Hops, those bitter, aromatic distant cousins of marijuana, are especially pungent when they come from New Zealand. “Think massive tropical fruits, mangoes, pineapples, passionfruit, loads of lime, a bit of kiwi (naturally) and melon,” recommends Scottish brewery BrewDog, who’re connoisseurs of world hops and whose flagship Punk IPA‘s big flavors are powered by the stuff. It’s all about the terroir, as they say; in fact, one of the country’s major hop varieties, Nelson Sauvin, has plenty of the same tasting notes (peaches, gooseberry, white grape) as the Sauvignon blanc grape NZ’s famous for.
Americans, we like those flavors in our beer. We’re fruity hop addicts, in fact. Which is why more and more American beers (Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Anchor and Anchorage Brewing, to name a few) are featuring NZ’s hops. And sure, you can enjoy their in-your-face flavor notes in those just fine. But for the true experience you should go straight to the source. New Zealand’s got a blooming craft beer scene, and with ingredients like these, it’s not hard to see why. Here are five hop-centric beers to keep an eye out for.
The perfect NZ-grown case study in the country’s hops comes from Emerson’s. Based in Dunedin, they’ve been making great Kiwi beer since 1992 as one of the forerunner’s of the country’s craft beer.
Tasting Notes: It has all the drinkability of the pilsner style, plus a boatload of vibrant Nelson-grown Riwaka hops for tropical layers atop a grassy, light malt.
8 Wired iStout
8 Wired is a well-regarded member of New Zealand craft beer’s second wave, but it took a few countries to get its brew rolling. Founder Soren Erikson was inspired by local beer in Perth, Australia, and brought his new passion to NZ with a move in 2006. A beer-filled road trip in the states proved he was ready to go big time. The name 8 wire is a gauge of wire used in NZ for a whole load of things; it’s essentially the Kiwi duct tape. In this brewery’s case, that stands for using what they have with ingenuity to make great, creative beer.
Tasting Notes: And a creative beer this is. Not for the faint of heart, the iStout drops in at 10% ABV with dark chocolate, coffee and huge, bright hops that somehow fit right in. They recommend drinking it as an ice cream float. It’s that kind of beer.
8 Wired Hopwired
A second beer from 8 Wired might be excessive — there are plenty of great Kiwi brews to look after. But this is the only New Zealand IPA ever made (so 8 Wired claims) using only New Zealand hops. That makes it the purest form of their beer, which makes it a must-sip.
Tasting Notes: They call it a “tropic punchbowl”: expect mango, pineapple and orange with a sweet stickiness that is effectively cloying.
Garage Project Venusian Pale Ale
There is no other brewery on earth like Garage Project. They throw their awards in a prominent rubbish bin in their reconfigured garage headquarters; they brew in half-keg and 10-gallon increments to facilitate their absurd, mad-scientist whims; they once released a beer with a full graphic novel accompaniment. The Venusian Pale Ale was brewed to exist within the space confines of a friend of the brewery’s sci-fi world. Which is to say, it’s weird and fun.
Tasting Notes: Brewed with lemon grass, kaffir lime, grapefruit and toasted coriander. It’s got all the great tastes of a good NZ garden: citrus, sweet grass, bitter herbs.
Liberty Brewing Co Sauvignon Bomb
Proof that breweries are born in many forms: Liberty Brewing Co was initially a web-based brewing supplier. Then their biggest customer bought them and transformed the business into a brewery itself. Today they’re based in Auckland and known as one of New Zealand’s favorite craft breweries. Their Sauvignon Bomb takes a heavy-handed approach to the hop-malt balance, showing off the Nelson Sauvin hop with delicious, divisive results.
Tasting Notes: It pours a deep amber; its taste is best described as “resinous.” Pine, lemon, and grapefruit on the nose and a heavy, sticky mouthfeel.