In 2016 to celebrate the publication of the second edition of Beer Nation – the art and heart of Kiwi beer, I rather optimistically (foolishly?) decided to create a list of New Zealand’s 50 greatest beers.
The list is built on a raft of criteria that includes:
- Ratings on sites including Untappd and Ratebeer;
- Gold medals / trophies won at the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards and other competitions;
- The influence the beer has had on the New Zealand brewing scene;
- Enduring quality;
- Personal taste preferences (always open for debate).
- Discontinued beers were not included and while some of these are now out of production, the list was valid when it was created.
1. Epic Armageddon –It is simply impossible to argue with the sheer weight of awards this beer has won, including five trophies at the Brewers Guild of NZ awards over an eight-year period. In a 12-month period in 2015-16 it won champion IPA in three countries (NZ, Australia and Sweden) as well taking out top IPA crown at the New World Beer & Cider Awards. Created for the now legendary Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge in 2008, Armageddon is an incomparable market-leader which many have tried to copy, but few have managed to emulate the perfect hop-malt balance achieved by Luke Nicholas. His dedication to sourcing the best American hops is justified in the layers of subtle flavour experience Armageddon delivers: grapefruit, pine, rosewater, light minerality, caramel malt … and it all comes together seamlessly, with a regal poise befitting the King of IPA..
2. Liberty C!tra – Consistently New Zealand’s top-rated beer on a multitude of review sites. It is the top-rated Kiwi beer on Untappd and the second-best on Ratebeer.com. And no wonder, like the brewer who makes it, Joe Wood, it’s a big, generous, engaging, larger-then-life beer. A huge double IPA (9%) packed with citrus and tropical fruit aromas, it has multiple layers of balance and texture. There’s sweetness, dankness, hop-oiliness, bitterness, mineral bite, savoury notes, alcohol warmth. The emperor of imperial IPAs. And my wife’s favourite beer!
3. Emerson’s Pilsner – Probably the single most important beer in introducing Kiwis to the beauty of hops. It was also the beer that sent me (and no doubt others) crashing through the craft beer “gateway”. The beer started out as an experiment in making a totally organic beer. Brewer Richard Emerson was asked by representatives of the organic industry to make a beer for them. “I wanted to make a lager completely different to all other lagers and wow, it had a unique flavour. I told myself at the time this was the sauvignon blanc of beers.” The beer started out as New Zealand Biograin’s “Pride of the Plains Pilsner” but eventually it grew so popular that Emerson put it out under his own name. Taking the traditional pilsner recipe and spiking it with Kiwi ingredients not only created a gateway for Kiwi drinkers but opened the door to other New Zealand brewers, showing what was possible using New Zealand produce.
4. Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black – Avant-garde brewers Yeastie Boys were launched off the popularity of the home brew version of this hoppy porter, an abrupt, delicious, direction-changer in the Kiwi brewing scene. Stu McKinlay perfected the recipe while brewing at home and his American Porter proved so popular friends and hangers-on were knocking his door looking to buy it. The success drove him and business partner Sam Possenniskie to brew 1200-litres under contract at Invercargill Brewery. Not only did they take Kiwi beer in a new direction but they showed the contract path was a viable route for other aspiring brewers. The Boys have since taken their hardware-less ethos around the world and continue to make innovative and interesting beers wherever they travel.
5. Steinlager – No, not a joke. It’s been an industry leader for over 50 years and continues to win awards. Described in the 1950s by my favourite beer writer Pat Lawlor (Froth Blower’s Manual) as “one of the few gifts of this atomic age” it has stood the test time, become a national symbol, and a byword for Kiwi beer. I don’t think anyone has summed up its qualities any better than fellow beer writer Phil Cook: “The distinctively dank punch of the shamefully-overlooked Green Bullet hop is just such good fun that I’m amazed it’s not the beer geek’s mass-market lager of choice, and surprised smaller brewers don’t riff on it. If that sounds implausible, arrange yourself a blind comparison against your other favourites and see. You may be as delighted as I was.”
6. 8-Wired Hopwired – The first bottled IPA to use only New Zealand-grown malt and hops. It swaps out grapefruit and grass of American hops and replaces them with the passionfruit, lime and sauvingnon blanc grape flavours of Nelson’s best produce. It’s one of those beers that you can smell coming well before the bartender hands you a pint. Complex, intense, original and a magnet for rave reviews from around world. This is the flagship IPA for the beauty of New Zealand hops.
7. Panhead Supercharger – The beer of 2015 (and many years after that) as voted by the country’s leading beer advocacy group, SOBA, has been the high-revving engine driving the success of Panhead Custom Ales. It’s an American Pale Ale that seems to hit all the right marks: 5.7 per alcohol, crammed with intense grassy, citrus and cat pee aromas, and a lean body that makes it ripe for easy quaffing. So many people I’d describe as non-beer geeks just love it. It’s huge popularity helped turn Panhead into a juicy target for Lion and after just three years in business Mike Nielson’s Upper Hutt brewery was subject to a multi-million dollar sale.
8. Three Boys Oyster Stout – Putting real oysters in stout was, it has been claimed, a Kiwi invention. Beer historian Michael Jackson delved into the style and concluded that the first osyter stout could have been brewed in Stewart Island in 1929 as Customs and Excise approved the use of an oyster concentrate as an adjunct for beer-making. The concentrate, said to aid head retention “without a trace of fishiness”, was exported to England where it was used in an oatmeal stout made by Hammerton in 1938. Three Boys brought the somehwat forgotten style back to prominence with their Bluff oyster-filled silky seasonal sensation which has sparked a colony of other shellfish beers.
9. Mussel Inn Captain Cooker – There should be a rule that for New Zealanders to renew their passport, they must go Onekaka in Golden Bay, preferably camp on or near the beach, visit the Mussel Inn and have a fresh Captain Cooker while sitting in the delightful garden of this iconic pub. Brewed with manuka tips which add a flavour of Turkish Delight to an otherwise simple, malt-driven beer, it riffs of the first beer brewed in New Zealand by Captain Cook’s men in Dusky Sound as an anti-scurvy remedy. Quite simply, it’s Kiwi-as.
10. Garage Project Day of The Dead – Garage Project beers are so intriguing, diverse and intense that everyone has a favourite and trying to sift through their hundreds of brews to come up with a definitive top pick has left me scratching my head for days on end … but, to paraphrase our recently-retired leader, “at the end of day” I went for Day of The Dead as my top GP beer. The strong lager made with chipotle, cacao nibs, vanilla and agave, was the people’s choice winner when Garage Project launched its initial 24/24 series five years ago and remains one of the most anticipated annual releases of the year when it comes out in November. The idea, the artwork, the flavour, the fact there’s an occasional Triple of Day of the Dead … it’s a sub-brand unto itself.
11. Emerson’s Bookbinder – For a long, long time when I was asked to name my favourite New Zealand beer, it was this cultured gent. And I can’t help but thinking of Bookbinder in human terms, because it’s such a character. It’s got charm, spirit and the old world elegance you’d expect of a beer name for two actual bookbinders, Michael O’Brien (now of Craftwork Brewery) and David Stedman (Dutybound). Conceived as a one-off for the annual Oamaru Victorian Fete it soon became synonymous with Emerson’s and in an era when so many hopped-to-the-hilt session beers assail the senses with an out of balance bid to cash in on the popularity of “session”, Bookbinder, at 3.7 per cent and with its nuanced layers of nutty and biscuity malt combined with judicious floral and earthy hops, remains the ultimate session beer. It doesn’t have the showmanship of some its newer rivals in the lower-alcohol space but the workmanship that’s gone into endures.
12. Epic Hop Zombie – You know how people say they can always remember where they were and what they were doing at a special moment in history – like the day Princess Diana died (I was in a hotel room in Perth). Well, the same thing happens to me with certain beers – I can remember exactly the circumstances of my first taste of some special brews. And amongst those, Hop Zombie stands out (it was at Pomeroy’s in Christchurch and I was sitting just inside the dining room area eating ribs). What joy there was that night as New Zealand’s first double IPA worked its hop magic. Rich, decadent, with a perfect balance (two fat men on a bitter-sweet see-saw I first described it as). There was a moment in time (during the great American hop shortage) when it looked like Hop Zombie would be a one-off but brewer Luke Nicholas can source hops better than anyone and it is now part of Epic’s core range. It remains the Kiwi benchmark for big, hoppy beers – of which there have been many imitators.
13. ParrotDog Bitter Bitch – Earlier this year ParrotDog raised $2 million for a new brewery by crowd-funding on PledgeMe. Not a bad for a brewery that could have fallen at the first hurdle when their attempt to go from home to commercial brewers went badly awry in 2012. Their favourite home brew recipe turned out too bitter when upscaled to commercial quantities and they saved it only by dry-hopping it to kingdom come with the relatively new Nelson Sauvin, which created a fruitiness that change the perceived bitterness. The beer, originally to be called ParrotDog IPA was given an outrageous name and became a hit at Beervana in 2012, keeping the aspiring brewery afloat. What started out as a classical English-style IPA with a more earthy hop profile became an accidental Anglo-Kiwi IPA hero. It’s been refined over the years but Bitter Bitch remains a testament to ingenuity in the face of a crisis and a very modern interpretation of the old Chinese fable “good luck, bad luck, who knows”.
14. Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta – Such a simple idea really, to add tea to beer, but so simple you have to do it pretty damn well to make it memorable. Gunnamatta was the first Kiwi beer to go down the tea route, with lateral-thinking brewer Stu McKinlay looking at a proliferation of coffee-flavoured beers and immediately opening a different kitchen cupboard to produce an Earl Grey-infused IPA. The orange from the bergamot flowers in the tea works perfectly with the hops to build an intensity of floral aroma and citrus flavour. But the joy is in the sweetly tannic, iced tea notes that transport you to a deck chair on the lawn in summer – a feeling reflected in the name, which references a Paul Kelly surf-inspired instrumental track, in turn inspired by the famed Victorian surf beach Gunnamatta. A tea-beer about a song about a beach? Yep, but the world makes sense when you drink it.
15. Liberty Yakima Monster – Joe Wood of Liberty Brewing is one of the best and most reliable producers of pale ale in the country. And the beer that charted his course was Yakima Monster, with its Tales from the Crypt stylised hands grabbing at you from the depths of label. The extremely drinkable, slightly lower alcohol Oh Brother is now Liberty’s flagship pale ale in six packs, but Yakima Monster is where the heart of the brewery beats. Why this beer stands the test of time is that it was a fraction ahead of the pack with its sweet hop flavour – think pineapple and mango – rather than the snappier bitterness many of its contemporaries displayed. That kind of sweeter pale ale is all the rage now but this beer was doing that trick four years ago. If you don’t want to over-analyse your beer, it’s a generous, lush and easy-drinking drop; yet it remains complex enough to keep beer geeks entertained. Just a clever, delicious beer.
16. 8-Wired The Big Smoke – The most widely-available, regularly-produced smoked beer in New Zealand which, for good measure, uses traditional German beechwood-smoked rauchmalt. Plus, it regularly picks up top awards. In short, it’s New Zealand’s best smoked beer. The beauty of The Big Smoke is the lush but restrained smokiness. The smoke is definitely there first and foremost but the sweet chocolate underlay of the base porter lends a smooth relief for those who may find the smoke gets in their eyes. When this beer first came out around six years ago, famed brewer Richard Emerson quipped that once he’d tasted it he couldn’t stop thinking about it. I can understand that, like the morning after a camp fire, the smoky flavour lingers on in your memory.
17. Invercargill Sa!son – One of two Kiwi beers utitising an exclamation mark in its name – this one was to get around the fact that, at the time, DB had trademarked Saison (later withdrawn, unlike Radler – see entry 50). The fact Invercargill came up with the punctuation sidestep should indicate the cleverness to be found in this powerhouse brewery of the deep south. But the real ingenuity is in the beer, which is aged, in the traditional saison style for three months. And in the saison ethos of being a bit of a mongrel that uses whatever ingredients a brewer can lay his or her hands on, it uses orange zest (now lime zest for the latest version) to add a pithy sparkle to a funky, tart, hoppy, spicy, complex and delicious drop. Holds its place in the top-20 on taste and the fact Invercargill was one of the first Kiwi breweries to hone this somewhat enigmatic style.
18. Tuatara Pilsner – You know the phrase they love in the capital – “you can’t beat Wellington on a good day” – well that’s the same with Tuatara Pilsner, now renamed (somewhat weirdly) Mot Eureka (eds note; now renamed again!). If every New Zealand-style pilsner was at its freshest and cleanest and they lined up in a contest I have no doubt this would come out on top (you simply can’t beat Tuatara Pilsner on a good day!) and that’s exactly what happened at the 2016 Brewers Guild of NZ awards where it took out the trophy for NZ-style lager. Brim to bursting with the Kiwi hops that have redefined this classical style into a brash antipodean version that’s a brighter bundle of joy than its bohemian forebear, it utilises all that’s good in Kiwi hops without totally spurning the style book.
19. Hallertau Funkonnay – A number of breweries are now making their name as producers of sour beers but if there was a true pioneer of the barrel-aged sour in this country, it’s Steve Plowman at Hallertau in west Auckland. Funkonnay is the flagbearer for New Zealand sours brewed in the true lambic style; it even uses aged hops to go with the wild yeasts. And for a Kiwi twist the ferment is carried out in old chardonnay barrels, hence the name. Dry, tart, wine-like, with hints of mandarin and stone fruit, it has a smooth palate and easy-drinkability. Funkonnay 2015 is due for release soon, continuing a tradition that has paved the way for others who are now rolling out the barrels.
20. Townshend’s Old House ESB – In a beer market dominated by new world pale ales and IPAs, there’s an other-worldly charm about Martin Townshend’s Extra Special Bitter. It’s a a beer I regularly pine for, and almost entirely for its quaffable simplicity. Townshend does any number of great beers in a traditional English style – as evidenced by the fact Townshend’s was named champion brewery at the 2014 Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards. Townshend has had his setbacks in recent times after a contract brewing problem with Tuatara but I’m pleased to report the ESB is tasting as good as ever: marmalade hoppiness and thirst-quenching drinkability that slakes your thirst and nourishes at the end of the summer’s day.
21. Garage Project Death From Above – One of the things Garage Project does exceptionally well is cross-pollinate beer and food (or beer and other beverages) to create authentic, unique and flavour-filled brews. Cereal Milk Stout, Cookies & Cream, Umami Monster, Two-tap Flat White, Lola, Nerissimo, Pan Pacific, Rum & Raisin … all take inspiration from foods as diverse as Cornflakes, cola, coffee, Anzac biscuits, truffles, ice-cream … the list goes on. But the beer that seemed to make the least sense on paper but which tastes absolutely on the money is Death From Above. Based on Vietnamese mango and chili salad, it features mango, lime, Vietnamese mint and chili. An astonishing concoction which melds spice, herbs and fruit with hop notes of the same ilk, it provides a drinking experience which is both familiar (IPA) and foreign.
22. Epic Pale Ale – if there was a single beer that defined the direction of brewing in New Zealand it would have to be Epic Pale Ale. Inspired by Sierra Nevada’s famed pale ale, this elegantly simple beer uses just one hop variety, US Cascade, for bitterness, flavour and aroma. It delivers grapefruit and rosewater on the nose, and a bright citrus bite on the palate which is well integrated with the caramel malt. When it was first released 10 years it was, it’s fair to say, so far ahead of its time in New Zealand to be called it revolutionary. It quickly became an industry leader for the glut of American pale ales which have dominated the market since. And yet it loses nothing in comparison with the challengers that have arisen and has won its category at the New World Beer and Cider Awards for two years running.
23. Ben Middlemiss Nota Bene – When Stephen `Ben’ Middlemiss was brewing at Galbraith’s in at the turn of the 21st century, he created a range of beers that captivated beer writer Michael Jackson. Not only did the Galbraith’s Australis range feature in one of Jackson’s many books, but he picked Benediction for his annual tasting at the University of Philadelphia. He described the beer as a Belgian abbey style with a colour “reminiscent of the Trappist classic Orval. So is its woody aroma, though Benediction’s bouquet is more cedary and aniseed-like. Its palate – medicinal, spicy, herbal, winey – is reminiscent of another Belgian classic, Chimay Cinq Cents.” Huge praise from the giant of beer-writing. When Middlemiss left Galbraith’s the intellectual property for the beer stayed behind but in a late-career return to brewing, Middlemiss recreated a version of the beer under the name Nota Bene.
24. 8 Wired iStout – There was a time when I could count on one hand my “wow” beers (that’s just not possible now as there are so many good drops) and for a long time, the first thumb raised in this count was iStout. The first time I tried this imperial stout I was literally talking out loud to the cat about how good it was. Densely black, a booming 10 per cent alcohol that is well disguised by luscious coffee, chocolate and creamy oat notes followed by a late layer of hoppy bitterness and roast barley char. And what’s more, it’s the beer which brought to New Zealand drinkers the idea of an Imperial Stout Float – a glass of iStout with a scoop of vanilla icecream. If you haven’t tried it … do it soon.
25. Craftwork Bruxelles Ma Belle – The Oamaru micro-brewing partners Lee-Ann Scotti and Michael O’Brien (the Oamaru bookbiner who helped create the name for Emerson’s famous Bookbinder beer) make an array of Belgian-style beers that could easily hold their place on this list and, in years to come, no doubt will. I’m equally fond of their Red Bonnet, a Flanders Red Ale (especially the sour cherry version) but Bruxelles Ma Belle – a wild ale conditioned on Central Otago apricots – makes this list because of its inherent Kiwi-ness. Honeyed apricot on the nose and a round yet pleasingly dry mouthfeel, this wild-fermented ale is typical of Craftwork’s dedication. Using just a 50-litre brewery and doing everything by hand, they also invest the requisite time – a year, two years, whatever it takes – to create sublime beers.
26. Croucher Low Rider – Playing in the ballpark of 2.5 per cent beers can be a nightmare for brewers. Yes, drinkers want low alcohol (and believe me they do) but the industry has hooked them on the joy of hops. So, to deliver a flavoursome beer in the low alcohol range that wins fans is a tough gig. It’s either out of balance by being too hop forward, or too watery and thin to be enjoyable. Croucher, with some tweaks along the way, have struck that balance, producing a highly flavoured, very drinkable definition of a session beer that pleases the hard-to-please. The fact it took out the Brewers Guild Award trophy in the Specialty, Experimental, Aged, Barrel- and Wood-Aged class against a multitude of extravagant and souped up beers this year is testament to its quality.
27. Emerson’s Taieri George – Once upon a time this was New Zealand’s most eagerly-awaited annual release. It comes out on March 6 each year in commemoration of Richard Emerson’s father George. Not only is it an intensely satisfying spiced beer but its provenance is something of a brewing folklore. George Emerson was young Richard’s strongest supporter, guide and mentor and without his backing Emerson’s, the brewery, would never have got off the ground. And this beer, which started life as Forty Winks, was a beer Richard had tried to perfect for his father. George was terminally ill with cancer when Richard presented him the final iteration of the beer but the dying dad gave his son the thumbs up – he’d nailed it. Following George’s funeral, a family friend was reading a framed certificate on the wall given to George by the Dunedin City Council for work he’d done on the Taieri Gorge Railway. The friend spotted a typo in it: “Thank you George Emerson for work on the Taieri George Railway,” it read. And so a famous beer found a fitting name
28. Mac’s Gold – This beer warrants its place on more than pure nostalgia but to back track … 35 years, Mac’s Gold was a key beer in helping Terry McCashin break the Lion-DB duopoly that had ruled our brewing scene in the dire years between 1976 and 1981. McCashin originally wanted to brew a beer like Castlemaine’s XXXX but his brewer Jim Pollitt came up with something a little bit better. Other Mac’s beers have made their mark on our drinking consciousness, notably Black Mac, Hop Rocker and Sassy Red but Mac’s Gold retains an unwavering connection to a critical point in our brewing history – and – it continues to win medals at the highest level, taking home gold in the NZ Lager class at this year’s Brewer’s Guild of NZ Awards. Its quality endures.
29. Moa Sour Blanc – When some of the country’s best brewers laud this as possibly the best sour beer in New Zealand, who am I to argue. In fact, Yeastie Boys’ Stu McKinlay once called it his “favourite sour beer. EVER” in a Twitter post. Brewed in the time-honoured, and time-consuming, Lambic style that requires a long ferment and conditioning utilising wild yeast, this is dry, spicy, and just acidic enough to cleanse and refresh the palate. A connoisseur’s beer which helped earned Moa brewer David Nicholls the rightful title “godfather” of sour.
30. Tuatara Hefe – Briefly known as Weiz Guy, and why not – it’s a smart beer. One of the most successful individual beers in the history of the Brewer’s Guild of New Zealand Awards, with four trophies to its name, it has long been the best wheat beer available in New Zealand. Going back 16 years when Carl Vasta started brewing his European-inspired beers this cloudy Hefeweizen was beyond the understanding of many consumers but its popularity and success helped pave a way for a raft of cloudy wheat beers which followed. Smooth, creamy with notes of hay, banana and clove on the nose, it’s an elegant, refreshing drop.
31. Panhead Black Sabbath – Whoomph! This is a gentle giant of exceptional complexity, flavour and imagination. Bourbon barrel-aging offers the first boozy scent followed by a tannic-hop-rye mix that resembles an unsmoked cigar. Layers of chocolate and coffee and a warm 11 per cent alcohol combine to create a heavyweight drop designed to be savoured over time – both on the night and over the years.
32. Garage Project Pernicious Weed –The sheer volume of top quality Garage Project beers (they won 25 medals from 35 entries at the 2016 Brewers Guild of NZ Awards) would make it a challenge to come up with a top-50 list of entirely GP beers (Untappd says they have 214). But Pernicious Weed (what they used to call hops in merry olde England) stands the test of time, having been the second cab off the rank in the original 24/24 series which launched this powerhouse brewery. It remains incredibly popular and tastes delicious. One of the best double IPAs in New Zealand.
33. Renaissance Stonecutter – This incredibly complex multi-award winning Scotch Ale layers flavours like an artist working on a canvas. There’s an underlying toffee base, some smoke, a chip of chocolate, a splash of coffee, raisins and an acidity that cleans up all the sweetness. Smooth, rich and unrelentingly generous in taste and nuance. In our hop-obsessed world, this is a shining example of malt’s beauty.
34. Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude – Love it or hate it (and plenty hate on it real bad) this redefined our idea of what beer could be. More islay whisky than ale, the aroma phenolic; all burnt electrical fittings, scorched rubber but underlying the initial sensory assault is a lingering honey perfume and a hint of sweet autumn decay. A confrontational beer which should come with a warning label: contents may offend; but it’s probably generated more adjectives from reviewers than any other beer in New Zealand.
35. Wigram Munchner Dunkel – The first thing I noticed about Wigram Brewing’s distinctive labels were the aviation theme. As the son of an air force pilot, Ross Donaldson, who was base commander at Wigram in the late 1980s, these beers struck an immediate chord with me. Year after year, Wigram churn out award-winning brews and really, any number could take their place in this line-up including The Czar imperial Russian stout and the Manuka-infused Spruce beer. But the Munchner Dunkel dark lager has been one of their most awarded beers and they capture delicate mocha flavour precisely.
36. Sprig & Fern Harvest Pilsner – Regularly wins gold medals at the Brewers Guild of NZ Awards and possibly showcases the best integrated use of fresh harvested hops you’ll see anywhere. Head brewer Tracy Banner is stylist with a discerning palate and all Sprig & Fern beers are impeccably made. This best captures the essence of a beer Banner created when she was at Mac’s – Brewjolais – which was New Zealand’s first fresh hop beers.
37. Moa St Joseph – Big, bold and Belgian, this tripel hits all the right yeasty notes: from smoky phenolic, through fruit esters of pear and banana to peppery spice. Hefty mouthfeel, rich alcohol fat and good malt sweetness. In a 1.5 litre magnum it’s quite a perfect celebration beer. It’s one of Moa’s best creations and in a market where only a handful of producers attempt this style, Moa not only do it superbly but these days it’s available at incredibly (ridiculously) low price of about $8 for a 500ml bottle.
38. Kereru Imperial Nibs – Consistently rated among New Zealand’s best beers on sites such as Untappd and Ratebeer where it holds its place alongside the showstopping IPAs. In an era where a lot of beers are overwhelmed by one or more of the key ingredients this strikes a delightfully sweet balance between toasted coconut, cacao and vanilla. A consistent medal-winner here and abroad, this is New Zealand’s ultimate dessert beer.
39. Fork Brewing Godzone Beat – I fully expect this to raise some eyebrows but I wanted a beer in this list made by Kelly Ryan. Because he works in a brewpub most of Ryan’s beers (all but this one in fact) end up in kegs and are not widely available. A former Tui brewer, Ryan has been an influential figure in Kiwi brewing since returning from the UK to work for Epic, Good George and then Fork Brewing as well as consulting for other breweries. In fact, much of his best work is in advising others, which he does generously. Godzone Beat, NZ’s champion pale ale in 2015, was one of the most delightful beers I tried last year and dammit, it deserves its place in this list.
40. Hop Federation Red IPA – Red IPA is one of my favourite beer styles and this list had to feature one. The candidates were Liberty Brewing’s Yakima Scarlet, Panhead’s Johnny Octane, 8 Wired’s Tall Poppy and Choice Bros Reet Petite … and if this list blew out to a top 60 they’d all be there. But the red IPA I keep coming back to is made in Riwaka by Simon Nicholas and it’s a treat of tropical fruit, red berries and biscuity malt.
41. Galbraith’s Bob Hudson’s Bitter – There’s something special about going into Galbraith’s at the top of Mt Eden Rd in Auckland on a wintry afternoon and having a pint of Bob’s on handpull. It is representative of the amazing array of English- and European-inspired beers conjured up Keith Galbraith and his various brewing cohorts over more than two decades.
42. Mike’s Mild – Having taken redundancy after working on oil rigs, Mike Johnson used his savings to set up a brewery which kicked into life in September 1989. I first tried Mike’s Mild when I picked up a bottle at what must have been a farmers market in the New Plymouth in the early 1990s, mainly because it was called Mike’s! This biscuit-chocolatey, sweet malt-driven beer remains a flagship brew even though the original Mike is long gone from the brewery.
43. Harrington’s Big John Special Reserve – Harrington’s has been a flagship brewery for 25 years and one their most enduring beers is the bourbon-barrel aged Scotch Ale named for founder and icon, Big John Harrington. Big John has evolved over the years but it continues to symbolize the West Coast working-class ethic on which Harrington’s was built.
44. Bach Brewing Czechmate Pilsner – When Bach Brewing burst on to the scene three years ago with their beautiful labels picturing idyllic New Zealand coastal scenes, this beer (along with Hopsmacker Pale Ale) threw a time loop back to the 1990s as the recipe was based on one developed by Chris O’Leary (now at Emerson’s) when he and Craig Cooper where at Limburg Brewery. Limburg’s Czechmate was an award-winning brew ahead of its time.
45. Cassel’s Milk Stout – At a time when New Zealand brewers weren’t making this style, Cassel’s led the way with a heart-warming drop best consumed on a winter’s day in front of an open fire. It has become a multi award-winning benchmark brew but also has personal significance as it was the beer I drank while interviewing the Terry McCashin on a cold August afternoon for the first edition of Beer Nation.
46. Dux de Lux Ginger Tom – Back in the early 1990s when I was living in Christchurch, the Dux de Lux was brewing the likes of Hereford Bitter and a Nor’ Wester Strong Ale. But the Ginger Tom was the beer most people identified with a Christchurch landmark before it was destroyed – taking the recipes with it – in the 2011 earthquake. Ginger Tom remains a unique inspiration for many other ginger-infused beers.
47. Sunshine Brewing Gisborne Gold – The beer that launched a craft beer revolution in Wellington. Sunshine is one of New Zealand’s oldest craft breweries and its original founders, Geoff Logan and Gerry Maude, helped make Wellington the craft beer consumption capital with Gizzy Gold, a little beauty full of the East Coast sun, creating waves in the 1990s.
48. Tui East India Pale Ale – The beer that gave us the “yeah right” advertisements is reason enough to be in any Kiwi beer hall of fame but this much-loved, though dubiously-labelled, brew also consistently picks up gold medals at the highest level. And the Mangatainoka Brewery has become a landmark in its own right.
49. Speight’s Gold Medal Ale – The beer that guided me through the twilight zone between adolesence and adulthood, also known as the university years. At one time I could have recited every word on the label by heart. But it’s also representative of a stable-full of beers including the under-rated Speight’s Old Dark and the World Cup silver medal-winning Triple Hop Pilsner. Speight’s is this country’s most significant and oldest brewery – and one which transformed itself from struggling regional favourite to a national emblem.
50. Monteith’s Radler – the beer that put the Society of Beer Advocates on map as it helped define beer trademark law (in a bad way) and spawned a heap of knock-offs. For those who don’t know (IPONZ we’re looking at you) radler is a German term for cyclist and the beer style – half beer, half-lemonade – is what said cyclist would consume after a long ride on a hot day. It holds its place in the hall of infamy but remains one of Monteith’s most popular drops.