Don Kavanagh samples beer brewed under a mysterious moniker

Mat Elmhirst from Monkey Wizard Brewery. I must say, I have never associated monkeys with beer, but that might well change after a recent trip south to check out some craft breweries.

I pulled up at an old butcher's shop on the road out of Motueka that gloried in the name of Monkey Wizard Brewery. I was prepared for some dreadfully drawn-out reasoning behind the name, but ended up being floored by the beer on offer.

I get to drink a lot of beer, but the stuff that Mat Elmhirst makes really had quite an effect on me, and I don't mean the alcohol, either. The bottles look a bit mad, with a monkey dressed as a wizard all over the labels, but the beer inside is what counts - and it was gorgeous.

The Brass Monkey Lager is a very different beast to your average lager, with a real dry bite from the riwaka hops and a neat, crisp finish. It's pale and interesting in a way that so few lagers are anymore.


I moved on to the Savvy Blonde, another ripper of a beer with the sauvin hops leaping out of the glass and a lovely hint of elderflower added into the mix as well. I didn't think it would work, but I'm happy to have been proved utterly wrong.

Fat Kelpie Ale is a bona-fide classic, made with English malts and brewed in the style of the classic nut-brown ales, so it has a lovely broad malt hit across the palate, balanced out nicely by the underlying hops.

But what really blew me away were two very different drops: the Pomona Cider, nicely described as "Druid fluid", and the Steampunk Strong Ale. The cider is beautifully balanced between bittersweet acidic apple flavours and a slightly funky aftertaste, just as it should be.

Steampunk is the only beer in the world flavoured with ambergris. Ambergris is a substance regurgitated by sperm whales and is much sought after by parfumeurs because it acts as a great fixer of aromas. It's horrifically expensive - about $600 for a lump the size of a golfball - but, dear me, it really adds something to beer.

Initially you can't taste it, because the Steampunk is a very full-flavoured Belgian-style ale, packed with stewed fruit and smoke flavours and a rather breath-catching 7.3 per cent alcohol. But just as you're thinking that the flavours are fading, the ambergris kicks in, giving a briny, savoury note that caps it all off and provides an epic finish.

Monkey wizard beers aren't readily available in the shops, but you can contact the brewery direct or nag your local stockist to get some, because it's really worth a look. And the name? Well, as far as I could make out, it involved a night out that ended up with someone seeing monkeys dressed up as wizards before spending a night in hospital.

No, it makes no sense to me either, but after a glass of Steampunk, I really didn't care.