There's no denying we are living in a cost-of-living crisis. Groceries are through the roof, mortgage interest rates are increasing, the price of petrol is astronomical.
Just when it seems like things can’t get any worse, the future of craft beer in New Zealand begins to look uncertain. My confidence that this once-booming industry with more hops than tastebuds can continue to grow is waning.
In July, a favourite brewery of mine, Epic, based in Onehunga, Auckland, announced that it was going into liquidation. It appears the incredible Hop Zombie may not rise from the grave this time and that Epic's mouth-quenching Armageddon IPA (India pale ale) may be more aptly named than originally intended.
This devastating news was followed shortly after by the announcement that Brothers Beer in Auckland had gone into voluntary administration.
Whether we blame inflation for forcing up the cost of brewing or the cost-of-living crisis for leaving Kiwis with less disposable income to spend on admittedly expensive craft beers, the fact is the industry's not in good heart.
Beer-driven hysteria aside, in the wake of these unfortunate problems, I felt now was an appropriate time to have another look at some of the available IPA options from breweries still operating, so that when you can afford a craft beer again, you can be sure your money's well spent.
The four brews I taste-tested were from Wellington breweries Baylands and Parrotdog and from 8 Wired and Sawmill, which are based in Matakana, north of Auckland.
I am not overly familiar with Baylands Brewery, which is based in Petone. A quick glance at its range of products shows it isn't focused just on the more popular and common IPAs and hazys, but also delves into a broader range of sours, reds and stouts.
Woodrow's Veto – which refers to US president Woodrow Wilson's refusal to sign into law a 1919 bill to ban alcohol, a veto later overridden by Congress – is an American IPA, built on the combination of five different American hops. If you generally find IPAs too hoppy and dank, don’t be put off by the hoppy promise on the can; it’s far less intense than the description suggests.
Unlike traditional IPAs, the stronger presence of malt with a tarty aftertaste in Woodrow's Veto was more in line with traditional beers.
It had a lingering flavour that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and despite it claiming to have a fruity flavour profile, I found it more akin to something like golden syrup, without the sweetness.
It was refreshingly different for an IPA. At first taste I didn’t enjoy its flavour profile, but as I continued to sip, the pleasure grew.
Woodrow's Veto is a quenchable summer beer that's the epitome of "sessionable" – you could easily drink a few in one session.
Double Bright IPA
This one-off release (so get in quick) had the highest level of alcohol from this round of reviews and, as such, had a noticeable kick to it both in terms of taste and enjoyment.
With an American ale yeast and ekuanot, simcoe, mosaic and citra hops, this classic-tasting IPA had a clear presence of ale and pilsner malts but was not as sharp as you might expect from a strong India pale ale.
It had a nice golden summer ale feel to it and – thanks to its high alcoholic content – felt like a hug that I didn’t want to break away from, a summer fling that I’d keep coming back to.
For those who like their IPAs strong in taste and alcoholic volume, this is an excellent beer to try before it runs out.
West Coast Style DIPA
Taking my tastebuds up to Matakana, my third beer tasting was 8 Wired's The Law – a West Coast-style double India pale ale (phew).
I can see why 8 Wired elected to shorten the title to DIPA – a 440ml can only has room for a few of the words that breweries seem to add to the titles to make their beer stand out.
This beer was crafted by 8 Wired to enter into the West Coast IPA Challenge at the famous Malthouse bar in Wellington.
Its name is a nod to the American hops it uses: amarillo, centennial, columbus and simcoe.
The flavour profile of these is a combination of citrus and oaky, woody tones, with oak and wood much stronger and more noticeable than the citrus.
This resulted in a heavy, malty, bitter beer that had a real ale feel to it, particularly thanks to the columbus hops, which added an earthy black pepper flavour commonly found in ales.
The Law is a nice beer, but I wouldn't call it a memorable drop. I personally prefer my IPAs to have a danker, hoppier taste that smashes you in the face when you drink it, and that's certainly what I would expect from a double IPA.
El Dorado Hazy IPA
Sawmill has been churning out beer for 18 years; some might even call it one of the earliest pioneers of craft beer in NZ.
Originally in Leigh and now based in Matakana, Sawmill is a reliable producer of delicious craft beer.
The El Dorado Hazy IPA was a unique drop. Promising a big pineapple and mango aroma due to its namesake, the el dorado hop from the Yakima Valley in Washington state, this was like no craft beer I had ever tried before.
Almost like a tropical fizzy drink rather than a beer, it was very fruity, very summery and, most importantly, very drinkable.
It is the perfect drop for those who want a beer but are over all craft beer tasting like hops.
The El Dorado may be fruity, but it is by no means a sweet beer.
Visually impressive with its beautiful, cloudy haze, it's the type of unique-tasting beer that you might expect to encounter at a beer festival.
Not the kind of beer you’d only want one of, but also not "sessionable" enough to come in a six-pack, the El Dorado Hazy IPA is something I recommend trying as the weather improves.