Welcome to part two of the list documenting what I believe are the 50 greatest beers in New Zealand.
The list is as built on a raft of criteria that includes:
- Ratings on sites including Untappd and Ratebeer;
- Gold medals / trophies won at the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards and other competitions;
- The influence it has had on the New Zealand brewing scene;
- Enduring quality;
- Personal taste preferences.
But before we get into the beers ranked 40-31 (you can find 50-41 here) I’ve also drawn up a list of occasional release beers that could have held their place in the top-50 but for the fact they change subtly (or not so subtly every year).
Top-5 occasional/vintage releases:
- Emerson’s JP – released annually on June 2 in memory of the late Professor Jean-Pierre Dufour, the former Head of Department of Food Science department at Otago Univeristy, this Belgian-style beer changes year-to-year but is always amazing.
- Invercargill Smokin’ Bishop – released every second year, this smoked bock utilises a different wood each time. The original relied on Manuka-smoked malt whereas the current vintage use Rimu. Bacony-sweet and probably the best smoked beer in NZ.
- Garage Project Red Rocks Reserve – using super-heated volcanic rocks which are added to the wort to create a flash caramalisation, this beer riffs off an ancient German technique. The beer is toffee sweet offset by Nelson Sauvin hops. Gorgeous.
- Renaissance Tribute Barley Wine – brewed using a double-wort mashing technique to create a concentrated wort, which is fermented long and warm before being aged for an appropriate period. The 2013 vintage has earned numerous plaudits and is still available. Keep.
- Four Horseman of the Hopocalypse – The brainchild of four hop-mad brewers – Luke Nicholas of Epic, Joe Wood of Liberty, Kelly Ryan of Fork Brewing and Steve Plowman of Hallertau, this occasional release is dependent on when the four horsemen get together to cram as much hoppiness as possible into this triple IPA. The 2015 `vintage’ was a 14 per cent bitter-(yet super)-sweet feast for the senses.
New Zealand’s 50 Greatest Beers 40-31
40. Hop Federation Red IPA – Red IPA is one of my favourite beer styles and this list had to feature one. The candidates were Liberty Brewing’s Yakima Scarlet, Panhead’s Johnny Octane, 8 Wired’s Tall Poppy and Choice Bros Reet Petite … and if this list blew out to a top 60 they’d all be there. But the red IPA I keep coming back to is made in Riwaka by Simon Nicholas and it’s a treat of tropical fruit, red berries and biscuity malt.
39. Fork Brewing Godzone Beat – I fully expect this to raise some eyebrows but I wanted a beer in this list made by Kelly Ryan. Because he works in a brewpub most of Ryan’s beers (all but this one in fact) end up in kegs and are not widely available. A former Tui brewer, Ryan has been an influential figure in Kiwi brewing since returning from the UK to work for Epic, Good George and then Fork Brewing as well as consulting for other breweries. In fact, much of his best work is in advising others, which he does generously. Godzone Beat, NZ’s champion pale ale in 2015, was one of the most delightful beers I tried last year and dammit, it deserves its place in this list.
38. Kereru Imperial Nibs – Consistently rated among New Zealand’s best beers on sites such as Untappd and Ratebeer where it holds its place alongside the showstopping IPAs. In an era where a lot of beers are overwhelmed by one or more of the key ingredients this strikes a delightfully sweet balance between toasted coconut, cacao and vanilla. A consistent medal-winner here and abroad, this is New Zealand’s ultimate dessert beer.
37. Moa St Joseph – Big, bold and Belgian, this tripel hits all the right yeasty notes: from smoky phenolic, through fruit esters of pear and banana to peppery spice. Hefty mouthfeel, rich alcohol fat and good malt sweetness. In a 1.5 litre magnum it’s quite a perfect celebration beer. It’s one of Moa’s best creations and in a market where only a handful of producers attempt this style, Moa not only do it superbly but these days it’s available at incredibly (ridiculously) low price of about $8 for a 500ml bottle.
36. Sprig & Fern Harvest Pilsner – Regularly wins gold medals at the Brewers Guild of NZ Awards and possibly showcases the best integrated use of fresh harvested hops you’ll see anywhere. Head brewer Tracy Banner is stylist with a discerning palate and all Sprig & Fern beers are impeccably made. This best captures the essence of a beer Banner created when she was at Mac’s – Brewjolais – which was New Zealand’s first fresh hop beers.
35. Wigram Munchner Dunkel – The first thing I noticed about Wigram Brewing’s distinctive labels were the aviation theme. As the son of an air force pilot, Ross Donaldson, who was base commander at Wigram in the late 1980s, these beers struck an immediate chord with me. Year after year, Wigram churn out award-winning brews and really, any number could take their place in this line-up including The Czar imperial Russian stout and the Manuka-infused Spruce beer. But the Munchner Dunkel dark lager has been one of their most awarded beers and they capture delicate mocha flavour precisely.
34. Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude – Love it or hate it (and plenty hate on it real bad) this redefined our idea of what beer could be. More islay whisky than ale, the aroma phenolic; all burnt electrical fittings, scorched rubber but underlying the initial sensory assault is a lingering honey perfume and a hint of sweet autumn decay. A confrontational beer which should come with a warning label: contents may offend; but it’s probably generated more adjectives from reviewers than any other beer in New Zealand.
33. Renaissance Stonecutter – This incredibly complex multi-award winning Scotch Ale layers flavours like an artist working on a canvas. There’s an underlying toffee base, some smoke, a chip of chocolate, a splash of coffee, raisins and an acidity that cleans up all the sweetness. Smooth, rich and unrelentingly generous in taste and nuance. In our hop-obsessed world, this is a shining example of malt’s beauty.
32. Garage Project Pernicious Weed –The sheer volume of top quality Garage Project beers (they won 25 medals from 35 entries at the 2016 Brewers Guild of NZ Awards) would make it a challenge to come up with a top-50 list of entirely GP beers (Untappd says they have 214). But Pernicious Weed (what they used to call hops in merry olde England) stands the test of time, having been the second cab off the rank in the original 24/24 series which launched this powerhouse brewery. It remains incredibly popular and tastes delicious. One of the best double IPAs in New Zealand.
31. Panhead Black Sabbath – Whoomph! This is a gentle giant of exceptional complexity, flavour and imagination. Bourbon barrel-aging offers the first boozy scent followed by a tannic-hop-rye mix that resembles an unsmoked cigar. Layers of chocolate and coffee and a warm 11 per cent alcohol combine to create a heavyweight drop designed to be savoured over time – both on the night and over the years.
If you’ve enjoyed this list, please take the time to visit Pledgeme, and pre-order your copy of Beer Nation: Another Round.