New Zealand brewers can be rightly proud of their NZ pale ales and IPAs. They are the key part of many a brewery’s core range. They are the perfect styles to showcase our unique and popular hop varieties. Wellington beer writer Neil McInnes asks why our premier beer competition squeezes our distinctive pale ales into other judging categories.
The famous rocker Frank Zappa has a famous quote: “You cant be real country unless you have an airline and a beer… but at the very least you need a beer”.
I think we are now at the point where one could argue it’s having your own beer style that marks the progress in a nation’s (craft) brewing.
Historically it has been local brewing traditions and tastes, in large part a reflection of local brewing ingredients, that caused beer styles to emerge around the world. So where are we now regarding New Zealand’s indigenous beer styles?
Not in a good place if the 2016 Brewer’s Guild of New Zealand Style Guide is the benchmark – which it should be.
The four New Zealand styles described in the Style Guide are: 116 – NZ Draught; 117 – NZ Lager; 118 – NZ Premium Lager; and 119 – NZ Pilsener.
NZ Draught is as an amber lager with low levels of hop bitterness, flavour, and aroma. “In essence however – ‘think sweet, brown, malty with an edge of flavour’”. Fantastic.
NZ Lager is: “very ‘clean’ and aggressively carbonated….Hop bitterness, flavour and aroma are negligible to very light”. Yeah Boy, get excited.
NZ Premium Lager is: “medium bodied” with “low or negligible hop aroma and flavour”. Hold me back before I go crazy.
NZ Pilsener is supposed to be full malt and have a medium to high hop aroma and flavour of “gooseberry, passion fruit and citrus” directly attributable to the “use of hop varieties grown in, or originating from, New Zealand”. This description sounds promising, as our newer hop varieties like Nelson Sauvin, Riwaka and Motueka are increasingly seen as our greatest contribution to world beer.
However, there are no New Zealand ale styles in the Guide, let alone a New Zealand Pale Ale or an NZIPA - our contributions to the global craft beer revolution.
To rub salt into the wound, the Style Guide does define an Australian-Style Pale Ale. It should be between 4.2%-6.2% ABV, with hop aromas and flavours “reminiscent of tropical fruit such as mango, passion fruit and other tropical fruit character”. Well done Cobbers, you’ve arrived.
Even better served are the North Americans – the doyens of craft brewing – with 20 identified ale styles, about 13% of the total 157 styles listed in the Guide. Most of these are variants of British and other European styles also listed.
This proliferation of beer styles, courtesy of the Americans, that has some concerned that New Zealand pale ales/IPAs are not unique, but only a minor twist on American ales, so no specific New Zealand styles are needed.
But if there are no New Zealand pale ale/IPA styles, can someone tell me what it was I was drinking at the recent Hopstock Festival in Wellington? Of the 22 fresh-hopped beers available, 16 were some sort of bitter, pale ale or IPA, and the majority of these had hop aromas and flavours of gooseberry, passion fruit, feijoa or citrus.
I couldn’t tell you whether there was the definitive NZ IPA amongst the beers I tasted at Hopstock. But I’m sure there was at least one that was worthy of the moniker.
Similarly, the second Smiths NZ IPA Competition in Queenstown next month will need some style criteria to find the winning NZIPA.
So returning to Mr Zappa: Yes we have Air New Zealand and Steinlager, but New Zealand pale ales and IPAs don’t get their deserved recognition – because our brewers haven’t agreed what they should look, smell and taste like.