Review #13 – Parrotdog Bitterbitch

Parrotdog Bitterbitch (IPA, 6.3%). Brewed at Mike’s Organic Brewery (Taranaki) for Parrotdog Brewing (Wellington, New Zealand). $6/330ml bottle.

From the label: “An aggressively New Zealand-hopped aroma gives way to a deep, rich English malt base and a huge, lingering English-hopped bitterness to finish.” Well yep, pretty much.

When I first tried this it was wasted on me. I admit it. It was still pre-Beervana, and my system was still detoxing from all the Speights and couch smoke it had acquired during my time down south. To the great disappointment of my Wellington friends I think my reaction was a listless meh. So after all this time (all six months or so of it) does this beer – the very first produced by Parrotdog but one that attained something like semi-mythical status when it ran dry after just 96 minutes on the taps at Hashigo Zake and then went on to grab the people’s choice award at Beervana – does it, can it, stand up to the hype?

It pours an opaque dark copper with a thin, off-white foamy head that clears quickly to a soapy film with the kind of passionfruit aroma with hints of citrus that is becoming familiar when tasting kiwi beers now, though it is particularly distinct and potent here. There’s something else as well, a grassy note that becomes more apparent as it warms up. While the flavour mirrors the aroma the caramel/toffee malts aren’t lost beneath the hop kick as in some beers I’ve had lately. At times there’s also a gentle tea flavour or something in there as well, and there’s a good, full, almost velvety mouthfeel to it. Not heavy, but substantial. There’s a long, lingering almost delay reaction finish, nicely dry with just the level of bitterness I like. It definitely leaves you wanting more.

It’s very hard to believe this is Parrotdog’s first beer. I remember my first attempt at brewing. It was a tar-coloured monstrosity that smelt of ash and rust that managed to be both watery and gritty with a distinct finish of black dirt and mould. Good times. As far as music to match with this I’m going for a similarly stunning debut, Grace, which might be a bit melancholic for some and was more of a sleeper than the immediate smash hit the Bitterbitch was but it’s tough to go past that kind of quality and assuredness in a first release. And yes, it leaves you wanting more. I haven’t tried the Parrotdog Flaxenfeather yet but hopefully they found the difficult second effort a bit easier than Buckley did (but of course they have the advantage of still actually being around for it. Oh? You want proof? Here ya go, enjoy.)

The appeal of this beer for me now is it’s subtle shifts of character. It’s not complex in the sense that a Belgian is complex but it gives you a lot. I’m not sure how best to put it but the shift from the fruitiness up front to the lingering bitter finish…ah, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s not catnip for hopheads like the Hop Zombie (or even the Epic Larger), it’s not a rite of passage like the Rex Attitude, it’s not an all-out assault on the senses that the Brewdog Hardcore is, just a very drinkable, very high quality IPA. While it’s not priced in the quaffable range – and if it was, I would fill a fridge with this stuff – Wellingtonians would do well to try and grab hold of a bottle if only to have something handy to impress visiting friends. It’s a beer to be proud of and the kind of thing that rewards discernment and, let’s face it, outright snobbery. Just don’t be disappointed if your friends are peasants from down South and it’s all lost on them.

Verdict: Yep, this is good alright. Overhyped, yes, but not by all that much. More balanced and less bitter than you might expect. 77/100.

2 thoughts on “Review #13 – Parrotdog Bitterbitch

  1. And here we are again. At Christmas time, I had in my hand one of these exact bottles and I it almost made it to check out, but then I did the rational thing and said: I’ve got too many IPAs and there seems to be some very nice smoked style beers around and thus I ended up with a Stoke Bomber something or another – which I’m sure would have no one signing Halleluja. Had I known. Had there been a Peet who was rockin’ hops, I might have been drinking such an apparently wonderful beer.

    Right, so who am I kidding here. Try as I might, I can’t do an even semi-passable job of working in lilac wine or last goodbye.

    Leaving lame pop-culture references and on the critical theory side of things, do you think that comparing external attributes and reactions (over-hyped, sleeper, sold out quickly) some of the essential properties (melancholy, nicely dry, but largely “leaves you wanting more”) of both Grace and Bitterbitch are overshadowed?

  2. I reckon I know what you mean about too many IPAs. For the first time probably in my entire life I’m looking forward to winter if only to get hold of some decent dark beers (March 8th the Taieri George is released, I’m counting down the days to that one. I’ll set aside a bottle for you as well, you can thank me later). Variety is the spice of life and all that. As a side note, the trick to drinking Stoke Bombers is to absolutely not read the label. Jesus himself couldn’t make a brew to live up to the descriptions they put on there. It’s not that they’re bad as such but there’s a whole lotta meh goin’ on in there. Back to the Bitterbitch, it’s not the end of the world if you missed out. It’s very good but I doubt it’s unique.

    Fair point on a misplaced emphasis on external qualities there, mea culpa and all that. I wanted to make clear how and why this is a good beer while trying to ignore the surrounding hype but I admit I didn’t do the album the same courtesy and as I read over it again I didn’t do much at all to intrinsically tie in the music with the beer. That was lazy. This, though, is the CD l’ve bought three times in three different countries and listened to easily a hundred times or more; it’s one of my go-to albums and in my head, particularly writing at that time of night, I feel like everyone feels the same and already knows what I mean so I’m only pointlessly running up the word count by yabbering on about it. So yeah, I didn’t explore the essential qualities of Grace anywhere near well enough. Sure, the voice is amazing but it serves the songs and so still feels like it’s about the music, and even if most of the songs aren’t his to me at least there seems a real cohesion across all of them. It could have been different; it might have happened quicker for him if he’d done a bunch of easily recognised but thematically irrelevant standards with that voice but Grace shows an attention to quality, a kind of fidelity that always impressed me. I suppose the equivalent is brewers just saying “just put a truckload of hops in it, they’ll lap it up ‘coz they think that’s what makes good craft beer”. I’m not sure Parrotdog have done that, the Bitterbitch is too balanced and even restrained to be dismissed as careless and easy. It tastes properly honed. Back on the music, since it’s not drowned in reverb and filled with bleating anthems patched together with studio trickery the album as a whole feels intimate and natural, and I should have put in something about how the both the CD and the beer manage to cover a range of moods without sounding/tasting disjointed which is a neat trick with some of those songs on Grace. Not totally sure if Eternal Life works in context though, gotta admit. And I also admit that you never really feel like getting your dancing shoes on with Grace, but the Bitterbitch isn’t the kind of light, throwaway Pale Ale or Pilsner to be doing that with anyway. Both are worth lingering over and have a depth to them that (I hope) rewards repeated samplings. Or something like that anyway.

    Will be working in more international beers from here on with a bit of luck, got about a weeks’ worth of NZ beers in the fridge to get through but am off to Regional Wines this arvo to do some shopping. Of course it’s Tuesday today…wish me luck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *