The judging criteria are very simple – these are my favourite local beers that most people have a reasonable chance of obtaining. [1] As a result, festive and limited edition beers (including my beloved AT-AT Imperial Pilsner collaboration with Kereru) are excluded.

Last year’s rankings are presented in brackets but, as alert readers will notice, that is largely meaningless as there are nine new beers on the 2014 top ten list. [2] So, at the risk of enraging noted Canadian beer scribe Stephen Beaumont’s and his legendary disdain for Top Ten lists, [3] here is my countdown of my Kiwi beers of the year:

10) Yeastie Boys Minimatta (-) – No one is more surprised than me that a lower alcohol beer made with tea has made my coveted annual top ten list. It is a testament to the almost occult power of the Yeastie Boys – one day they raise half a million dollars in about 17 minutes and the next I’m lauding their newest tea beer as a highlight of 2014. Now, I stand by my well documented disdain for Gunnamatta – that brew tastes like a vaguely passable ale strained though the shawl of one of the older actresses from Coronation Street. However, Minimatta is a smooth, silky pale ale with just the faintest late bite from the tea. Every element lines up in this beer and it left my preconceptions in ruins. The Purple Panted Prince of PKB strikes again.
9) Tuatara Iti (-) – One fifth of the way through the countdown and the alcohol content is yet to break 5%. Confirmation perhaps that it was the year that session beers established themselves in the market. Iti (which literally means “small” in te reo Maori) is Tuatara’s contribution to the “mild but wild” niche. A generous dose of Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo and Cascade hops highlight a firm pale ale with a soft nose of citrus, a mouth full of orange and tangelo before a surprisingly bitter finish. 
8) Renaissance Stonecutter (-) – This beer has been on my top ten list before and is one that I frequently use at tastings. The only problem is that it has been around so long that I seem to keep forgetting how great it is, particularly with food or in the depths of a harsh Thorndon winter. Stonecutter is one of the most complex beers in New Zealand with more layers than a sack full of onions.

Flavour descriptors I’ve used in the past include (but are not limited to) chocolate, coffee, toffee, vanilla, molasses, smoke, whisky, prunes, cigars, leather, liquorice, oak, plum and a late hop bitterness. I’ve stated that the beer “brings to mind a Victorian gentleman’s dining room with a roaring fire and lashings of political intrigue.” This beer literally tastes of gerrymandering and I adore it. 
7) Fork & Brewer Base Jumper (-) – This is the beer I have probably drunk the most of in 2014 and there is an obvious disclaimer or two here – I am a part owner of the Fork & Brewer and a big fan of Kelly Ryan. [4] Base Jumper is the successor to Base Isolator which was one of the foundation brews at the Fork. It is a hoppy pale ale with lashings of citrus, a touch of ginger and a cleansing bitterness. Eventually, it will be replaced by another pale ale whose name has to include the word “Base”. I’m frantically lobbying for Ace of Base Pale Ale. The other directors are not so keen… [5]
6) Baylands Woodrow’s Veto (-) – A simply wonderful beer from a wonderful little brewery which is experiencing explosive growth and rightly so. They have already had to move to bigger premises to meet demand for their charming beers. Woodrow’s Veto is named after US President Woodrow Wilson who heroically vetoed the Prohibition legislation in 1919 only to be subsequently over-ridden by the House and Senate. Over on RateBeer, prodigious reviewer Jimthechap called this beer a “riot of hops” which is better than anything I had thought up. Veto [6] simply bursts with notes of orange, grapefruit, pine and spice. It is dangerously drinkable for 7%.
5) Epic Lupulingus (-) – I initially thought this beer was just going to be another clever name from the devious mind of Luke Nicholas, truly the nation’s most impish brewer. Then I learned it was an Imperial India Pale Ale… and (allegedly) 101 IBUs. I simply had to try it. Lupulingus pours a dark orange that some people with functioning colour vision have dubbed “chestnut”. The nose is relatively restrained with some grapefruit peel and grass clippings. It is exceptionally full bodied with a sturdy malt spine supporting a serious number of hop monkeys swinging playfully. There are notes of grapefruit, tangerines, pine needles and grass over a vaguely toffee base. No 9% beer should be this quaffable – but it is.
4) Liberty Halo Pilsner (-) – This was my Beer of Summer from January to May 2014 highlighted by a wonderful day at Brothers in Auckland drinking jug after jug of Liberty Halo Pilsner in what I dubbed a “crocodile death roll” of rounds – no one wanted to be the first to quit and miss buying their round. There is almost always a Liberty beer in my top ten and it is almost always Liberty C!tra but this year it has been usurped by a zesty, well balanced pilsner with notes of grass, grape skin and mandarin.

Plus, if you examine the packaging carefully, you will see the Statute of Liberty’s face has been replaced by the resplendent visage of brewer Joseph Wood. [7]
3) Panhead Boss Hogg (-) – A 7% American IPA made with the latest “trick hops from the West Coast” – Legacy and El Dorado – and named after one of my favourite television villains was always likely to be rated highly. Named after the Dukes of Hazard baddy Jefferson Davis Hogg (universally known as Boss Hogg), this beer is a celebration of hop gluttony.  There are notes of tangerine, melon and orange peel before a dry, crisp finish. [8]
2) Epic Hop Zombie (1) – Zombie films have enjoyed quite the renaissance of late with the undead generally proving rather difficult to dispose of. I’ve had similar issues with Hop Zombies on my Top Ten lists – it is nigh impossible to rid myself of this “hoppy carnage” because it is so delicious. Luke Nicholas’ trademark arrogant and reckless use of hops is to the fore in a gargantuan double IPA with piles of grapefruit, guava [9], orange, passionfruit and caramel. Resistance is futile – embrace the carnage.

1) Rocky Knob Snapperhead IPA (-) – Until 22 August 2014 I had not heard of Snapperhead IPA. In fact, I was completely unaware of the entire Rocky Knob brewery. At Beervana, a punter whose name I wish I could remember took me aside and said I simply had to try something called Rocky Knob Snapperhead IPA because it was right up my flavour alley. [10]

He was dead right. One single sip of this beer turns me from debonair man about town to a giggling mess. In other words, this beer is so good that it has the power to instantly transform me from George Clooney to the front row of a One Direction concert. 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, the name makes me chuckle and I named my small rubber duck after the brewery. [11]
So, there is my Top Ten for 2014. Feel free to take to social media to let the world know your thoughts on my picks.
The Sevens are almost upon us and Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor has decided to buck the trend and have Malthouse offer “Session beer, Sevens and Cider” for the long weekend (6-8 February). It is ideal for those looking to get away from the Sevens party zoo and, you know, actually watch some rugby while consuming proper beverages.

Next time, we drink to Dr Russel Norman. I did not see that coming. Wonder if he did?

[1] Disclaimer: Does not appear to beer back waters like Dargaville, South Auckland or Palmerston North.

[2] This may reflect the rapidly changing face of the New Zealand craft beer scene and/or the fact that I am a flighty craft beer butterfly. Either works.

[3] “Disdain” is Canadian for “hatred fuelled by the power of thousand suns.” They are such polite people.

[4] The latter must be true because I read it in the Pursuit of Hoppiness, SOBA’s most excellent free newsletter.

[5] Nation, make your voices heard on this critical issue.

[6] As it known to its many fans. 

[7] Mr Wood Esq wishes to stress that, unlike the Statue of Liberty, he is not remotely interested in taking in “your tired”, “your poor”, “your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and most certainly not “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Those types should move to Hamilton. Ha, you thought I had forgotten about the City of the Future.

[8] Fun Fact: Boss Hogg had “an identical twin brother, Abraham Lincoln Hogg, who appeared in one episode of the show (the third season’s “Baa, Baa White Sheep”). A.L Hogg is the opposite of J.D. – he was kind, honest, law-abiding, dressed in black, and drove a black Cadillac – and was friendly with the Dukes.” Thanks Wikipedia!

[9] Whatever that is.

[10] I think those were the actual words.

[11] To clarify, the duck’s name is Rocky. Even I decided to drop the Knob part. It is hard enough to explain why I have a rubber duck in my wallet. And the 50 or so at home… I’m a complicated man.


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine
Cuisine Magazine
TheShout Magazine
New Zealand Liquor News Magazine


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