Don't know your IPA from your APA? A bit hazy about hazies? Not sure whether to get stout, pilsner or porter? Never fear, the 2021 New World Beer & Cider Awards are here to shed some light on the world of amber liquid.
A team of brewing experts, led by beer writer and connoisseur Michael Donaldson, have done the heavy lifting when it comes to sampling a huge range of offerings from breweries large and small around the country.
Donaldson hopes the resulting Top 30 list will help those keen to expand their horizons. The full range of top-ranking beers and ciders are available at all New World supermarkets throughout May.
This year the awards are also backed up with on-the-spot advice from Radio Hauraki's Audio Guide to the Top 30 brews, accessible through iHeart Radio and in New World stores through scanning a QR code. Shoppers can take the guess work out of choosing a new brew by listening to short, snappy episodes about each winner, including information like tasting notes, food pairings and fun facts.
Judging the Top 30 — which includes beers, ciders and even, for the first time, alcoholic ginger beers — saw the independent panel review and debate each entry on technical excellence, balance and mouth feel, as well as that all-important question: does it taste really good?
"You can have two technically excellent IPAs next to each other, but one might have a certain combination of hops, yeast and malt that just makes it yummier," Donaldson says. "It's a subjective thing, but when you get several judges in agreement, you get a consensus."
Donaldson says the bottom line is: "If you were in the pub and you bought this, would you want to buy another one? If you bought a six-pack of this, would you recommend it to a friend?"
Because the tasting process is done blind, without the judges knowing which brewery produced which beer, it can throw up a few surprises and delights. Included in the list are tiny breweries such as Auckland's Isthmus for its 3D IPA, alongside Steinlager Tokyo Dry from the Kiwi-favourite brand brewed by Lion.
"Every year we have couple of big brand beers turn up in the list," Donaldson says. "With these big breweries, they are so technically excellent; people don't give them enough credit for that. It's so well made, it's a perfect example of that style of beer — a light, crisp Japanese-style lager.
This year, due to their increase in popularity, a category for new "hard seltzers", alcoholic kombuchas and ginger beer was added. Zeffer's alcoholic ginger beer, made in Hawke's Bay, was the only alcoholic ginger beer to make the cut, along with two ciders from Otaki's Crooked Cider.
"The Crooked Apple and Blackcurrant Cider is lovely — it has a really nice balance of fruit and acidity," Donaldson says.
Another major trend in the list this year is "hazy" beers, which Donaldson says are "unstoppable". More than 100 hazies — deliberately brewed to appear cloudy rather than clear — were entered in the awards, around 15 per cent of the 650-stong field.
Five beers in this style made it onto the Top 30, most with unusual names: Baylands Offshore Bandit, Behemoth's Be Hoppy #3 Hazy Pale Ale and Heart of Darkness Some Sorcerer Hazy IPA, Burkes #Fakenews Hazy IPA and Garage Project Party & Bullsh#*t.
Donaldson says this style of beer, with its bright yellow or even orange colour, and cloudy appearance, is taking the market by storm, with many brewers having trouble keeping up with demand.
"Hazies swing to the sweeter side of the palate and use hops to extract all that tropical fruit flavour but not the bitterness. They're not filtered or minimally filtered, so they end up with a creamy mouth feel that gives the perception that you're drinking something sweet and creamy."
For those looking for a lighter style or a low-carb beer, Donaldson says the two winners from Urbanaut in Auckland's Kingsland are a great choice: "The Miami Brut Lager is a really lovely beer, brewed to be incredibly dry — there's no residual sugar in it, the opposite of a traditional IPA. Their Copacabana Brut IPA also has virtually no residual sugar, yet it tastes kind of sweet. They're both really clever beers."
Donaldson says the awards are a great opportunity for existing beer drinkers to expand their repertoire and hopefully, for non-beer-drinkers to give something new a try.
"The entry point depends on what you like — you can't go wrong with a hazy pale ale or an IPA, they're as good a place as any to start. Something like the Garage Project White Mischief or the Deep Creek Aloha — they're both acidic and not super sweet, so people who might usually like wine can come to this beer and find a familiar taste profile."
Listen to an episode of Radio Hauraki's Audio Guide to the New World Beer & Cider Awards Top 30 below, or find all the episodes here.