Michael Donaldson looks at the most influential beers of the 2010s.
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 decided to apply to beer what others have said about books, movies and TV series.
The idea was 10 defining beers of the 2010s decade, 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 my head around.
But these things evolve slowly and there are stepping stones, so these aren’t the best beers of the 2010s, but in my view the most influential. And they’re not really in chronological order or in any order of preference. Feel free to argue with me!
The original article on my website was focused on 10 beers for the 2010s but after some feedback I figured there was room to expand it to a dozen beers for the 2010s as I think there were a couple of beers that deserved their place in the line-up.
Came to us in 2008 as the winner of the inaugural Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge and dominated the way New Zealand breweries thought about and executed IPA for the next 5-8 years. There was a period in there where Armageddon won just about every competition it entered and it’s still New Zealand’s most-awarded beers, next to Three Boys Oyster Stour. Epic also gave us Hop Zombie, New Zealand’s first bottled double IPA, which when it was released 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 was like the story of native American Indians “not seeing” the ships of Christopher Columbus on the horizon as their minds had no concept of such things. While Pot Kettle Black launched Yeastie Boys and is possibly their most important beer, Rex Attitude was an attitude-challenging, mind-changing beer – it was a beer that said 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. I’d heard whispers of this delicious imperial stout and when I opened it at my kitchen counter and poured myself a glass I was so gobsmacked I just stood there, looking at my reflection in the darkening window on a winter’s night and feeling like I’d time travelled. Now, when big stouts are all over the place, it’s hard to conceive that this was once an outlier. But every time I have it, I travel back to that first time – it was that memorable
Garage Project Pernicious Weed
There’s a coin toss between Garage Project’s NZ-hopped double IPA and 8 Wired’s NZ-hopped Hopwired IPA but I’m giving the nod to Garage Project (who could have featured a few times in this list) because 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 but also of the underrated Rakau hop.
This is a multi-million-dollar beer. It launched a brand reflecting the rev-head essence of brewer Mike Neilson and (forgive the stereotypes) transcended a divide between urban hipsters and blue collar tradies. The perfect branding, the spot-on name, the delicious flavour and the well-priced supermarket six-packs – all of this made Supercharger a beer of the people. Which is why Lion paid $15 million to get a slice of the action. If I was to pick a beer of the decade, it would be this.
Liberty Halo Pilsner
This is where you’d expect to references to Emerson’s Pilsner (but it’s a decade or more too soon really), or perhaps Tuatara Pilsner (which was very influential 10 years ago but then lost its way – as the brewery did for a while) but besides that, I think the ultimate expression of the NZ pilsner style comes with Halo. It’s an absolute dream beer for showcasing the glory of NZ hops in a super-smashable style.
Another 50-50 call … I could easily have gone for Moa Sour Blanc here. Moa and Hallertau were two of the pioneers when it came to sour beers. With their rural-based breweries (well, until development sprang up around Hallertau) suited to getting lovely bugs from the air, they were in the advance guard of this ever-broadening category but Funkonnay exquisitely captures the traditional lambic style.
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 had more popular reach thanks to its supermarket presence and being the first hazy to win a gold medal at the New World Beer and Cider Awards which 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. They are up to No 21 in the series but only a few have been canned so it doesn’t have the consumer presence that others have. The name is a post-code hat-tip to Vermont, home for brewer Jason Bathgate and where the style originated.
Whether this takes off or not I don’t know … the influence may yet be felt in the next decade but I wanted 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 being a world-leader. The latest blend-pack, their Kingsland Pilsner and a can of Karma 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.
Croucher Low Rider
This is one of the beers I decided to back-add after some great feedback. I’ve been drinking a lot of Low Rider (a very small IPA) this summer (here’s some blasphemy: I think it’s better swigged from the bottle that poured in a glass!). The 2-to-2.5 per cent category in New Zealand has seen some amazing beers produced (Garage Project Fugazi, Rocky Knob Undies, Renaissance Empathy etc) but Paul Croucher has worked tirelessly at making Low Rider the best of the bunch. It’s so good it regularly holds its own against higher ABV IPAs in a competitions.
Three Boys Oyster Stout
Another late addition. Oyster stouts and other shellfish-driven dark beers are a New Zealand invention according to the late beer historian Michael Jackson. He concluded that the first oyster stout could have been brewed in 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. And next to Epic Armageddon it is this country’s most awarded beer.