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