I first became a beer drinker at a time when there were only a handful of beer brands on the market, and almost every beer was a lager. Even if it didn’t say it on the bottle, they were all basic lagers. The beer industry in New Zealand has changed a lot over the last decade or so, and with the innovation of craft beers there is now so much variety on the market you could be forgiven for being overwhelmed for choice.
I never started out as a beer snob. I used to drink your standard lager without complaint. However, several ‘gateways’ into craft beer helped widen my palate.
Gateway one – Cider
Cider, or hard-cider as they say in America, is very much a gateway to beer. Cider is an apple-based brew. They come in approximately 4%, or 8% alcohol for a Scrumpy style. Some ciders are quite sweet and fruity, some are drier, and you can’t taste the apple as readily.
There has been quite a shift in craft cider over the decade as well, so there’s lots to choose from. If you haven’t tried cider before, I suggest picking something with a fruit combination that sounds nice to you. There are wine/cider blends as well, which can help ease you into other cider styles.
Gateway two – Big brand craft styles
Some of the big brands started to create more interesting brews several years back. I went to the Speights Brewery in 2003 and had a tasting there that included a few of the newer styles they were starting to put out. These beers were more complex but were still quite pedestrian when it comes to where the craft beer industry is now. Macs and Monteith’s also became my go-to beers when out on the town.
Gateway three – The Belgian pub
I discovered wheat beer when I tried Hoegaarden White at a new pub that opened in our town a few years ago. It was fruity and light, and there was barely a sense of any hop’s bitterness. It was like coming home. I also discovered many other great beers, that had big fruit notes. Cherry flavoured beers, raspberry flavoured beers – they all reminded my palate of cider, which helped too.
What is a good beer?
Well, there are many different styles of beer and it’s okay to not like some! I personally avoid overpowering hops flavours. You may find there are certain hops used that you love, and some that leave you unimpressed. The different yeasts used can also affect the flavour profile of a beer.
Lager – Usually a lighter style beer at 4-5% alcohol. It’s your basic hot day, cold brew kind of beer. A Pilsner is like a blonde lager.
Wheat Beer – This is a Belgian beer style that is lighter in colour, sometimes cloudy with a faint banana aroma. They are not always as light on alcohol as a lager so tread carefully. They are fruity, yeasty and in my opinion yum!
Sour/Lambic/Weisse or Gose – A sour beer has been brewed to have an acidic or tart quality. Sometimes they will be mildly astringent or drying in your mouth. This is personally one of my favourite styles, as it reminds me a little of wine. However, it’s not for everyone so if you want to try one I suggest adding one to a taster board when you next hit a craft bar.
IPA – India Pale Ale, this one is usually pretty bitter. Legend has it, to ship the beer and have it last the journey to India, they use to add a LOT of hops. I’m not a big fan of hops, so getting through an IPA is not easy. However, if you like bitter flavours, and you want to try a beer that might blow your tastebuds away, have at it.
Stout – A dark and malty beer style. They are often considered big and heavy brews, that fill you up. However, to me they are the perfect winter beer. Because of the malt, you get a lot of dessert style flavour profiles in a stout. Chocolate, toffee, milk oatmeal, caramel and even cherry stouts are out there if you dare to find them. Yum!
Porter – The Porter style of beer is dark from brown malt, a bit more hoppy compared to a stout.
Dubbel/Tripel/Quad – These are Belgian style beers that are heavy hitters. They have a lot more alcohol in them than your average beer, so tread carefully. I’m talking beers with similar % to a bottle of wine. Because they are so high in alcohol, they have almost a port/fortified wine vibe. They have some rich raisiny tones, but they will knock you on your ear when you aren’t looking.
Saison – A French/Belgian style. They have a lot of citrusy, grassy characteristics, making it a tart taste with a bitter finish.
New Zealand Breweries to Try
- Emersons – This is a good starting point in your craft beer journey and is sold quite widely so is easier to find
- Epic – especially if you like hops
- Garage Project – These guys are quite profilic in their beer production and they have a lot of variety, from the slightly weird to the wonderful
And don’t forget to check out your local craft brewers. One of our favourite places in the Waikato is Brewaucracy.
Written by Kym Moore
When she isn’t herding cats, Kym loves to drink craft beer, or share a whine and a wine with friends. She is also partial to a well-made cocktail. Her happy places include sitting on couch watching British Comedy and daydreaming. Lots of daydreaming.
Favourite artist: Bowie