As chair of judges at the New World Beer & Cider Awards one of my jobs is to write the tasting notes. So here’s a run down on the Top-30 with some judges’ comments:
Bach All Day Non-Alcoholic IPA
Making non-alcoholic beer is hard. Even big breweries struggle with the technological and creative challenge of bringing aroma, flavour and substance to a beer with no alcohol. Bach Brewing were the first New Zealand craft brewery to market with a non-alcoholic beer and what they’ve produced is simply world class. All Day IPA has all the aroma of a proper IPA —mango, papaya, pine — and there’s enough heft in the body to fool you into thinking you’re drinking a bigger beer. It’s generous on all fronts and will satisfy the most discerning critic. “Fantastic, great execution,” said the judges.
Garage Project Tiny
Garage Project invested heavily in the research and development of Tiny, their non-alcoholic hazy IPA, and have delivered a technically excellent beer. But Tiny also has that X-Factor you get from Garage Project. The aroma is lemon juice and pineapple, the mouthfeel is as juicy as it’s possible to create without alcohol as a support actor. There’s a little bite of bitterness but it’s in proportion to the body and lack of alcohol. It’s Tiny by name but big on refreshing flavour — the kind of non-alcoholic beer you can drink without feeling like you’re missing out on anything.
Lager & Pilsner
Garage Project Hatsukoi
Garage Project take a lot of influence from Japanese culture and in this case they’ve paid tribute to the popularity of super-dry Japanese lagers but with a typical, boundary-pushing tweak — in this instance creating a beer that’s way more hoppy than tradition allows. In fact the judges said it was almost “too flavourful” for a lager, which tells you something. Super-easy drinking thanks to a feather-light body, this is a beer you can swallow down in big delicious gulps. “Extremely crushable,” said the judges, which is appropriate, as Hatsukoi translates to “first love” — it could be your new crush.
Panhead Port Road Pils
Death, taxes and Panhead Port Road Pils. No other beer in New Zealand history can keep pace with the award-scooping brilliance of this beer. It’s a perennial in the Top-30 and was also the champion pilsner at the New Zealand Brewers Guild Awards last year. Why is it so good? It’s put together like a Formula 1 car. Passionfruit and citrus hops race across the palate. There’s a just-right purring carbonation coupled with enough of a malt chassis to hold everything together. The ping of bitterness is in proportion to everything going on around it. It’s sleek perfection.
Rhyme X Reason Space Monkey
Rhyme X Reason are a relatively young Wanaka-based brewery started by brewer Jess Wolfgang and partner Simon Ross, who makes canning machines on the side, including the one Rhyme X Reason used to package this beer. Space Monkey is stacked full of New Zealand hops that deliver layers of apricot, tangelo and passionfruit with hint of pungency you might normally find in a pale ale. The full-on hop flavour is nicely married to resonant malt character and there’s a bitterness that seems to rise from deep in the glass and build slowly and pleasantly. A very satisfying, full-flavoured drop.
This is your annual reminder that this is not a “craft” beer competition but open to all-comers. Steinlager Pure is a technically excellent, fault-free beer that ticks all the boxes. It might be workmanlike, but like all the best workers, it turns up every day, gives 100 per cent and does everything with precision and skill. It looks a treat, fills your whole mouth with flavour and texture and does it so well that you hardly notice its quality in action. And there’s enough flavour to keep you entertained. As the judges noted: “It does what it says, would drink a few.”
Urbanaut Hacienda Disco Beer
If you’re going to put a disco ball on your beer can you better come to the party ready to throw down some moves. Luckily Urbanaut Hacienda Disco Beer turns up like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. This suburban Auckland brewery have embraced adventure in their beer and this is typical of their flair. Fermented in the traditional fashion and then refermented with champagne yeast to create a super-dry lager with a hefty 6.5 per cent ABV and a ton of hop goodness. “Like walking through an orchard of just-watered lemon trees,” said one judge, while another added: “Great beer, dig it.”
“Great beer, dig it.”
Sour, Wheat & Saison
8 Wired A Fistful of Raspberries
8 Wired, based in Warkworth but with a barrel room and restaurant in nearby Matakana, have made a speciality of aging beer in wooden barrels. This is potentially the pinnacle of their work. Brewed in the traditional Belgian Framboise style which means utilising wild yeasts plus bacteria in the air and in the wood of the barrels. The beer is pleasant blush-copper colour and the aroma of raspberries jumps out the glass. The fruit and doughy sweetness is complemented by a hint of vanillin from the barrel and it’s perfectly offset by the bright acidity and dry, just-tannic finish to create a complex but delicately balanced beer. Nothing short of world-class.
Bach Peach Pucker
This cleverly complex beer from Bach Brewing is made with real peaches and features the addition of white tea for a play on the idea of a peach-infused iced tea. It presents beautifully in the glass, a pretty peaches-and-cream colour, with a restrained peach and spice aroma. The fruit blends well with a yoghurt sourness and underlying tea tannins add to the complexity and palate length in this creamy, refreshing and seamless brew. The judges loved the “great drinkability in an authentic-tasting sour beer” where the fruit flavour stays all the way to the end.
Judged as the inaugural Supreme Champion this classic from Emerson’s is a reincarnation of a wheat beer they brewed in 1995 when it was tagged “cloudy wheat beer”. It’s back with a modern and playful marketing campaign, now tagged “German-style hazy” and taking aim at the flood of hazy IPAs on the market. Like a hazy IPA it is driven by fruit flavours, but here it’s banana lollies, a product of the distinctive yeast and true to the ancient German style. It’s followed by a buzz of woody spice, some brioche sweetness and a lively tartness from the high percentage of wheat used. Full and creamy but clean and coherent. A masterpiece.
North End Bones of the Land
A debut Top-30 for Belgian-style specialists North End from Waikanae and what a beer to do it with! Saison, also known as farmhouse ale, has a rich history in Belgium where it was brewed at the end of the harvest season for the following summer — to slake the thirst of, and sometimes pay, the workers. This stunning tribute to the classic Saison Dupont melds a distinctive yeast and some earthy hops to create an ensemble of flavours that include hay, bread, lemon zest and pepper. In keeping with the stunning artwork on the can this effervescent beer (warning you will get wet fingers on opening the can) is earthy, rustic and real.
Brave Brewing Bottle Rocket
Hastings based Brave Brewing have built a cult-like following over the years thanks to most of their award-winning beer being sold locally and therefore hard to find around Aotearoa. So, take the chance to try the beer that Brave founder Matt Smith perfected in his garage back when he was a champion home brewer. Bottle Rocket is classed as Extra Pale Ale, and in this case the extra means more of everything. It showcases Simcoe hops which bring a complex mix of pine, passionfruit and apricot. The judges loved the “dank, pine and ripe fruit” hop qualities in a pale ale that thinks it’s an IPA
Epic are the industry leaders when it comes to flavoursome, hoppy low carb beer. Blue has just 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per 100ml of beer making it one of the lowest carb beers on the market. It’s also the tastiest. If you like your beers light, dry and dusted with hops this is for you. The judges were reaching for superlatives when it came to describing how this lightweight beer is also such a hop bomb. “Fresh and delightful, surprisingly full mouthfeel for a low carb.” “Clean and flinty. Well done with the dry-bitter balance.” “A doozy, a real fun beer. Would quaff.” So, less carbs more flavour, what’s not to love?
“A doozy, a real fun beer. Would quaff.”
Sawmill Extra Pale Ale
Sawmill, based in Matakana, are regular attendees in the Top-30 and their Extra Pale Ale is a previous visitor to this elite group and it’s easy to see why. The judges kept using the word “lovely”. It has a “lovely pale hue” and a creamy body topped with dense fluffy white head. There’s a “lovely hop nose — tropical fruit and sweet strawberry”. It has a “lovely” light body and a sweetness that is just balanced by firm bitterness that slowly builds but stays firmly held in check. The whole package whispers of restrained elegance and an easy afternoon sociability. Lovely.
Hop gods Epic have named this IPA for the “Cryo Pop” blend of hops used. Cryo Pop is a trademarked name given to a blend of hops that have been cryogenically processed — i.e. frozen. This allows the hop scientists to separate the cones, keeping the flavour-giving lupulin and discarding the leaves (bract) which can sometimes add an unwanted astringency to beer. The result of this hop blend is a super-smooth IPA that delivers seamless and consistent hop aroma and flavour with no spiky edges or distractions. Epic Cryo Pop takes you on an intense, but smooth, flavour journey of ripe peaches and sweet orange before hitting you with welcome slap of bitterness.
Garage Project Pernicious Weed
A cult beer from Garage Project that was literally the first commercial example poured nearly 11 years ago when the brewery launched at Wellington bar Hashigo Zake. Named for the centuries-old derisory term for hops when the British thought they were a nothing more than an invasive species from Europe and had no place in beer. This beer is deeply loved, adored even by legions of fans. P Weed, as it’s known in-house, showcases a pair of classic Kiwi hops, Nelson Sauvin and Rakau, which deliver pungent tropicality and a lush resinous on top of a rich, boozy malt base. It’s big wall of flavour.
Garage Project Proper Crisp IPA
Garage Project are fantastic collaborators and this beer is made in conjunction with Proper Crisps. The tie-in was to make an IPA using actual potatoes. Potatoes ferment cleanly, enhancing a dry, neutral base that lets the hops do their work. If it seems like a bit of a gimmick, think again. Proper IPA makes it into the Top-30 after taking out a trophy at last year’s Brewers Guild Awards, so it’s the real deal. The judges loved the way the initial honey-like malt sweetness dried out to allow the “punchy hop aroma” to take centre stage. “Great beer. Like a classic IPA but drier. This is really good.” Stupendous? Spud-mendous!
Sawmill West Coast IPA
In a counterweight to the market dominance of sweet, juicy hazy IPA there was always going to be a moment where the pendulum swung back towards big, brusque and bitter West Coast-style IPA. This from Sawmill delivers in spades — spades full of hops that is. The dense fluffy white head looks great on the blazing orange body that sets the tone for tree-loads of citrus: lots of grapefruit and tangerine is backed by herby dankness. The vibrant hop flavour is married perfectly to the modern malt character and the bitterness is assertive, always testing the line of good balance but never quite crossing.
Southpaw Say Hey Kid
Southpaw is owned by brewer Cameron Burgess and partner Penny Prescott alongside their friends Geoffrey Bunn and Harriet Jenkins. Based in Hornby, Christchurch, they’ve been going six years, initially leasing space before buying their own brewery in 2019. In keeping with the sporting symbolism of the Southpaw moniker, their Say Hey Kid IPA is a reference to the nickname of American baseball legend Willie Mays. Dominated by the peach and orange US-Kiwi hop blend the judges applauded the “vibrant” palate, the well-integrated flavour and the tussle between the bitter and sweet characters. Like Mays, it hits it out of the park.
Hazy & Juicy
Beer Baroness Sunshine & Spaceships
There are a handful of legendary craft beer pubs in New Zealand and one of them is Pomeroy’s in Christchurch. Out the back of Pomeroy’s you will find Beer Baroness, the brand created by long-time pub manager Ava Nakagawa. The all woman-owned brewery’s first appearance in the Top-30 comes with Sunshine & Spaceships, a Hazy IPA made with Australia Galaxy and American Strata hops. Expect peach, passionfruit and pineapple with a drizzle of lemon tanginess. Creamy, lush body is given a something to pull against with the addition of spelt malt that brings a spicy bite that enhances the bitterness. Judges loved the languid drinkability of this beautiful looking beer.
Behemoth Hop Buddies Homer & Marge
No brewery does pop culture references like Behemoth and they use the Hop Buddies series as a classic method of showcasing two different hop varieties working together, naming each after a well-known entertainment duo. The Homer & Marge edition features Mosaic (possibly the most popular hop on the planet right now) and cryogenic Sabro, a modern hop with an intricate web of flavours including a distinctive coconut note. This is as smooth and round as Homer Simpson’s belly and as lush as Marge’s hair, with rich mango and coconut cream flavours. Entertain yourself by reading the back of the can while you drink this fun-filled beer.
Burkes Brewing #FakeNews
No second-year syndrome for Burkes Brewing #FakeNews Hazy IPA, with the Tekapo-based brewery returning to the Top-30 after a stunning debut last year. Not much has changed in a year, except for the imagination of the judges which was captured by a beer that exhibited “juicy stonefruit and cookies”. We think they mean it’s delicious. Silkily smooth and with a seamless creamy texture, this beer has a deep seam of ripe tropical fruit flavours yet it manages to finish light and dry. It’s created with a deft touch and you can taste the care that’s gone into making it. Very easy drinking.
“Juicy stonefruit and cookies”
Mount Brewing Golden Hour Hazy XPA
Mount Maunganui-based Mount Brewing have been to the Top-30 before with their cider but this is a beer debut for a small brewery located inside the Rising Tide taproom in the Mount. This is an unusual hazy as it’s based on the XPA (or extra pale ale) style which usually means a lighter drier body and lower alcohol (4.7 per cent here). The result is distinctive hazy with a dry mouthfeel and light, powdery body. But this is all about the hops and there’s distinctive lemongrass and lemon zest, married to coconut thread and slices of pineapple with a tangy, slightly bitter finish.
Theoretical Brewer Mad Hatter
Taranaki-based chemical engineer Douglas Eng got the beer bug when his wife bought him a home brew kit for his birthday a few years ago. He went from a small kit to a big kit in his garage to full-on production brewery and taproom in the New Plymouth suburb of Bell Block. The Theoretical Brewer has been threatening to make the Top-30 for some time, after a couple of Top-100 appearances, and the Mad Hatter hazy pale ale captured the judges’ attention with its “intense perfume” hop notes and low bitterness. Layers of tropical fruit and lemon with a hint of herbaceousness create a smooth and well-rounded drinking experience on an approachably light 5 per cent ABV.
Volstead Riwaka Hazy IPA
Volstead Trading Company started life as a craft beer and cocktail lounge on the edge of Hagley Park in Christchurch. Three years ago they decided to take what they learned about customer preference and brew their own beer. It hasn’t taken them long to arrive at the top level. This beer showcases the famous Riwaka hop with its distinctive lemon, lime and diesel aroma (and no, that’s not a typo, it’s diesel in a good way). The prominent citrus is embedded in a deeper sweet pineapple flavour. All up it’s a thick, full-bodied and intense — all that’s wonderful about Kiwi-hopped hazy IPAs.
8 Wired iStout
A legitimate legend in New Zealand brewing circles and brewer Soren Eriksen has perfected the recipe over the years. The i in iStout stands for imperial, which means big, and at 10 per cent ABV it’s the biggest beer in the Top-30 but the alcohol is superbly integrated in the deep, smooth flavour. It shines like black opal in the glass and delivers layers of chocolate, dates, leather, licorice and sweet coffee. “Excellent beer,” the judges proclaimed, “like chocolate liqueur. Smooth, rich and creamy”. A beer for sharing or for spending a long evening with in front of the fire.
“Like chocolate liqueur. Smooth, rich and creamy”
Bootleg T Straight Burnout Smokey Stout
Bootleg Brewery are based in an old dairy factory in Matangi on the south-east side of Hamilton. It’s worth a visit for the Chernobyl-chic look and feel of the taproom. The label on the T Straight Burnout Smokey Stout captures a retro vibe that matches the brewery name. And the beer is stunning. You won’t believe it’s only 4.9 per cent because it tastes so much bigger and richer. The smoky bacon aroma is strong on the nose, but takes a back seat to sweet, creamy chocolate palate where the smoke is more subdued and gentle. Smokiness comes back to create perception of bitterness and dry finish. “Smoky notes reminiscent of gourmet smoked bacon and smoked brisket. Chocolatey notes, creamy mouthfeel,” wrote the judges. Top gear.
Cider & Ginger Beer
Morningcider Strawberry Rose
If you want to be cider-makers from Morningside, the Auckland suburb just down the road from Eden Park, what else would you call yourself except Morningcider? The business was founded by Tim Shallard, Louise Giles and Nigel Cottle, who are all connected with the trendy Morningside eateries Crave and Kind. The judges loved the way Morningcider Strawberry Rose manages to be both brightly sweet and yet have enough tartness to be balanced — an incredible juggling act of the taste experiences. Sweet, candy-like berries sit on a distinctive red-apple base to create a “lovely complex cider,” said the judges.
Orchard Thieves Rose
A pretty blush-rosé colour in the glass this super-drinkable 4 per cent cider is made with some unusual red-fleshed apples, known as Red Love and Geneva, which make up 20 per cent of the pressed apple juice. The red flesh creates the pink rosé colour of the cider and also brings a distinctive wine-like flavour of rhubarb and raspberry. The light and tart sweetness is balanced by clean acidity and delicate tannins. This is also marketed as low-sugar, having 50 per cent less sugar than Orchard Thieves Berry Cider (3.8g/100ml). Despite the lower sugar this cider has great length, said the judges who loved the compact flavour and dry finish.
Ranga Ginger Beer
Ranga was set up by a trio of mates who set out to emulate an old-fashioned ginger beer with a bit of zing. The distinctive name suggests distinctive flavour and that’s exactly what you get with this super-pale drop that looks almost like old-fashioned lemonade in the glass. There’s a high level of ginger balanced against some honey-sweetness, a dash of lemon and underlying cider characteristics and it finishes medium-dry. The judges went as far as noting the full ginger flavour as a standout quality. “Lovely, lively flavour,” they wrote. “Full ginger aroma, full ginger flavour.”