With the near-demise of Epic there was a risk that one of New Zealand’s greatest IPAs — Armageddon — could have been lost forever. Tim Newman and Michael Donaldson reflect on the most important IPAs in New Zealand history.
IPA changed everything.
It broke the ceiling on how strong a beer could (or should) be and fundamentally changed the way hops were used, and viewed, by both brewers and consumers. Strong beers used to be synonymous with brown paper bags and dodgy parts of town, while hops were a commodity — merely a necessity of brewing. But in the new age of IPA, hops are the stars, and higher ABV is what you need to cram more of them in.
IPA blew the doors off brewing methodology, giving brewers freedom to embrace exploration and experimentation that opened the way for alternative grains, new adjuncts and flavourings that would eventually lead all the way to hazy and lactose IPAs. It was something the big brewers couldn’t emulate either. The resources and cost were unfathomable to the low margin practices of large-scale brewing.
Most fundamentally though, IPA forever changed drinkers’ perspective on craft beer. Elevating it from microbrewing into the super-premium (and pricey) spectacle of hops and ABV that earned the term “craft”.
Nothing was left unchanged by the dawn of this new age of beer, least of all me. I had the good fortune to turn 18 just before it all happened. All I knew about IPA was that it was what Tui claimed to be, but even back then nobody believed it. I was gradually acquiring a taste for craftier drops. I remember Three Boys Golden Ale and Tuatara Pilsner being early favourites. But then I tasted Epic Armageddon, and nothing was going to be the same again. I was an IPA guy, now and forever.
It’s been quite a journey since then, and IPA path has split into myriad sub-styles that have evolved and developed. Some of those divergent paths have narrowed and disappeared, while others have widened to become so vast as to almost eclipse the original way. Certain special beers have acted as milestones along this road. Some have been the progenitors of a new style, others bastions of an old one, but all of them critical in some way to the IPA landscape we find ourselves a part of today.
I’d been on the fringes of “craft” since 2007 when the (then) big hop nature Emerson’s Pilsner blew me away. I moved sideways towards IPA via Epic Pale Ale but my introduction to IPA proper was Hallertau Maximus (now No 7). It was so bitter that, at first, I felt it was impossible to finish the pint, but before long I was on to my second.
It’s no coincidence that Tim mentions Epic Armageddon and I pick Maximus as our IPA-introductions, because while it’s unfair to say that IPA didn’t exist in New Zealand prior to those two beers, the fact remains that in 2008 they were the two head-to-head contestants at a very low-key Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge.
That pair — and their creators, Luke Nicholas and Steve Plowman — started a trans-Atlantic shift in IPA thinking and led other brewers to experiment on the playground of our palates.
And now, as the letters I, P & A become more and more fragmented in their meaning, we figured it was time to document a very brief history of IPA in New Zealand and to list what we believe are New Zealand’s most important IPAs.
In charting the course of IPA in New Zealand we cannot ignore the handful of early hop-prophets who preached to a small congregation.
Emerson’s 1812: Now described as a hoppy pale ale, and available only in kegs in select venues mostly in the vicinity of the brewery, 1812 was a game-changer. Brewed in the early 90s and taking its name from the last four digits of the Emerson’s Brewery phone number, 1812 was just 5% ABV and very English in its ancestry. The late, great Michael Jackson praised it for “a great deal of hop flavour rather than pure bitterness … set against a smooth, juicy malt background”.
Australis Hodgson IPA: Created by Ben Middlemiss for the Galbraith’s spinoff brand Australis in the mid-1990s this was an epic IPA and one of the first in New Zealand to push the boundaries of ABV at 6.3%. It was also cask-conditioned, re-yeasted, primed and bottle-conditioned. Jackson said it had “an earthy, oily, orange-zest aroma” and a “textured, nutty” malt background with hints of vanilla and pepper.
Tuatara IPA: Another 5% English-style IPA, Tuatara’s version was the dominant IPA of the early 2000s and was a multiple gold medallist at the NZ Beer Awards. It was a beer that changed quickly, mutating and evolving stylistically but remaining a gateway to craft for many in Wellington.
Three Boys IPA: Three Boys IPA looks back towards the British origins of the style and the emphasis on malt character alongside the hops. With Altitude Brewing’s Mischievous Kea it’s a living example of an otherwise lost style and a critically important link in the evolutionary chain of IPA in New Zealand.
Cock & Bull Monk’s Habit: This beer, as the name suggests, started life as a Belgian-style strong ale, but when Luke Nicholas took over as brewer from Ben Middlemiss, he applied his penchant for American hops and gradually transformed Monk’s Habit into a strong pale ale and turned New Zealand brewing eyes away from the English style and towards the American style.
Limburg Hopsmacker Pale Ale: Hopsmacker from the Hawke’s Bay brewery founded by Chris O’Leary and featuring Craig Cooper (Bach Brewing) was regarded as the country’s best pale ale in the early 2000s, winning a string of awards and accolades. What it did more than any other pale ale at the time was take what Emerson’s had done for pilsner, and apply New Zealand hops, in this case Riwaka, to English malts and create a “new world” pale ale.
THE NEW INFLUENCERS
Epic Armageddon: For a time in the mid-to-late 2010s no competition was safe from the power of Armageddon. It cut a swathe through judging formats and stood head-and-shoulders above every other IPA in the country.
Hallertau Maximus: One of the two beers that heralded the advent of the American-influenced era of IPA here. A straightforward IPA by today’s standards — butback then it punched your palate with a one-two of flavour and bitterness.
Brew Moon Hophead IPA: One of our very first true IPAs, and an interesting case of a beer that could have started the IPA craze years early if the cards had fallen a little differently.
8 Wired Hopwired: Walking the path laid by Hopsmacker, Soren Eriksen put his faith in New Zealand hops to take IPA into unchartered territory. The result is an IPA experience that many of us now take for granted with potent tropical fruit and pungent citrus.
Parrotdog Bitterbitch: For the craft-embedded of 2011, Parrotdog’s flagship beer was an introduction to the power of dry-hopping with Nelson Sauvin. Using pungency and perceived sweetness on an overly bitter beer saved the beer and built the brewery.
Liberty Citra: There are Double IPAs and then there is Citra. Complicated layers of cedar, spice, mango and peach with licks of citrus and a sappy resinous quality all wrapped in a soft blanket of sweet malt before the bitterness pushes through.
THE Best of the SPINOFFS
Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta: Melding hops with other ingredients, mostly fruit, is almost de rigeur but only Yeastie Boys were imaginative enough, and good enough, to blend Earl Gray tea into an IPA
Croucher Moonrider Black IPA: Black IPA or Cascadian IPA was once poised to be the next big thing and while it never quite went away, its heyday was somewhere in the early-2010s when Croucher Moonrider was the epitome of the style.
Hop Federation Red IPA: Red IPAs come and go with the seasons but not many breweries have held true to the style nor done it quite so brilliantly as Hop Federation. The perfect marriage of malt and hops.
McLeod’s 802 Series: The best realisation of the ethos of “New England” beer (McLeods refuse to call it hazy, but whatever). Explorative of new hops and hop combos, a batch-driven mentality and drink-immediately attitude.
Duncan’s Whippy IPA: There are some (many?) who would deem lactose-laden IPA as the nadir of the style but punters do crave sweet and lush, the Duncan’s Whippy IPA embodies this fragmentation of the IPA family better than most.
Garage Project Fresh: Any number of GP IPAs could fill this space (Pernicious Weed, Party & Bullshit) but the Fresh monthly release series captures the drink-now, what’s-new essence of modern day IPA.
Where to next? gold medal IPA winners from the 2023 NZ Beer Awards
Brave Brewing Terrible Lizards
Double Vision Naughty Hopper
Eruption Brewing Big Victory
Shining Peak Scarecrow
Workshop Brewing Wakey Jakey
Behemoth Music City Hazy IPA
Altitude Brewing Homeward Bound
Deep Creek Haiku
Eddyline GorgeJuice Hazy IPA
Fortune Favours The Mystic
Garage Project Matakitaki Valley
Good George Fog City
Hop Federation Fields of Green
Behemoth Clayton F#$%ing Hops NZ IPA
Sawmill Brewery Sawmill Aotearoa Series #37 – NZ IPA