In a display of dominance generally only enjoyed by the pervasive architects of our digital economy, Garage Project have crushed the field to tally 25 beers in the GABS Hottest 100 Kiwi Craft Beers of 2018.
The pageant of colourful beers from the Wellington brewery was led by the malevolently named Pernicious Weed Imperial IPA and love-and-Asian-food-inspired DFA IPA which took out the top two podium spots respectively, with Panhead’s now ubiquitous “Upper Hutt Fanta” – also known as Supercharger APA – taking out third spot.
The podium places represent a shuffling of the deck rather than outright change, with the same three beers constituting the top three beers in the 2017 poll in a different order and two – Supercharger and DFA – having also appeared in the previous year’s top three (although, since then, the former has changed owners and the latter rebranded).
Garage Project’s haul is an impressive feat by almost any metric, particularly considering there’ll be plenty of breweries out there for whom 25 different beers would represent more than an entire year’s creative output. Yet they weren’t alone in racking up a disproportionately high number of votes, with Auckland based Behemoth Brewing netting 16 spots for its wide range of playful creations and improving on their strong showing from last year in which they polled 13 times.
And there were plenty of other familiar names to feature in the list too, from Epic’s legendary Hop Zombie to recent AIBA trophy winners Deep Creek, the hop fiends at Liberty, the tight beers of ParrotDog and the all-round excellence of 8 Wired.
Article continues below the table and you can find our follow up interviews with Behemoth, Brave Brewing and McLeod's here.
The Hottest 100
You can download a larger PDF of the table here.
The 2018 countdown is the third time the GABS H100 has been run in New Zealand, with the poll having started in Australia in 2008 where it’s grown into something of a monster; the 2018 results, announced in January, were based on more than 155,000 votes cast by 31,000 people, with seemingly twice that again fighting about the results on social media afterwards.
To wit, there’s no escaping the fact that’s it’s a popularity vote, with the inherent advantages and disadvantages such as branding and marketing, distribution (or lack thereof), regionality, scarcity, media coverage and more all having an effect on the final tally. But, ultimately, it’s meant more as fun than science so the results can be taken with a pinch of salt.
Because, when all’s said and done, is it more constructive use of time to devote your precious hours on this earth arguing about which beer finished where than it does to pour yourself a glass of any one of them and marvel in the blind luck that you’re alive to enjoy a time of such abundance? Given that bugger all of the breweries and brands featured on this list even existed when the first GABS poll got going, we’ll go with the latter.
Little room for the regions
Given the way Garage Project alone gobbled up a quarter of the available spots, the stats for “beer per region” become rather skewed, rather quickly. All up, only 23 different brewers featured in the final poll, down from 28 last year, which doesn’t leave a lot of room to showcase the true breadth and depth of New Zealand’s brewing scene – especially when you consider that Auckland and Wellington breweries contributed 92 of the top 100 beers.
Yet, within that there are still little nuggets to ponder, such as the way that Wellington, despite its reputation as the “Craft Beer Capital”, was well shaded by Auckland, which contributed more individual beers from more than double the number of different breweries.
The continuing slump of the South
Contrary to what an almost total absence of entries might suggest – a paltry three beers brewed in the beautiful confines of Te Waipounamu made the list – the South Island has heaps of breweries, excellent brewing pedigree, grows pretty much all the country’s hops and most of the malt.
So, why so little recognition in the list? Beyond the usual excuses, who knows? But every year you get an increasing feeling that there’s a bunch of brewers down there reading the results and going: “Yep, sure is awful down here, don’t mind us.” while they frolic nude amongst the hop bines and end their days staring down the sun and sipping on an Oyster Stout or English Mild. Fame ain’t everything in life.
Independence matters (or The Extinction of Tuatara)
Given the way the global trend of large breweries buying smaller ones (or smaller ones selling to larger ones, depending on your view) is showing little sign of abating, it’s always worth looking at how those breweries in the bosom of the bigger guys have fared.
All up, 93 percent of the beers in the top 100 Kiwi beers list were made by independent brewers, an increase of 11 percent on last year. Those in the Lion stable fared better in comparison to their auld enemy DB, thanks to Panhead getting five spots and Emerson’s taking two. However, that was still down from a total of 11 for the Japanese-owned conglomerate in 2017, with Mac’s and their recent acquisition Harrington’s both dropping off the list completely.
From seven beers two years ago to three last year to none this time around, the much respected Tuatara brewery has seemingly slid – like Mountain Goat in Australia – into H100 oblivion following its sale to DB. Indeed, DB didn’t manage a single beer in the list for any of its craft brands, with Monteith’s and Black Dog both failing to register.
While there’s bound to be a boardroom full of accountants somewhere able to cite total volume or bottom line figures that utterly contradict the following claim, taken alongside the trends of the Aussie polls over recent years it’s becoming increasingly convincing to conclude that, actually, people do care about who makes and owns the beer they drink. And those they seem to care about are independent.
The distribution conundrum
In New Zealand a shedload of beer is sold through supermarkets, so if you can get your beer on the shelves and in front of the hoards it stands to reason you’re going to have a far better chance of featuring on a list like this. Conversely, if you’re running a brewpub that only deals in kegs – even if you are, say, the NZ Brewers Guild’s reigning Champion Small Brewery – there’s a good chance you won’t ever generate enough critical mass to trouble the tally.
Beer quality aside, in a popularity contest the mass appeal of a product will beat hyperlocal almost every time. That’s why Our Man In NZ Jono Galuszka reckons not a single keg-only beer features in this year’s H100 list.
Hey Hey Hazy
Talk to enough brewers under the cloak of silence and you’ll find there are plenty who aren’t actually huge advocates of the hazy, hoppy, oh-so-Instagrammable beers that have become such an a marked trend in very recent years. But that matters not a jot as drinkers evidently love ‘em on both sides of The Ditch, with the style that appeared nowhere as recently as 2016 now having carved out a good chunk of the votes in both polls.
Where the Kiwi list is concerned, Jono Galuszka reckons there are 18 beers which fit in a broad "hazy hoppy thing" category, with the noteworthy element being the prominence of one-off releases that sit within longer term projects, which is to say brewers have a conveyor belt of Hazy IPAs that roll out fresh and in limited supply on a monthly-ish basis – Garage Project’s FRESH series, Behemoth’s "Drink Yesterday" beers and McLeod’s "802" series of unfiltered IPAs all being key examples.
COLD, HARD STATS
2017 results shown in brackets for comparison
Most beers per brewer
- Garage Project = 25 (19)
- Behemoth = 16 (13)
- 8 Wired = 8 (10)
- Epic = 6 (5)
- Liberty = 6 (7)
- ParrotDog = 6 (4)
- Deep Creek = 5 (4)
- Panhead = 5 (4)
Brewers/beers by region
- Auckland – 11 breweries, 49 beers
- Wellington – 5 breweries, 43 beers
- Otago – 2 breweries, 3 beers
- Waikato – 2 breweries, 2 beers
- Northland – 1 brewery, 3 beers
- Bay Of Plenty – 1 brewery, 1 beer
- Hawkes Bay – 1 brewery, 1 beer
Beers by island
- North Island = 97 (92)
- South Island = 3 (8)
- Lager/Pilsner = 4 (0)
- Pale Ale = 14 (23)
- IPA (inc. US, NZ, English, Red, Black, Brut, fruit, etc) = 25 (13)
- Imperial/Double IPA = 10 (13)
- New England IPA = 18 (6)
- Sour (inc. Berliner weisse, gose, mixed ferment, kettle sour) = 10 (10)
- Stouts / Porters = (includes sweet/milk, imperial) = 11 (10)
Beer from big brewers
Lion = 7 (11)
- Panhead = 5 (4)
- Emerson’s = 2 (5)
- Mac’s = 0 (2)
- Harrington’s = 0 (1)
DB = 0 (6)
- Tuatara = 0 (3)
- Black Dog = 0 (2)
- Monteith’s = 0 (1)
Asahi = 0 (1)
- Boundary Road = 0 (1)
Brewers featuring for the first time
- Fortune Favours (Wellington) = #42 & #49
- Urbanaut (Auckland) = #57
- New New New (Dunedin) = #71
- Bootleg (Hamilton) = #90
- Alibi (Waiheke Island) = #100
You can find interviews with some of those making the stories in this year's poll here. Photo at top courtesy of GABS Festival.