Hops, haze and hype — in the current beer scene it’s hard to find new releases or freehouse tap lineups not dominated by modern styles: XPA, NEIPA, Pastry Stout, Mountain IPA … the list goes on (not without good reason).

While the modern craft movement and the influence of the USA has to take a lot of credit for the quality, range and diversity of beers available to the average drinker, diversity in beer is not a new thing.

Not so long ago the options in New Zealand were just bland fizzy yellow stuff or bland fizzy brownish stuff. But look back a little further and you find evidence of beer’s long and storied history. The past is packed with delicious styles that are often forgotten or overlooked but are worth revisiting for the modern drinker. When the hops have hammered you into submission and you’re hankering for something more subtle and complex it’s sometimes worth turning to tradition.

Luckily, despite market pressure to keep turning out hazy after hazy, many brewers are huge advocates of historical and traditional styles and are still putting out excellent modern examples of these beers. If you’re keen to expand your palate and dig into a world of subtlety and sophistication then look no further than these modern kiwi examples of some old school classics.

Zeelandt Jerry Rig (Helles)

Hailing from one of beer’s sacred homelands, Munich, Helles is the ultimate in clean, classic lager. Jerry Rig showcases a soft and bready malt character with a subtle sweetness that’s offset by a clean bitterness and reminds you why lager became the world’s dominant beer style.

McLeod’s Highland Fest (Festbier)

On the other side of Bavaria’s lager coin this festbier is crisp but characterful. Carrying a toastier malt profile with notes of biscuit and toffee but maintaining the clean, dry finish that makes it drinkable enough for litre steins to go down with ease at Oktoberfest.

Emporium Elbows Off (Table Beer)

Moving from German traditions to Belgium with the rarely seen (at least in NZ) Table Beer. A lower alcohol Belgian Pale ale designed to be shared around the dinner table without overpowering the food. Elbows Off comes in with a spritzy carbonation and lovely light mouthfeel which leads into delicate pops of lemon, cardamom and coriander.

Craftwork Citron Soleil (Saison)

Originally created to slake the thirst of hard-working farmers this modern take created by Oamaru’s masters of Belgian-style is brewed with lemon zest and white pepper giving Citron Soleil a bright and funky acidity melded seamlessly with earthy notes from the Belgian yeast.

Hallertau 2.47 (Berliner Weisse)

One of the earliest examples of sour beer, Berliner Weisse is traditionally served in its hometown of Berlin “mit schuss” which is a shot of syrup — typically woodruff or raspberry to cut the tartness with fruity sweetness. Grab some syrup (or some Hallertau Schnapps) to perk this up or enjoy it alone for a clean and tart summer smasher.

Garage Project Chance, Luck and Magic (Spontaneous Blended Sour)

The holy grail for many sour brewers is the Geuze, a blend of 1, 2 and 3-year-old spontaneously fermented lambic beers, aged in barrels. The name Geuze is regionally protected (like Champagne) so while Garage Project don’t refer to this beer as such the incredible funky, tart, delicate and complex blend of flavours tells the true story. Chance, Luck and Magic is something truly special but might test the palates of hopheads who aren’t well acquainted with the levels of tartness in beers like this.

Galbraith’s Bob Hudson’s Bitter  

British beer has a reputation for being served “warm and flat” but this tired cliché does no justice to the rich and complex, nutty malt character, smooth drinkability and comfort of a decent pint of Bitter. Nobody here does it better than Galbraith’s. You’ll have to head to Mt Eden to visit their new beer garden and enjoy a proper hand pulled pint straight from the cask if you want to get some though!

Cassels Milk Stout

Taking home the title of “Best Milk Stout” at the prestigious World Beer Cup two years running this classic dark beer from Christchurch’s Cassels Brewery is a delight. Full bodied but not cloying, roasty but not acrid, chocolatey but not sweet. It’s an exceptionally balanced dark beer that’s perfect for seasoned drinkers or people who are still scared of Guinness. 

North End Visitation (Belgian Quadrupel)

The Tripel’s big brother, the Quadrupel is another step up from the historically strong style. Visitation from Waikanae’s traditionalist brewery is made with similar Belgian yeast but darker malts to showcase more of a Christmas cake vibe with notes of dried plums, raisins, molasses and citrus peel.

Behemoth There Shines A Shiny Demon (Barleywine)

Originally brewed in England during one of their many wars with the French to make up for lack of available Claret, Barleywine is an aggressive beer. Similar to the Belgian Quad with rich malt flavours but typically drier with a big boozy edge and often, in American versions, a huge hoppy bitterness. This version from Behemoth was boiled for four hours and features notes of bitter orange and mellow spice and at 12% is not for the faint of heart.