Photo from

I remember the drip of water into water. Or perhaps I’m making that up, since it is such an inevitable feature of any scene involving a cave in film? It’s hard to know how much I have mentally rewritten at this distance of years. But anyway, the drips, the hush falling on the chattering group as our boat slipped through water into the dark, even our pompous Maori guide (“Now we will reveal the hidden wonders of Waitomo”) silent for the moment – these are in my memory. And then the thousand lights of the glowworms starring the roof, as though the sky had been buried in New Zealand. I thought about chthonic deities, the boat of Charon crossing to the underworld, the ships of the dead in Egyptian tombs, the mystical death and rebirth of the sun-god. I thought about the agonisingly patient calcite drip of the stalactites and about how the glowworms were carnivorous and their lights meant they wanted to lure and eat something. I thought that if I unbuttoned your fly and slipped in a hand probably no-one but you would notice. But I didn’t do it. In retrospect, it was a turning point.

Continue reading “Glow”

Visit to DB breweries

Ken writes:

I’m back in New Zealand for a long overdue holiday and a visit to friends and relatives.

And since I’m here, I had to pay a visit to DB breweries’ Waitemata brewery to view the continuous fermentation system (cf). I wrote about cf earlier in this post.

The DB cf process was covered in brief in the earlier post. There are three main tanks. The tanks are all stirred to keep conditions homogeneous within each tank. The first tank, known as the hold-up tank, comprises 6% of the total system volume and blends vigorously oxygenated fresh wort (O2 25-45ppm) with actively fermenting beer from the second tank and recycled yeast to maintain a pH of <4.4 and ABV of >2.5%. Hold-up tank temperature is 9C. The cool, acidic, mildly alcoholic conditions help guard against bacterial infection.

Drawing of CF system at Waitemata Brewery


The second tank is 63% of the system volume and is where the bulk of the fermentation happens. The tail end of the fermentation happens in tank three, which is 31% of system volume. The second and third tanks are maintained at 15C. A fourth, yeast sedimentation, tank finishes off the CF system proper. The yeast is washed with cold sterile carbonated deaerated liquor and some is recycled into the hold-up tank. CO2 is collected from fermentation and used elsewhere in the brewery and packaging lines.

I was really struck by how small the cf system was. The total system volume was 2000hl it is capable of producing up to 50hl of green beer per hour, meaning a residence time of 40hours, although my guide on the day, brewery technical manager Doug Banks, said that the residence time is varied between 50 and 90 hours depending on demand. The green beer undergoes a continuous maturation stage for a further 40 hours to remove diacetyl and then is ready for preparing for packaging (I assume this means clarification, and possibly bringing CO2 levels into product specifications).  Traditional batch processes would need a huge tank farm to accommodate these volumes of beer (and in fact the Waitemata brewery does have a large tank farm because it also produces beer by the batch for different brands, notably Heineken). Before seeing it for real, I don’t think I’d really appreciated just what an enormous capital saving cf achieves. A quite physically small brewery could produce huge quantities of beer.

The other highlight of the tour for me was seeing the old brewhouse. It was built in art deco style and is a work of art as well as an impressive piece of engineering.

lauter tun with run off sample ports.
lauter tun with run off sample ports.
Steps up to upper level where the mashing and lautering happens.
Steps up to upper level where the mashing and lautering happens.
brewhouse control panel
brewhouse control panel

One interesting feature of the old brewhouse is a lactobacillus delbruecki reactor vessel for acidifying the mash. Lactic acid was produced in this vessel to bring the mashing conditions to optimum pH level.

Lactobacillus Delbruecki reactor
Lactobacillus Delbruecki reactor

It was a very impressive space. Beautifully uncluttered and beautifully designed and I can imagine it would have been a wonderful space to work. I don’t think the brewhouse is in regular use at the moment although it is still in working order.

I’m very grateful for the chance to view first hand a piece of New Zealand brewing history and happy to see one of New Zealand’s key innovations still going strong into the future. (Some people may be snooty and dismissive in a kind of reverse snobbery kind of way, but fermentation technology is in principle something every brewer can use provided they have the sales to justify producing beer in such large volumes. The details of the recipe matter for the earlier stages of wort production. Maybe in the future the likes of Brewdog or Sierra Nevada will use this technology for their flagship products).


Things to Do with Moonlight

By Allen Curnow

Holy Week already and the moon
still gibbous, cutting it fine
for the full before Jesus rises,
and imaginably gold
and swollen in the humid heaven.

First, second and last quarters
dated and done with now,
the moon pulls a face, a profane
gold gibbous and loose on the night.

Hot cross buns were never like this.
the paschal configurations
and prefigurations could never have
nailed the moon down
to the bloody triangle on the hill.

By the spillage of light the sea told
the cliff precisely where to mark
the smallest hour when I woke
and went out to piss
thankfully, and thought of Descartes,

most thoughtful and doubtful pisser,
who between that humid light
and dark of his mind discerned
nothing but his thoughts
e. & o.e. as credible, and himself

because he had thought them, his body
had a soul, his soul had a body
an altogether different matter,
and that made two of him
very singularly plural, ergo

sum couldn’t be sumus. He thought
deeply and came up with a solution
of blood in spirit, holy adhesive,
God, singular sum
best bond for body and soul.

And the height of the night being humid,
thoickedned with autumn starlight
to the needed density and the sea
grumbling in the west,
something visceral took shape of an idea,

a numen, a psych, a soul,
a self, a cogitation squirmed
squirmed, somebody standing there
broke wind like a man
whose mind was on other things.

His back to me and black
against the gibbous gold
of the godless moon, still blinking
the liturgical full,
something stuck its ground like a man

in a posture of pissing out of doors,
thankfully by moonlight, thinking
of pissing, experiencing the pleasure
and the pleasure of thinking
of pissing, hearing also the sea’s

habitual grumble. Descartes?
I queried, knowing perfectly well it was.
And he to me, Your Karekare doppelgänger
travesties me no worse
than the bodily tissue I sloughed in Stockholm–

no wonder I caught my death
teaching snow queen Christine,
surely as her midnights outglittered
my sharpest certainties
an icicle must pierce my lungs

(at five one midwinter morning,
the hour she appointed for philosophy
by frozen sea, freezing porches)
and my zeroed extension
wait there for the awful joyful thaw.

There’s the customary stone I’m sure,
with customary lie incised,
the truth being I exist here thinking,
this mild March night.
As for the thought, you’re welcome.

No less true it was I, meaning me,
not he that was physically present
pissing, and metaphysically
minding the sepulchre
not to be opened till after the full moon.

Cogito. I borrowed his knife
to cut my throat and thoughtfully
saw the blood soaking the singular
gold humid night.
Ergo sum. Having relieved myself

of that small matter on my mind,
I leaned lighter on my pillow
for a gibbous moon, a philosopher’s
finger on his cock,
and a comfortable grumble of the sea.

(From: Allen Curnow (1979) An Incorrigible Music: A sequence of poems. Auckland University Press.)

This poem is the place I first encountered the word ‘gibbous’. It comes up so often in the poem I had to go look it up.

Rereading the poem now, I notice that there’s an Easter element to it that I had completely blanked out. My interest in it has always been in the reference to Descartes and the Cartesian thesis that we are essentially thinking beings and that we know the mind with more certainty than we know the body. The poem is a little childish really. It’s easy to ridicule someone by picturing them going to the toilet. It could be a form of ad hominem, perhaps, suggesting that if Descartes had been elderly and more taken up with the physical necessities of going to the toilet, he might have not have postulated a fundamental and unbridgeable gulf between the mental and the physical sides of a person.

It is completely question-begging, of course. If Descartes is right, and we are disembodied minds, it would be entirely possible for the mind to undergo a series of experiences exactly as if of getting up in the middle of the night to go outside and piss, so the fact that Curnow experiences that does nothing to show the metaphysical picture developed by Descartes is false. But I can’t help agreeing with Curnow that, psychologically speaking, he probably wouldn’t have had the thoughts he had, if his body had been more unreliable. Women have messy bodies. Could a woman have given us the Cartesian meditations? (Of course, the idea is pretty improbable to begin with. The chances of anyone coming up with it is pretty hard to define but surely vanishingly small. So it probably doesn’t make it substantially less likely to have come from a woman).


Dot writes: I asked Hugh what he liked most about New Zealand and he replied “Uncle Mat.” I asked him on a different occasion and he said “eating crisps”, but let’s stay with the first answer for the moment, because sunshine, greenery, leisure, wine, swimming, good food, presents, Otorohanga Kiwi House, beaches, shopping and hot tubs are all very well, but there’s nothing quite like the constant company of friends and family.

Back row: Mat holding Hannah, Ken, Ken’s dad; middle row: Auntie Sue, Ken’s mum, Jessie, Dot; front: familiar rascals. (Btw, click on the pictures for bigger versions.)

Mat and baby Hannah. Hannah’s mood rather less festive than her hat

Jessie and Hannah with Frank

Hugh has a story with Auntie Sue

A walk around Virginia Lake, Wanganui, with Ken’s mum

Reunion of flatmates: Ken with his friends Gareth and Lee

Jessie and baby Hannah

Murray with his son and grandsons – for posterity

Circ-imbibing New Zealand in 34 varieties of beer or so

Ken writes:

As some of you know, I harbour ambitions to start a microbrewery in Dublin, so one of the things I was keen to do on our recent trip was to research what New Zealand craft breweries have to offer. Cue some impromptu documentation. Unfortunately, the photos are none too good (thanks to the limitations of my phone’s camera–although there may have been occasions when my eyesight was equally blurry).

As you might expect, overall it was a case of the good the bad and the ugly. The standout brewers for me were the Stoke Brewery, Mike’s, and the Hallertau range. By ‘ugly’ I really only mean interesting. I tried a couple of extremely highly hopped beers, Epic brewery’s Pale Ale and Mike’s Imperial India Pale Ale, the last of which was practically hallucinatory. There was a memorable smoked ale (Smokin’ Bishop) and a manuka blossom infused ‘Captain Cooker’, that was delicious but too rich to drink in large measures.

Emerson's 1812 India Pale Ale

Emerson’s 1812 was the first beer I tired. Unfortunately, it suffered from being too warm when I tried it, both the beer and the day, and I don’t think I got a full sense of it’s potential. My rule of thumb is that the brightness of the beer best matches the brightness of the day. It’s hard to appreciate the complexities of something dark and malty on a hot sunny day and a bright crisp and dry lager is merely gassy and unsatisfying on a cold winter’s night. Emerson’s 1812 says it’s a hoppy pale ale, but it really didn’t taste especially hoppy to me.

Next I tried Tuatara Brewery’s light lager ‘Helles’.

Tuatara brewery's Helles

Later I tried their Hefeweissbier ‘Hefe’.
cloudy wheat beer from Tuatara brewery

I’m afraid neither beer appealed to me. The lager was a little on the sweet side for my taste. And while I really like cloudy wheat beers, perhaps for their sweetness, I didn’t think the wheat beer flavour came through very strongly in this example and it wasn’t strongly carbonated enough.

Aotearoa brewery's Mata Manuka golden ale

This apparently award winning beer didn’t appeal to me either.

NZ craft beer collaboration beer

I was really looking forward to trying this collaborative effort brewed under the leadership of Auckland’s Epic Brewing Company. Unfortunately, Like Epic’s own pale ale, I found it too bitter to be genuinely enjoyable.

Cassels & Sons ESB

The interesting thing about this brewery is that they brew in a wood-fired copper. I have no idea if that affects the taste at all, but it sounds cool. Yum.

Kaimai Brewing Company's Golden Rye Ale

Kaimai Brewing specialises in brewing with Rye; the only New Zealand brewery to do so. Yum.

Stoke Brewery's smokey Ale
Stoke Lager

Stoke's Oatmeal Stout

I also had their Stoke Bomber Kiwi Pale Ale.

Stoke brewery are the outfit that was formerly Mac’s ales before that name was sold to the big multinationals. I found myself having more and more of their beer. All very yummy.

Hawke's Bay Independent Brewery Pilsner
Yum. (This photo also appears to display what lovely youthful skin I have on my left hand).

Yeastie Boys
Great name. The beer, well, it was interesting. These guys contract their brewing out to the Invercargill Brewery, which seems like a very canny way to start a brewery. All you do is come up with the recipes on your regular set up at home, then have it brewed and hope it sells well enough to cover everyone’s costs.

Wanaka Beerworks Old Flemish Dark
These were seasonal creations only available until the end of 2011, so I’m glad I got to try them before they ran out. The Old Flemish dark in particular was very yummy indeed. The other interesting thing about these guys is that they will brew bespoke beers for special occasions wedding anniversaries and the like and bottle them up for you as souvenirs etc. That’s very clever. It’s a service only the ‘little guy’ can provide.

Renaissance Brewing Company American Pale Ale
Renaissance's Stoncutter Scotch Ale
Renaissance's Pale Ale
Doesn’t this last one look especially delicious? I think these beers are beautifully presented and I note that they’ve gone for large 500ml bottles where most of the other beers I’ve tried in NZ are around 330ml or so. All the renaissance beers were yum, but the APA didn’t strike me as especially characteristic of the style.

Hallertau Schwarzbier
Hallertau Porter Noir
Halletau Kolsch
Hallertau Red Ale
These guys vie with Stoke’s for my vie for best New Zealand microbrewery. I only tried the four pictured beers but they were all. really. satisfying. yummy. beers.

Green Man Pils
Green Man Lager
I confess I don’t really know what the difference is between a lager and a pils. I think a pils is a kind of lager, but I don’t know how it’s supposed to differ from the other kind. You can’t readily see from the picture but they are different beers.

Epic Lager
A hoppy lager
Epic Pale Ale
Epic Pale Ale is a mouth-puckeringly bitter hop bomb. I could barely drink it. The other insanely hoppy beer I had over here was Mike’s Double India Pale Ale.
Mike's India Pale Ale
Without a doubt I preferred the Mike’s beer which had very heavy hop aromas, which for me are the reward for drinking a very highly hopped beer, as well as an enormous amount of malt to stop it getting too bitter. I also recommend (but neglected to photograph) the standard mike’s ale.

Moa blanc wheat beer
Yum. Pretty funny website too (I only said ‘pretty funny’).

3 boys oyster stout
The day was too hot when I drank this, so I missed the best it had to offer. It wasn’t as nice as the Porterhouse’s oyster stout in Dublin, though this could be due to the tasting conditions.

Boundary Road Lager
I tried this and the ‘flying fortress‘ Kiwi Pale Ale. The lager was perfectly satisfying if that’s your thing, but the pale ale was quite tasty. yum.

smokin' bishop

Captain Cooker Manuka beer
Delicious in small doses. It’s an interesting idea. The beer attempts to recreate the first beer brewed in New Zealand by Captain Cook. I don’t know if it contains hops, I expect it does, or if it’s made with a sort of manuka gruit.

So that’s about it. Lots of yummy beer and lots of ideas for small breweries. I’ve got my thinking cap on.