Michael Don­ald­son show­cases top Kiwi craft beers for sum­mer.

Michael Don­ald­son seeks out the best Kiwi beers for sum­mer.

North & South - - Contents -

THE “BIT­TER END”

is nigh for craft beer, if 2018 is any­thing to go by.

For a decade, “craft” has been syn­ony­mous with bit­ter – and fair enough, as both drinkers and brew­ers be­came pre­oc­cu­pied with IBUS (in­ter­na­tional bit­ter­ing units).

But in­tense bit­ter­ness is slowly giv­ing way to softer, sweeter hop flavours and aro­mas as brew­ers play with hop­ping tech­niques, and tech­nol­ogy de­liv­ers prod­ucts such as hop oils and resins that forgo the as­trin­gent veg­e­tal com­po­nent in hops to ac­cent the es­sen­tial fruit and flo­ral char­ac­ter.

The most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple of gen­tler, softer bit­ter­ness is found in “hazy IPA” (aka New Eng­land IPA or NEIPA). De­vel­oped as an an­ti­dote to the resinous, cit­ric, bit­ter West Coast IPAS that dom­i­nated the mar­ket, these are un­fil­tered and un­pas­teurised, which bumps up the flavour and mouth­feel.

We’ve also seen the rise of Brut IPA. If NEIPA is like a rolling back of the clock to a more or­ganic, nat­u­ral style of beer, Brut IPA is Cal­i­for­nia tech-driven. A malt-derived en­zyme called amy­lase is used to mop up ex­cess sugar to cre­ate a su­per-lean, dry (as op­posed to sweet) malt pro­file with high al­co­hol. There’s zero resid­ual sweet­ness (in fact, there’s as much sugar as a glass of wa­ter – but don’t con­fuse that with no calo­ries; there are still calo­ries), so brew­ers can’t over­play the bit­ter­ness. There­fore, like hazy IPA, these are driven by softer hop oils and aro­mas, not ag­gres­sive bit­ter­ness.

At the other end of the spec­trum, we’ve seen an in­crease in acid- driven, fruit­in­fused beers – of­ten tagged sour. Here, brew­ers drive down the ph of the beer with lac­to­bacil­lus (the bug that makes yo­ghurt) to pre-sour beer be­fore tak­ing it through the nor­mal boil-coolfer­ment-con­di­tion process.

Sour is beer’s nat­u­ral state, dat­ing back thou­sands of years. But as brew­ers re­fine the acid­ity lev­els and play with fruit ad­di­tions, these mod­ern “ket­tle sours” are gar­ner­ing fans who’d pre­vi­ously have turned up their noses at tra­di­tion­ally bit­ter beer. While hu­mans have evolved to be wary of bit­ter – it can in­di­cate tox­i­c­ity – we’re pretty good with acidic flavours: think old-fash­ioned lemon­ade, acid-drop lol­lies and, er, wine.

De­spite the acid craze, IPA and pale ale re­main the dom­i­nant styles in su­per­mar­kets and bot­tle stores, and the pop­u­lar­ity of both shows no signs of abat­ing. How­ever, even these beers have ben­e­fited from a move to­wards softer bit­ter­ness, be­com­ing more ap­proach­able and gen­tle.

In com­pil­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions that fol­low, I’ve taken into ac­count a com­bi­na­tion of awards (New World Beer & Cider Awards, New Zealand Beer Awards, Aus­tralian In­ter­na­tional Beer Awards), rat­ings on Un­tappd – the beer-lover’s so­cial me­dia plat­form – and per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. I’ve also avoided one-off, sea­sonal and lim­ited-run beers – with one ex­cep­tion, Lib­erty’s Pro­hi­bi­tion Porter, be­cause it was the best beer made in New Zealand this year.

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