10 October 2006

The Down Under fundamentals

Back from my travels with much to report. After Singapore the rest of my time was spent in New Zealand. I was quite surprised that it has a wide and varied brewing culture very unlike its larger neighbour across the Tasman Sea. Small breweries abound, and the variety of product is impressive. I think I scratched the surface by trying seventy different beers, so it'll take me a few posts to get through them all. This one is about the basics.

What struck me most of all is that the basic beer style, the one that almost everyone makes whether they're a mega-corporation or a small brewpub, is not a lager but a light amber ale. The biggest brewery in the country is Auckland's Lion Nathan and they make Lion Red. It's rather plain, light and unchallenging. Tui is another common brand, and one step up, I think, being drier and more interesting than Lion. (Like Tui, lots of kiwi beers are named after local fauna - before the end of this we'll have had tuataras, moas and a black shag). Waikato Draught is an odd example of this type of beer. It claims on the label to be "Bitter Beer" but is in fact very sweet, almost sugary. It's pleasant for all that though and goes down very easy.

Moving away from the industrial end of the market, Speight's Gold Medal Ale is ubiquitous in the South Island especially and is pretty decent if a little unexciting. Though it is definitely an ale it's light enough to remind me of Carlsberg more than anything else. Monteith's is the other small South Island brewery punching above its weight. It's Original is also quite plain and easy drinking. Cardrona Gold from the Wanaka Beerworks is probably the best of this lot - leaning away from the pale ale towards the more flavoursome IPA. It is dry and zesty as well as pleasantly light. There will be more from these three breweries in later posts.

Of course, basic lager is inevitable everywhere. Steinlager is probably the commonest in NZ. It's in the bitter German style, reminiscent of Beck's in taste as well as the label. Export Gold is a rather more non-descript fizzy lager, as is the rarer Canterbury Draught. Neither are recommended, given the many alternatives in every bar.

That will do for a taster. I promise more interesting beers to come.

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