By The Gentleman
Australia is constantly stealing things from New Zealand and claiming them for our own. Actor Russel Crowe, racehorse Phar Lap, band Crowded House and delicious dessert Pavlova all stolen from New Zealand and promoted as Australian successes. It’s kind of part of Australia’s identity as a nation. Both Australia and New Zealand are going through a craft beer and spirits revival at the moment and I wouldn’t be surprised if Australia tries to claim a few New Zealand brewers or distillers as their own. It’s what we do. Who knows, maybe New Zealand’s Garage Project with their super experimental nano brews and stylish packaging might be the one worth claiming.
The Garage Project nano brewery is located in Aro Valley, Wellington, New Zealand. They focus on really small brewing, hence the designation as a nano brewery. By being small Garage Project is able to experiment and be more flexible with their production to accommodate interesting mixes like the Day of the Dead Black Lager. It may not be listed as part of their philosophy but cool label design also appears to be important to Garage Project. As you would expect the Day of the Dead label features the skulls or sugar skulls that are so ubiquitous with the celebration. Obviously the skull suits the name of the beer perfectly yet the whole focus on the Day of the Dead is really a good extension of the beer’s basis on the Aztec beverage xocolatl. The skull just really enhances the Latin American vibe of the beer. I also appreciate the fact that, to me at least, the eyes look like hop plants. They haven’t just stuck any old skull on there, they’ve designed it so it resonates with the fact that this is a beer. The use of the skull makes the bottle look quite impressive. It’s a big longneck bottle that’s a quite dark amber colour and you’re eyes are just drawn to this white skull. It really stands out against the colour of the bottle and the rest of the label.
Described as a true celebration of the dark side the Day of the Dead Black Lager is a strong black lager inspired by the Aztec beverage xocolatl, “a bitter, frothy, spicy drink” combining cocoa and chili. The drink is brewed with smoked chipotle chili, refermented with organic blue agave syrup (the basis of Tequila) and conditioned over raw cocoa nibs. Garage Project describe the Day of the Dead as “rich and dark… smooth and drinkable with a complex mix of smoke, chocolate and restrained chili heat.” Not surprisingly the beer was first released on on November 1, El Día de los Muertos – Mexico’s Day of the Dead.
I have to say that this is one of the most accurate flavour descriptions I’ve ever come across. Ever note they highlight I was picking up on. The beer pours a deep black with a lot of head that is a quite dark brown, tan sort of colour. It looks and smells very reminiscent of a stout its that dark yet without the overly yeasty flavour profile. Drinking it you are hit with those three big flavours of smoke, bitter chocolate and spicy heat from the chilies. Taking just a little sip you get more of the bitter chocolate taste at first and a mild chili aftertaste. Take a big gulp and you get this really smoky flavour with a n intensely potent chili heat in your mouth that lingers pleasantly for sometime after you’ve finished. It gives your mouth this really enjoyable tingle. Unlike a Guinness, which many people regard as a meal in itself, the Day of the Dead Black Lager feels a lot lighter. It goes down very smooth despite being a relatively strong beer at 6.7% ABV. It doesn’t taste beery or leave a strong alcohol taste at all, instead you just get that really pleasant mix of smokiness and chilli spice that makes it very drinkable.
Knocking back a bottle of the Day of the Dead Black Lager I definitely think Garage Project is something Australia should be looking to claim and that’s like the ultimate compliment from an Australian right? Seriously this is one tasty beer that is full of strong, potent flavours that really kick your tastebuds into overdrive. My mouth is watering for that pleasant, smoky spicyness just thinking about it. Well played New Zealand, well played.