Welcome to the top-10 Greatest Beers in New Zealand, the final chapter in the list of our top-50 beers.
The list is 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 the beer has had on the New Zealand brewing scene;
- Enduring quality;
- Personal taste preferences.
But before you scroll down the list to find the No. 1 beer. Please take a moment to show your love Kiwi beer and the brewers who make it by supporting me in telling their stories. Go to Pledgeme to pre-order your copy of Beer Nation: Another Round, my history of beer and brewing in Aotearoa.
New Zealand’s Greatest Beers: The Top-10
10. Garage Project Day of The Dead – Garage Project beers are so intriguing, diverse and intense that everyone has a favourite and trying to sift through their hundreds of brews to come up with a definitive top pick has left me scratching my head for days on end … but, to paraphrase our recently-retired leader, “at the end of day” I went for Day of The Dead as my top GP beer. The strong lager made with chipotle, cacao nibs, vanilla and agave, was the people’s choice winner when Garage Project launched its initial 24/24 series five years ago and remains one of the most anticipated annual releases of the year when it comes out in November. The idea, the artwork, the flavour, the fact there’s an occasional Triple of Day of the Dead … it’s a sub-brand unto itself.
9. Mussel Inn Captain Cooker – There should be a rule that for New Zealanders to renew their passport, they must go Onekaka in Golden Bay, preferably camp on or near the beach, visit the Mussel Inn and have a fresh Captain Cooker while sitting in the delightful garden of this iconic pub. Brewed with manuka tips which add a flavour of Turkish Delight to an otherwise simple, malt-driven beer, it riffs of the first beer brewed in New Zealand by Captain Cook’s men in Dusky Sound as an anti-scurvy remedy. Quite simply, it’s Kiwi-as.
8. Three Boys Oyster Stout – Putting real oysters in stout was, it has been claimed, a Kiwi invention. Beer historian Michael Jackson delved into the style and concluded that the first osyter stout could have been brewed in Stewart Island in 1929 as Customs and Excise approved the use of an oyster concentrate as an adjunct for beer-making. The concentrate, said to aid head retention “without a trace of fishiness”, was exported to England where it was used in an oatmeal stout made by Hammerton in 1938. Three Boys brought the somehwat forgotten style back to prominence with their Bluff oyster-filled silky seasonal sensation which has sparked a colony of other shellfish beers.
7. Panhead Supercharger – The beer of 2015 as voted by the country’s leading beer advocacy group, SOBA, has been the high-revving engine driving the success of Panhead Custom Ales. It’s an American Pale Ale that seems to hit all the right marks: 5.7 per alcohol, crammed with intense grassy, citrus and cat pee aromas, and a lean body that makes it ripe for easy quaffing. So many people I’d describe as non-beer geeks just love it. It’s huge popularity helped turn Panhead into a juicy target for Lion and after just three years in business Mike Nielson’s Upper Hutt brewery was subject to a multi-million dollar sale.
6. 8-Wired Hopwired – The first bottled IPA to use only New Zealand-grown malt and hops. It swaps out grapefruit and grass of American hops and replaces them with the passionfruit, lime and sauvingnon blanc grape flavours of Nelson’s best produce. It’s one of those beers that you can smell coming well before the bartender hands you a pint. Complex, intense, original and a magnet for rave reviews from around world. This is the flagship IPA for the beauty of New Zealand hops.
5. Steinlager – No, not a joke. It’s been an industry leader for over 50 years and continues to win awards. Described in the 1950s by my favourite beer writer Pat Lawlor (Froth Blower’s Manual) as “one of the few gifts of this atomic age” it has stood the test time, become a national symbol, and a byword for Kiwi beer. I don’t think anyone has summed up its qualities any better than fellow beer writer Phil Cook: “The distinctively dank punch of the shamefully-overlooked Green Bullet hop is just such good fun that I’m amazed it’s not the beer geek’s mass-market lager of choice, and surprised smaller brewers don’t riff on it. If that sounds implausible, arrange yourself a blind comparison against your other favourites and see. You may be as delighted as I was.”
4. Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black – Avant-garde brewers Yeastie Boys were launched off the popularity of the home brew version of this hoppy porter, an abrupt, delicious, direction-changer in the Kiwi brewing scene. Stu McKinlay perfected the recipe while brewing at home and his American Porter proved so popular friends and hangers-on were knocking his door looking to buy it. The success drove him and business partner Sam Possenniskie to brew 1200-litres under contract at Invercargill Brewery. Not only did they take Kiwi beer in a new direction but they showed the contract path was a viable route for other aspiring brewers. The Boys have since taken their hardware-less ethos around the world and continue to make innovative and interesting beers wherever they travel.
3. Emerson’s Pilsner – Probably the single most important beer in introducing Kiwis to the beauty of hops. It was also the beer that sent me (and no doubt others) crashing through the craft beer “gateway”. The beer started out as an experiment in making a totally organic beer. Brewer Richard Emerson was asked by representatives of the organic industry to make a beer for them. “I wanted to make a lager completely different to all other lagers and wow, it had a unique flavour. I told myself at the time this was the sauvignon blanc of beers.” The beer started out as New Zealand Biograin’s “Pride of the Plains Pilsner” but eventually it grew so popular that Emerson put it out under his own name. Taking the traditional pilsner recipe and spiking it with Kiwi ingredients not only created a gateway for Kiwi drinkers but opened the door to other New Zealand brewers, showing what was possible using New Zealand produce.
2. Liberty C!tra – Consistently New Zealand’s top-rated beer on a multitude of review sites. It is the top-rated Kiwi beer on Untappd and the second-best on Ratebeer.com. And no wonder, like the brewer who makes it, Joe Wood, it’s a big, generous, engaging, larger-then-life beer. A huge double IPA (9%) packed with citrus and tropical fruit aromas, it has multiple layers of balance and texture. There’s sweetness, dankness, hop-oiliness, bitterness, mineral bite, savoury notes, alcohol warmth. The emperor of imperial IPAs. And my wife’s favourite beer!
1. Epic Armageddon – It is simply impossible to argue with the sheer weight of awards this beer has won, including five trophies at the Brewers Guild of NZ awards over an eight-year period. In a 12-month period in 2015-16 it won champion IPA in three countries (NZ, Australia and Sweden) as well taking out top IPA crown at the New World Beer & Cider Awards. Created for the now legendary Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge in 2008, Armageddon is an incomparable market-leader which many have tried to copy, but few have managed to emulate the perfect hop-malt balance achieved by Luke Nicholas. His dedication to sourcing the best American hops is justified in the layers of subtle flavour experience Armageddon delivers: grapefruit, pine, rosewater, light minerality, caramel malt … and it all comes together seamlessly, with a regal poise befitting the King of IPA.