Neil’s Top Ten New Zealand Beers of 2016
Thursday, 12 January 2017 15:24

The once annual list of my top ten Kiwi beers for the preceding year always proved to be the most anticipated and controversial blog of the year.

This makes it even more baffling that it has been (how can I put this diplomatically?) “on hiatus” for the last couple of years. It is not that I have not been beer writing over the festive seasons – I average 48 blogs a year along with dozens of feature articles, interviews and reviews – but I have somehow managed to fail to assemble a credible top ten list within an appropriate time frame for (if my records are correct) two years. [1]

 

Indeed, in the final blog of 2016 I half-joked that “at this time of year lazy journalists always produce “Year in Review” columns or “Top Ten” lists. That observation is correct as even a cursory glance at what little media there is over “summer” will confirm, but it was only half a joke because I admitted in a footnote that the first blog of 2017 would be my Top Ten list.

 

In a development almost as unexpected as (Lord) Beauden Barrett from the All Blacks being snubbed by the Halberg Sports Awards, I will now deliver on a commitment made in a blog.

 

The judging criteria are very simple – these are my favourite local New Zealand beers that drinkers have a reasonable chance of obtaining at a craft beer bar, festival or store. [2] The results do reflect my personal taste preferences, so if you are expecting to see sours or wheat beers here then you clearly have not be paying attention.

 

Here is the official list of Neil’s Top Ten New Zealand Beers of 2016:

 

10. Harrington’s Ngahere Gold (7.2%) – This pick may produce the biggest uproar – howls of outrage from serious craft aficionados, and cheers of vindication from Canterbury students and bogans that an award winning beer writer has listed their budget big-bang beverage of choice in the top ten. Seriously, I like this beer which, to my palate, appears to have been tinkered with in recently as it is much smoother and more integrated. I would match this beer with professional wrestling and chicken wings.

 

9. Horsebox Chilli Pilsner (5%) – One of the many great things about Beervana is that it always throws up surprises even for hardened beverage professionals with a penchant for research like me. Horsebox Brewery was one out of the box in 2016. A brewery I had not heard of serving chilli infused beer which I normally loathe with the passion of a hundred Paul Henrys. What could possibly go right? Well, pretty much everything – fruity, warming, a little scary heat, the cooling caress of late hops. I am promised various versions of this beer will be more widely available in 2017.

 

8. Kereru AT-AT Imperial Pilsner (10%) – First, the obvious declaration: I helped design and make the first version of this beer with Kereru for a previous Beervana Media Brew contest. We did not win that event but it became the only beer entered there to go into commercial production, and the only one to win a Gold Medal at the Beer Awards. I love the smell of vindication in the late afternoon. Modelled on the legendary Morimoto Pilsner, I added Weet-bix for a Kiwi twist and a pleasant graininess. Another declaration: It does not taste like a 10% so keep your shields up. [3]

 

7. Behemoth Dump the Trump American IPA (7.2%) – I will admit that this beer did gain points from me for the topical name and fantastic “Angry Churly with an Orange Bouffant” label image. The beer gained international attention but failed to affect the election – at least not the way brewer Andrew Childs intended. [4] On US Election Day it was sold out in many outlets as people drank and wondered “is this really happening?” It did – and Dump the Trump combines American, Kiwi and Ozzie hops to produce a firm bodied beer with notes of fresh pine needles, mangoes and embarrassed pollsters.

 

6. Moa Perris Sky Juice 7.2% - Public holidays mean little to the self-employed. However, when filling in my paper diary for a new year I always include Super Bowl Day, Wrestlemania Day, Beervana week and the Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge. The winner this year was Moa Perris Sky Juice and here are my tasting notes from judging that day - “This beer is clear and frankly very pretty in the glass. The aroma is like getting smacked in the face with a sack of sweet Valencia oranges. It is juicy and full, with a late ambush of hop bitterness. Dear fellow judges – we chose wisely.”

 

5. Liberty Citra Double IPA (9%) – I am pleading with Liberty brewer Joseph Wood to find it in his tiny dark heart to forgive me for my shameful neglect of this magnificent libation for too long in 2016. It should be noted that I have on record and on purpose called Joseph a “genius”, and described Citra as “a 9%, 100 IBU behemoth with plenty of hop action (grapefruit, citrus, resin, passionfruit, pine) and enough bitterness for even the most hardened hophead. Despite the strength and intensity, Citra is smooth and balanced.” In unrelated news, I am thirsty.

 

4. Birkenhead Pacific Pale Ale (4.6%) – This was a late bolter and is the lowest alcohol brew on the 2016 list. I initially expected their Double IPA to be my favourite of the Birkenhead range – as did tribes in the Amazon rain forests – but the Pacific Pale Ale slid in and captured my affections. [5] It throws a big, pillowed head over a clear, warm honey coloured beer. Certainly compared to virtually all of the beers around it this is a subtle drop – citrus, grapefruit, marmalade and such wonderful balance.

 

3. Rocky Knob Snapperhead (7.4%) – I named the small rubber duck that is my constant companion after this brewery so I am hardly impartial. I love this beer so much (it is a former #1) so I am hardly impartial. Let us then turn to the impartial tasting of notes of one Mr Neil Miller – “Loaded with Citra and Nelson Sauvin hops, Snapperhead throws a punchy citrus nose before a full body of grapefruit, passionfruit and tropical fruit salad underpinned by a firm malt body. The finish is cleansing and the name makes me chuckle.”

 

2. Deep Creek Hoppy McHopFace (8.5%) – My first reaction to this beer at Beervana 2016 was basically “shut up and take my money.” It is a hop oil infused hoppy ale that references the famous Boaty McBoatFace incident. That is when the suggestion “Boaty McBoatFace” was winning an internet poll to name a new British arctic research vessel. The organisers decided it was flippant and named the ship after Sir David Attenborough, which was probably their preference all along. Honestly, this beer is why I added “festival” to the judging criteria as it will mainly be a fresh hop beer (though not necessarily so). It is ludicrously hoppy – it will put a lupulin smile on anyone’s McHopFace.

 

1. Epic Armageddon (6.66%) – 2016 was the year I fell back in love with Epic Armageddon, a beer which I named at a beer tasting many years ago. Sure, I still adore Hop Zombie, Lupulingus, Dankomatic and Stone Hammer, but this beer is something special. The number of major awards it has picked up here and around the world demonstrates that it is not me who is infatuated with Armageddon. [6] It is fruity, punchy and bitter, but this year I am detecting more ginger notes and this has provided some real new zest into one of the single finest beers this nation has ever produced.

 

Next time, we drink to global warming. With the wind and rain whipping against my windows, it would be nice to catch up.

 

[1] “If my records are correct” is a serious caveat. My computer’s search engine facilities are seriously competing with my vexatious printer and the Byzantine twists of verifying my Apple ID account for the coveted title of “technology most likely to aggravate Neil and get thrown off the balcony.”

 

[2] Pre-emptive apologies to all consumers who do not live within 100 metres of Thorndon New World which stocks around 700 different beers. It does tend to colour my assessment of what is readily available at, say, the Hawera Four Square.

 

[3] A third declaration: I am now the proud owner of a large AT-AT action figure (not a toy) that I can make walk and fire Nerf missiles via my smartphone. This in no way affects the taste of the beer – I am just telling EVERYONE about my AT-AT. (Strictly speaking it is an AT-ACT.)

[4] On the label Mr Trump is called “the world’s thinnest skinned orang-utan who has hair that looks like it’s running away from his face.” Fortunately for Behemoth the President-Elect is not at all litigious...

 

[5] Just to be clear, I still really enjoy the Birkenhead Double IPA, even though I have not had one for two days.

 

[6] Though in most cases it should be noted that I was there first.

 

Cheers

 

Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Beer and Brewer Magazine

Cuisine Magazine

TheShout Magazine

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