Last updated on April 14, 2020
Inspired by a bunch of other writers and critics with too little to do in the festive season at the end of the decade I’ve decided to apply to beer, namely the best of the 2010s, what others have said about books, movies and TV series.
So here’s a dozen defining beers of the 2010s, which neatly encapsulates my beer-writing life. I started writing about beer in the middle of 2010 and the next few years produced a huge growth period in breweries and beer styles. If anyone told me in 2010 I’d be drinking sweet hazy beers or ice cream sours or maple syrup and bacon beers I would have walked away saying the whole thing is impossible to get your head around.
But these things evolve slowly and there are stepping stones. So these are not the best beers of the 2010s, but in my view the most influential. They’re not in chronological order or in any order of preference. Feel free to rearrange or argue!
Came into existence in 2008 as the winner of the inaugural Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge. It dominated the way New Zealand breweries thought about and executed IPA for the decade. For a period in the 2010s, Armageddon won just about every competition it entered and it’s still New Zealand’s most-awarded beers, next to Three Boys Oyster Stout. Epic also gave us Hop Zombie, New Zealand’s first bottled double IPA. Another beer that completely redefined the average punter’s drinking experience.
Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude
Outlandish beers are now de rigeur but when Rex Attitude (a 100% peat-smoked “whisky” beer) burst out of the jungle of Stu McKinlay’s mind it was so “out there” it wasn’t even disruptive. It reminds of the story of native American Indians “not seeing” the ships of Christopher Colombus on the horizon as their minds had no concept of such things. Others can make a case for Pot Kettle Black or Gunnamatta as more influential beers from Yeastie Boys. But the fact is: there’s been no other beer quite like Rex. It’s a beer that says there are no rules and lord knows there’s been some rule-breaking in the past 10 years.
8 Wired iStout
I can still remember the first time I sampled this imperial stout. I’d heard whispers of this delicious imperial stout and when I first opened it at my kitchen counter I was so gobsmacked. The aroma, the silky texture, the incredible depth of flavour. I just stood there, looking at my reflection in the darkening window on a winter’s night feeling blissful. Now, when big stouts are all over the place, it’s hard to conceive that this was once an outlier.
Garage Project Pernicious Weed
There’s a coin toss between Garage Project’s double IPA and 8 Wired’s Hopwired IPA as the IPA that first defined the beauty of New Zealand hops. I give the nod to Garage Project (who could have featured a few times in this list). Their Pernicious Weed is bigger and more bountiful than any other solely NZ-hopped IPA on the planet (and I don’t use that phrase lightly). This a beautiful expression of Nelson Sauvin and the underrated Rakau hop.
This is a multi-million dollar beer. It launched a brand reflecting the rev-head essence of brewer Mike Neilson (main picture) and (forgive the stereotypes) transcended a divide between urban hipsters and blue collar tradies. The perfect branding, the spot-on name, the delicious flavour, the well-priced supermarket six-packs. All of this made Supercharger a beer of the people. And it’s why Lion paid $15 million to get a slice of the action.
Liberty Halo Pilsner
This is where you’d expect to references to Emerson’s Pilsner but it’s a decade or more too soon. Or perhaps Tuatara Pilsner deserves a gong (very influential 10 years ago) But I believe the ultimate expression of the New Zealand pilsner style comes with Halo. It’s an absolute dream beer for showcasing the glory of NZ hops in a super-smashable style. Sweaty sweetness and just there bittnerness.
Another 50-50 call … I can easily got for Moa Sour Blanc as the defining sour beer of our generation. Moa and Hallertau are two of the pioneers when it came to sour beers. With their rural-based breweries (well, until development sprang up around Hallertau) they were in the advance guard of this ever broadening category. But Funkonnay exquisitely captures the traditional lambic style.
Croucher Low Rider
Low Rider is classed as a very small IPA which some might say is a tautology. But what it’s called and what it tastes like are two different things. The 2-to-2.5 per cent category in New Zealand is home to some amazing beers such Garage Project Fugazi, Rocky Knob Undies, Renaissance Empathy. But Paul Croucher works tirelessly to make Low Rider the best of the bunch. It’s so good it regularly holds its own against higher alcohol IPAs in a competitions.
Three Boys Oyster Stout
Oyster stouts and other shellfish-driven dark beers are a New Zealand invention according to the late beer historian Michael Jackson. His conclusion is that the first oyster stout was brewed on Stewart Island in 1929. Three Boys brought the somewhat forgotten style back to prominence with their Bluff oyster-filled silky seasonal sensation which has sparked a colony of other shellfish beers. It is the country’s most-awarded beer next to Epic Armageddon.
Behemoth Lid Ripper
Another yeah-nah-I’m-not-sure between Behemoth Lid Ripper and Garage Project’s Party & Bullshit for launching the haze craze in NZ. Party & Bullshit made more noise among the beer aficionados when it gate-grashed the Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge. But Lid Ripper is more widely popular reach thanks to its supermarket presence. It is also the first hazy to win a gold medal at the New World Beer and Cider Awards. That lifted it to a higher consciousness. And the rip-top lid is (borrowed) genius.
McLeod’s 802 series
The idea of putting out a new beer every few weeks is relatively novel but already feels like it’s been here for years. Garage Project and Behemoth are the most obvious exponents (with a nod to Epic’s One Trick Pony series). But to be fair, McLeod’s have been doing this quietly in the background for a long time. As I write they are up to No 20 in the series but only two have been canned (#8 and #19). The name is a post-code hat-tip to Vermont, home for brewer Jason Bathgate and where the style originated.
Urbanaut Mixed Packs
Whether this takes off or not I don’t know … the influence may yet be felt in the next decade. But I want to acknowledge the creativity and forethought going on at Urbanaut (who made NZ’s first Brut IPA). In particular their mixed packs of 250ml cans, designed for blending, are close to a world-leader. The latest blend-pack, their Kingsland Pilsner and a can of Karma Cola Lemmy Lemonade to make a shandy is the ultimate expression of where craft beer has been in the past decade: it’s innovation x collaboration. And it’s fun.