Here’s a quick run through some of strongest beer memories of the past year. I can never claim this is a definitive list of everything beer-related in New Zealand — just an abridged version of a personal beer diary made up of memorable moments and observations.
Stop the ride I wanna get off: Keeping up with Behemoth Brewing – it’s like playing tennis with Bjorn Cy-Borg; a machine that serves up ball, after ball, after ball … they just keep coming and you’re left flailing on the baseline hoping to connect. New beer, new beer, new beer, new beer … Wait. Stop. Let me try the one that came out the day before yesterday before giving me tomorrow’s a day early! The beers are great. I love ’em, but I can’t love ’em all, it’s just too much …. I’m lost. Lost, Andrew! But maybe there’s some logic in it. First, unlike Wellington buses, if you miss one at least you know there’s another coming soon. Second, if you see something new you know it’s fresh! Third, it’s something we beer drinkers are responsible for with our constant desire for something we haven’t seen before. And I have to admire the work ethic; just to design and print the labels for every new beer is a huge effort. So, Behemoth, take a well-earned break over the holidays … and let us catch up.
BIRD IS THE WORD The glorious Kereru won bird of the year – and rightly so, I love the big graceful goofs that swoop around our little corner ofthe world. Special K bagged the big bird title when no-one gave it a chance. And Kerereu Brewing are kind of the same – they scooped a swag of awards at the Australian International Beer Awards, including best small international brewery. No wonder, all the beers are modestly marvelous. My fave is Holy Cow, an Egyptian red ale. Night Spirit, a barrel-aged Imperial Stout is out of this world. So silky smooth. And I’ve become an unabashed fan of the Rojito Extra Pale Lager. Buy any with confidence for a reliably good drinking experience.
FAR NORTH GOES FAR OUT: That now somewhat famous brewery you’ve never heard of? That’d be Kainui. Their Rank & File Porter won a trophy at New World Beer and Cider Awards this year and propelled them into orbit. I thought they’d stay a best kept secret of the Far North but quality has a way of making itself known.
HE’S NOBODY’S FOOL: Weezledog’s Raspberry Fool remains the beer from 2018 I most wish to see again. Again. I want Deja Fool, please Mark.
SOCIAL MEDIA WIN OF THE YEAR: Come back Behemoth, all is forgiven. The clicks these guys generated out of Dump The Trump. Whoa! To use Trump’s own neologisms: Shcmockingly Covfefe.
PAUSE, FOR A SERIOUS QUESTION. Are Garage Project taking beer back a step, to a place where image trumps substance? Here’s the debate: For many punters, the Garage Project brand now transcends the beer – I know people who buy whatever they see from GP, either because of the label, or on the assumption it will be good (and it usually is). And that got me thinking: is this a good or a bad thing? The negative is that there’s an element of fandom about it, that the brand is more important than the beer, which is a bit like the old days when people aligned themselves with certain breweries with a religiosity (ie, you were either Lion or DB and loyalty mattered more than taste). Not for a moment am I suggesting GP are acting like a multi-national; they are so far removed from that as to be in a different universe but it’s an indication of how strongly dominant the brand has become. The good side of all this is that these same drinkers will discover a range of amazing beers that break style barriers and transport them to places they didn’t even know were on the map. That in turn will encourage them to seek out a wider range of styles and breweries. The bottom line is that at Garage Project, substance and style dance in a very close embrace, and the skill is to manage both so artfully. And when the two are so closely intertwined it can be easy to confuse them. On a personal note, I don’t universally love the beer. I dislike Fuzzbox, as I find it too “bitey” and the Silk Road series felt like an idea box that couldn’t quite contain the beer. Though remember it’s all personal this taste thing, so don’t take it personally. And there are great beers: the redux of DFA is the (love) bomb, Petit Mort is one of the finest beverages I’ve supped this year, and thank god Red Rocks Reserve is back.
NICE AND EASY: Just going about our business making great beer, not fussin’ too much, just nice beer, simply packaged, etcetera. Parrotdog – making it look easy …. like Sunday Morning. I didn’t have a bad beer from Parrotdog this year and I had a few. Three gold medals and two Champion trophies at New World Beer And Cider Awards, Champion medium size brewery and a swag of medals at New Zealand Brewers Guild Awards; West Coast IPA Challenge winner … in other words, don’t just take my word for it.
BEER THAT STOPPED ME IN MY TRACKS: Brave Brewing Tigermilk IPA. I literally paused to hold the bottle in my hand and stare at it for a loving minute. It was a moment I’ll savour but one that’s a regular occurrence with beers from brewer Matt Smith.
HOW TO WIN FRIENDS: Apart from being kind and decent? Well, the beer that won me new friends each time I poured one was Urbanaut Copacabana. The first off the canning line in the NZ as part of the reverse haze craze, this Brut IPA has remained the benchmark all year. In general I’ve enjoyed the shift this year to cleaner, leaner, hop-aromatic IPAs (and XPA for that matter) … It’s a nice direction change from the sometimes brutally bitter versions that dominated the market a while back.
FIFTY SHADES OF HAZE: If ever there was a beer to make you swoon it’s Outlier Cartel’s Cloudburst Double IPA. So fluffy. So pillowy. So satiny, soft and sexy.
BEST IN SHOW: Liberty Prohibition Porter. Man, that was some beer – the most loved beer made in NZ this year according to Untappd. And I love that it’s all gone and we have to wait until next year. Waiting is good sometimes. Twiddles thumbs … checks Liberty.co.nz …WHEN’S THAT BEER COMING BACK, JOE!?
BLAST FROM THE PAST: Catch up with an old friend and remember what great times you had before smartphones, Netflix, google hangouts: Epic Lager. Such a great beer, and, as I discovered again this year it still tastes great.
I JUST CHECKED IN TO SEE WHAT CONDITION MY CAN WAS IN: Congratulations Galbraith’s for the series of can conditioned real ales. Cuddling up with Bob Hudson in your own lounge is bliss.
NO HALF-WIT: I’m at my wit’s end trying to make wit cool again but if everyone had a taste of Hallertau’s Tangelo Wit they’d be climbing the walls for it. Ditto Fork Brewing’s Ma Is White.
COMING OF AGE: Say what you like about Lion buying Emerson’s all those years ago, but those beers are so pure these days, highlighted by 1812 Pale Ale; it’s 25 years old and tasting better than ever.
PURPLE HAZE… just waiting for someone to make a Doris Plum Hazy IPA just so they can call it Purple Haze. That’d be cool. Better trademark it. Tangentially, hat tip to Deep Creek for their Brewtiful Haze. Apart from the fact it’s delicious I wonder if anyone else thinks the name references SJD’s song “Beautiful Haze” which Monteith’s once used in an advertisement? Whether they meant to poke one back at the big boys I’m not sure, but I like it. And maybe they did, after all, look at Dobro – their double brown IPA – which won a gold medal at the Brewers Guild Awards and managed to play a great cultural reference card at the same time. And which DB maybe recognised too … with their rebranded Dou Bro.
BEST NEW TALENT: Fork Brewing’s move into packaged product was a welcome addition to the market; great beers reflected in fact they wonchampion small brewery at the Guild Awards.
Beer Nation’s top 18 drinking experiences for 2018
- Parrotdog Forget-Me-Not
- Brave Brewing Tigermilk IPA
- Weezledog Raspberry Fool
- Urbanaut Copacabana
- Outlier Cartel Cloudburst DIPA
- Liberty Prohibition Porter
- Garage Project Petit Mort
- Parrotdog Falcon APA
- Emerson’s 1812
- Altitude Brewing Geen Hop Nodig
- North End Botanicole Grisette
- 8 Wired Fistful of Cherries
- Urbanaut + Yeastie Boys Brucing with Stu
- Kereru Night Spirit
- Sawmill Strong Belgian Ale
- Townshend Aotearoa Pale Ale
- Epic Lager
- Galbraith’s Bob Hudson Bitter
IT’S A NEIPA YEAR: I too have caught the juice train. Nothing better than brewing your own hazy IPA … and it’s a ride I don’t want to get off.