Tasting Beer…and Whale Puke…at Monkey Wizard Brewery
“Monkey Wizard Brewery,” Tom said out loud as we passed a sign. “Two miles ahead. Want to go?”
We had just left Abel Tasman and were arriving in the small town of Riwaka after an adventurous day kayaking in New Zealand and currently had barely drunk our flat white espresso drinks.
But hey, I’m always up for beer or wine tasting. “Sure!” I replied enthusiastically to Tom.
A couple minutes later we parked across from a colorful little building proclaiming delicious Monkey Wizard beers inside and to come on in for a tasting.
So we did. With our coffee.
The blonde woman working inside greeted us in a laid back manner.
“We’d like to do a tasting, please,” Tom said as we both set our coffee cups on the counter.
“Beer tasting…with coffee?!” she replied.
Tom and I shrugged sheepishly. We drink enough craft beer to know we were making a faux pas, but we didn’t know what to expect so didn’t want to leave our coffee to get cold in the car.
“We got the coffees before we saw the sign for this place,” Tom said.
“Some beer is made with coffee, so maybe it will accent what we’re tasting,” I said optimistically.
The lady didn’t look convinced, but moved to gesture to the chalkboard menu above her and asked what brews we wanted to try.
Tastings were NZ$3, but would be waived if we bought a carafe of of one of the brews.
While Tom read the beer menu in careful detail, I walked around the small tasting room and small sitting area.
It was adorable as could be and looked like it could be a brewery out of Hobbiton. I wished we had time to stay longer than just a tasting, but we wanted to get to Marlborough before nightfall.
“Hey, G,” Tom called over to me. “How does the Brass Monkey Lager sound?”
I meandered back to the tasting counter.
“Sounds good to me!” We’re both big lager fans.
The Brass Monkey Lager was a fruity lager with lots of Motueka hops from the area. We also tried the Savvy Blonde, which had elderflower in it and a mild, taste – would be refreshing on a hot day – plus their light, tangy, locally-harvested Pomona hard cider.
The highlight of the tasting, however, came from Monkey Wizard Brewery’s Steampunk Strong Ale. This particular brew had a very special ingredient in it: Ambergris from Steward Island. The bartender told us it was the only beer of its kind in the world.
“What’s ambergris?” I asked right after she poured it into our tasting glass.
Our newfound bartender pal immediately looks mischievous. “You don’t know?” she asked.
Obviously not. “No…” I replied, cautiously. Sheesh, it wasn’t monkey brains or something, was it?
“There’s a breed of whale by Stewart Island that throws up some of its food after it digests it and it can be considered a bit of a delicacy.”
Tom and I stared at her.
“So basically it’s whale puke,” she said, not minimizing what the ingredient was at all.
I had to laugh. “Whale puke, huh?” I grinned at Tom. “Well, this will be a first.”
We both tasted it and it tasted like…a strong ale. Maybe a tad on the tangy side.
“Drinking whale puke?” I said to Tom. “No big deal.”
Despite the intrigue of the ambergris ingredient in the Steampunk Strong Ale, we decided to bypass it for a carafe of the Monkey Brass lager to take with us, which we enjoyed later on our trip overlooking the gorgeous lake of Queenstown.
Monkey Wizard Brewery only sells locally, so if you want to try it – and you should, especially the Steampunk Strong Ale – stop by Riwaka while on New Zealand’s South Island.
Oh, and if you visit, leave your coffee in the car.