2011 was, I think, one of the watershed years for craft brewing in NZ; the year that craft beer went from cult status to some mainstream awareness. We saw an explosion in the number of craft brewers releasing their brews commercially, a huge increase in the styles put out – hoppy sub- 4% breakfast beers, saisons, amber ales, a black lager brewed with chilli, cocoa nibs and agave which sold out in about 4 hours, hopocalyptic warriors, peaty attitudes, milks stouts and a lot more besides. There was the Radler debacle and the tussle over which region was the craft brewing / beer capital of NZ.
Beervana burgeoned forth into a much bigger and bolder event. Collaborations between brewers abounded. Auckland has for so long been blighted by metre wide stores hocking laptop deals and bars selling crappy overpriced beers in green bottles. It has recently seen the opening of several new bars and brewpubs dedicated to good beer. The number of supermarkets where one can pick up an Epic, Tuatara or Emersons have increased considerably. The entrepreneurs behind Moa, Boundary Road and the like tried to hop on the bandwagon (and that’s enough about them!)
Personally, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of mates and acquaintances who began to take a very keen interest in craft beer, many making the transition to full on beer geeks. Beervana 2012 promises to be an epic event!
So, a lot of good things happened in the craft beer scence in 2011. As always though, the very best times involved drinking some truly exceptional beer. These are my Top Ten Beers for 2011. I tried to keep the list to beers that were released in 2011 for the first time (to my knowledge).
10. Epic Larger Pilsner
This one should make the for the launch party at O’Carrolls alone. Surely the loudest beer release event in Auckland so far? Certainly none with a better cheese selection! But Larger makes it in on the quality of the beer. I loved reading brewer Kelly Ryan’s description of the brewing process (the hop selection in particular) and tasting how the vision translated almost perfectly into the finished product. The hop flavour was amazing – very full, yet soft, rounded and ot at all harsh or astringent.
9. Cassels & Sons Milk Stout
Milk Stout seems an old fashioned beer. I vividly recall it being drunk by my uncles during my childhood. Cassels have produced a marvellous version of the style. The chocolate and coffee aroma and tastes were so pronounced, there is still some dispute mongst those who tried it on tap at Galbraiths wether these ingredients were added to the brew or not. My view is not, that the flavours were coaxed out of the malt and brewing process. There was definitely no dispute that it was a smooth, rich and very drinkable stout.
8. Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale
Tuatara’s APA was one of the finest local interpretations of the big, hoppy APA style. The newest version features all Aotearoa hops and showcases them brilliantly. There is the tropical fruitiness associated with NZ hops, but also a firm malt back-bone. The first pint I tried provided an almost transcendent moment, it was so good! And when Liquorland on Dominion Rd, Auckland kindly put them on special the week before Xmas, this become my beer of choice for the holidays.
7. Hallertau Summer Minimus 2010/11
Hallertau put out some amazing, big hoppy beers in 2011 – 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse collaboration, Beastwars IPA, as well as the usual members of the Heroic Range: Stuntman and Maximus Humulus Lupulus IPAs - but the Summer inimus stole the show for me. Wonderfully fruity and hoppy, perfectly zesty but weighing in at only 3.8% it’s a testament to the skill of the brewer, Steve Plowman. And the perfect drink for those who have to drive back to the city after a few drinks at Hallertau!
6. Dale’s Brewing Co Amber Ale
There could not have been a bigger contrast between the Auckland launches for Epic Larger and that of Dale’s Brewing Co, which was held at Galbraiths. However, the quieter launch meant a great opportunity to chat with brewer Dale Holland and writer Geoff Griggs. Dale’s Amber is a wonderful version of the style, with a juicy malt base complimented by a good hop bitterness.
5. Liberty Brewing Hi Carb Ale
An English Strong Ale, brewed with NZ Chinook hops. The large amount of carbs in the beer give a rich flavour, with delicious toffee notes, jammy fruitiness and a moreish finish of toffee and caramel notes, but with a lingering bitterness. A delicious beer!
4. Yeastie Boys Her Majesty 2011
My pick of the saison beers released in 2011. A very pretty- looking beer, there were lots of Belge characteristics on the nose and palette – sweet spices, bubble-gum, with a pleasant citrusy bitterness, Definite barnyard funk characteristics as well, all complemented by a luscious, creamy mouthfeel.
3. 8Wired Barrel Aged Big Smoke Smoked Porter
A couple of kegs of the barrel aged smoked porter appeared at Galbraiths in the middle of 2011, and the barrel aging had produced a stunning beer. Dark reddish mahogany in the glass. Sweet aromas of stone fruit, berries, polished oak and mild smoke. On the palette the beer was wonderfully complex – initial sweetness, dark fruit and berries, hints of vanilla oak and smokiness, with an unexpected fruitiness through the middle, finishing with smoky and oak notes. The Big Smoke has now returned in cask-conditioned form as a collaborative brew between 8Wired and Galbraiths.
2. Townsend Sutton Hoo
Sutton Hoo may just be the perfect beer! (Yes, I know its at 2 on the list!) Pours golden amber. The aroma is of juicy tropical fruit and sweet perfume. The palette is a magical balancing between the fruity and bitter hops and juicy malt elements. Initially, the taste is fruity and a bit vegetal, then the juicy malt comes in, giving a firm mouthfeel through the middle, with the finish showing good length and maintaining that perfect balance of flavours through the end.
1. Liberty Brewing C!tra IIPA
This was my favourite beer at Beervana 2011. I spent much of the last part of my session at the Central stand sampling it, as I knew it could be a while till I tried Citra again. And I was correct. The next taste I had was on Boxing Day! And that confirmed it as my beer of the year. The beer is a showcase of the Citra hop; but also the skill of brewer Jo Wood. I got quite a bit of citrus and some spice from the aroma, but not a great deal of tropical fruit. The taste is simply delicious – initially all citrus, tangy grapefruit and juicy orange, and a bit of spice. The firm malt body enhances the hop flavour and really keeps the 9% alcohol in check. The finish is equally superb – juicy citrus fruitiness. While the beer didn’t demonstrate a huge length, it was still very attractive, finishing with those juicy citrus notes as well as hints of spice and vanilla.
So, 2011 was a good year for craft beer in NZ and another wonderful year for beer drinkers. And yet, 2012 is shaping up to be even more exciting. Already, a mere 20 days into the year we’ve had the release of the 8Wired and Galbraiths cask conditioned Big Smoke Porter, Galbraiths own Pride of Warminster IPA, the reboot of Epic Pale Ale and my first taste of Liberty Brewing’s Mash Up Pale Ale. Can’t wait to se what the next 345 days bring!