When I set out to write this piece ahead of the annual Smith’s NZ IPA Challenge, I thought it would be an easy task of whittling down a list. But the more I thought about what was actually out there, the more it became a question of whether there even were enough NZIPAs I could consider to be within my orbit for a “best of” list.
So this became more of an exercise in exploration, and even then I’ve had to bend the rules just a little for a couple of these.
Keep in mind this is a personal list, so it’s going to be inherently subjective. I know I’m going to miss a few, and others I simply won’t have tried in recent years, and if you the reader have a suggestion then please share them. I think we should all be drinking more and better NZIPA, and that includes me.
Criteria: The beers I’m drawing from here must be all (or almost all) New Zealand hopped, available year-round (or every year if seasonal), and available in package. They also have to be self-stated IPAs, no getting around that one.
8 WIRED Hopwired 7.3%
8 Wired was one of the very first New Zealand craft breweries to ask the crucially important question: ‘Why not more?’ The answer was the era-defining Hopwired IPA, which smashed the ceiling on what NZIPA could (or should) be. At a hefty 7.3% and loaded with Nelson Sauvin and Motueka, it’s still too much for some, but just imagine the shock to the palate that was back in 2009. It still gives me the tingles.
EMERSONS Reverb 5.9%
NZIPA in a six-pack has always been a rare thing. There was a brief, heady time when Hopwired could be acquired this way (and brother, it was!), but alas no longer. Emerson’s finally came to my rescue last year with Reverb, an elegant IPA that finely balances pungency and purity via Nelson Sauvin, Riwaka, Nectaron & Southern Cross. It’s a world-class IPA at six-pack prices, and I truly hope we see more examples like it in the future.
CASSELS Nectaron 6.1%
Despite launching to initial fanfare, over the last year or so I’ve heard a few grumbles from brewers and drinkers alike about the effectiveness of this hop. Personally, though, I think Nectaron is brilliant. Evidently so too do Cassels, who were one of the first to craft a core range IPA showcasing Nectaron, and it remains one of the best.
BREW MOON Hophead 6.5%
Completely ignoring its titanic history (we’ll get back to that in another issue), Hophead IPA is one of my long-time comfort beers. It’s a changed over the years from milder, gentler drop from before the IPA explosion changed everything to now being a bigger IPA hopped with Motueka, Nectaron and Nelson Sauvin.
GARAGE PROJECT Pernicious Weed 8%
On the other end of the ABV spectrum is Pernicious Weed from Garage Project, featuring Nelson Sauvin and Rakau. Sometimes (a lot of the time) when it comes to IPA, I just want more — so the fact that this one is both a double and comes in a 650ml bottle, shows that it was created by someone who truly understands me. It now comes in a 330ml can, for more sensible people.
BONEFACE The Unit 6%
New Zealand hops and hazy beer are a dangerous combination. Their pungent tropical character can all too easily be over-amplified by the hazy treatment, leading to an overripe and squishy beer. Not here. The Unit is not only an all-NZ hopped hazy that works with (via Motueka and Nelson Sauvin, with Pacific Jade for bittering), but Boneface also produce a double and triple version on occasion. As much as I’m not really one for hazy IPA, I must acknowledge the hustle.
HOP FEDERATION Green Limousine 6%
Picking a fresh hop beer might be a bit of a cheat as it’s (intrinsically) not available all year round. But Hop Fed releases this every season, so I’ll allow it. Good fresh hop IPA is just about my favourite style to drink, and since this Nelson Sauvin-driven beer finally found its way into cans three years ago, it’s consistently been one of the best of the season every time.
THREE BOYS Gas 6.3%
Originally brewed in collaboration with Burkes Brewing, Gas IPA (Riwaka-Nectaron) took third at the Smith’s IPA challenge two years ago and then went on to quietly join the Three Boys Brewers Reserve range. Not particularly well known, and certainly not aggressively marketed, Gas is a bit of a secret NZIPA, just for those who know about it, which is now you, reader.
VOLSTEAD Riwaka Hazy 6.2%
Christchurch’s Volstead Brewery has a whole range of single-hopped hazies, many of them showcasing NZ varietals, but my pick of the bunch is Riwaka. The zingy passionfruit and citrus give it that essential lift that underpins a successful hazy IPA.
PARROTDOG Bitterbitch 5.8%
I’m stretching the criteria just slightly for this one, as I don’t think it’s 100% NZ hopped. But the core character is defined by lots of Nelson Sauvin in the dry-hop which makes it so distinctly Kiwi that I’ll give it an honorary place. Also gets points for its six-pack availability.
GOOD GEORGE Haze of Glory 7%
The dominant hazy of 2022 when it won two coveted titles — the Smiths IPA Challenge in Queenstown and then the Juicy/Hazy trophy at the New Zealand Beer Awards. This is pure rockstar NZ hop juice featuring Nectaron, Riwaka, Nelson Sauvin and Superdelic. Lush mango lassi meets pineapple juice. Now in rebranded squealers.
The Smith’s NZ IPA Challenge winner will be announced in Queenstown on June 24.