DFA hanging out in a slightly sad-looking Vietnamese mint plant (Photo: Alice Neville)
DFA hanging out in a slightly sad-looking Vietnamese mint plant (Photo: Alice Neville)

KaiSeptember 27, 2018

Garage Project’s DFA: a controversial beer, reborn

DFA hanging out in a slightly sad-looking Vietnamese mint plant (Photo: Alice Neville)
DFA hanging out in a slightly sad-looking Vietnamese mint plant (Photo: Alice Neville)

This week, Alice Neville welcomes new beginnings for a beer that’s had its fair share of drama, and Henry Oliver tips his hat to a wallet-friendly white.


7.5%, 330ml, $6.99 from Fine Wine Delivery Co

This week’s beer comes with a touch of controversy. First brewed in 2013, the then-named Death From Above was a classic Garage Project humdinger – an IPA packed with American hops and the genius additions of Vietnamese mint, mango, chilli and lime. The name and label were inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War masterpiece Apocalypse Now, specifically alluding to the famous Ride of the Valkyries scene.

It was intended to be a pop culture reference but was perceived by some as insensitive and hurtful. While I admit to not having given much thought to the beer beyond its deliciousness back then, for those who lived through the horrors of this shameful episode of recent history, napalm-dropping helicopters are far more than simply a pop culture reference, and for some, using them to sell a beer with Vietnamese flavours added insult to injury.

To their credit, Garage Project took the feedback on board and stopped making Death From Above late last year. Pete Gillespie, by all accounts a GC, wrote thoughtfully on the decision at the time, expressing his genuine regret at the offence the beer had caused.

But, to the relief of its fans, twas not the end for DFA, which had its second coming at this year’s Beervana as Demus Favorem Amori, Latin for “we choose to stand for love”. Weddings were held in the romantic setting of the stadium concourse to mark the occasion (see H and L in my Beervana A-Z for more on that).

They’ve made a few tweaks to the new DFA (different chillies, fresher hops, more mango) but it’s essentially the same beer and let me tell you, it’s GOOD. I could drink only this and last week’s Pernicious Yuzu Weed for the rest of my days and be a happy (albeit drunk and broke) woman.

If NOVELTY BEER alarm bells rang when you read mango, chilli, lime and Vietnamese mint above, rest assured, all these flavours are subtle, mingling delightfully with the citrussy hoppiness of the Citra hops and resulting in a fruity, bittersweet, balanced, yum AF IPA. A YAFIPA, if you will.

Verdict: DFA is dead, long live DFA!

Alice Neville

Wandering River at home with his fruity friends (Photo: Henry Oliver)


12%, Hawke’s Bay, $8.25 from Fine Wine Delivery Co

Let me cop to something up front: I’m cheap. Not that I don’t spend money on things I like (including wine). I do. It’s just that when I can spend a little less and get a little more, why wouldn’t I? And when I feel like I’m the one taking advantage of some saving rather than being taken advantage of (which this whole capitalism thing feels like a lot of the time), well, that brings me joy that it probably ought to.

So, if you’re like me and find a small amount of happiness in this apocalyptic hellscape, let me introduce you, my fellow bargain hunter, to two words that could change the way you buy local wine: cancelled order.

We make a lot of wine in New Zealand, and only a small amount of that (roughly 10%) is sold here. And while many of the New Zealand wines you love have good brand recognition overseas, there are many New Zealand wines on shelves in New York, Manchester and Brisbane sold by brands you’ve never heard of before. Some of these are the same wines sold here, but with different names and labels. Some are made exclusively for export, like this Wandering River Sauvignon blanc.

Wandering River is made by Trinity Hill, a well-known quality producer in Hawke’s Bay. Wandering River is the brand used to sell sauvignon blanc made with grapes from a vineyard Trinity Hill co-owned with Pascal Jolivet, a winemaker from the Loire Valley in France who specialises in Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre, the most highly regarded French sauvignon blancs outside of Bordeaux. Recently, the joint venture was ended, the vineyard was sold and the last of the wine was made to be sent who knows where. And luckily for us, a sizeable order for the wine was cancelled.

So, what’s Trinity Hill to do? It’s not worth spending the money to market a brand that no one’s heard of here, so to recoup whatever it can, the wine is sold to Fine Wine Delivery for a song, and the opportunity to buy a delicious wine, made to the standards of a $20-plus bottle, for less than half that.

Anyway, like other good Hawke’s Bay sauvignons, the Wandering River is fuller and rounder than what you might be used to with similar wines from, say, Marlborough. It’s tropical and fruity but less acidic, almost soft – the classic notes of cat piss and lime are toned down a little while softer fruits like banana, crisp apple and passionfruit come to the fore. It’s a solid, well-balanced, easy-drinking wine that’s perfect to have on hand throughout the summer.

Verdict: It’s not the best wine you’ve ever drunk, but for wines under $9, it just might be.

Henry Oliver

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