Michael Donaldson showcases top Kiwi craft beers for summer.
Michael Donaldson seeks out the best Kiwi beers for summer.
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.