By James Beeson
For a relatively small country, New Zealand has it pretty good as far as beer is concerned. Despite being home to less than five million people, the country has well over 200 breweries, and a thriving independent beer scene to rival the very best in the world.
Strangely, one of the best things about the country’s beer culture is its lack of tradition. The lack of brewing heritage – there is no archaeological evidence of the indigenous people brewing beer before the arrival of Europeans – means that New Zealand is free to do brew whatever styles of beer it pleases, in whatever manner it sees fit.
Global trends, however, are hard to escape from, and therefore it is little surprise to see that the most popular style here is the very same one that has taken the brewing world by storm in the last 18 or so months. Hazy, tropical New England IPAs have come to dominate the international beer scene, and have taken off in New Zealand much in the same way as in America, the UK and across the world.
It is fitting, therefore, that the first set of beers I review over here happen to be of the juicy variety. Wellington’s ParrotDog Brewery was started in 2011 while its founders were still at university, and was initially best known for producing Bitterbitch, a traditional bitter IPA. However, they, like many before them, have also been drawn in by the lure of the New England style.
The beers in question initially started life as part of the brewery’s Lyall Bay pilot series, before being reincarnated as part of its first 440ml cans launch, which are being imported to the UK through The New Zealand Beer Collective.
Keith – which takes its name from the brewery’s ‘ghost’, according to founder Matt Kristofski – is hopped with Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo varieties from the United States. The beer pours a soft, murky golden orange with a thin off-white head. The aroma is heavy on tropical fruit with a slight hint of honey. Orange and grapefruit are the predominant flavours, balanced out with a subtle mild bitterness and just a touch of sticky, gooey dankness from the Mosaic hops.
Susan, by contrast, is lighter in colour – more of a translucent yellow. The beer has the same malt base and east coast yeast strain as Keith, but is hopped with Australian varieties (Galaxy, Vic Secret, Enigma). The aroma is more pungent, with cheese, onion and chives jumping out of the glass. To taste it is slightly sweeter, with a touch of spice. Noticeably less bitter than its American-hopped counterpart, Susan has been the less popular of the two beers according to Kristofski (although he postulates this may be down to Kiwi’s natural tendency to dislike anything Australian).
While in some ways it is a bit of a shame to travel to the other side of the world and find breweries making the same styles of beer that are two a penny back home, it’s hard to fault ParrotDog for simply brewing what people want to drink. Keith and Susan are both excellent interpretations of the New England style, but – in the interests of drinking local – I’ll be keeping a keen eye out for the as of yet unnamed New Zealand-hopped variety planned for release sometime next year.