“There’s plenty of good wine, but NO good beer in New Zealand,” I heard from a fellow traveler a few weeks before departing the Uh-merica for the Land of the Rings.
“Uh oh.” I was coming from New York City, which, with apologies to Denver and Austin, was rapidly moving up the charts of beer nerd heaven. Within blocks of my apartment I had beer bars, beer specialty stores (much love, Top Hops), even Chinatown bodegas filling growlers with local brews! “This could be a problem,” I thought. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice glass of wine with food or a movie, but there are some events that just call for beer: sports, mostly. How could I watch Syracuse b-ball with a glass of pinot noir? I’m not one to tempt the wrath of Boeheim.
Luckily, my traveler friend was wrong. There’s plenty of good beer in NZ. There’s also plenty of very bad beer and golly, the good stuff is expensive. So I find myself strategizing more in my purchasing decisions. Maybe back home the question was: good or cheap? Here, it’s: bad and not so cheap, decent and expensive, or excellent and worth its weight in gold? This isn’t a good situation for a broke beer nerd to be in.
But I’ve found options in every category that satisfy my hop withdrawals, or at least some that don’t make me cringe.
Cheap: Ranfurly Draught. $24 NZD/18 pack 440ml cans. 4.0% abv
Brewed in a nearby town of the same name and shipped all over the South Island, Ranfurly has become my go-to cheap beer. The best I can say for it is: it’s better than it looks. Yeah, it’s marketed as a cheap beer: the label screams “GIANT 440 ML CANS!!!11!” But I’m ashamed to say that I had it next to a Budweiser and I preferred the second son to the King of Beers. Rich and creamy with a inoffensive aftertaste, I’ll take it over lighter lagers any (every?) day of the week.
Decent: Mac’s Hop Rocker Pilsner. $26 NZD/12 pack 330ml bottles. 5.0%abv
For a while I was put off by the relatively cheap pricepoint of Mac’s. And the fact that its a hopped pilsner threw me for a loop. But after sampling it at a recent barbecue, I can say that its probably the best value in New Zealand beer. Lightly hopped with the crisp, bright citrus flavors of a pilsner, its a nice medium ground between huge IPAs and traditionally wimpy pilsners.
Gold Standard: 8wired Brewing Company HopWired IPA. $12 NZD/500ml bottle. 7.3%abv
Number 8 wire is the duct tape of New Zealand. Any problem with a car, laundry machine, or health care system can be fixed with “a bit a number eight wire, mate.” And this, if you were wondering, is the provenance of the 8wired Brewing Company’s name. But anyway, I was floored by this beer. I’d put it up against any of the famous US microbrewery IPAs: Dogfish Head, Russian River, Heady Topper, etc. I’m not sure who would come out on top, but I know that HopWired would give them a grudge match. The label mentions “passion fruit, limes, oranges, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes” as flavors. While I won’t go so far as to confirm this from my experience, I can say that its a unique and delicious brew, full of massive hop flavors and a nice malty character. Full disclosure: I’m enjoying a HopWired right now. Life is good.
Don’t believe the beer snobs when the tell you everything sucks, and don’t sleep on the top tier of NZ beers. There are some real treasures here. Cheers, mate.