It’s a significant birthday for me. Sixty. SIXTY! More than 20,000 spins on the planet. So, I decided to play a little game for your entertainment and come up with 60 beers that informed my life.

The first? Well, that’s a mystery. I can’t remember what brand of beer first passed my lips. I have a feeling it was DB Draught. Or possibly Lion Red. They were likely the only choices. Wasn’t Leopard. Let’s call it a New Zealand Draught (1) although I’m still pretty sure it was DB! Certainly, that was what we drank at De Brett’s in Wellington when I was at university there: De Brett’s was handy as it was across the road from the bus stop for the No 12 to Karori.

When I moved south in 1984 to study Physical Education and listen to Dunedin music, I hated my first taste of Speight’s (2) but soon came to love it as only an Otago Uni student can; wore the branded clothes, memorised the label as part of a drinking game.

Once I got a real job and could afford decent beer, I was a devotee of Mac’s, notably Black Mac (3) — my brother and I were big fans when we lived in Christchurch circa 1989 and we thought we were cool. We probably weren’t.

I used to ride my bike all over the country back then. Dunedin to Christchurch, Picton to Christchurch. Haast to Nelson. Auckland to Wellington via National Park where it snowed in February. And around the East Cape from Opotiki to Gisborne and back through the Waioeka Gorge. It was somewhere around Tolaga Bay I had my first Tui (4). It seemed special.

a life in 60 beers

Australia: an introduction to diversity

Moving to Australia in the early 1990s and the first beer I was introduced to there was Cooper’s Sparkling Ale (5) and that was a set piece in my Aussie life.

In September 1995, my mother passed away. She was living in London at the time. So, my brothers and I gathered there. After her funeral I needed to do something different, so jumped on the Eurostar to Belgium to visit my friend Richard, who was studying at Leuven.

We spent a week trying all sorts of beers and playing backgammon in cafes and taking turns listening to Neil Young’s just-released Mirror Ball on a Walkman. I had no idea what I was drinking but I remember a raspberry beer, though I have no idea where from — I wasn’t really paying attention — but call it No 6 in this list.

Returning to London we hung around for a bit tidying up of my mother’s house and belongings and drank a bit of Newcastle Brown Ale (7) which became an exotic go-to beer in the late 90s.

Back in Australia, the bottle shop in Balgowlah Heights had Peroni Gran Riserva (8) which was released for Peroni’s 150th birthday in 1996. I adored this beer — it seemed very fancy to my then-unsophisticated palate.

Beck’s Dark (9) is not a beer you see very often, but at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, it was available in the media cafeteria. Being anti-whatever the mainstream is, I picked this up in preference to Bud, which was everywhere else.

I have no idea how I stumbled across Pike’s Oakbank Lager (really a Pilsner, 10) but after Mac’s this would be the first “craft” beer I really fell in love with. It was from South Australia and perhaps my mate picked it up because it had Oakbank on it — he’s a huge racing fan and every year there was a big horse-racing carnival at Oakbank.

Toohey’s Old (11) was my favourite draught beer in the pub near the Sydney Cricket Ground and I met my wife over a pint of Cascade Pale Ale (12) in Surry Hills.

a life in 60 beers
My wife, Deirdre: we met over a beer.

I’ve just realised this story is going to be very long if I spend as much time over the next four dozen beers!

Australia rounded off my early beer education when I went to Perth for a cricket test and met a friend, who lived there, for a beer and some Thai food. We drank Little Creatures Pale Ale (13). For a while, I called this the best beer in the world. So naïve! But it was so, so good in the late 1990s-early 2000s.

Back in New Zealand to a changed scene

I came back to New Zealand for a holiday and a wedding in 2004 and my brother was drinking Monteith’s Summer Ale (14) which was an eye-opener back then. As my brother was living in Christchurch, I also tried a couple of beers from Wigram (I was drawn to it as we used to live on the Wigram air base) and I unexpectedly loved the Munchner Dunkel (15)

On returning permanently to New Zealand in 2005 I discovered: Emerson’s Pilsner (16) on a memorable Christmas Eve at the Martinborough Hotel; Hallertau No 1 Kolsch (17) at the little theatre in Lopdell House, Titirangi; Epic Pale Ale (18) at the Corner Bar in Mt Eden. They were my formative craft beers and the ones that got me into home brewing.

One Christmas my wife bought me a bottle of Chimay Blue (19) and that spun my world around.

Once I started writing about beer, the speed of my beer knowledge acquisition increased thanks to Epic Armageddon (20), Invercargill Smokin’ Bishop (21), Emerson’s Bookbinder (22), Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta (23), 8 Wired iStout (24), Garage Project Red Rocks Reserve (25), Townshend Old House ESB (26), Dale’s Amber Ale (27), Moa St Joseph (28), Epic Hop Zombie (29), Garage Project Day of the Dead (30) — these were all highly memorable in the early 2010s, creating forks in the road on my beer journey, with each one taking me to a new and unexpected place.

Another I remember fondly was the first beer I tried on my first visit to Beervana: Three Boys Golden Ale (31). And speaking of Beervana, I left one year with a bottle of Liberty’s Rennalls Towards Muriwai (32), an 11 per cent imperial stout — I loved the romance of that beer.

And I’ll never forget Twisted Hop Red Zone Enigma Barley Wine (33), the beer that was stuck in the wreckage of the Christchurch earthquakes for six months, ageing gracefully in the tank amid the debris of a wrecked brewery.

In 2012, my first book, Beer Nation — The Art & Heart of Kiwi Beer, came out. As part of that celebration, Luke Nicholas at Epic brewed a fantastically malty IPA called Message in a Bottle (34). Oh, how I wish I’d kept one of those for memory’s sake.

a life in 60 beers

In writing that book I met and interviewed Terry McCashin (a rare time he granted anyone an interview). We met at Cassel’s and at his suggestion, I had a Cassel’s Milk Stout (35) which was sublime on a bitterly cold August afternoon.

The following year I went to GABS in Melbourne and couldn’t stop raving about Two Birds Taco Beer (36) made with corn, coriander and lime.

Later that year we went to Ireland to visit my wife’s family and I drank some fantastic beer, including a Galway Hooker (37) in a mazey pub in Galway and a hand-pulled Twisted Hop Pale Ale from Belfast’s Hilden Brewery (38) in the famous Crown.

We went home via San Francisco where a Lagunitas IPA (39) on the ferry back from Sausalito after biking across the Golden Gate Bridge was unforgettable.

A few years later in Rhode Island and then New York, a Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA (40) on draught was magical as was an Allagash Hugh Malone Belgian IPA (41) in a great little clam shack in Newport. Blind Tiger Imperial IPA (42) was another standout, if only for surviving the queue at the bar in NYC!

From that period, I recall my first Liberty Citra (43) which I said on Untappd (when I used Untappd) that I’d give it six stars if possible. Hot Water Brewing Barley Wine (44) was another beer from a fifth dimension that blew me away — and, before I forget: Pink Elephant Mammoth (45). What a beer that was! And how could I forget Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude (46)! I hated it, learned to like, evolved to love it.

The first Panhead Vandal Fresh Hop IPA (47) at the much-missed Titirangi Beer Appreciation Society stays with me now.

a life in 60 beers
A Halloween-themed night at the Titirangi Beer Appreciation Society

I’d be remiss not to mention what is now known Hudsons Golden Ale (48) by Galbraith’s but which was better known as Bob Hudson’s Bitter, over a pint of which Richard Emerson and myself agreed I’d write his biography.

We are racing to the finish now with just a modern dozen to go. I wouldn’t say these next 10 are the greatest beers in New Zealand, but they are memorable to me, and I’m the person writing this!

I have a deep love for balanced pale ales — Parrotdog Falcon (49) and Brave Bottle Rocket (50) — are my picks there. And sometimes I think I could live happily after on McLeod’s Longboarder Lager (51).

a life in 60 beers

Craftwork Bruxelles Ma Belle (52) shared with fellow journo Jono Galuszka as memorable Beervana called closing time is an embedded memory of sheer beer delight. From serious to fun, and Duncan’s Raspberry Ripple (53) was the hit of the 2018 Beervana and had me fizzing.

Bach All Day Non-Alcoholic IPA (54) changed my mind about what non-alcoholic beers could be.

North End Bones of the Land Saison (55) is just about my dream beer.

Speaking of dream beers, I won’t forget the night I finally sampled Pliny The Elder (thanks Bernard Neate, 56). And less well-regarded but just as fun was the first Urbanaut Copacabana IPA (57) at GABS in Auckland with my esteemed beer writing colleague Phil Cook, who memorably called it “an IPA for people who think they don’t like IPA”. Which makes remember again that who you’re with and where you are is as important as the beer itself.

And I’d be remiss to mention Weezeldog’s Raspberry Fool (58), a Milkshake IPA that came with a homebrew-scaled recipe on the label and which I used for countless quite delicious homebrews.

So, as I often say the best beer is the one you’re having right now, and as I put the finishing touches on this I’m drinking Alibi x Bracket Solid Excuse (59), a Cold Black IPA, which sounds like the title of a James Elroy novel and is just as good.

As for No 60? Well, that’ll be The Next One. Stay tuned.