This marlin certainly thinks so (Photo: Getty Images)

Is this New Zealand’s best pale ale?

Alice gives her verdict on an award-winning beer, and Henry dives into to a juicy Californian chardonnay.

BACH BREWING BILLFISH APA

5.8%, 6 X 330ml cans, $22.99 from Fine Wine Delivery Co

As a small child, I had a morbid fascination with the bill of a marlin that lived in our attic. It was huge. I couldn’t believe it had actually been attached to a fish. Poor fish. What was it made of? How had it not rotted?

Marlins are characterised as billfish (along with swordfish, sailfish and spearfish), and they use their long bony bills (also known as rostra) to slash at and stun prey. Apparently we actually had two bills in the attic — one from a black marlin, caught by my grandfather, and one from a striped marlin, caught by my grandmother — though I remember only one. I have since been informed that the black marlin’s bill was thrown away as it was falling apart, but the one from ol’ stripy now lives in my parents’ garage.

What the hell does this have to do with beer, you may be wondering. The answer is not a lot, but this week’s beer is the delightful Bach Brewing Billfish APA, and the label features a majestic marlin leaping out of the ocean in the background of a classic Kiwi beach scene.

Bach Brewing is run by Craig Cooper, a Hawke’s Bay chap whose brand reflects his love for the Kiwi coastal lifestyle — many of the beers have beachy names like Kingtide, Driftwood and the like. Bach doesn’t have a brewery of its own; instead its beers are contract brewed by Steam Brewing Co in Auckland, which also makes Epic’s and Birkenhead Brewing Co’s beers.

Billfish is brewed with hops from Aotearoa, America and Australia and malts from Anglia (er, England), hence why they call it an APA. It recently took out the pale ale trophy at the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards, which followed hot on the heels of being named champion international pale ale at the 2018 Australian International Beer Awards.

Expectations for this beer, then, were high, and I was not disappointed. It could be the idyllic scene on the label and the fact the sun is shining in Tāmaki Makaurau, but to me the Billfish APA tastes likes summer. Deliciously, tantalisingly close-yet-still-so-far-away summer.

It’s flavoursome but approachable, pale in hue and a sessionable 5.8% but still packed with juicy, fruity hop flavour. We drank it during the recent recording of Dietary Requirements, and the fact that both hop-novice Sophie and hop-junkie yours truly enjoyed it proves this is a damn fine crowd-pleasing beer.

Drink while fishing, or eating fish, or hiding in the attic and playing with a dead fish’s bill, maybe? Or with your mate called Bill.

Verdict: Tops the bill(fish).

Alice Neville

(Photo: Henry Oliver)

PACIFICANA CHARDONNAY 2017

California, 13.8%, $18.99 from Fine Wine Delivery Co

We are, if you didn’t know, in the midst of a chardonnay revival. For various reasons, in the late 90s and into the 00s, chardonnay was out. It was done, it was over. Chardonnay represented 80s/90s extravagance. It was Wall Street, it was Clinton, it was the cocaine of wine. It was big, it was bold, it was passé. Wine drinkers, we’ve been told, began to want freshness and acidity. They wanted sauvignon blanc, and when they got over that, they wanted pinot gris or rosé.

But now, finally, chardonnay is back. Wine people love it (have they ever not?), food people love it, and shelf-browsers are learning to love it again too. But, when we’re told about this vino-revival, we’re told “chardonnay isn’t like that any more”. The oak has been banished, the butter vanished. It’s all about minerality now – stones, bones and citrus. But what if you like a bit of new oak, you like a bit of buttered popcorn? I mean, I love a lanky, stingy chablis as much as anyone (Give me gravel! Give me dirt! Give me oyster shells!), but sometimes I want something big, something juicy, something generous. Something giving. And that’s what California chardonnay does best.

So if you want a white wine that’s creamy and comforting, this Pacifica Chardonnay 2017 is as good as you’re gonna get for under $20. To be honest, I tend to shy away from American bottles at the wine store. The ones I’ve tried and liked have mostly turned out to be $50-plus – if there are US bargains out there, I don’t know how to find them. But this wine from the Monterey Peninsula comes from a land of hot days and cool coastal nights, providing a rich fruitiness (peach, apricot, pineapple, granny smith) with enough acidity to give all that oak and butter a robust, strong structure to hang on.

To put it in the simplest terms possible, this wine – served with a creamy pasta (doing these things has made me realise how much pasta I eat during the week) – made me smile. And what else, dear reader, could you ever want?

Verdict: Yum, dumb and full of comfort.

Henry Oliver


The Spinoff’s beverage content is brought to you by Fine Wine Delivery Co, which is completely and utterly devoted to good taste, whether it’s wine, food, craft beer, whisky, rum… Check out their website or pop into one of the two Auckland superstores.

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