Great idea, I told him — and, well, that was over a year ago.
But I then had the brainwave that since 2021 marked 40 years since McCashin’s broke the big brewery duopoly to pave the way for the craft revolution, we could come up with 40 landmark beers to announce as the initial Hall of Fame inductees.
So, we put some parameters around it. For the initial inductees we’d limit it to one beer per brewery, the beer had to be current, it had to have won awards (preferably many) at Brew NZ, the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards, New World Beer & Cider Awards, Australian International Beer Awards, etcetera.
We then tried to cover off intangibles like innovation, trendsetting, popularity, influence, as well as trying to capture a broad range of styles.
Even then, it was pain-staking to condense a long list down to 40 beers.
Before we start, it’s worth acknowledging the dearly departed – beers or brands that had they stayed the journey, would have been part of this. That includes but is not limited to Harrington’s Ngahere Gold, Pink Elephant Mammoth, Limburg Witbier, Invercargill Smokin’ Bishop, or Ben Middlemiss’ Nota Bene.
So, without further ado, the envelopes please — here are 40 beers that have earned a place in our hearts, won medals, set agendas, changed the way we think and drink. We present them in a roughly chronological order:
Speight’s Gold Medal Ale – The original champion beer of New Zealand over a century ago. A beer and brand that almost died in the 1980s, before being resurrected late in that same decade on the back of the Southern Man advertising campaign and Otago rugby team achievements. Now a truly national brand and integral to the lives of so many Otago University graduates.
Tui East India Pale Ale – Yeah right? Yeah right! It’s a beer conceived in a river and a brand that keeps flowing, powered by those great advertisements and the brand’s backing of sports teams and events. The brewery has made Mangatainoka a nationally-known town.
Steinlager – Well, how can you not? The very definition of Kiwi beer for much of the 20th century, especially in the 1980s. It’s going as well now as it was when it came to life in the late 1950s and was hailed by beer writer Pat Lawlor as one of the “gifts of the Atomic age”. (Main image, former Lion boss Doug Myers pouring a Steinie).
DB Export – Like Steinlager, it was created in the wake of Arnold Nordmeyer’s Black Budget that lifted taxes on imported beers, with the Prime Minister exhorting locals to come up with their own European style lagers. Like Steinlager, it has spinoffs and sub-brands but remains a staple part of our brewing culture.
Mac’s Gold – Multi-award winning with ties directly back to Mac’s in 1981 when Terry McCashin wanted a beer that tasted like XXXX and brewer Jim Pollitt gave him something better: Mac’s Gold.
Mike’s Mild – Impossible not to love the story of Mike Johnson and the original (and for a long time, only product) out of his Urenui brewery? Kept alive today despite brewery ownership changes.
Sunshine Gisborne Gold – The beer that turned Wellington on. This regional powerhouse is immortalised in its retro look even as Sunshine becomes more modern.
Galbraith’s Bob Hudson’s Bitter – Galbraith’s has been keeping cask ale alive in Auckland for decades and there’s nothing more Galbraithian than a sessionable 4 per cent bitter called Bob.
Monteith’s Summer Ale – Ginger and coriander-spiced, this is a reminder that Monteith’s were an industry leader in the early 2000s.
Emerson’s Pilsner – Emerson’s could have had half-a-dozen entries here, notably Bookbinder, London Porter, 1812 … but Pilsner is the beer that most sparked imitation and changed the way brewers approached a centuries-old style by reinventing it with New Zealand hops.
Wigram Muncher Dunkel – Wigram is an unsung hero in the New Zealand brewing landscape. This spot could have gone to their Spruce Beer or their Czar Russian Imperial Stout, but the Muncher Dunkel is a multi-award-winning brew that’s endured.
Wanaka Beerworks Brewski – The first craft beer out of Wanaka dating back to 1998 and judged Supreme beer at the Brew NZ Awards in 2000. Outwardly, it’s changed under the new brewery’s ownership, carrying a “low-carb” tag on the label but it remains a legendary beer.
Sawmill The Doctor – A beer that has retained the name dating back to the original Sawmill Brewery in the Leigh cafe. Revitalised in the 2020s but with a solid connection to its past when it was a local legend.
Mussel Inn Captain Cooker – Sings New Zealand, with the exquisite use of Manuka tips to create a lovely rosewater note on what is otherwise a quaffable NZ-draught style.
Hawkes Bay Independent Black Duck – An under-rated brewery that’s been slogging it out for decades with technically well-made if unadventurous beer – apart from the mini wine bottles that made them a restaurant staple.
Tuatara Hefeweizen – Tuatara started with a series of Europe-inspired beers and this one has stayed the journey despite some name changes, including the weird Weiss Guy, and is New Zealand’s most-awarded wheat beer by a country mile.
Brew Moon Dark Side of the Moon – A natural standout from an era where New Zealand breweries made very good stouts – Pitch Black from Invercargill and Moonless Stout from Kereru are two others that spring to mind. An influential beer that has stood the test of time.
Townshend Sutton Hoo – A toss-up here between ESB and what feels like its American cousin Sutton Hoo (and even an honourable mention for Blitzgreig and Oldham’s Tap Pilsner), but while the ESB is cask-only now, Sutton Hoo is still in bottles and has longevity, class and that X factor of being greater than the sum of its parts.
Mata Artesian / BOP – Mata, perhaps through their location in Whakatane, might not get the recognition they deserve. But this beer – a Kölsch – has been around for a long time, winning awards year-on-year. A brewery staple, and a leader in the field alongside Hallertau’s No 1 Kölsch.
Sprig + Fern Harvest Pilsner – Master brewer Tracy Banner can be credited with leading the fresh hop revival in New Zealand when she brewed her annual Brewjolais at Mac’s. The Sprig + Fern version is a multi-award-winning signature fresh hop beer.
Epic Armageddon – The definitive New Zealand-made West Coast IPA. Often copied but never matched. Has won more awards than Ben Hur, the movie, and definitively changed the way we approach IPA in this country.
Renaissance Stonecutter – Renaissance, while set up by a pair of brothers-in-law from San Diego, did British-style beers as well as anyone in the early 20th century, and this is a wonderful beer that keeps winning awards and finding new friends.
Deep Creek Dusty Gringo – The evolution of Deep Creek from a modest brewpub on Auckland’s North Shore to a major domestic player and exporter has mirrored the rise of craft beer in New Zealand. Recently (thankfully) they bought back Dusty Gringo, the hoppy brown ale that was an early trend-setter for the style.
Cassels Milk Stout – A beer with personal significance for me. It was the beer I drank the first and only time I met Terry McCashin and I fell in love with the smooth, creamy, roasty goodness it offers. It’s since made its presence felt on the world stage when it beat Guinness to be champion stout at the 2019 World Beer Awards.
Hallertau Funkonnay – Hallertau was doing barrel-aged beer before most breweries existed in New Zealand and this annual release was always much anticipated. A curious piece of history, the original Funkonnay was made with a yeast starter from Mussel Inn’s Lambagreeny Lambic.
Three Boys Oyster Stout – One of the most decorated beers in modern New Zealand history. It was unusual and daring when first released and has survived and flourished while other shellfish-flavoured stouts have come and gone. And it’s a hat-tip to a style that was – by all accounts – first brewed in New Zealand.
Twisted Hop Enigma Barley Wine – Perhaps this beer owes its popularity to the “Red Zone” version that spent months in the conditioning tank in a toppled Christchurch laneway brewery post-earthquake. Maybe, but a good back-story is also part of a beer’s charm.
Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta – You could make an argument for Pot Kettle Black but there was something compelling and unique about Gunnamatta when it came out as a rebellious alternative to a raft of coffee beers on the market at the time. Elegant, clever and unrivalled.
Parrotdog Bitterbitch – A beer that made a brewery. It’s that simple. Delicious, cleverly named, great back story. No brainer.
Garage Project Pernicious Weed – Well, there could be a dozen GP beers on this list. But as one of the first beers off the now fast-paced production line, featuring all New Zealand hops, with a brilliant name and fantastic artwork, it sings GP.
Liberty Yakima Monster – There will be fans of Knife Party and Citra and Prohibition Porter, but Yakima Monster was a big APA (6 per cent) well before we did big APAs and was a signal for what Liberty is all about: big, bold and hoppy.
Moa St Joseph – Moa’s range of Belgian-style beers under Dave Nicholls were unparalleled in New Zealand at the time and it’s a shame they got buried to an extent under all the other negative stuff around Moa, but this beer survives and thrives. Also, the magnum version was genius.
8 Wired Feijoa Wild Ale – A wow brewery that could fill a Hall of Fame alcove with a few beers such as Hopwired, iStout or Cucumber Hippy but the sheer work, imagination and uniqueness of Wild Feijoa sums up everything about 8 Wired’s patience and skill with barrel-aging beer.
Croucher Low Rider – New Zealand’s definitive 2.5 per cent beer imitated by many but seldom surpassed. Not many have worked as hard on a beer as Paul Croucher worked on this one. A gem.
Kereru For Great Justice Coconut Porter – At a time well before anyone had heard of pastry stouts, Kereru set the benchmark for the dessert style beer with this perfectly balanced gem featuring toasted coconut.
Craftwork Red Bonnet – So many amazing beers come out of the Oamaru nano-brewery but Red Bonnet, a Flanders Red Ale with a label that bears the portrait of co-founder Lee-Ann Scotti, is a definitive example of what they do so well.
Panhead Supercharger – Who can argue with a beer that drove a multi-million dollar sale to Lion? It’s unimpeachable on this list. A beer that managed to wow craft beer hipsters and blue-collar tradies at the same time.
McLeod’s 802 series – The idea of low volume, high turnover beers has been mastered by Garage Project and Behemoth, but McLeod’s were a real leader in the in this area and the 802 series (a tribute to postcode of Vermont, where brewer Jason Bathgate comes from) is one of the most iconic and cultish beers in the country.
Behemoth Lid Ripper – No other brewery has done as much to drive the popularity of hazy IPA as Behemoth and this original was winning awards well before competitions split hazies off into their own category. It may not have been the first hazy to make itself known, but with the rip-top lid (sadly gone now) and undeniable quality, it stands still a fast-moving field.
North End Saison de Terroir – North End have been at the heart of the saison resurgence in New Zealand and this work of art stands out in for its sense of place and purpose in re-imagining the style down under. Brewed with wild yeast collected from Kapiti Island it has real soul.