This is always a tricky column to write because over the course of any given calendar year I try a quite staggering variety of beers. [1] I have tasting notes of wildly varying quality for many of them which are spread between several notebooks and the backs of seven beer coasters. While I have written and talked about many of my favourites during 2012, it is never easy to compare a stout tasted in January with a pilsner supped in December.

Consequently, my list of Top Ten Beers for 2012 is, as always, completely subjective. Unsurprisingly, it accurately reflects my slight penchant for hoppy pales ales though there is a reasonable degree of variety in there this year. The eligibility criteria were simple – the beer had to be made in New Zealand and there had to be a chance that an average punter could purchase it during the year. [2] I grappled with compiling this list for some time so it is with a mixture of trepidation and pride that I announce Neil Miller’s Top Ten Beers for 2012. [3]

10) Brewaucracy In Triplicate {new} – Hamiltonian home brewers Greig McGill and Phil Murray have taken a big step up and now “time-share” brew their Brewaucracy range at the Shunter’s Yard Brewery in Matangi which, I am assured, is near Hamilton (City of the Future TM). They describe this 9.6% brew as “roughly straddling the Tripel and Belgian Golden Strong styles” and it certainly has the fruity, zesty, funky and spicy notes so closely associated with big Belgian ales. When I first got into quality beer I was a huge fan of Belgian beers and In Triplicate instantly reminded me why. With the void left by the demise of Tuatara Ardennes, it could have a big 2013.

9) 3 Boys Oyster Stout {9} – This silky dark beer is a regular fixture on the list. Dr Ralph Bungard – my attempt to dub him the “the thinking woman’s beer crumpet” is unsurprisingly not catching on – presents his own spin on a classic Victorian recipe using fresh and frozen Bluff Oysters. While still a seasonal release, the amount of Oyster Stout being released has increased dramatically in an attempt to meet demand. This pitch black ale has voluptuous notes of milk chocolate, coffee and perhaps just a hint of salt serving to accentuate the beer’s natural sweetness.

8) Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale {6} – It was always go to be a big ask to replace the popular Tuatara American Pale Ale when the global hop shortage hit home and suspended production. However, the brewing team at Tuatara have created a marvellous beer which showcases how good New Zealand hops like Pacific Jade, Cascade, Sauvin and Wai-it can be. There are notes of citrus, grapefruit, pine needles and resin over a robust toffee malt backbone. While it has dropped slightly in the rankings, if it is any consolation to Tuatara, [4] I drank more Tuatara APA in 2012 than the other nine beers listed put together.

7) ParrotDog BitterBitch {1} – Again, the drop in the ranking should not fool anyone – I still absolutely adore this beer. However, BitterBitch was not made for part of the year while the new Vivian Street brewery was being constructed and the first couple of batches were understandably a bit variable. I’m pleased to report that repeated tastings confirmed it has settled down – perhaps a little less ‘in your face’  than the 2011 edition, – quenching but bursting with bold citrus flavours, touches of pine and ginger, and a lingering bitter finish. I would anticipate drinking a lot more BitterBitch in 2013.

6) Kereru Moonless Stout {new} – Kereru Brewing Company in the enclave of Upper Hutt is probably the smallest commercial brewery in the land despite a recent upgrade which has doubled brewing capacity to 100 litres. In the Moonless Stout, brewer Chris Mills has created a velvet smooth stout which proves that a beer does not have to be strong (4.2%) to have flavour – coffee, caramel, chocolate, toffee and hazel nuts. It was a star at two beer and food degustation dinners I ran this year.

5) Yeastie Boys Digital IPA {new} – The ‘rock and roll nerds’ of New Zealand brewing continue on their winning ways with this wonderful IPA.  Just days after noted beer writer and my second favourite Canadian [5] Stephen Beaumont named Yeastie Boys as Australasian Brewers of the Year 2012, Digital IPA picks up the coveted number five ranking in my annual list. It is fruity (tangerines, grapefruit, orange peel) and bitter with a solid malt base holding all the elements together. Proof, if any was ever required, that IPAs do not need to have tea in them…

4) 8 Wired HopWired {new} – This former Champion Brewery of New Zealand never makes dull beers. By their standards, HopWired is pretty much middle of the road at 7.3% and 70 International Bitterness Units (IBUs). By virtually anyone else’s standards HopWired is a flagship New Zealand IPA – the Southern Cross, Motueka and Nelson Sauvin hops help provide fruit notes of mango, melon as well as orange. User mjknox nailed it on RateBeer when he described HopWired as a “smack in the face with a tropical punch bowl.” The Fresh HopWired, made with green hop cones, was a beer of true beauty but was only available for a very short time.

3) Garage Project Angry Peaches {new} – The first time I had Super Angry Peaches IPA I am ashamed to admit I mixed it with two or three other hoppy beers. It was at the Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge where mixing the various hoppy concoctions appears virtually de rigueur.  I subsequently enjoyed Angry Peaches by itself on the forecourt of the brewery on a rainy Wellington evening. It is a wonderful beer – bursting with Amarillo hop goodness – stonefruit, citrus and yes, just a blush of peach even though the brewer stresses that absolutely no peaches were ever harmed in the making of this beer.

2) Epic Hop Zombie {4} – One of my first friends in the beer business was Luke Nicholas and, even after all these years, I never tire of his beers (apart from that stupid Coffee and Fig Stout) or his company. While the Epic Pale Ale is a regular supping/sports watching favourite, it is the big hop bombs like Mayhem, Armageddon and Hop Zombie which he is rightly most famous for. Hop Zombie is the biggest and, in my view, the best.  It also has perhaps the funniest bottle label in the land. A gargantuan double IPA with a secret mix of American and Kiwi hops, Hop Zombie has notes of grapefruit, guava (apparently), orange, passionfruit and caramel.  It is huge but delicious – an outstanding drop. Even just writing this makes me crave one with the fire of a thousand suns…

1) Liberty C!tra IIPA {2} – Joseph Wood is undoubtedly one of the country’s most revered young brewers and perhaps one of our most insane chilli eaters. Although he is sadly having to close down his homebrew supply business, the Liberty beer range continues to grow and thrive – pushing the boundaries in every direction at once. One of his regular beers – if such a term can legitimately apply to a 9%, 100 IBU behemoth – is the standout for me. There is plenty of hop action (grapefruit, citrus, resin, passionfruit, pine) and enough bitterness for even the most hardened hophead, but what stands out is its smoothness and, frankly, drinkability. Outstandingly dangerous – the man is a genius.

Thank goodness it is another year before I have to do this stressful exercise again. My New Year’s Resolution is to take better notes this year. [6]

[1] I would publish an actual number but a) I don’t actually know what it is and b) Doug Sellman would be on the phone in seconds.

[2] This is why festival, speciality and one-off brews did not make the list. I think it is a bit cruel to rave about a beer and finish with something like “what a shame you will never, ever get to try this. It was seriously that awesome. Wow, you all really missed out…”

[3] Last year’s rankings are listed in {} which are technically known as “squiggly brackets”.

[4] And it probably is financially speaking…

[5] After (Sir) William Shatner of course.

[6] This is exactly the same as last year’s resolution.


Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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3 Boys –
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Yeastie Boys –
8Wired Brewing –
Garage Project –
Liberty Brewing –
Epic –
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