Brewing congregates Craft, Chemistry, Commerce, and Creativity. I witnessed the US microbrew revolution in the 1990s and now New Zealand’s craft beer coup d’etat. Testament to the movement’s market power are Big Beer’s faux boutique brands and microbrewery purchases (witness San Diego’s Ballast Point billion-dollar sellout.) This can be seen as a betrayal of small food movements; purists can support true craft beer producers with the power of the purse.
On US visits, I average one new beer each day; this could continue ad infinitum. On my first New Zealand visit in 1999, I exhausted my options for novelty in two weeks. But Aoteoroa’s handful of microbreweries has grown to the 130+ profiled in Jules Van Cruysen’s excellent Brewed, A Guide to the Craft Beer of New Zealand. Retailers regularly present new craft beers. Pubs frequently offer new flavours. We see more notable local brewers each year.
Ian Marriott at Warkworth’s Tahi Bar sees a sea change. “Nine years ago we struggled to promote new flavours, particularly more hoppy brews, but the last three years I’ve seen broader awareness. People are challenging their palates, and patrons enjoy several different beers during an evening.” Ian predicts sour beers (“cider meets wine meets beer”) to be popular this summer. “Alcohol is a great conductor of flavour in drink, as fat is in food.”
As with food and wine, Kiwis are discovering the joys of beer pairings. Sawmill Brewery’s menu features smoked and fermented foods, pairing beautifully with beer. Starting with sour or weiss, moving into saison or hoppiness, and closing with schwarz or stout, parallels the starter/main/dessert rhythm of a meal. Beer tasting flights condense the experience into five small glasses, presenting comparative rating opportunities. Even weather can inform beer choices. Lower-alcohol ‘session beers’ encourage social beer drinking without lampshades on heads.
After mastering traditional European and British styles, US brewers boldly created New World variations, competing to push the envelope further (Hoptimum, Hop Venom, Hopslam, Hopsolution, Hop Stoopid.) Kiwi brewers, less audacious, nonetheless are embracing New World trends: fresh-hopped, imperial, smoked, barrel-aged, saison, farmhouse, sour, Belgian, and hop-centric styles; to wit, Epic’s Hop Zombie and 8-Wired’s Hopwired, and doing it with Canterbury malts and Nelson hops.
The Yeastie Boys know that although malt and hops can dominate flavour, the subtext of yeast is powerful. It flies under the radar with lagers but enters the holy trinity of taste in ales (top-fermenting yeast + warmer fermentation = more taste.) In some Belgian ales, wild yeast, descending from brewery rafters to open fermentation vessels, defines the beer, with hops and malt taking a back seat.
Hoppy to be in this local beer epicenter, it’s time to paddle upriver to my local for a pint. Cheers!
Andrew Martin is a US-born global citizen who resides in Matakana in summer. He’s mainly a multiple award-winning photographer but his passion for drinking beer enabled us to coerce him into writing about it too. www.andrewmartin.com
Matakana Village Books currently holds copies of Brewed – A Guide to the Craft Beers of NZ.