We kiwis are becoming a nation of beer sophisticates. That might seem like an oxymoron but New Zealand beer is becoming more sophisticated, and so are Kiwis, or rather their palates are.
Gone are the days of big smoked bottles of Double Brown, swappa crate with Dad on a Saturday afternoon and Lion Rouge on tap at the local hotel. And, there is now an alternative to the commercial, and frankly rather generic green bottle stuff most of the bigger bars stock – it is called craft beer.
What makes a craft beer has been a bone of contention recently. Is it to do with the production process or the scale of production? I think the term “craft beer” tells you all you need to know – handmade, often – though not always – on a small scale.
Craft beer is prized by drinkers the world around for its associations with innovation and uniqueness. Don’t let the aura of snobbery put you off though, craft is filtering into the mainstream and is now more popular and readily available than ever.
Anyway, enough pontificating. In New Zealand we are very blessed when it comes to craft beer. There are perhaps a dozen high profile breweries making quality product and loads of new producers springing up all the time. For brevity’s sake though I’ve tried to narrow it down. Some of these beers I have tried, others have been recommended.
Hallertau is a family-owned and run brewery and restaurant at Riverhead. Named after the world’s largest continuous hop-planting area in Bavaria, it produces a distinctive range of colourful, aromatic, flavourful brews onsite in the German style, and lives up to its promise of serving “hopping good beer”. Hallertau’s top seller is the Luxe or #1 beer. It is a Kolsch-style beer – a style that has endured for several hundred years – is gold in colour with a peachy aroma. The first taste, slightly bitter, leads into a complex, layered combination of tropical fruit flavours, with pineapple to the fore. Worth making the trip out west for, or hunting down at your local bottle shop.
The Epic Brewing Company, as its name suggests, has grand ambitions and in a market dominated by multinationals, punches well above its weight. Its flagship brew, the Epic Pale Ale also packs a big punch. With 23 hops, a number that for other breweries would be unthinkable, it is not a subtle beer, but for me that is what makes it such a tasty drop. Its bold citrus flavours underpinned by herbaceous, grassy notes make it a taste of summer in a glass.
Epic Beer is available at:
Waikanae-based Tuatara embodies the craft beer philosophy. Founder and master brewer Carl Vasta started it as a backyard operation, creating a limited range of beers for friends and family. In 2008 Tuatara was judged New Zealand’s best brewery by BrewNZ. The Tuatara range encompasses the key styles, mostly based on German beers. I would single out the Bavarian Hefe wheat beer for special mention. Wheat beers sometimes get a bad rap from self-proclaimed hop heads, but I like this one. Wheat beer is cloudier and sweeter than barley-based and combined with the particular yeast used in this brew, produces distinctive banana, vanilla and clove flavours. These notes are tempered by the hops but still noticeable.
Tuatara is available at:
Once we discovered it Three Boys beer quickly achieved legendary status amongst me and my mates. We have enjoyed it many times at Auckland's Brew bar. I can’t say why exactly, but I just really enjoy this beer – the whole product range. Dr. Ralph Bungard and his small team produce the most exquisite examples of the amber nectar. If forced to choose just one, I would probably opt for the Golden Ale. It pours a light gold colour and is deliciously crisp and refreshing on the palate. Essentially a summer beer, it conjures images of hedgerows and fruit picking. The Golden Ale is packed with vibrant Nelson Sauvin hops which give it a real zing and zestiness.
Three Boys is available at:
Emersons is the true pride of the south. They produce a small high quality range including the classic styles – pilseners, pale ales and porters – wheat beers and special seasonal and limited releases. My personal favourite is Bookbinder Bitter, Emerson’s take on the classic English ale. It combines two Nelson grown European hops – Fuggles and Riwaka with four malts and has a malty, fruity taste which lingers for some time after the last drop.
Emerson's is available at:
This article is just a snapshot – there are of course loads of other excellent craft beer and brewers out there.
What’s your favourite? We’d love to hear from you.
Editorial by Nicholas Chidley
9th February 2012