When it comes to West Coast IPA, Luke Nicholas and Epic Brewing are always ahead of the curve, but in the past two years they’ve been caught out by being too far ahead of the annual Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge.

Last year, The Malthouse created a horror theme for the 13th edition of the event. When the theme was announced, Nicholas had just released a beer called Brew of the Living Dead. It would have been perfect, but instead they had to go back to the well and find another horror-film name and landed on Grain Dead, the eventual People’s Choice winner.

In May, The Malthouse announced a space theme – almost to the day that Epic released Moon Buggy.

“They announced that theme straight after we made Moon Buggy – I and was like ‘seriously?’

“We’ve obviously tapped into the ether – we just haven’t got our timing right.”

While Epic try to figure out a new name, they won’t struggle to come up with a beer for the judging on July 30, to be held this year at Fork & Brewer.

Epic’s history at the Malthouse challenge is unrivalled and the event was the birthplace for cult beers Armageddon and Hop Zombie.

“We usually come away with something – if we haven’t won the event, we’ve picked up the People’s Choice.”

That commitment to success is reflected in the fact that – until they come up with an official name – every Malthouse challenge beer has an in-house name of Ricky Bobby.

ricky bobbyIt’s a reference to the Will Ferrell film Talladega Nights where Ricky Bobby’s father give him the mantra: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

“We’re always ‘c’mon what do we have to do to win’.”

While he’s punching out a bunch of new  hazies like everyone else, Nicholas is  steadfastly a West Coast IPA fan.

He sees a time when the tide will turn back to the cleaner, clearer style which  accentuates pine resin and grapefruit flavours and delivers a drying bitterness.

As delicious as hazies are, Nicholas says they are not the type of beers that sit naturally with a night at the pub.

“Hazies are exciting flavour-wise – but like sours and extreme beers you won’t sit down and have a few pints as they are really filling and full on the palate.

“I think it’s natural that people will go back West Coast IPA – they have as much hop flavour as hazies, but it’s the bitterness that excites the palate – that dry, bitter finish cleanses the palate and makes you want to have another one.”

For Nicholas, the West Coast-style is still the beer that defines “craft” and the Malthouse challenge defines the best of those beers in New Zealand. He also notes it’s a competition that inherently changed the beer scene in New Zealand by bringing hop-forward beers to the fans.

“And the breweries that have won it – not only have they created great beer – they are the best craft breweries in New Zealand,” Nicholas adds.

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