To celebrate a decade writing about beer, I’ve created my idyllic dozen that signify my personal journey over the past 10 years.
I’m lucky that in 2010, there were only a fraction of the beers available that we have now. It was possible then to work your way through the country’s craft beer offerings in a year if you were so inclined.
As a result, it was easier for new beers to stick in the memory – to become a still point in a fast-turning world (turning so fast now you literally cannot keep up even with 2000 Untappd check-ins).
These are not the best beers, nor the most important beers, nor the most awarded beers – but over the past decade, they are beers that made me stop and think.
So, in some sort of timeline, here are the beers that have proved pivotal in my personal journey:
Hallertau Maximum IPA
I can’t remember the year I first entered the SOBA Homebrew competition, but I do remember the presentation at Hallertau in West Auckland. Back then, the brewery had a lounge room in a space now occupied by the restaurant. After we’d listened to the names of the winners read out, my mate Tom insisted we try a Maximus IPA. Look, it was probably a straight-forward IPA by 2020 standards… 5.8 per cent, decent IBU, caramel malts… but my god, back then it gazonked my palate. I didn’t think I could finish the first pint. By the end of the second pint I was a hophead.
Cassels Milk Stout
When writing my first book, a huge part of the story was Terry McCashin and his journey to create Mac’s. Terry didn’t like to talk to the media but thanks the hard work of his daughter-in-law go-between, Emma McCashin, an interview was teed up. It was a sharply cold and clear Wednesday in August. Grand National week in Christchurch. At Terry’s suggestion, we met at Cassels Brewery bar in Christchurch. The legend ordered a Milk Stout. I followed suit and followed him to the outdoor seating. Did I tell you it was cold? Bone-wrenching cold. But listening to Terry McCashin tell his story while drinking that beer was all I needed to stay warm.
Epic Hop Zombie
I was tasting beers in the old Epic warehouse in Penrose with Luke Nicholas and Kelly Ryan when this monstrous beer was introduced. Holy mother of mercy. I remember that first taste of Zombie like my first kiss. It was like being in a pillow fight with a sack of hops. Daringly big (8.5 per cent) by the standards of the time, it has lived up to its named and just keeps on giving. If you look at the top-rated NZ beers on Untappd, most are high-rotation numbers of just a few hundred ratings – maybe 2000 at most. Hop Zombie has over 15,000 ratings and still scores 4.1 out 5. That is phenomenal.
Pink Elephant Mammoth
Roger Pink was a brewer ahead of his time who had the unfortunate curse of being great at brewing but dire when it came to selling the stuff. Fans from around the globe would come to visit his Blenheim brewery in search of the fabled beers as documented by Michael Jackson, but the brewery never embraced the power of this popularity. Eventually, Pink Elephant faded from the drinking consciousness, but the complex, malty heft of Mammoth will linger long in the memory.
Invercargill Smokin Bishop
Hat-tip to Alice Galletly for introducing me to this often rare, once-a-year-at-best beer. It was so hard to find, I once drove to Auckland Airport in peak hour traffic (think seventh circle of hell if you haven’t had this experience) to meet Steve and Amanda Nally from the now sadly defunct Invercargill Brewery. I made the journey so Steve could personally hand me a rigger of the latest vintage of Smokin’ Bishop. If I was to land on a style of beer I had to drink forever, it might be a smoked doppelbock.
TOwnshend Old House ESB
The silky simplicity and perfect balance of this beer offers two abiding memories. The first was after moving to a new house and mowing the lawns for the first time in spring. I sat, grass clippings still on my hands, and gobbled down a bottle of this beauty. It was gone in a flash. The second memory is more reverential – the Free House in Nelson, Townshend ESB on hand-pull. And I later wrote it reminded me of a line from the Josh Ritter song Me & Jiggs … “Drinking beer underneath the tree … you know it’s perfect cause you have to leave”.
8 Wired iStout
The first time having an imperial stout is a bit like the first time doing some other things life – exhilarating, scary and, eventually, relaxing once you learn to take your time. I’d bought this as a single 500ml bottle on the way home from work. I was in such a rush I poured the beer while standing at the kitchen sink, still in my work clothes as a winter dusk created reflections in the windows. I eventually sat down to savour the rest of it over the ensuing half-hour but that first giddy rush to taste it is what I recall now.
Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta
I played the whole game with this one, put Paul Kelly on the stereo (Gunnamatta is a most un-Kelly-like surf instrumental), sat on the sun-bleached couch and let the floral bergamot flavours wash over me. I described Gunnamatta then as: “a transcendental beer that takes you to a magical place where the world spins a little more slowly and the sun shines a little more brightly”.
Weezledog Raspberry Fool
Brewer Mark Jackman is a local from my west Auckland ‘hood and his beers are regularly on tap at New Lynn’s finest – Hopscotch. I love raspberry – the king of berries, better than straw, boysen, logan and blue by a mile. Put it in a beer and I’m there. But this, with its creamy mouthfeel, perfect dry-hopping and delicate sweet-tart-bitter balance was other-worldly. I’d just had my first Milkshake IPA and couldn’t shake it. Mark’s recipe on the back became my stock homebrew recipe for a couple of years!
Urbanaut haven’t been around that long but they’ve proven themselves great ideas people. Copacabana – their Brut IPA, came along at just the right time for me. I love dry beers, no doubt about that, and something super-dry with bags of flavour … gimme, now. Some decry the short-lived Brut IPA trend but I reckon this beer will endure. I first tried it with esteemed beer writer Phil Cook at GABS a couple of years back. Phil described it as “an IPA for people who don’t like IPA”. Supping the beer, talking to Phil before he flew across the Tasman to live in Melbourne is a fond memory, made all the more special for the beer we shared.
Duncan’s Raspberry Ripple
You know my position on raspberries at this point … so at Beervana in 2019 when the chat going around the table turned to Duncan’s new take on a fruited sour, my taste buds perked up. A kettle sour with raspberry and lactose? An icecream sour, you say? I went from skeptic to convert in one sweet sip and it was my beer of the festival. Super-fashionable now and in all sorts of flavours, these ice cream sours look like being the fun beers of the early 2020s.
I could have inserted a couple of Garage Project beers in here before now – notably Day of the Dead. But in an age when beers come rushing at you like a high-speed video game, I have to confess there are not many that take my breath away these days. But this, to me, is the beer of 2020. And it’s one of the best I’ve had in this past decade. A blend of wild ferment sour and hazy IPA, it’s the loop that ties a centuries-old history to an ultra-modern moment. The funkiness embraces the hoppiness, the hazy sweetness calms the acidity. It’s recgonisably wild, tart, juicy and hoppy. It’s everything and one thing. The aftertaste is a stretched out like a summer’s day. A wonderful creation.