at The Malthouse
Readers of my work over many years would have expected me to pick a Double India Pale Ale hop bomb as my choice for Flagship February. And to be fair, the thought did cross my mind several times over several pints.
Instead, however, I have decided to showcase a classic dark beer from one of New Zealand’s most beloved breweries. Emerson’s London Porter was the first beer produced by the tiny, fledgling Emerson’s Brewery back in 1992 and it is still being made and enjoyed today from a remarkable new facility that would have been out of the question in the 90s.
My most memorable pint of London Porter was as part as the mass (200+ people) toast to the opening of the new Emerson’s Brewery in Dunedin in 2016. It is the third and probably final location for this company and is a magnificent structure – a huge brewery with gorgeous design and an impressive tasting room and bar.
It was marvelous to be able to salute Richard Emerson, who is truly a stand out character in an industry full of characters. His knowledge, his humour, his skill and his sheer cheekiness makes him one of a kind.
London Porter was the first commercial beer Richard Emerson, the Chuck Norris of Kiwi Brewing (check out that epic ginger beard), ever made and it is still part of his core range more than two decades later.
Guests at the brewery only got to sip this chocolaty, velvet libation after the speeches, some bagpipes, the unveiling of a plaque (which looks totally serious until you get up close and read it – hilarious), the cutting of the ribbon, more bagpipes, a full haggis ceremony, more bagpipes, and then, finally, the toast.
(The plaque in question commemorates the opening of the brewery, complete with a mention of Richard’s insistence that bagpipes be played to mark the occasion, continuing that it was “Fine for him; he didn’t have to listen to them.” Richard is completely deaf.)
There were some nay-sayers about the Lion purchase four years earlier but this magnificent new brewery, 100% run by Richard Emerson and his sidekick Father Chris O’Leary, proved them all wrong.
That is right – Emerson’s is owned by Lion now, the biggest brewery in New Zealand. (Lion is in turn owned by Japan’s Kirin.) However, they have made the wise decision to let Emerson’s be Emerson’s – same brewers, same recipes, same beers and full creative control. The major difference is that, thanks to Lion’s distribution networks, Emerson’s is now widely available in bars, restaurants, bottle stores and supermarkets.
Emerson’s London Porter was the beer that started it all, an old school porter with a little New World twist, dry though with plenty of chocolate and coffee notes. There is a little stone fruit twist from the hops that might upset some fierce traditionalists at CAMRA, but personally, I love it.
I’m loving it now, in fact, at the Malthouse in Wellington, New Zealand’s self-proclaimed (and rightly so) ‘Craft Beer Capital.’ Founded in 1993, the Malthouse was the first bar in Wellington to focus on brand and style diversity in a beer scene that was, at the time, so monochromatic that the bar’s pouring of Heineken was considered a landmark move. After that seemingly innocuous, though at the time pioneering, feat, the pivotal events piled up so quickly that, as the bar’s website notes, ”We quickly lost track of how many ‘firsts’ we were racking up on the beer front.”
Pioneering brewery, pioneering beer bar: A symmetry that tastes as good now as it did the day Emerson’s London Porter first arrived in the Kiwi capital.
(Editor’s note: The story of Richard Emerson and Emerson Brewing is a fascinating one, and is delightfully detailed in the book, Richard Emerson: The Hopfather, by Michael Donaldson, Penguin Random House, 2019.)
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.