Hamilton’s Good George took out the annual Smith’s NZ IPA Challenge in Queenstown on Saturday night.

In the narrowest of possible victories, decided by a fraction of a point, Chance of Haze from Good George beat Hallertau with their simply named NZ IPA. A collab between Three Boys and Burkes Brewing, Gas NZ IPA, was third.

Good George also took out the “hop grower” award, decided by Kerry Templeton, a hop breeder with NZ Plant & Food, which suggests they pretty much nailed the brief.

The top-12 entries will be packaged up in a box by Beer Hug for consumers to buy.

The Beer Hug box reflects the growth in this competition, which rivals only the famous Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge in the pub-based beer competitions.

Smith’s Craft Beer House have run their  NZ IPA Challenge for a few years but this year things got serious, with sponsorship from NZ Hops helpign boost the profile of the event. With 36 entries, it quite rightly touted itself as the world’s biggest NZ-hopped IPA competition.

The judges were looking for beers that were technically excellent and which accurately reflected the character of New Zealand’s unique hops.

While the Brewers Association in America has set out some style guidelines for NZ-style IPA this competition was a little more relaxed.

For instance, the BA guidelines state hop haze is allowed in these beers and the inference there is that full-on hazies in the New England-style might be going a step too far. However, given the huge popularity of the hazy style these were embraced for the Smith’s Challenge.

One aspect the BA is firm about is that the body of these beers should light to light-medium. That lean malt character allows the hops to shine.

Specifically, the BA is looking for hop notes as varied as “floral, fruity (tropical, stone fruit and other), sulfur/diesel-like, citrusy and grassy” and the beer should be “crisp, dry rather than a malt-accentuated”. 

Within the New Zealand hop flavour spectrum much depends on the choice of hops. There’s the super juicy frutiness of Nectaron, the wine-like (or sometimes cat-pee) character of Nelson Sauvin, the diesel and passionfruit of Riwaka, the lime zest of Motueka.

As it turned out the two top beers were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Good George Chance of Haze was, naturally, a hazy IPA and came laden with ripe fruit and a just-right dray finish, while Hallertau’s  enrty was a sparkling clear beer that look and tasted like a imperial Pilsner.

Both showcased New Zealand hops beautifully, but incredibly differently.

The Good George beer featured a trio of iconic NZ hops: Riwaka, Nelson Sauvin and Nectaron in equal  proportions and they worked superbly together. The Hallertau entry (unsure of the hops) was best described as  austere. Super-lean and tightly structured but with a rich hop oil texture.

Deep Creek took out the People’s Choice Award with their South Side Hazy IPA featuring Taiheke, Motueka, Kohatu and Nelson Sauvin.

The Top-12 that will feature in the Beer Hug box is a who’s who of NZ’s best breweries:

Good George
Three Boys & Burkes
Lakeman Jet Fuel
Garage Project
Deep Creek 

Main picture: Brian Watson of Good George, Scott Taylor of Deep Creek, Chris Dickson of Smith’s Craft Beer House, George Tunstall of NZ Hops and Kerry Templeton of NZ Plant and Food.  


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