Glenn and I were lucky enough to undertake a little Down Under beer odyssey in January, when we returned to the country where we spent our formative years. The New Zealand beer scene is going from strength to strength and we've felt extremely privileged to have been able to play a part in its quest for world domination.
In the few years since we moved back to the UK, the NZ scene has exploded, so our trip was a journey of discovery in many ways. We were fortunate to meet with nine of the top Kiwi brewers during our travels (plus the NZ champion cider makers, also doing great things - more on that later) and we can confirm that the hype is 100% justified. We were astounded at the quality and consistency of New Zealand beer - at the most remote of back-blocks supermarkets we managed to find super-fresh beer from the best breweries, and not once did we have a beer that was old or under-par.
It's currently a very US-led scene, with a mad drive for hops and big, punchy IPAs (it was a challenge to find too many dark options on tap in most places we visited), but some breweries are starting to shake this up - Garage Project and 2014 NZ Champion Brewery Townshend's are two doing some very interesting things indeed.
Anyway, we loved the beers we tasted so much that we had to buy extra suitcases and spend a fortune on excess baggage to lug loads back. We enjoyed many of these at a small tasting event last night - a trial run for our new monthly events, Hop Burns & Bottle Share, which will launch in March. (More details coming soon.)
We're hopeful we'll be able to bring over some of these beers in the very near future for you to try, so keep watching the skies for news on when they land. [Spoiler alert, before you ask: no Garage Project.] In the meantime, here are some of the hits from last night.
Townshend's Flemish Stout - widely agreed by guests to be the beer of the night. A stunning example of a tart but not sour chocolatey, cherry stout. Also on the menu were two others from Townshend's - an excellent Belgian Tripel and Wynne's Fall, a collaboration with Stu McKinlay from Yeastie Boys, named after Stu's mum. One for the cider fans, this malty beer features 50% windfall apple juice.
Kereru Brewing For Great Justice Coconut Porter and Imperial Nibs - Not too widely known outside of New Zealand, Kereru Brewing's beers were the surprise hit of the tasting. We'd had the heads up from Yeastie Stu that the Coconut Porter was one to look out for - however this tasty drop was outgunned by its imperial cousin, which upped the cacao content to create a sumptuously rich beverage. Would drink this for dessert every night, given the chance. Also enjoyed was Kereru's Karengose Salty Seaweed Ale, brewed with native NZ karengo seaweed.
Panhead Canheads - A great example of the breadth and quality of New Zealand beer distribution. Glenn picked these up at a New World supermarket in Kerikeri, a small town in the Far North of New Zealand, and they're tasting superb. Hard to pick a winner from the three we tried - the Oaked Stout, Red IPA and glorious Hopfenweisse - and how awesome are the can designs? We were blown away by everything we tried from Panhead during our trip, and it helps that the brewer, Mike Neilson, is a bloody nice dude to boot. Look out for Panhead at this year's Rainbow Project, where they'll be collaborating with London's own Partizan Brewing.
Parrotdog Rarebird Series - Parrotdog are another NZ brewery coming over for this year's Rainbow Project, partnered with Beavertown, which should make for some interesting collabs indeed. We absolutely loved these two small batch beers - a Tamarillo Sour and a Dunkelweisse - and just look at the beautiful, beautiful bottles.
Speaking of beautiful bottles...
Garage Project. The most hyped of all the New Zealand breweries and fully deserving of such. We were lucky enough to enjoy a superb selection of their beers - from the weird and wonderful (La Calavera Catrina - a habanero chilli, rosewater and watermelon lager, anyone?) to their famed hop bombs such as Pernicious Weed and new favourites Whizz Bang and Dirty Boots. They're all bloody amazing. Fingers crossed they can increase production and get their beers over here soon.
Last but not least - Hop Federation and Fork & Brewer. Nestled smack bang in the middle of Nelson hop country (my home town), Hop Federation are a relatively new brewery doing lovely things that celebrate their local product. We enjoyed their Double IPA and Red IPA so much that we totally forgot to take any photos - likewise with Fork & Brewer's award-winning Godzone Beat Champion Pale Ale from Kelly Ryan, the nicest guy in brewing. Sorry about that. Too many beers will do that to a person...
So that's our story. As mentioned, look out for a shipment of at least some of the great beers mentioned above heading our way soon. And stand by for new beers from some of the great New Zealand breweries we already stock - Tuatara, Yeastie Boys and 8 Wired - hitting the shop next week. Good beers guaranteed.