Tasman Lager (Strong Lager, 6.5%). Sprig & Fern, Nelson, New Zealand. $11/1.3 litre rigger.
Tight-arse Tuesday round two, and I’m attacking the Sprig & Fern Tasman Lager which has been looking out at me from the shelves at Pak’n’Save for a while now. $11 for a 1.3 litre plastic rigger doesn’t exactly scream quality, but it is undeniably good value – assuming it’s drinkable. I can try and convince myself that decent beer need not come in a bottle or (god forbid) a can. But something’s not right. I read that Sprig & Fern are actually in the process of setting up a tavern on Tinakori road, within theoretical walking distance of my house, to sell their ‘award-winning’ range of craft beers. It opens in late February or early March, and while it’s their first North of the strait they have five in the Nelson area. I read on and these awards actually mean something. I mean, I’m sure even the Atlas from last week won an award somewhere, no doubt at some backwoods Albanian festival no reputable brewer could be bothered entering anything into but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. These people might actually know what they’re doing. Then I find some reviews and they are utterly glowing. I’m left confused and intrigued. It’s cheap, so what’s the catch again?
No catch. This is just a superb beer at near rotgut prices. It pours a clear, golden colour with a small, foamy, white head that quickly dissipates, and there’s a distinct, potent and intoxicating passionfruit aroma with hints of all sorts of other tropical-ish things that grabs your attention. The balance though, I think, is what sets it apart – it’s very smooth flavour with the tropical fruitiness, a subtle caramel malt undertone and a nice hop bitterness in the finish but nothing lurches crazily out of left field, and with a velvety smooth mouthfeel, good full body with just the right level of carbonation…someone has taken time over this beer and gotten it right. One thing – it is recommended to be consumed at between 2 and 4 degrees on the label for a reason. Don’t lark about writing long-winded reviews or you’ll regret the cloying sweetness creeping in when it gets up towards room temperature as much of the balance is lost. Just share and enjoy, straight from the fridge. Of course, on the plus side when it’s a bit warmer the aroma is more apparent…
In musical terms this is the undiscovered gem. Everyone will have their own. Here’s mine, though definitely more underappreciated than undiscovered, and a bit like this beer is presented a little unusually (in this case, by what looks like a bunch of hobos live in a New York hotel room) but naturally it works.
The mark will probably get beefed up because of the outrageous value of the rigger, but make no mistake, this is still a very, very fine beer. Given that there are something like 18 products on offer from Sprig & Fern, if the price and quality of the rest of their range is anything like that of the Tasman Lager I’ve found a new home once this place opens on Tinakori road, and possibly a third favourite kiwi brewery to go with Emersons and 8-wired. Oh yes, I’m that impressed.
Verdict: Shockingly good value at this price, an outstanding beer with an aroma worth lingering over and a lovingly crafted taste. Top notch. 85/100.