Top 6 “Must Try” New Zealand Beers – 2009

With 50 small breweries in New Zealand there is a massive number of beers one must try to find the best the country makes. So if you are just starting your search for the best New Zealand beers, or someone just visiting New Zealand with limited time on your hands, here are the Top 6 “Must Try” New Zealand beers.

These beers are world class, coming from the most innovative and adventurous brewers in New Zealand. If you have the time, try the rest of the beers from these breweries you will be seriously satisfied. Actually this list probably lists the top 6 best breweries in New Zealand.

(Note: this list is based on the beer being available in bottle, also the ranking lists the beers based on availability (i.e. number of outlets it’s available in). It’s hard to list the great beers from brewpubs as they are only in one location, and batches vary, or are extremely small)

1. Epic Armageddon IPA – from the brewers of the Supreme Award winning Epic Pale Ale comes Armageddon IPA. This beer was inspired by a trip to San Diego in 2008, and drinking many of the mind blowing hoppy double and imperial IPA’s on offer. This beer breaks new ground for massive hop useage in New Zealand. Brewed using US grown Simcoe, Columbus, Centennial and Cascade, it’s a hop monster. In a country where most people don’t even understand what craft beer is, this beer is light years ahead of its time. If brewed on the West Coast of the USA, people would understand why. Its all about the hops. 6.66% alc/vol Buy Now

2. Invercargill Smokin Bishop – who would have thought that one of the most envelope pushing beers in New Zealand would come from the conservative south, and would be a big smokey Rauchbier style. This beer is all about the awesome huge smokey aroma and flavour. When people try this they are just blown away on every front, aroma, flavour, and the fact it is from New Zealand. Way to go Steve. Actually Invercargill Brewery is now coming of age and the whole range is very solid and well made, and each beer should be tried. 7.0% alc/vol Buy Now

3. Three Boys Oyster Stout – with actual Bluff oysters used in the brewing process, some even say they get a briny note. This beer is a glorious stout and one that should be hunted down and tried, and better yet if you can find it on tap. (inside tip, try Pomeroys in Christchruch for it on tap). As with the previous two beers, this is currently only a seasonal release, and as with what might happen to the above two also, the success and demand for these beers are likely to see the season available extended to all four seasons. There are some world class beer available in New Zealand. Buy Now

4. Mussel Inn Captain Cooker – first brewed by Captain Cook on his discovery of New Zealand, this beer uses freshly picked tips from the Manuka tree. This beer is amazingly floral and fragrant to the point you give it a double take, not actually believing that a beer could possibly smell like this. The intensity is only slightly less in the flavour, and is remarkably drinkable. Not only is this an incredibly flavourful beer but is uniquely New Zealand. It may even contain health benefits but you aren’t allow to imply that in relation to alcohol, but wasn’t that why Captain Cook used it in the first place? 4.0% alc/vol Buy Now

5. Hallertau Porter Noir – this is another beer inspired by the cutting edge of craft brewing on the planet – “beers with bugs”. If you get it, you get it, and I just don’t have room here to explain. This is a porter style beer aged for 4 months in oak barrels previously used for pinot noir wine, which is infected with Brettanomyces. Sounds pretty dumb to put beer in a barrel that is infected with spoilage organisms, but wait till you try this beer, WOW. This beer is complex, it goes beyond beer, with flavours from the wood, hints from the wine, and the additional fermentation from the Brett. which gives it a sourness. You have to try it. 6.6% alc/vol

6. The Twisted Hop Sauvin Pilsner – this is the best example of the use of New Zealand hops in a beer available in New Zealand. Many breweries here just miss the point, and either get the variety wrong and get it too grassy and harsh, or go the other way where it has too much passionfruit and tropical notes. The Sauvin Pilsner nails it. The hop aroma and flavour is still very prominent but the balance is awesome which is why this is a must try. Possibly best to try it on tap at The Twisted Hop. 5.0% alc/vol

Which is your “Must Try” New Zealand Beer – 2009(polls)

Beerly Tasting – Lawyers and Belgians

Last Friday I ran an introductory beer tasting at DLA Phillips Fox:

As a warm up to the successful Wellington Ranfurly Shield defence against Otago, I had the chance to run a beer tasting for staff and clients of one of Wellington’s big law firms, DLA Phillips Fox. It was an introductory beer selection which was accompanied by an impressive amount of food including paua fritters, chicken wings and ribs. One corner of the table had a big pile of bones which made it look like the Flintstones had dropped in to try some brews.

The July tradition continues with the annual Belgian Beer Tasting at the Backbencher:

July 21 is Nationale Feestdag. This is, of course, the National Day of Belgium and it celebrates the 178th anniversary of the coronation of King Leopold I. I suspect everyone already knew that. He is not still there obviously but I suspect everyone knew that too. More than just a chance to toast the Belgian monarchy, it is an excuse to settle down and sample some of the very best beers from the land sometimes called “the paradise of beer.”

Smokin’ Bishop back on tap

Invercargill Brewery’s first batch of Smokin’ Bishop hadn’t even finished fermenting before it was sold out this year – testament to the award-winning brew’s popularity.

Brewer Steve Nally promptly whipped up another 1200 litres of the seasonal full malt lager, which is now available at Invercargill Brewery’s Wood Street premises.

“Once again it’s in hot demand but we were expecting that this year – we’ve heard from numerous beer connoisseurs around the country that they appreciate the complexity of the beer and its uniqueness,” Mr Nally said.

“It’s not for the average beer guzzler who fails to appreciate the merging of flavours.”

Smokin’ Bishop was the first commercially available smoked beer in New Zealand. The perfect accompaniment to hearty winter fare, the smoked bock is made from manuka-smoked malt and has an alcohol content of 7 percent.

Available each winter as a limited edition, Smokin’ Bishop took the beer world by storm following its debut in 2007 with 600 litres quickly snapped up. Last year, Mr Nally increased production to 1200 litres but actually sold twice that.

“As a boutique brewer, I get a lot of satisfaction crafting a beer like Smokin’ Bishop which really finds its niche,” Mr Nally said.

Reinforcing its reputation as one of the world’s finest brews, Smokin’ Bishop has been selected to feature in a new publication, 1001 Beers You Must Drink Before You Die – one of just 15 New Zealand beers to get the nod.

Of Tuataras and The Treasury

Reprinted from the Wellingtonian, my latest column titled “Hatching a new Tuatara“:

With the expansion completed, Carl is turning his formidable brewing brain to more new offerings and is planning some special big brews. These, he says, could include a stout, a “nice American Pale Ale” or a “big Belgian triple on the yeast, champagne corked and wired so it would age.”

This week I also ran a beer tasting for The Treasury:

It was in the hallowed halls of The Treasury that I ran my first ever beer tasting. The year was 2003 and the big worry then was bird flu rather than swine flu. How far we have come. It was attended by exactly eight people and around half the beers we tried that night are no longer brewed today. It was a very different event last night when twenty people sat down to a value for money buffet and, more importantly, to taste six New Zealand craft brews.

Beerly Tasting and the Winter Solstice

Last week I ran the second annual beer tasting for the Ministry for Culture and Heritage:

I made a mistake – the same mistake as last year. According to my carefully designed beer menu, I was running a tasting at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Such an august body does not exist and indeed never has in New Zealand. It is the Ministry for Culture and Heritage though in my defence even the former Prime Minister used to make the same mistake though she probably didn’t have it pointed out to her in the same way I did. Any insinuation that there is a Ministry of Culture and Heritage is erroneous, untrue and quite possible flocculent.

Last night I attended the launch of Mac’s new winter beer Solstice:

Mac’s Solstice is a five malt beer, fermented from a mix of Pale malt, Vienna malt, caramalt, Dark Crystal and Chocolate malt. The Hop component comes from southern Cross and Fuggles, while Horopito adds some mouth-warming clove and pepper aromas.

Beer Haiku Friday and What’s In A Name

Today’s Beer Haiku is optimistically entitled “Optimist“:

Half full? Half empty?
I’m very optimistic
There’s more in my stash

From the Malthouse blog, a considered look at beer names, the debut of more nicknames and a review of Smokin’ Bishop 2009:

While writing a grocery newsletter the other week (true story) I came across some crackers from America:

Moose Drool Brown Ale (from Big Sky Brewery – “we make water fun”)
Nodding Head’s Monkey Knife Fight Lager (“everybody loves a monkey”)
McQuire’s I’ll Have What The Gentleman On The Floor Is Having Barley Wine (hardly surprising at 12% alcohol)
Wasatch Polygamy Porter (“Why stop at one?”)
Buffalo Bill’s Alimony Ale (“the bitterest beer in America” – ouch.)

Glass Tip- Beer Haiku Daily

Beer tastings, so many beer tastings…

On friday night I ran a beer tasting for the good people at Telecom and the report and results are now up on the site:

The hardest aspect of last Friday’s beer tasting was finding the right building. There are five identical units on the site and I spent several awkward minutes in the wrong one. After locating the correct Telecom office, I had the chance to talk thirty enthusiastic punters through a selection of Kiwi craft beers and an iconic Belgian strong ale. One of the staff even produced some great food matches for the beers with his culinary feat made all the impressive by the fact he had to Google a few of the beers to because he’d never heard of them.

The night before I had run my third tasting at Thomson Reuters and the results are also in:

It is always a good sign when a company starts calling their beer tastings “an annual event.” Last Thursday I visited Thomson Reuters to run their third annual tasting session. As always, their questions and comments kept me on my toes as we worked through a selection of New Zealand craft beers and the traditional big Belgian closer. At the end of the evening the popular vote was very close with one beer making the podium for the very first time.

Tuatara refutes the decline of the Global Economy and a Tasting

From the Malthouse blog, an update on the speedy evolution of Tuatara Brewery and some political jokes in “Tuatara refutes the decline of the Global Economy“:

This means that, theoretically speaking, a mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex (if they still existed, which they don’t) could today go to a Police line-up and easily recognise a humble Tuatara (if the Tuatara had done something illegal, which seems unlikely). The Tuatara is, in many ways, an eloquent rebuttal to the old adage “evolve or die” having seen many of its proudly evolutionary colleagues completely disappear (The Moa, The Dodo, Georgie Pie and the Progressive Party to name but four).

Continuing the economic theme, over at Real Beer NZ there is a report from my latest tasting at Baldwins:

One of the lesser-known economic side-effects of the global recession is a growing interest in corporate beer tastings as a social event which is both different and doesn’t break the bank. On Friday, I ran a one-hour tasting for twenty five people at Baldwin’s law firm in central Wellington. It was an introductory style tasting menu with all the beers receiving good support.

Glass Tip – PJ O’Rourke for the title.

Beerly Writing – Bears that Hug and Fisking the Anti-Beer Bias

From the Malthouse blog, the latest post which, for a change, talks entirely about a brewery and its beer. This time, it covers Steve “Huggy Bear” Nally at Invercargill Brewery. It is called “The Adventures of Huggy Bear“:

There have been small, poorly-designed classified advertisements in The Listener magazine for as long as I can remember. There were always rumours that people actually ordered those odd products, herbal remedies and dodgy holiday packages but there was never any solid evidence. For most of my lifetime, real-life purchasers from The Listener classifieds were a myth, they were as real as card-carrying members of the Social Credit Party or people who found David Spade funny. Then I met one.

Following up from Greig’s earlier post on anti-beer bias in the media, my favourite beer writer Pete Brown does a complete demolition job on the offending article in the Independent. His post is called “National newspaper in anti-beer bias shocker“:

In the main paper, 24 pages after the “extreme beer” feature, there’s an article entitled ‘War of the rosés’, about a scheme to make French rosé wine more popular. Here is a direct quote from that piece: “If we are forced to put the word ‘traditional’ on our bottles, people will think, especially young people, that it is a fuddy-duddy wine, an old-fashioned kind of drink. That will ruin everything we have achieved.” That’s from a winemaker. And here’s the journalist himself: “Young people, especially, have taken to rosé as a fun drink, which is refreshing, uncomplicated and relatively cheap. (Anjou rosé sells in the UK at between £5 and £8 a bottle. Other French rosés sell for as little as £3 a bottle.)” Despite the clear admission that rosé winemakers are targeting younger people, despite the fact that rosé wine is being sold cheap and marketed in a contemporary fashion in order to lure these drinkers, there is no worried quote from Alcohol Concern. No sensationalist headline. No mention of the ABV of rosé wines. The attractive illustration of three glasses of rose – unlike your illustration of extreme beers – carries no bold starbursts. The inference is clear: when winemakers admit that they are selling cheap wine (12-14% ABV) and actively targeting young people with 750ml bottles for as little as £3, that’s OK. But when a brewer creates a beer (6-12% ABV) and sells it in a 33cl bottle that retails from £4 upwards, and tells you it is emphatically NOT targeting young drinkers, you run the piece with a ‘health fears’ headline and a subhead that claims the beers are, in fact, targeting younger drinkers – despite the fact that this is a lower ABV drink, being sold at a higher price.

Beer on a Monday Morning – Cellar Vate Tasting and the Porter Story

Regular tastings have resumed at Cellar-Vate with the first of this year called “The Best of the Best for 2008

The first Cellar Vate beer tasting of 2009 was the always coveted “Best of the Best” session. Forty-five tasters gathered to sample eight beers which were voted first or second in each of the eight tastings I ran last year. Our aim was to select the Cellar Vate Beer Tasting Club Champion Beer and Champion Brewery of 2008.

Over at the Malthouse blog, the latest post talks about beer and storytelling, the best beer story in the world and Tuatara Porter. It is called “The Porter Story“:

Beer and storytelling have a long, interwoven history. The ancient Sumerians, sipping their beer through long straws, probably whiled away the hours with exaggerated stories of hunting prowess and how they totally could conquer Egypt but just didn’t have the time these days. That tradition has continued unabated.

Glass Tip – The Malthouse Blog and Pete Brown’s Blog