stoic and wedded to reality (no matter how challenging), the people of Christchurch are all of these things.

Just around the corner people were queuing up to buy freshly baked sour dough bread from Canterbury Cheesemongers and owner Martin Aspinwall, a cheery Yorkshireman, was gracious enough to give me a tour of his fantastic walk-in cheese room. I walked away with a piping hot baguette (Kiwis call them French Sticks) and a generous slice of Shropshire Blue. All I now needed was a decent Pinot Noir and lunch was sorted.  I left the city far more optimistic than I could have imagined -- and full of admiration for the people this big-hearted city. Bring back the Dux!

Yours in beer
Mark Chipperfield