One of the first posts on the site was about a New Zealand beer tasting held back in February, and our favorite “Itinerant scholar” Kiwi just returned to California bearing even more delicious Kiwi brews. We got to sample the special edition “Wellington in a Pint” winning beers as well as other fantastic brews from Wigram Brewery, Yeastie Boys, and Emerson’s Brewery, and we even discovered a new favorite!
This time around the tasting panel was smaller and much more manageable at only five people (we had closer to 10 or 12 for the last New Zealand beer tasting,) and there was seven beers in the night’s line-up. Hamish, who had tried most of the brews before, set the tasting order making sure to put the fullest-flavored brews near the end, and we sat down in our hosts back-yard and started pouring!
The craft beer industry in New Zealand is booming, and many skilled and inventive brewers are cooking up some creative and delicious brews often using unconventional ingredients or methods. The beers we sampled ranged from by-the-book takes on classic styles to beers that used an interesting additive to great effect.
Wellington in a Pint
The four beers contained in the sampler-pack were all collaborations between homebrewers and different Wellington-based breweries. They were selected as part of a contest (Facebook link to details) to design a beer that best captured the spirit and vibe of the New Zealand capitol city. (What a fantastic idea this is. We would love to see something similar tackled by some of the Homebrew clubs in Los Angeles!) Once the final four homebrew beers were selected the recipes were tweaked for production and brewed by a Wellington brewery. All four were solid and inventive brews that each had a special something that made them stand out.
Kawakawa Cable Car
First up was a red ale brewed with leaves from the kawakawa plant – traditionally used in Māori medicine. The leaves have a sharp bitter flavor not unlike hops, and they lent the brew a subtle but distinct medicinal quality. Brewed by Wellington nano-brewers The Garage Project Cable Car had a solid malt foundation with some toast and biscuit notes and a lingering but soft bitter finish. Nobody loved it, but nobody hated it either; it was definitely the weakest of the 4-pack.
Bye Bye Blanket Man
Brewed in conjunction with one of my favorite Kiwi breweries, Tuatara, Bye Bye Blanket Man pays tribute to a distinctive homeless man from the streets of Wellington. The beer was similar to a kolsch with a golden color and a rich hoppy flavor on top of a clean malt body. Most of the tasters commented on its intense grape-skin flavor and aroma. I also got a slightly smoky character, and at 4%ABV the beer was nicely sessionable. This beer was the favorite of a couple of the tasters.
Celia Wade Brown Ale
Here is where things got really interesting. Celia Wade Brown is the mayor of Wellington and this collaboration between homebrewer Andrew Childs and the infamous Yeastie Boys is a brown ale with coffee. A lot of coffee. It had one of the richest and most “true” coffee characters I’ve experienced in a beer with an aroma like freshly ground beans and a clean and sweet coffee flavor. Easily my favorite of the box-set.
The final beer of Wellington in a Pint, brewed by ParrotDog, was a rauch beer that used smoked seaweed for an additional flavoring. The pale ale had a really quite understated smoked quality with a touch of saltiness present mid-palate that opened up to a really lovely long, bitter, and earthy finish. The beer had an amazing smell of a beach bonfire: smoke and the sea-air. A close second for me.
South Island Beers
Next up were a pair of brews from two breweries on New Zealand’s South Island that were a little less avant-garde than the Wellington in a Pint beers.
Wigram Morning Glory
Wigram brewed of one of the most memorable beers from the previous Kiwi beer tasting, Captain Cook’s Spruce Beer, and while not as remarkable as that beer, the Morning Glory proved to be a mild and very drinkable “golden ale.” When Kiwi brewers say “golden ale” they are talking about what US brewers generally call a Blonde ale, and this was a version brewed with six different grains. The oats in the grist gave the beer a full mouthfeel, but the beer stayed remarkably light. The beer has enough hops to balance the complex malty body, and while it was nobody’s favorite it was quite drinkable.
A Kiwi brewer’s take on the American Pale Ale, the Emerson’s APA balanced the toast and biscuit-flavors of the malts with the typical pine and citrus flavors from West Coast American hops. While it was no Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, we have certainly had worse APAs brewed in the states (Saranac Pale Ale I’m looking at you.) The hop aroma was lacking a little bit, but that could have been a symptom of age or from the long journey to California. however the hop flavor and bitterness was assertive and quite delicious. If I were ever in New Zealand and missing America I would happily nurse a few pints of this to remind me of home.
Best In Show
Up until this point my experience with the Yeastie Boys, gypsy brewers from Wellington, was a mixed-bag. They were responsible for the psyche-scaring horror of Rex Attitude and the only slightly less shocking XERREX from the first New Zealand Beer Tasting. Those beers use 100% peat-smoked malts and they are a pungent and unforgettable brew. There name was somewhat redeemed by their Wellington in a Pint brew which was one of the best uses of coffee in a beer that I’ve had. The Gunnamatta IPA with Tea forever changed my opinion of the unconventional brewers. This beer was flat-out amazing.
A straight-forward New Zealand IPA that was “dry-hopped” with blue flower Earl Grey tea leaves, the beer is redolent in bergamot and tropical fruity hops. One of the best-smelling beers I’ve ever experienced! Everyone loved this, and it is sad that I’ll probably never see another bottle of it. The balance between the potent tea scent, the more subtle tea flavor, and the distinct New Zealand hops is a testament to the skill of the Yestie Boys.
Beer From the Other Side of the World
Between the two tasting evenings we’ve sampled beers from New Zealand made with spruce tips, an indigenous medicinal shrub called kawakawa, wild plumbs, smoked seaweed, 100% peat-smoked malt, coffee, tea, and hops from every growing region on earth. The New Zealander’s infamous “kiwi ingenuity” clearly serves their brewers well as they all seem happy to throw any manner of creative ingredients into the brew kettle. And more often than not the results have been, in our sampling, quite excellent.
Much of the craft beer that we have tried is not available in America, but there are a few New Zealand breweries that do have distribution in the states. Look for Epic Brewing (not to be confused with Utah’s 250) or 8 Wired, both of which should be available at your better bottle shops, and both breweries make some excellent beers. We have also recently seen a few bottles of the Yeastie Boys’ Rex Attitude locally, and we hope that this means more Yeastie Boys beers will make their way to our shores.
We’d like to thank Hamish for providing an awesome line-up of brews, our host for the use of the wonderful backyard, and the rest of the tasting panel for an enjoyable evening tasting and talking about beer! Cheers!
Have you sampled any beers from New Zealand? What was your favorite?