Seven year beer itch

The vast array of ever-changing beer at Garage Project's tap room in Aro St, Wellington, shows how hard it is to name a ...
Garage Project

The vast array of ever-changing beer at Garage Project's tap room in Aro St, Wellington, shows how hard it is to name a favourite beer Photo: Supplied.

This month I'm celebrating seven years writing about beer. So far it's been a good relationship – no seven year itch. Me and beer are still going strong.

In those seven years, by a very conservative estimate, I reckon I've sampled around 400 New Zealand beers … possibly more given my poor recollection of festivals, one-off brews and tastings. That doesn't even get me halfway to all the beers currently available in New Zealand – so I'm obviously not doing my job that well!

And in those seven years, the questions I'm asked over and over again are ...

What is your favourite beer?

I've tried and failed to dodge this question about 350 times in the past seven years. Usually, I tell the inquisitor, it depends on time, place, occasion, people, mood … so my favourite beer one day is not my favourite beer the next day. But sometimes the inquisition goes all Spanish and I'm backed into a corner where an answer must be given … so here's how that answer, under duress, has changed over seven years.

Call it a top-20 if you like, and in something resembling alphabetical order:  Emerson's Bookbinder, Epic Mayhem (so sadly missed), Pink Elephant Mammoth (another RIP), Schipper's Scallywag, Invercargill Smokin' Bishop, 8-Wired iStout, Cassels & Sons Milk Stout, Epic Hop Zombie, Garage Project Red Rocks Reserve, 8-Wired The Big Smoke, Two Birds Taco, Townshend's Old House ESB, Galway Hooker, Liberty Yakima Monster, Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta, Hop Federation Red IPA, Craftwork Red Bonnet, Liberty C!tra, ParrotDog Pandemonium Pilsner, Garage Project Mutiny On The Bounty.

What does that list tell you? I like hoppy, malty, smoky, tea-infused, spiced, sour, big and small beers ... and things that are red … in other words it really does depend on circumstance, season, and mood.

What's New Zealand's best brewery?

The hive mind which votes on these things regularly throws up Liberty, Garage Project and Panhead Custom Ales and it's hard to argue with those three. But for my money there are two breweries at opposite ends of the country and at opposite ends of the scale continuum that continue to impress week-in and week-out. The first is the small Oamaru operation, Craftwork. Michael O'Brien and Lee-Anne Scotti make the most stunning collection of small-range Belgian-style beers. I've never had a bad one and given that their set-up is not much bigger than my home-brew kit that's just amazing what they can produce. In Auckland, the often overlooked and under-praised Steam Brewing does an equally remarkable job brewing on behalf of some of New Zealand's leading brands such as Epic, Bach Brewing, 8-Wired, Croucher, Galbraith's … they are the best producers of IPA in the country, without a doubt.

What does the future hold?

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We currently have around 180 breweries, which is double the United States when it comes to breweries per capita. Some closures are inevitable, sadly. Yet there's still room for more small breweries servicing, and being integral to, their local community. And, an ever-changing list of favourites!

 - Your Weekend

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