In late 2018 I set out to get a collective view on New Zealand’s best beer.
I picked the brains of beer writers and bloggers, checked gold medal winners at various awards and factored in a beer’s Untappd score to come with an inaugural list of New Zealand’s top-40 beers – which I’m calling the Golden Kiwi Pints!
Here’s how they lined up:
1. Liberty Prohibition Porter – It was a gold medal winner at the NZ Beer Awards, topped the Beervana People’s Choice Awards and became New Zealand’s highest rated beer on Untappd. Add to that seven of our judges ranked among the best of the year as well. It just pipped Urbanaut Copacabana thanks to its high Untappd score so becomes a worthy winner as New Zealand’s most popular beer with awards to back it up. Why so good? The love and labour that’s gone into making this reflects the passion for flavour and quality that defines what Joe Wood and his team at Liberty Brewing believe in. No shortcuts here, no added flavours or tricks – just a very good base (the mash process for this alone is like hard labour), aged for a year in hand-picked Kentucky bourbon barrels where nature does it work in adding vanillin and tannic bite to a super-sweet base. At 12.6 per cent this is no booze bomb – it is unctuous with layers of chocolate, vanilla and dark berries but finishes surprisingly (and relatively) clean and dry. A masterpiece.
2. Urbanaut Copacabana Brut IPA – there was almost unanimity between our judges on this beer with eight of the 12 picking it among their top 10 and most of those rating it in the top 3-5. While 2018 was dominated by hazy IPA the pendulum also swung back the other way to Brut IPA and Urbanaut were at the forefront in NZ with this style and executed it the best. With zero residual sugar thanks to the addition of an enzyme, amyloglucosidase, the mouthfeel and perceived sweetness rely on a slightly higher level of alcohol (7 per cent), as well as hop oils to create a balanced profile. The result is the lush fruitiness of IPA built on light, dry base. This beer is so popular it could win an election… and in the words of @beerdiary it is the IPA for people who don’t like IPA.
3. Sawmill XPA – a double gold medal winner this year at New World Beer and Cider Awards and then Australian International Beer Awards and featured prominently amongst our judges. Does everything you’d expect from a modern session beer – flavour-rich, some steel in the malt structure but light, crisp and sub-5% ABV. Moreish.
4. Outlier Cartel Cloudburst Double IPA – three of our judges had this as their top beer of 2018 and no surprise given the unique and sensuous nature of this complex, juicy, densely layered flavour-burst that delivers a silk-smooth mouthfeel yet finishes with a clean, gentle bitterness overlaid with distinct tropical fruit. Decadent yet delicate and brilliantly disguises its 8.5% ABV.
5. Parrotdog Forget Me Not IPA – Another double gold medal winner across New World and NZ Beer Awards and was named beer of the year by one of our judges. A standout classic West Coast IPA in a year where IPA was all about haze. Rich but dry malt, intense layers of hop aroma and flavour, bold bitterness but all of it packaged in to tightly-wound, balanced beer.
6. Parrotdog Keith Hazy IPA — Highly-rated by multiple judges and a gold medal winner at the NZ Beer Awards.
7. 8 Wired Lokomotiv Merlot Barrel Aged Imperial Stout — Trophy Winner at NZ Beer Awards, ranked highly by judges, including one judge ranking it beer of the year.
8. Behemoth Lid Ripper IPA — Double gold medal winner at New World Beer & Cider Awards and NZ Beer Awards. Popular beer.
9. Bach Brewing Billfish APA — Double trophy winner at Australian International Beer Awards and NZ Beer Awards
10. Epic Thunder APA — Double Gold medallist at Australian International Beer Awards and NZ Beer Awards.
11. McLeod’s 802 Series (as a disclaimer I put in the whole series as some judges put in a particular version while others named the whole series … so I erred on side caution)
12. McLeod’s Turadh Saison.
13. Kereru Feijoa Weiss
14. Bach Brewing Kingtide IPA
15. 8 Wired iStout Affogato
16. Boneface The Big Unit Double IPA
17. Parrotdog Falcon APA
18. Good George IPA
19. Deep Creek Gose
20. 8 Wired Cucumber Hippy
21. Garage Project White Mischief
22. Hop Federation Lager
23. Craftwork Oude Relic
24. Sawmill East Coast IPA
25. 8 Wired God Save The Lager
26. McLeod’s Paradise Pale Ale
27. Weezledog Raspberry Fool
28. Kereru Night Spirit
29. Craftwork Bruxelles Ma Belle
30. Duncan’s Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
31. Behemoth Triple Chocolate Milk Stout
32. Boneface The Darkness India Stout
33. Brave Brewing Tigermilk IPA
34. Epic Hop Zombie
35. Deep Creek Brewtiful Haze
36. Cassels and Sons Double Milk Stout
37. 8 Wired & Fork Brewing Barbed Wire Sour Ale
38. Altitude Brewing Persistent High
39. Kainui Hellhole Red IPA
=40. Yeastie Boys White Noise
=40. North End Become the Ocean
Some notes of this process – I started this as a way of talking about great beer without relying on my own experience. It’s impossible for any beer writer to sample all the beer on offer so I went for a collective consciousness with 11 others to see if we could get consensus … narrowing it down to 40 beers was incredibly hard but I tried to apply a rigorous process. While the choices were diverse and eclectic there were some strong common threads.
Without doubt the standout breweries according to the judges were 8 Wired, Parrotdog, McLeod’s, Sawmill, Craftwork, Behemoth and Garage Project who had heaps of “nominations” but because they produce such a wide variety of quality beer every judge had a different favourite!
How we assessed the beers: 12 beer bloggers, writers and critics ranked their favourite beers of 2018 and those rankings were awarded points. Any beer named by any of our judges was then cross-referenced with gold medal winners from New Zealand Beer Awards, New World Beer & Cider Awards and Australian International Beer Awards. Those results were then factored in (another layer of expertise if you like) to create an over-all points tally. That was multiplied by the beer’s Untappd rating to give an overall score. It was complicated but in the end I think a good measure of popular opinion and expert judging.