COUNTRY FOCUS: New Zealand Beers

NZ Beer
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New Zealand is a high-flier in the new world of craft beer. New Zealand-grown hops are in much demand, with varieties such as Motueka, Nelson Sauvin, Wai-iti and Waimea - among others - all extremely sought-after by growers around the world. And the brewers themselves are doing just as well. 8 Wired is the only Australasian brewery in the Ratebeer Top 100 breweries, the Yeastie Boys are expanding their footprint and also contract-brewing in the UK, while breweries such as Panhead and ParrotDog are pushing into the Australian market by having their beer brewed in inner-city Melbourne.

As you would expect from a country with a strong hops-growing region at the top of the South Island, New Zealand brewers produce some of the finest hops-focused beers you will find. While they don't all use strictly New Zealand hops, there is a strong focus towards grassy and citrus-forward beers, bright in colour with reasonable bitterness. An excellent example available in Australia is the Hot Water Brewing - Kauri Falls Pale Ale. This bright yellow pale is lively on the palate and bursting with fresh fruit flavours and a staunch bitterness.

New world hops

As you would expect from a country with a strong hops-growing region at the top of the South Island, New Zealand brewers produce some of the finest hops-focused beers you will find. While they don't all use strictly New Zealand hops, there is a strong focus towards grassy and citrus-forward beers, bright in colour with reasonable bitterness. An excellent example available in Australia is the Hot Water Brewing - Kauri Falls Pale Ale. This bright yellow pale is lively on the palate and bursting with fresh fruit flavours and a staunch bitterness.

Those wanting something with a bit more punch can move on to the 8 Wired - Hopwired India Pale Ale, and their even bigger version - "Superconductor". The former proudly uses all New Zealand malt and hops, while the latter ramps up the aroma and bitterness (as well as the abv, being 8.8% against Hopwired's 7.3%) using some American hops as well. Both beers truly show why 8 Wired has a global reputation as one of the best.

However, fans of IPAs from New Zealand will almost all tell you the two benchmarks are the Hop Zombie from Epic, and the C!tra from Liberty Brewing Co. Hop Zombie has been described as "school-bus yellow" in colour and the aromas and flavours are just as bright, with layers of intense tropical fruit, lychee and pine that wrap around your palate - all backed up by quite a sweet malt profile. This means that even at 8.5% abv you can't help but want to keep diving back in. The C!tra, at 9%, is bigger still, and as the name suggests it brings bucket-loads of lemon, lime zest and grapefruit flavours.

Old world charm

These hops-dominant beers aren't all the country has to offer, of course. A number of New Zealand brewers create great classic styles showing restraint and refinement. Some of the finest examples undoubtedly come from Townshend's. Currently holding the title of New Zealand's Champion Brewery (as awarded by the New Zealand Brewers Guild in 2014), lovers of British styles will find a firm favourite in their Old House ESB. A classic English beer showing biscuity malt and earthy hops, it is balanced and without flaw.

Also doing refined and restrained styles with impeccable quality are Emerson's Brewery and their Bookbinder. Whilst low in alcohol (3.7%), it is a real treat. Using classic hops varieties and a distinct malt profile, it is peppery, light, and refreshing but also rich and satisfyingly filling. While both this and the Townshend's ESB are beautiful in bottles, travellers to NZ would do well to seek them out on hand-pump for a truly elegant experience.

For bigger malt-focused indulgence, drinkers should seek out the Stonecutter from Renaissance Brewing Company. Layers of rich malt open up to flavours of chocolate, boozy raisins, Christmas pudding and aniseed. Endlessly complex yet intriguingly drinkable, it's a beer for cold winter nights and rich, hearty meals.

Weird and wonderful

Whilst NZ is doing undeniably new-world and old-world styles with near-perfect execution, it's often their esoteric beers that attract the most attention. Right now no discussion of NZ beer would be complete without mentioning the team from Garage Project, who produce some of the boldest and most interesting beers anywhere in the world. Experiments with seaweed, hops "hash" and orris root (whatever that is) are commonplace in the Garage, and are always accompanied by unique artwork from NZ artists.

Another duo that can't go undiscussed is the Yeastie Boys. Like the Garage Project, they aren't afraid of experimenting with unique ingredients, and have produced 100% peated malt beers, a number of tea-infused beers and even beer blended with botrytised viognier (from Australian winery Some Young Punks). However it's their flagship beer, Pot Kettle Black, which encompasses much of what New Zealand brewing is about. The beer is a classic porter but with enough hops to make it undoubtedly modern in execution. And your time starts… now.

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